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The Royal Ancestry of Laurence Olivier

Last year I discovered by chance that Olivia de Havilland, Joan Fontaine and Humphrey Bogart are all direct descendants of King Edward I of England. I was so fascinated by that fact that I decided to delve further into the world of genealogy and try to find out what other classic Hollywood actors might be descendants of the kings of England. During this process, I learned that Sir Laurence Olivier — or Larry, as I always call him — is also a direct descendant, albeit through a different (and more royal) blood line, of Edward I. If you are interested to know the particulars of this intricate connection, you are welcome to keep on reading.

Sir Laurence Olivier is a direct descendant of King Edward I of England.

Let us begin our story with Edward I (1239-1307). He was the first of five children of King Henry III of England (1207-1272) and his wife, Eleanor of Provence (c. 1223-1291), a probable distant relative of Charlemagne. Via his paternal grandfather, John, King of England, Edward was a direct descendant of William the Conqueror, acclaimed as the first Norman monarch of England after defeating the Anglo-Saxon King Harold Goodwinson at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and of Rollo, an early Viking settler who became the first ruler of Normandy around 911.
In 1254, Edward I married his first wife, Eleanor of Castile (1241-1290). She was the daughter of Ferdinand III of Castile, a great-grandson of Afonso Henriques, the first King of Portugal and another descendant of Charlemagne. By Eleanor, Edward had at least fourteen children, but only six survived into adulthood. One of these was their fourth son, Edward II (1284-1327), who acceded to the throne of England following his father's death in 1307. 
LEFT: Portrait in Westminster Abbey, thought to be of Edward I. RIGHT: An illuminated detail from Chronicle of England, showing Edward II receiving the crown.
A year after ascending to the throne, Edward II married Isabella of France (1295-1358) and had four children, two boys and two girls. Their firstborn son, Edward III (1312-1377), was crowned King of England in 1327, after his father was deposed by his mother and her lover, Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March. That same year, fifteen-year-old Edward married by proxy Philippa of Hainault (1314-1369), a great-granddaughter of King Philip III of France. They eventually became parents to thirteen children, whose numerous descendants would later ignite the bloody and long-running dynastic conflicts collectively known as the Wars of the Roses.

