All My Readers are Descendants of Royalty

Commenters on yesterday’s entry broached the subject of being the descendant of European royalty. I’d say everybody alive today with even a vaguely europid complexion is such a royal scion.

Do the math as you count generations into the past. Two parents, four grandparents, eight great grandparents, sixteen great-great-grandparents, and so on through the centuries. Soon you reach a point where the number of ancestors in a given generation is larger than the population of the Earth at the time. (This is possible because as you move back, a single individual may occupy a large number of slots on your family tree, which is known as pedigree collapse. That is such a badass term.)

The population of Europe in AD 1000 is estimated at about 36 million. Not all of them had kids. With a mean generation length (defined as the duration from a person’s birth to the birth of their first child) of 25 years, we get 40 generations per millennium. 240=1,099,511,627,776. There are almost 1100 billion slots on your tree in AD 1000. So all living Europeans and European-descended people elsewhere are descendants of Saint Olaf.

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14 thoughts on “All My Readers are Descendants of Royalty

  1. If only things were that simple! There is also population sub-structuring: relatively few Swedes will have descendants from Italy, and similarly, there will be relatively little gene flow from royalty to plebs like us (OK, there would have been some, although it won’t appear in the official genealogies).

    I’m sure someone has looked at this in more detail, but I don’t do a lot of human population genetics.


  2. there will be relatively little gene flow from royalty to plebs

    On the contrary! Nobody knocks up more serving girls than the king’s younger brothers. The kings of Sweden have had scads of recognised illegitimate children as far back as the records go. And slavery didn’t end until the 14th century. Bonking someone’s slave woman was probably on a level with borrowing his horse.


  3. You’re right, Martin, “pedigree collapse” certainly is a badass term, one I hadn’t encountered before.

    And now I can start a new family legend about Saint Olaf!


  4. And that’s just mentioning the “big” royal families. In Ireland, where every medium-large landowner/clan chief was styled “rí”, or “king”, and where (until the Normans brought in their law) “secondary” wives and mistresses had legal standing…

    Everybody of Irish ancestry is descended from royalty. 😉

    But we’ve seen this before. Remember when Diana Spencer and Sarah Ferguson were marrying into a certain recognized “royal” family? There were some who noted each time that the woman in question was descended from Charles II, which her fiancé was not. Talk about scads of recognized illegitimate children; some of the English kings were no slouches in that department either. Ditto the Bourbons and Hapsburgs.


  5. Through my Dutch ancestors who came here in 1668, I am related to the House of Orange and to the current residents of Buckingham Palace. I have a picture of my ancestral home in the Netherlands. I’m lurking in the bushes outside the home, just waiting for the night they all go bowling. Or I could be like Ascoyne D’Ascoyne and eliminate those standing in my way to the throne.


  6. …which is known as pedigree collapse. That is such a badass term.

    Nah, just an euphemism for “inbreeding”…

    The population of Europe in AD 1000 is estimated at about 36 million.

    Incidentally the most recent common ancestor of Western Europeans might have lived as recently as AD 1000 as well.


  7. Go down enough generations, and you’d be surprised how many royal descendants ended up pretty much being anonymous peasants. Enough younger sons of younger sons, or the children of younger daughters, ended up marrying into the nobility instead of other royals, and then the younger sons and daughters married into the gentry, and their kids married into the merely rich, and so on. Some writer called it “the velvet slipper descending down the stairs as the muddy boot climbs it” or something. And, of course, there were all those bastards, especially the ones from casual serving girl trysts or one night stands with a camp follower on campaign and such who didn’t even know they had royal fathers. Heck, there were probably more “Oops! The young princess had the stableboy’s baby! Take it away so no one knows of her disgrace!” than we’d credit.

    Also, no one did “pedigree collapse” better than the Hapsburgs, and also the later Bourbons. The Reformation was a real blow to royal genetic diversity, though, because the Bourbons and the Hapsburgs and the Savoys were the only major Catholic dynasties, so they “had” to keep marrying each other, while the Protestants just kept marrying all the German princelings’ daughters, who were all related anyway.


  8. I min släkt har det varit så många kusingiften, så jag tror jag klarar mig ifrån anklagelsen om kungligt blod. :p


  9. “pedigree collapse” man i love that, Martin, you kick ass.
    Myself, i descend from Attila, does that count as royalty?
    Or, that is, if the Magna Carta dames don’t have to throw me out for there being a single bastard between him and me.
    And I also claim descent from a handfull of Scots and Ulstermen, who once they got to Carolina, continued to marry cousins. Most folks’ family tree is a series of forks, doesn’t that look all tidy? If only it were so.


  10. I am directly decended from Aleric the goth and one of the three wise men known as Balthazar and one of my ancestors was one of the 9 sharp shooters that served directly under Andrew Jackson. and i proudly carry the Vance coat of arms but ironicly i live in Mississippi because of migration.


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