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The Royal Ancestry of Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine

One of Olivia de Havilland's last screen appearances as an actress was in the television film The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana (1982), in which she played Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother. But did you know that Olivia and, consequently, her younger sister Joan Fontaine were actually distantly related to the Queen Mother, Prince Charles and even Princess Diana? More interestingly, did you know that Olivia and Joan — through their father's side of the family — were direct descendants of King Edward I and, therefore, of his 2nd great-grandfather, William the Conqueror, the first Norman king of England? In fact, their ancestry can be traced back to even before William the Conqueror. For instance, Richard II, Duke of Normandy, William's grandfather, was Joan and Olivia's 28th great-grandfather. In turn, Richard was the great-grandson of Rollo, an early Viking settler who became the first ruler of Normandy in 911.
History and genealogy are of two of the subjects that fascinate me the most, so I thought it would be interesting if I tried to discover where do all these connections come from. To make things easier, I began my research with Edward I, who is the last king in Joan and Olivia's direct lineage. I hope you find this as fascinating to read as I found it to write.
Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine were direct descendants of King Edward I.

Edward I (1239-1307), also know as «Edward Longshanks» due to his then-unusual tall stature, married his first wife, Eleanor of Castile (1241-1290), in 1254, twenty-two years before succeeding his father, Henry III, as King of England. By Eleanor, Edward had at least fourteen children, but only six survived into adulthood. One of these, their eighth and youngest daughter Elizabeth of Rhuddlan (1282-1316), or Elizabeth Plantagenet after the name of her house, married Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford, 3rd of Essex (1276-1322), on November 14, 1302. The couple had ten children together, including Eleanor de Bohun (1304-1362), whose first husband was James Butler, 1st Earl of Ormond (1305-1338). James's paternal grandfather, Theobald Butler, 4th Chief Butler of Ireland, had earlier assisted Edward I in his wars in Scotland.
LEFT: Portrait of Edward I from a set of cigarette cards issued by John Player & Sons in 1935. RIGHT: Engraving of Eleanor of Castile's monument in Westminster Abbey.

Eleanor and James had six children, but two of them died in infancy. Their youngest son, James Butler, 2nd Earl of Ormond (1331-1382), married Elizabeth Darcy (1332-1390) on May 15, 1346. She was the daughter of Sir John Darcy, 1st Baron Darcy of Knaith, who — like James himself — was a Lord Justice of Ireland. James and Elizabeth's eldest son, James Butler, 3rd Earl of Ormond (c. 1359-1405), was also a peer of Ireland and married firstly to Anne Welles (1360-1397), the daughter of John de Welles, 4th Baron Welles by his wife Maud de Ros. Maud's grandfather, William de Ros, 1st Baron de Ros of Helmsley, had been one of the claimants of the crown of Scotland in 1292, during the reign of Edward I. In turn, William's great-grandfather, Robert de Ros, was one of the twenty-five barons to guarantee the observance of the Magna Carta, which was sealed by King John of England, Edward I's grandfather, on June 15, 1215.

James and Anne were parents to five children. Their second son, James Butler, 4th Earl of Ormond (1393-1452), was appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1405 and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1420, 1425 ad 1442. His first wife, whom he married in 1413, was Joan Beauchamp (1396-1430), the daughter of William de Beauchamp, 1st Baron Bergavenny and Joan FitzAlan. William's father, Thomas de Beauchamp, 11th Earl of Warwick, had fought in all of the French wars of King Edward III, Edward I's grandson. William's grandfather, Guy de Beauchamp, 10th Earl of Warwick, was a server of the crown under Edward I. In turn, Joan FitzAlan's mother was Elizabeth de Bohun, Countess of Arundel, whose paternal grandparents were Humphrey de Bohun and Elizabeth of Rhuddlan. As such, Joan FitzAlan was a 2nd cousin once removed to her son-in-law James, who in turn was Humphrey and Elizabeth's 2nd great-grandson.
LEFT: The signing of the Magna Carta (Joseph Martin Kronheim, 1868). MIDDLE: Portrait of William Beauchamp (J. Merigot, 1811). RIGHT: Kilkenny Castle in Ireland, the principal residence of James Butler and Joan Beauchamp (W. H. Bartlett, c. 1841).