The third of Edward and Philippa's five surviving sons was John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster (1340-1399), who married thirdly Katherine Swynford (1350-1403), his long-time mistress. She gave John four children, all of which were born out of wedlock, but legitimized upon their marriage in 1396. Their firstborn son was John Beaufort, 1st Earl of Somerset (1373-1410), whose surname is assumed to reflect his father's lordship of Beaufort, France. 
LEFT: Portrait of Edward III by an unknown British artist (18th century). RIGHT: Portrait of John of Gaunt, attributed to Lucas Cornelisz de Kock (c. 1593).
Around 1399, John Beaufort married Margaret Holland (1385-1439). Her mother, Alice FitzAlan, was a 2nd great-granddaughter of Henry III, father of Edward I, and the sister of Richard FitzAlan, 11th Earl of Arundel, Humphrey's Bogart's 16th great-grandfather. This means that, through the FitzAlan bloodline, Larry and Bogie are distant cousins. Via her paternal grandmother, Joan of Kent, Margaret was also a 2nd great-granddaughter of Edward I and half-niece of Richard II, who succeeded to the throne upon the death of his grandfather, Edward III.
John Beaufort and Margaret Holland were parents to six children. Their second son was John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset (1403-1444), who married Margaret Beauchamp of Bletso (c. 1410-1482) in 1439. The couple's only child was a daughter named Margaret Beaufort (1441/3-1509), whose second husband was Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond (1430-1456). He was the son of Catherine of Valois and her second husband, Welsh courtier Owen Tudor, and half-brother to King Henry VI of England via his mother's first marriage to Henry V. In 1461, Henry VI was deposed by Edward IV, son of Richard, Duke of York, great-grandson of Edward III. He died in the Tower of London ten years later, possibly killed on Edward IV's orders.
LEFT: Image of Joan of Kent from an illustrated manuscript. MIDDLE: 14th century painting of Richard II at Westminster Abbey. RIGHT: 16th century portrait of Margaret Beaufort.
By Edmund Tudor, Margaret Beaufort was mother to Henry VII (1457-1509), who won the throne of England in 1485 when his forces defeated King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field, the culmination of the Wars of the Roses. Beginning in 1455, the Wars of the Roses were a series of conflicts for the control of the throne of England fought between the two cadet branches of the royal House of Plantagenet: the House of Lancaster, founded by John of Gaunt, and the House of York, which descended from his brother, Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York. As a descendant of John of Gaunt, Margaret Beaufort was a staunch supporter of the Lancastrian cause and actively manoeuvred to secure the crown for her son.
Upon his ascension to the throne, Henry VII established the House of Tudor and succeeded in restoring power and stability to the English monarchy in the aftermath of the civil war. In 1486, he cemented his claim to the throne by marrying Elizabeth of York (1466-1503), daughter of Edward IV and niece of Richard III. Henry and Elizabeth had eight children, but only four survived into adulthood, including their eldest daughter, Margaret Tudor (1489-1541).
LEFT: Portrait of Henry VII by an unknown Dutch artist (1505). MIDDLE: Portrait of Elizabeth of York. RIGHT: Portrait of Margaret Tudor by Daniel Mytens (c. 1620-1638).
In 1503, Margaret Tudor married her first husband, King James IV of Scotland (1473-1513). Together they had six children, but only their third son, James V (1512-1542), survived infancy. He succeeded to the throne of Scotland at just seventeen months old, when his father was killed during the Battle of Flodden Field in 1513. The year before, King Henry VIII of England had declared war on France as a result of ongoing territorial disputes over the Duchy of Milan and the Kingdom of Naples. To honour Scotland's old alliance with France, James IV (even though married to Henry's sister) invaded England and ended up being killed in battle.
James V married Mary of Guise (1515-1560), the daughter of a French aristocrat and general, by proxy in 1538. Their only surviving child was Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587), who married her half-cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley (1545-1567), in 1565. He was the eldest son of Margaret Douglas, who in turn was Margaret Tudor's daughter by her second husband, Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus. Mary was eventually beheaded after being found guilty of plotting to assassinate her first-cousin once-removed, Queen Elizabeth I of England.
LEFT: Portrait of James V of Scotland by Corneille de Lyon (c. 1536). RIGHT: Portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots by François Clouet (c. 1558-1560).

Mary and Henry Stuart's only child was King James VI of Scotland (1566-1625), who married Anne of Denmark (1574-1619), the daughter of King Frederick II of Denmark, by proxy in 1589. When Elizabeth I died unmarried and childless in 1603, James VI (her first-cousin twice-removed) was the only generally acceptable heir to the English crown. Upon his accession, England and Scotland shared the same monarch under what was known as a union of the crowns.

James VI and Anne had three children, including King Charles I of England (1600-1649), considered by many of his subjects to be an absolute monarch. His many quarrels with the Parliament over financial, political, military and religious issues eventually led to a civil war that started in 1642. The Royalists were eventually defeated by a combination of the Parliament's alliance with the Scots and the formation of the New Model Army, commanded by General Oliver Cromwell. Convinced that there would never be peace while the king lived, a group of radical Members of Parliament, including Cromwell, put Charles on trial for high treason. He was found guilty and executed by beheading in 1649. The monarchy was then abolished and a republic called the Commonwealth of England, led by Cromwell, was declared.
LEFT: Portrait of King James VI attributed to John de Critz (c. 1605). MIDDLE: Portrait of Anne of Denmark attributed to John de Critz (c. 1605). RIGHT: Portrait of King Charles I from the studio Anthony van Dyck (1636).

Twenty-four years before losing his head, Charles I was married by proxy to the French princess Henrietta Maria (1609-1669), whose Roman Catholicism made her unpopular in England. The couple had nine children, although two were stillborn. Their first surviving son was Charles II (1630-1685), who was acclaimed King of England when the monarchy was restored in 1660. He was one of the most popular and beloved kings of England, successfully returning the country to normality after eleven years of authoritarian rule by Cromwell and the Puritans.
In 1661, Charles II married Catherine of Braganza, the second surviving daughter of King John IV of Portugal, but the union produced no heirs. After at least three miscarriages, Catherine was unable to bear a child. However, Charles acknowledged a dozen illegitimate children by various mistress, the most notorious being Barbara Villiers, 1st Duchess of Cleveland (1640-1709). Through her paternal grandmother, Barbara St. John, she was a direct descendant of Sir Walter Blount, a supporter of John of Gaunt who was mistaken for the Lancastrian King Henry IV at the Battle of Shewsbury and killed in his place by the opposing rebel forces. Walter Blount is also a direct ancestor of Olivia de Havilland, Joan Fontaine and Humphrey Bogart.

