‘It’s like a historical novel brought to life!’ Who Do You Think You Are? viewers are stunned at Josh Widdicombe’s family tree featuring Henry VIII and Mary Boleyn – but the truth is we’re ALL related to royalty
- Josh Widdicombe, 38, appeared on last night’s Who Do You Think You Are?
- The comedian learned he was a descendant of Henry VIII and Mary Boleyn
- Also connected to a woman who was in a love triangle with Queen Elizabeth I
- Royal revelations stunned Josh – and the viewers watching at home
- But the reality is millions of people are distant relatives of royalty
Who Do You Think You Are? viewers were stunned to discover comedian Josh Widdicombe is a distant descendant of Henry VIII – but the truth is historical ties to royalty are more common than one might think.
The comedian, 38, discovered he is an ancestor of the Tudor royal, famed for his six wives, in last night’s episode of the BBC genealogy show, and was left speechless at every twist and turn.
‘To say it’s exceeded my expectations is the understatement of a lifetime,’ he said. ‘I was just expecting a couple of farmers. It’s proper blue blood, isn’t it?’
The disbelief on Josh’s face as each new revelation was revealed delighted viewers, who hailed it the ‘best ever’ episode of the long-running show. It has echoes of Danny Dyer’s popular episode in which he also discovered a link to royalty.
‘#WhoDoYouThinkYouAre: spectacular start to new series with @joshwiddicombe ; no spoilers but would love to have been in office when researchers found out what they have,’ tweeted one viewer.
Another posted: ‘The @joshwiddicombe #WhoDoYouThinkYouAre is one of the best ones there’s ever been. Jaw dropping.’
But in reality studies have found that if you’re European – or even descended from Europeans – it’s most likely you’re somehow related to royalty, meaning millions of people could dig out their own connections to the kings and queens of old.
Stunned: Who Do You Think You Are? viewers were amazed to discover comedian Josh Widdicombe is a distant descendant of Henry VIII. Pictured, the comedian learns of his connection to the Boleyn family. The reality is almost everyone is related to royalty
Distant: Josh’s connection to Henry VIII (left) is through 13x great-grandmother Lady Catherine Knollys. There is evidence to suggest Lady Catherine is the lovechild of Henry’s relationship with Mary Boleyn (right), the sister of his second wife, Anne
Astonishing: The disbelief on Josh’s face as each new revelation was revealed delighted viewers, who hailed it the ‘best ever’ episode of the long-running show. It has echoes of Danny Dyer’s popular episode in which he also discovered a link to royalty
Josh’s journey started with a family connection to the powerful banking dynasty the Barings, although he learned his 5x great-grandfather, Charles, was cut out of the business.
Through this relative, Josh discovered his 10x great-grandfather was Henry Rich (1590-1649), the first Earl of Holland and a trusted adviser to King Charles I.
Henry was a member of the powerful Privy Council, as well as ‘the groom of the stool’, whose responsibility it was to accompany the royal to the toilet.
Professor Tracy Borman explained the role was one of the most sought after in the court, saying: ‘In those days it’s all about getting ahead as well as getting to be with the king… It carries enormous influence.’
His life came to an end when he was eventually executed for high treason ordered by parliamentarian Oliver Cromwell after the English Civil War.
Widdicombe is then led to St Nicholas Church, outside Henley-on-Thames, in Oxfordshire, where he learns Rich was the great-grandson of Lady Catherine Knollys and her husband, Sir Francis Knollys, Treasurer of the Household to Queen Elizabeth I.
Lady Catherine was Chief Lady of the Bedchamber to Elizabeth I and, in a testament to their bond, the monarch paid for her funeral. Lady Catherine was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Josh’s connection to the infamous royal is through 13x great-grandmother Lady Catherine Knollys – as there is evidence to suggest she is the lovechild of Henry’s relationship with Anne Boleyn’s sister Mary
Next game Josh’s 12x great-grandmother, Lettice Knollys, Francis and Catherine’s daughter, a Tudor lady-in-waiting who looked like a younger, prettier Elizabeth I.