By Joan Beauchamp, James Butler had three sons and two daughters. Their eldest daughter, Elizabeth Butler (c. 1432-1473), married John Talbot, 2nd Earl of Shrewsbury (c. 1417-1460) as an attempt to heal the old feud between the Talbot and the Butler families, which had dominated Irish politics for many years. Elizabeth and John's first-born child, a daughter named Anne Talbot (c. 1445-1494), married firstly Sir Henry Vernon (1441-1515), whose grandfather, Sir Richard Vernon, had served as High Sheriff of Straffordshire for 1416 and 1427, as well as of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire for 1422 and 1425. He was also a Speaker for Derbyshire and Staffordshire at the House of Commons in 1426 and Teasurer of Calais in 1450.
One of Anne and Henry's daughters, Elizabeth Vernon (1475-1563), became the wife of Sir Robert Corbet (c. 1477-1513), a member of the politically prominent Corbet family via his father, Sir Richard Corbet. Robert's mother was Elizabeth Devereux, daughter of Walter Devereux, 7th Baron Ferrers of Chartley, a supporter of the Yorkist cause during the dynastic conflict known as the Wars of the Roses. Walter died at the Battle of Bosworth Field, fighting for King Richard III, 2nd great-grandson of Edward III via his father, Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York.
LEFT: Portrait of Elizabeth Vernon (unknown artist, n/d). RIGHT: Illustration of the Battle of Bosworth Field (J. Rogers, mid-19th century).

Elizabeth Vernon's son by Robert Corbet, Sir Roger Corbet (1501-1538), married Anne Windsor (1506-1543), daughter of Andrews Windsor, 1st Baron Windsor, a Member of Parliament, and his wife Elizabeth Blount. Andrews was a direct descendant of Margaret de Bohun, Countess of Devon, daughter of Humphrey de Bohun and Elizabeth Rhuddlan. For her part, Elizabeth was the daughter of Lancastrian supporter William Blount, who died of wounds received at the Battle of Barnet, a decisive engagement during the Wars of the Roses that ended with a Yorkist victory. In turn, William Blount was the son of Walter Blount, 1st Baron Mountjoy, whose father, Sir Thomas Blount, had been Treasurer of Calais during King Henry VI's wars in France.

A daughter of Sir Roger Corbet and Anne Windsor, Margaret Corbet (c. 1528-1550), married firstly Sir Francis Palmes of Ashwell (c. 1506-c. 1567). Their son, also named Sir Francis Palmes of Ashwell (c. 1554-1613), became the husband of Mary Hadnall (1561-1595) and together they had a daughter named Mary Palmes. She married William Molesworth and gave birth to Robert Molesworth (d. 1656), who made a fortune in Dublin largely by provisioning Oliver Cromwell's army. Robert's wife was Judith Bysse, daughter of John Bysse, the Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer from 1660 until his death. Robert and Judith were parents to Robert Molesworth, 1st Viscount Molesworth (1656-1725), who served as William of Orange's ambassador to Denmark, before being appointed to the Privy Council of Ireland in 1695.

LEFT: The Battle of Barnet (from a 19th century engraving). RIGHT: Portrait of Robert Molesworth, 1st Viscount Molesworth (by Peter Pelham, 1721).

The younger Robert Molesworth married an Irish girl named Letitia Coote (d. 1729), the daughter of Richard Coote, 1st Baron Coote of Coloony, and Mary St. George, who was a direct descendant of Sir Thomas Blount. Robert and Letitia had eight sons and five daughters. One of the boys, William Molesworth (b. 1671), married Anne Adair and became the father of Richard Molesworth (1737-1799), who went on to wed Catherine Cobb. Richard and Catherine were the parents of John Molesworth (1789-1858), whose wife was a woman called Louise Tomkyns.
John and Louise's daughter was Margaret Letitia Molesworth (1826-1910), who married the Reverend Charles Richard de Havilland (1823-1901) and then gave birth to Walter August de Havilland (1872-1968). Walter was a patent attorney who taught English at Hokkaido University, before becoming a professor of Law at Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan. While there, he met aspiring young actress Lilian Augusta Ruse (1886-1975), whom he married in 1914. Before their divorce in 1925, Walter and Lilian had two daughters: Olivia Mary de Havilland (b. 1916) and Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland (1917-2013), both of whom became Oscar-winning actresses.
LEFT: Walter de Havilland and Lilian Ruse with baby Olivia de Havilland in Japan. RIGHT: Joan Fontaine with her mother in Los Angeles the 1940s.

