The Twists And Turns In The Genealogy Of The British Royal Family

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Queen Elizabeth II on her Coronation Day
Queen Elizabeth II on her Coronation Day

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I was inspired to write this article after the recent DNA samples for Richard III threatened to raise a few questions on the Beaufort lineage- and since the Beaufort’s are linked to the current British Royal family (through Henry VII’s mother Margaret Beaufort) could that throw up questions over the current Royal family’s claim to the throne?

Well no not really, and here is why.

1) It remains unknown when the break, or breaks, in the family lineage occurred;

2) Since Henry VII’s claim to the throne was “by right of conquest” at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, not blood or marriage, though many did feel that his wife- Elizabeth of York, had more right to the throne in that she was the eldest child of the defeated King’s brother Edward IV (and the great-great-great granddaughter of Edward III), though there was no question of her taking the throne.

3) There is of course another factor to take into consideration in The current Queen Elizabeth II’s right to the throne,- in 1701 parliament passed an “Act of Settlement” — is restricted succession to Protestant descendants of Sophia of Hanover. Sophia was in fact more then 50 places down in the line of succession to the throne before the act was brought into place, however, since the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in which the last Catholic monarch James II was overthrown in favor of his daughter Mary and son in law William, who both ruled as joint Monarchs. Both William and Mary died childless. And by 1701, Mary’s younger sister Anne’s oldest surviving child had died.

King George I
King George I

Parliament decided to act in order to bar a Catholic ever sitting on the throne again. That is where the Act came in to place, and Sophia leaped up in the succession to become the heiress presumptive. However The fact remains, that even though she was far down in the line of succession, she was still in fact a descendant. Sophia died, however shortly before Queen Anne in 1714, so it was her son who became King George I on Anne’s death.

Sophia was the youngest daughter of Elizabeth of Scotland, who was the daughter of King James VI of Scotland, and later went on to become King James I of England in 1603 . James’s claim to the crown of England, was due to his great-grandmother Margaret Tudor (eldest daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York and older sister of Henry VIII) who, one hundred years before he ascended the English throne, married his great-grandfather King James IV of Scotland.

Through King James I (who is the current Queen’s 10th great-grandfather), Queen Elizabeth II is also descended from Robert the Bruce- the Scottish national hero, who defeated the English at Loudon Hill and Bannockburn, through his daughter Majorie Bruce who married King Robert II of Scotland, the first king of the house of Stewart- thus making Robert the Bruce her 20th great-grandfather. Through Robert the Bruce she also descended from Kenneth MacAlpin, the legendary first King of Scotland. This line can also trace back to Cedric of Wessex, the earliest Saxon ancestor who died in 534.

Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha

Sometimes the brides or grooms into the Royal marriages brought links to Kings and Queens from European countries- Prince Albert for example brought the ancient Wettin line into the British Royal family. Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (who married King George III) gives the current Queen her shortest path of descent back to William the Conqueror. Through the late Queen Mother, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the Queen can also trace her ancestry back to Henry VII’s youngest daughter Mary Tudor and her second husband Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk- through their granddaughter Lady Katherine Grey, sister of the ill fated Lady Jane Grey.

Katherine, imprisoned in the Tower of London on the orders of Queen Elizabeth I for marrying Edward Seymour 1st Earl of Hertford in secret (which was treason for an heir to the throne, as some considered Katherine to be). Katherine gave birth to two sons whilst in the Tower- Edward and Thomas. Katherine’s eldest son Edward’s 7th great-grandaughter, Cecilia Nina Cavendish-Bentick married Claude George Bowes-Lyon, 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne in 1881, their youngest daughter Elizabeth married Prince Albert Duke of York in 1923, and later became King George VI. Their eldest daughter Elizabeth became Queen in 1952. It seems an posthumous triumph in some way for Katherine, imprisoned on the orders of Elizabeth I, who feared a conspiracy against her- perhaps her fears where not wholly unjustified after all!