Josh studied the picture but didn’t guess the significance. Lettice turned out to be the monarch’s cousin. Much to the Virgin Queen’s chagrin, she even married Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester — once hotly tipped to marry Queen Elizabeth himself.
When that was explained, Josh was reeling: ‘My 12 times great-grandmother was in a love triangle with Elizabeth I?’
On visiting Lady Catherine’s grave in Westminster Abbey, Josh learned she was the daughter of Mary Boleyn, sister of Henry VIII’s second wife Anne. Indeed some historians believe Lady Catherine was the product of Mary’s affair with the king.
‘So Catherine was the cousin of Queen Elizabeth I,’ he said, laughing. The revelation left Josh speechless.
Josh learned his 10x great-grandfather was Henry Rich (1590-1649), the first Earl of Holland and a trusted adviser to King Charles I. Pictured, Rich’s name on a list of the Privy Council
Rich, pictured, was also ‘the groom of the stool’, whose responsibility it was to accompany the royal to the toilet
Widdicombe was taken to St Nicholas Church, outside Henley-on-Thames, in Oxfordshire, where he learns Rich was the great-grandson of Lady Catherine Knollys and her husband, Sir Francis Knollys, Treasurer of the Household to Queen Elizabeth I (pictured, their tomb)
Lady Catherine, who lived from 1524-1569, is believed to be portrayed in this 1562 portrait by Steven van der Meulen. There is suggestion she was the illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII
On a visit to Hever Castle — family seat of the Boleyns — Widdicombe was left open-mouthed as he learned his line went back to the 13th century’s King Philippe of France . . . his 24 times great-grandfather. ‘Proper blue blood,’ whistled Josh.
Studies have revealed how millions are related to royalty. In 1999, Joseph Chang – a Yale statistician – demonstrated that if you look back at least 32 generations, or 900 years, you’ll find that every person alive today will share a common ancestor.
Hundreds of studies which have been carried out in Europe suggests that ancestor was likely someone who lived just 600 years ago.
Meanwhile, the fact you don’t need to be royal to have royal blood makes the chances of anyone being descended from royalty even higher.
For example, just like Prince William and Kate Middleton, it’s not unusual to see a royal from across the globe tying the knot with someone of a lesser status – resulting in an increase in the number of people with a royal claim.
Overseas: Not only is he related to the English upper classes, he also discovered that his 24x great-grandfather is the French King Phillip III (pictured)
As reported by The Guardian, Kirill Chashchin, a Russian genealogical researcher, says that ‘almost royals’ – illegitimate children and those (like Princess Diana) who show royal connections but not a clear lineage – have ‘muddied the waters.’
Gregory Clarke, who is an economics professor at UC Davis, goes on to suggest if your ancestors came from a region where royals and commoners intermarried, it increases the chances you descended from royalty.
He said: ‘The noble classes have always been fairly open to incorporating wealthy commoners … So a large share of the modern English will be related to someone in the past who was part of the nobility.’
So it’s unsurprising that a whole host of celebrities have claimed to be related to royalty through some far-distant relation – including Tom Hanks.
The Hollywood actor is related to British royalty through his father’s side of the family. Hanks is a descendent of King John of England, who reigned from 1199 to 1216 – and is also a 24th cousin to the current monarch of England, Queen Elizabeth II.
Elsewhere, Hugh Grant is a descendant of Henry VII through his mother’s side of the family, and he also has King James IV of Scotland as an ancestor.
And according to Nick Barratt from the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? Johnny Depp is 20th cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, sharing a great-grandfather with her that dates back 19 generations.
Meanwhile, Ellen DeGeneres is 15th cousin to Kate Middleton and is related to the royal as a direct descendant of Edward III of England. She is also the 19th cousin, twice removed, of Queen Elizabeth II.
One of the most popular episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? featured Danny Dyer, who discovered in 2015 he was a distant relative to Edward III and William the Conquerer.
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