28 April 2018

A New Royal Baby and Cousin

Welcome to my new 25th cousin once-removed (also my 26th cousin once-removed through a different line), HRH Louis Arthur Charles, Prince of Cambridge.

Royal Family Tree from the Daily Mail
Although this new English cousin and I will never meet, I do have a large contingent of cousins in England who are more accessible.  They’re not really close from a lineage perspective (a lot closer than the Prince of Cambridge!), but they are important to me nonetheless, because I’ve gotten to know a good number of them well.  I have four second cousins once-removed (siblings) and a whole lot more third cousins (and third cousins once-removed!) in the UK. 

They are from a good solid upper middle class background and the four siblings (who are my mother’s second cousins) have welcomed me into their homes and lives, for which I am grateful.  They have children, some of whom have children of their own, thus my thirds and thirds-once, mentioned above.

One difficulty for genealogists in the UK is that many of their vital statistics records were destroyed or simply not kept in the 17th Century during the UK Civil War.  It is very difficult for anyone of UK heritage, particularly in England, to trace their families past the 1700s.  Royal and noble lineages were still carefully maintained, but a large swath of the “regular people” are not able to get back into the 1600s.

My UK cousins, although part of neither royalty nor nobility in the past few centuries, are able to trace a part of their lineage back to William the Conqueror and beyond.  Although their 17th century family records largely fell to the same fate as the bulk of their countrymen, nonetheless they can make that connection.  Here’s how:

English Coin of
William the Conqueror
I’ve heard estimates (I have not corroborated!) that King Henry II now has upwards of 10 million descendants.  One reason for this is that Henry II died in 1189, 25-30 generations ago . . . that’s a lot of time for his descends to populate the UK and the world!  Another reason is that Henry had a number of acknowledged children out of wedlock, increasing his number of descendants significantly.  Because of the Civil War under Cromwell, the bulk of his descendants in the UK don’t know about this (very long tenuous) connection.

I and my English cousins are among those descendants.  The reason my cousins in the UK do know about their descent from King Henry II and his great-grandfather, William the Conqueror, and about their connection to the newest royal heir, Louis, Prince of Cambridge, is through an American connection.  These four siblings had an American mother through whom the Plantagenet connection was established. 

The colonization of the New World was, in part, a big land-grab.  Territory was there for the taking and trading.  Colonists in New England were assigned their tracts of land as they became freemen (and based on the size of their families) and they sold, bought and traded their land regularly.  Because of this emphasis on land and family, the colonies kept meticulous records of land transactions and birth and death records.  These records, unaffected by the English civil war drama, were maintained carefully.

John and Stephen Merrill from England with my mother, their second cousin.
My great grandmother, Reba Baxter, had a niece, my grandfather’s first cousin, Jane Bliss.  Jane married an Englishman she met when he was completing his master’s degree at MIT in Cambridge, MA.  They married in her parents’ yard in Pittsfield, MA, moving almost immediately to Cheshire, England with her new husband.  Just a few months later, World War II broke out and Jane didn’t see her American family for some time, with the exception of my grandfather and their cousin John Black, both stationed in England. 

After the war, Jane visited with the two young children born in the interim – my mother was born the same year that Jane’s first son was born and they met each other at the age of four or so.  The families stayed in touch and the broadening number of cousins have attempted to keep up with one another over the years.

John Black, one of the two cousins that Jane was able to see during the war, later commissioned the New England Historic and Genealogical Society to trace his lineage.  In doing so, they proved his descent from King Henry II, one of the millions of his descendants.  I remember John, a great fan of the film “Lion in Winter” (starring Peter O’Toole as Henry II and Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine) explaining that we were “descended from Peter O’Toole but not Katharine Hepburn”, as the descent was through Sir William Longespée, Earl of Salisbury,an illegitimate child of Henry II  and his ward, Ida de Tony, who later married Roger Bigod, a Magna Carta baron. 

This descent, through a common ancestor we all share (my great-great grandmother, Sarah Antrim), has been proven all the way back to King Henry II.  Therefore, my English cousins have a proof of descent from Henry II, primarily because of their American ancestors whose records were kept intact.
My two-page documentation of descent from King Henry II and my very far-removed relation to the newest British heir

As one English cousin in his 20s (my third cousin, Ralph, pronounced in the old-fashioned way, “Rafe”) said, “It’s not surprising that we’re descended from him – it’s just surprising that we can show it.”  The English know their stuff – pretty much the entire Anglo-Saxon residents of the British Isles descend from Henry II.  They just don’t know how!

And what about today?  The newest heir to the British throne has just been born, fifth in succession after his grandfather, father and two siblings.  He, too is descended from King Henry II.  And he too is descended from his mistress and illegitimate son, the Earl of Salisbury (Henry did well by his illegitimate children). 

Louis is, in fact, descended from Salisbury through both his mother and father.  Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge’s father, Michael Middleton, and HRH William, Prince of Wales’ mother, Lady Diana, both descend from the Earl of Salisbury, Henry II’s son, as well.

Welcome to the world, Louis, Prince of Cambridge, my twenty-fifth cousin once-removed through your mother and my twenty-sixth cousin once-removed through your father.  Best of luck to you!

The takeaway:

In our case, we have a long, proven chart that demonstrates that I am Henry’s 25x-great grandson.  This doesn’t make me special or important in any way.  But from a genealogical perspective it is of interest.  Those of us who study family history and our own genealogy are always (see my very first post on this blog) fascinated by the events of history and how they related to our own ancestors and family.  The fact that historical events have taken place that were witnessed by my ancestors (or, as with Henry II, in which they participated) brings them closer to me.  I want to know more of these events, and it me to speculate, what was my ancestor thinking and feeling when she or he went through that event that we still read about today?

I feel a connection to this latest heir to the British throne.  Not because we share some infinitesimal amount of DNA, but because we have common ancestors whose lives are known to us, to some extent.  We know about some of their triumphs, tribulations and something about their lives.  We know because our current day lives are what they are, in some small part, to what these ancestors did during their own lives.  We owe our existence to theirs and we owe a part of our daily lives in part to what they did in their daily lives.  I’ll never know these royal cousins of mine (and they’ll never know I exist!), but they are special to me.


William the Conqueror coin attribution: By PHGCOM - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5987249

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