Last week I visited Caernarfon for the first time, which has a splendid castle where Edward II, amongst other people, was born.
Here’s how I’m descended from Edward II:
“Wow!”, I can hear you say. “Quentin is royalty? I didn’t know that! But it explains an awful lot.” Actually, I should probably focus on Edward III, who sounds like a much more decent chap to have as an ancestor, but I just happened to be in Caernarfon, not Windsor.
Sadly, however, neither relationship is nearly as exciting as you might think.
Firstly, several links are in the female line, and so don’t really count, of course.
And secondly, if you’re of roughly British descent, you’re probably descended from him too.
Let’s think about the maths. As a gross over-simplification, let’s assume that none of your ancestors are related to each other in any way. So you had two parents, each of them had two parents, and so forth. The number of people who are your ancestors doubles at each generation.
Pick your favourite king from a few centuries back – let’s say Henry V, who lived around 24 generations ago. Using the above model, going back 24 generations would take you to the roughly 16 million people from whom you would be descended. If you weren’t related to somebody back then, they’d need to be outside the 16 million. And the population of the UK back then (not that it was the UK then, of course) was around 3 million.
Now, since people do marry distant relatives, the number is much smaller than 16 million in reality – it must be, because there were only 3 million of ’em, and they didn’t all have children, and relatively few people arrived or departed from this sceptred isle – but if we go back a few more generations to Edward II, the ratio is much greater too, so you can be fairly certain that almost everybody alive here now is related to him. And also to every peasant in his fields. At least, those peasants who do actually have surviving descendants.
I discovered the details for my own particular ancestry because a cousin and I had put some of the family tree into one of the genealogy sites, and a couple of weeks ago I got an email from them saying “Julius Caesar is your 64th great-grandfather!” And so he is, sort of, despite the fact that he didn’t have any children! (He adopted some.) Here are the details if you’re curious.
But when you go back that far, it’s really, really hard not to be related to somebody if they’re in roughly the same continent! So, this is all quite fun, but I won’t be massing my armies and crossing the Rubicon just yet.
I think, though, with the element of surprise on our side, Tilly and I could re-take Caernarfon…