As the royal wedding approaches, it’s interesting to dig into the royal family’s claims of descent from King Arthur. Here is some information about those claims from my chapter “Arthur and the English Royal Family” in King Arthur’s Children:
Among those who have tried to claim descent from King Arthur, the most prominent and most determined have been the monarchs of England. As we have already seen, little chance exists that any of King Arthur’s children outlived him, and the only grandchildren he had were murdered by Constantine. These two grandsons could have been old enough to have had children of their own before they died, but this theory is only a surmise since no record, chronicle, or romance states they had heirs. Therefore, it is highly doubtful that King Arthur had any descendants who lived beyond the sixth century. Yet the royal family of England has claimed, at least since the time of the Plantagenets, that they are descended from King Arthur.
During the reigns of the Saxon kings in England, from the sixth century until 1066, there is no monarch known to have claimed descent from Arthur. It was not until after the Norman invasion that this idea became popular, and even then it seems to have been the result of the popularity of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain, which appeared around 1136. Geoffrey ended his chronicle with King Cadwallader, whom he states probably died around 689 (289). Cadwallader has numerous descendants living today, but he is not a descendant of King Arthur; neither is he from any records I have been able to locate an ancestor to the present royal family of Britain (although DNA research suggests the odds are that he is). Geoffrey leaves unaccounted for over four hundred years, from the time his book ends until the 1100s, except for making prophecies of what will happen. However, none of these prophecies hint that Arthur’s descendants will reign over England. Since Geoffrey gives King Arthur no descendants, it is inconceivable how the Plantagenets could have claimed an Arthurian lineage.
The popularity of Geoffrey’s book gave rebirth to the tales of King Arthur and made the conquered Anglo-Saxon peoples believe King Arthur would return to rescue them, a belief that might seem strange since the Anglo-Saxons had originally been Arthur’s enemies; however, by the twelfth century, Celtic blood had so intermixed with Anglo-Saxon blood that nearly anyone in England could claim to have ancestors whom Arthur had been king over.
The belief that King Arthur would return might have made King Henry II fearful that the conquered people would become restless, and so as we have already seen, he may have staged the finding of Arthur’s body at Glastonbury. To keep the conquered under control, the royal family decided it needed to prove its members were the rightful heirs to the throne of all Britain because of their descent from King Arthur or at least his family.
King Henry II’s ancestors included the Counts of Anjou; his descent from William the Conqueror was through his mother, whereas it was his father who was Count of Anjou. However, William the Conqueror’s great-grandparents included a daughter of the House of Anjou, and a Duke of Brittany, both of whom could possibly have claimed an ancestry from Arthurian times. William the Conqueror’s paternal lineage from the Dukes of Normandy went back to a Scandinavian and Viking ancestry that settled in Normandy in the 800s. The House of Anjou can trace its descent back to Tertulle, Count of Anjou (born about 821), and his wife Petronilla, Countess of Anjou (born about 825), who was a granddaughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne (Ancestral File). However, the House of Anjou would have to trace its ancestors back another three hundred years if it were to claim descent from King Arthur, and it is probably no longer possible to make genealogical connections for these families that stretch so far back in time.
Despite these loose claims, the Plantagenet and Tudor dynasties would make many more attempts to link themselves to King Arthur, and even today, both Prince Charles and Prince William have middle names that include Arthur….
Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com