It seems ironic really that Henry VIII who was so desperate for a son to succeed him on the throne and continue his legacy, should not only have had his youngest daughter as his most successful successor out of his children, but the fact that the current Royal family are descended from both of his sisters- Margaret being the current Queen’s 13th great-grandmother through the official Royal line of her father, but Mary her 12th great-grandmother through her mother’s line.

Mary Boleyn Carey
Mary Boleyn Carey

Through the Queen Mother, the Queen is also descended from the Seymours, Katherine Grey’s husband, Edward was the son of Edward Seymour 1st Duke of Somerset, (brother of Henry VIII’s third wife Jane Seymour), making Jane’s parents the current Queen’s 11th great-grandparents. Fear not Boleyn fans, for the Queen Mother is also descended from Anne Boleyn’s older sister Mary Boleyn through Mary’s daughter Katherine Carey, who’s 12th great-grandaughter was also Cecilia Nina Cavendish-Bentinck, mother of the late Queen Mother and maternal grandmother of the present Queen, therefore making Mary Boleyn her 13th great-grandmother, the line’s joined a few generations back however, when Mary Boleyn’s great-great-granddaughter Frances Devereux, married Jane’s brother Edward’s great-grandson William Seymour 2nd Duke of Somerset, Cecilia was there 5th great-granddaughter. Therefore since 1952 the old rival’s the Boleyn’s and the Seymour’s have a direct heir on the throne in Queen Elizabeth II.

The late Diana, Princess of Wales is also descended from Mary through both her son Henry Carey 1st Baron Hunsdon, and her daughter Katherine Carey, Lady Knollys. Through her son Henry his 11th great-granddaughter Cynthia Hamilton married Albert Spencer in 1919, the late Princess of Wales was their granddaughter, making her the 13th great-granddaughter of Mary Boleyn, making Prince William, Duke of Cambridge her 14th great-grandson. Katherine it is through her daughter Elizabeth who married Thomas Leighton, their 7th great-granddaughter was Adelaide Horatia Seymour who married Frederick, 4th Earl of Spencer, Diana, Princess of Wales, their great-great granddaughter, meaning that she is also Mary’s 13th great-granddaughter through her daughter as well as her son, so William is descended from Mary Boleyn at least three generations.

William, Duke of Cambridge
William, Duke of Cambridge

William can also claim descent from Charles II and James II of England/VII of Scotland- both through his mother the late Diana, Princess of Wales, who was descended from two of Charles II illegitimate sons, one Charles Lennox 1st Duke of Richmond (his son by Louise de K√©rouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth), who is 8th great-granddaughter was Lady Cynthia Hamilton, Diana’s paternal grandmother, making Charles William’s 10th great-grandfather. (Ironically Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall- current wife of Prince Charles, is also a direct descendant through Charles Lennox).

Diana, Princess of Wales is also descended through another illegitimate son Henry FitzRoy, 1st Duke of Grafton (his mother was the notorious Barbara Villiers). Through Diana, can also claim his descent back to King James II the last Catholic monarch who deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688- through his daughter Henrietta FitzJames with his mistress Arabella Churchill. Therefore William is more directly descended to the Stuart dynasty then the current Queen now, her line officially goes through James I of England/VI of Scotland (as does William’s), but William, though is descended directly through the dethroned King James II, Charles II and Charles I, the only problem though… It’s through illegitimate lines, meaning their descendants could never claim the throne.

So the Genealogy of the Royal family never has been- and never will be as clear-cut, each generation has brought a new link, either to an ancient house, a nobleman, and more recent generations, more humble origins, which makes it all the more fascinating.

James Peacock

I run The Anne Boleyn Society, which I set up in 2014. Over the years the society has grown tremendously and there are accounts on Facebook, Instagram (@society_anne) and Twitter (@Society_Anne). With over 20,000 followers, the society aims to debate and discuss the life and times of Queen Anne Boleyn while taking into account the period in which she lived in.

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