And there you have it. Through all these twists and turns, Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine are in fact direct descendants of King Edward I, who was, in «technical terms,» their 18th great-grandfather. Having such notable figures in their lineage means, of course, that Olivia and Joan are kin to several prominent people in the most varied of fields.
For instance, via their common ancestor Edward III (Edward I's grandson) the sisters are distant cousins to actors Orson Welles (1915-1985), Christopher Reeve (1952-2004), Kyra Sedgwick (b. 1965), Anne Baxter (1923-1985), Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957), Randolph Scott (1898-1987), Alan Ladd (1913-1964), George Hamilton (b. 1939), Keri Russell (b. 1976) and Oliver Platt (b. 1960); U.S. Presidents Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), Zachary Taylor (1784-1850), Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), Jimmy Carter (b. 1924) and Herbert Hoover (1874-1964); First Ladies Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962), Edith Wilson (1872-1961) and Abigail Adams (1744-1818), mother of John Quincy Adams; oil industry business magnate John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937); political activist and lecturer Helen Keller (1880-1968); architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), Anne Baxter's maternal grandfather; playwrights Tennesse Williams (1911-1983) and Noël Coward (1899-1973); model Kate Upton (b. 1992); author Harper Lee (1926-2016); and lyricist-composer Johnny Mercer (1909-1976).
LEFT: Olivia with Humphrey Bogart. RIGHT: Joan with Orson Welles in Jane Eyre (1943). Through Edward III, Bogart and Welles were Olivia and Joan's 18th cousins.
In the beginning of this post, I told you that Joan and Olivia are related to Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. Indeed, they are. How? To begin with, they all have Edward I and his wife Eleanor of Castille as a common ancestors. In fact, their lineage is exactly the same up to Elizabeth Butler and John Talbot, their 12th great-grandparents. Joan and Olivia, as we have already established, are descendants of Elizabeth and John's daughter Anne Talbot, while Queen Elizabeth is descended instead from their son, Sir Gilbert Talbot of Grafton (1452-1517/8), a Tudor knight. Gilbert's great-granddaughter, Jane Talbot, married Sir George Bowes (c. 1527-1580) in 1558. In turn, Jane and George's 3rd great-granddaughter, Mary Eleanor Bowes (1749-1800), became the wife of John Lyon, 9th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne (1737-1776) in 1767.

Per the will of his father-in-law, also named Sir George Bowes, John Lyon assumed his wife's surname and thus their descendants were christened Lyon-Bowes, later changed to Bowes-Lyon. Mary and John's great-grandson, Claude Bowes-Lyon, 13th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne (1824-1904) was the grandfather of Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (1900-2002), who married King George VI of the United Kingdom in 1923. She became known as Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother after her husband's death, to avoid confusion with her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II. Therefore, through John Talbot, The Queen Mother was a 13th cousin to Joan and Olivia, meaning that Queen Elizabeth II was the sisters' 13th cousin once removed. As such, Elizabeth II's son, Prince Charles, is Joan and Olivia's 13th cousin twice removed; her grandson, Prince William, their 13th cousin 3 times removed; and her great-grandson, Prince George, their 13th cousin 4 times removed — all via their common ancestor John Talbot.
LEFT: Portrait of Mary Eleanor Bowes. MIDDLE: Portrait of Claude Bowes-Lyon (1923). RIGHT: Portrait of Queen Elizabeth by Richard Stone (1986).

A closer family connection between de Havilland sisters and the Queen Mother (as well as her descendants) comes through a common ancestor named Henry Clifford, 10th Baron Clifford (c. 1454-1523), Joan and Olivia's 10th great-grandfather. Henry's father was John Clifford, 9th Baron Clifford (1435-1461), a Lancastrian military leader during the Wars of the Roses. If you remember, Walter Devereux, Joan and Olivia's 12th great-grandfather, fought for the House of York in the same conflict, making him somewhat of an enemy to John Clifford.
Henry Clifford had two wives: Florence Pudsey and Anne St. John, whom he married sometime before 1493. Anne was the daughter of Sir John St. John of Bletsoe (1426-1488) and granddaughter of Margaret Beauchamp of Bletsoe (c. 1410-1482), who in turn was the maternal grandmother of King Henry VII, father of King Henry VIII (1491-1547), 3rd cousin 11 times removed of Joan and Olivia. Henry Clifford's descendants by Florence included Margaret Lowther, mother of Judith Bysse, who was 5th great-grandmother of Joan and Olivia. By Anne, Henry was an ancestor of Claude Bowes-Lyon, grandfather of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. Via Henry Clifford, Claude was then an 11th cousin to Joan and Olivia, making The Queen Mother their 11th cousin twice removed and Elizabeth II their 11th cousin 3 times removed.
LEFT: Portrait of Margaret Beauchamp of Bletsoe. RIGHT: Portrait of King Henry VIII.

Interestingly enough, through Henry Clifford and his wife Anne St. John, Joan and Olivia are also kin to Catherine Middleton, wife of Prince William. This will all make sense, I promise. Henry and Anne's great-granddaughter, Frances Eure (who also happened to be an ancestor of The Queen Mother through her father's side), married a man named Robert Lambton (d. 1583). Their great-grandson, James Lambton, was a 5th cousin of Robert Molesworth, Joan and Olivia's 4th grandfather. One of James's descendants was Jane Liddell (1839-1881), 11th cousin to Joan and Olivia. Jane and her husband, John Harrison (1824-1889), were great-grandparents of Dorothy Harrison (1936-2006), who married Ronald John James Goldsmith (1931-2003) in 1953. Dorothy and Ronald's daughter, Carole Elizabeth Goldsmith (b. 1955) married Michael Francis Middleton (b. 1949) and became mother of Catherine Elizabeth Middleton (b. 1982). This means that, via Henry Clifford, Catherine is 11th cousin 5 times removed to Joan and Olivia.
Prince William and Catherine Middleton on their wedding day.

Are you still with me? I hope so, because there is more. At the beginning of this article, I also said that Princess Diana — wife of Prince Charles, mother of Prince William — was related to Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland. She is indeed — and, as it happens, their connection is actually quite close compared to that of The Queen Mother.
The story begins with Robert Molesworth and Letitia Coote, who are (if you remember) the 4th great-grandparents of Joan and Olivia. The sisters' line was originated from Robert and Letitia's son William Molesworth, while Diana is a descendant of their other son, Richard Molesworth, 3rd Viscount Molesworth. Richard married a woman named Mary Jenney Usher and became father to Louisa Molesworth, 1st cousin to Richard Molesworth, maternal great-grandfather of Walter de Havilland, Joan and Olivia's father. Louisa and her husband, William Brabazon Ponsonby, 1st Baron Ponsonby of Imokilly (1744-1806), were 2nd great-grandparents to Margaret Baring (1869-1906), 5th cousin to Joan and Olivia. Margaret married Charles Robert Spencer, 6th Earl Spencer (1857-1922) in 1887 and together they were the great-grandparents of Lady Diana Frances Spencer (1961-1997), Joan and Olivia's 5th cousin 3 times removed. This means that, via Robert Molesworth, Prince William was Joan and Olivia's 5th cousin 4 times removed, making his son, Prince George, their 5th cousin 5 times removed.
LEFT: Portrait of Charles Robert Spencer c. 1910. RIGHT: Princess Diana in Spain in 1987.

And there it is, the proof that Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland are related to The Queen Mother, Prince Charles and Princess Diana. I could obviously dissect their family tree further and tell you why they are related to Henry VIII (and indeed four of his wives, including Anne Boleyn) or even to Ferdinand II of Aragon, 1st King of a united Spain, but that would take a ridicously amount of time to do. To finish my very long (although, hopefully, very enthralling) article, I will leave you with another piece of information which I thought was quite interesting as well.
You will know, of course, that Olivia starred in a film called The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), based on the famous assault by the British calvary against Russian forces during the Crimean War. But did you know that the leader of the Charge of Light Brigade, Lieutenant General James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan, was another distant family relation of Joan and Olivia? They are related through various ancestors, but the closer link between them comes via the aforementioned Margaret Beauchamp. She married firstly to Sir Oliver St. John and it was this line that eventually originated Joan and Olivia's generation. But in turn, Lt. Gen. Brudenell is a descendant of Margaret Beauchamp through her second husband, John of Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset. In conclusion, through Margaret Beauchamp, Brudenell was 12th cousin to Walter de Havilland and, consequently, 12th cousin once removed to Joan and Olivia.
LEFT: The Charge of the Light Brigade (painting by Richard Caton Woodville Jr., 1894). RIGHT: Portrait of Lt. Gen. Brudenell.
This is undoubtedly one of the longest, most intricate articles I have ever written. But, as I said at the beginning, History and genealogy are two subjects that I am truly enthusiastic about. I found it absolutely fascinating discovering all of these family connections between people I would never think would be related in any shape or form. It was a great History lesson as well, and it helped understand a little but better the complexity of the British monarchy, which has always been extremely confusing to me. In its essence, this article has nothing to do with film, but I hope it was worth reading. I may actually write more of these in the future.


  1. Correction to previous Searcher Post: the phrase "I'm also NOT imagining a similar visage..." should have the word NOT deleted, and instead read: "I'm also imagining a similar visage when ....". Next time I'll Preview my posts!!!!


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