LEFT: Portrait of Henrietta Maria by Anthony van Dyck (c. 1636-1638). MIDDLE: Portrait of Charles II in Garter robes by John Michael Wright or studio (c. 1660-1665). RIGHT: Portrait of Barbara Villiers by Henri Gascar (c. 1650-1700).
One of Charles II and Barbara's children was a girl named Charlotte FitzRoy (1664-1718), who married Edward Lee, 1st Earl of Lichfield (1663-1716), in 1677. Via his paternal grandmother, Anne St. John, Edward was a direct descendant of Margaret Beauchamp of Bletso and her first husband, Oliver St. John. Anne's father was Sir John St. John, brother of Barbara St. John, which means that, through this blood line, Edward Lee was his wife's 3rd cousin. Edward's lineage can also be traced back to Sir Walter Blount via his 3rd great-grandmother, Elizabeth Blount.

Charlotte and Edward Lee had eighteen children. Their first was a daughter named Charlotte Lee (1678-1721), who married Benedict Calvert, 4th Baron Baltimore (1679-1715), in 1699. His father, Charles Calvert, 3rd Baron Baltimore, a devout Roman Catholic, was the Proprietary-Governor of the Province of Maryland, whose population gradually became Protestant due to immigration. After the Glorious Revolution of 1688, Protestant monarchs William III and Mary II acceded to the British throne and the Calvert family lost their title to Maryland.

LEFT: Portrait of Charlotte FitzRoy by an unknown painter. MIDDLE: Portrait of Edward Lee by Godfrey Kneller. RIGHT: Portrait of Benedict Calvert by an unknown painter.

The eldest of Charlotte and Benedict's six children was Charles Calvert, 5th Baron Baltimore (1699-1751), who inherited the title to Maryland when the colony was restored to his family by King George I in 1721. In 1730, Charles married Mary Janssen (d. 1770), daughter of the French-born Sir Theodore Janssen, 1st Baronet, a founding member of the Bank of England. Charles and Mary had three children, including a daughter named Caroline Calvert (1745-1803), who married Sir Robert Eden, 1st Baronet (c. 1741-1784), in 1763. Robert was the last colonial governor of Maryland, as his rule was overthrown during the American Revolution.
Robert Eden was a direct descendant of Rollo and of Robert de Ros, 1st Lord Ros of Hemsley, one of the 25 rebel barons who signed the Magna Carta in 1215. He was also descended from Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March, who was hanged for his part in a conspiracy to depose King Edward II. Another direct ancestor of Robert Eden was Sir Henry «Harry Hotspur» Percy, a deputy of John of Gaunt in the Duchy of Aquitaine. Hotspur initially supported Henry Bolingbroke, son of John of Gaunt, in his plot to overthrow his first-cousin, Richard II, which came to fruition in 1399. The now King Henry IV promised Hotspur land, money and royal favour in return for his continued support, but the promise never materialised. Hotspur consequently raised an army to fight the King's forces at the Battle of Shrewsbury, where he ended up being killed.

LEFT: Portrait of Charles Calvert, 5th Baron Baltimore, possibly by Allan Ramsay. RIGHT: Portrait of Sir Robert Eden by Florence Mackubin.
Caroline Calvert and Robert Eden had only one child, a son named Sir Frederick Eden, 2nd Baronet (1766-1809). He became a writer, a pioneering social investigator and one of the founders of the Globe Insurance Company. In 1792, Frederick married Anne Smythe (c. 1770-1808) and together they had seven children, two girls and five boys. Their third son was Robert Eden (1804-1886), the first Bishop of Moray, Ross and Caithness, in Inverness, Scotland.

Robert married Emma Park (d. 1880) in 1827 and together they had ten children, including Emma Selina Eden (c. 1835-1908), whose husband was Reverend Dacres Olivier (1826-1919). His father was Henry Stephen Olivier, a Lieutenant-Colonel in the British Army, and his maternal grandfather, Sir Richard Dacres, was an officer in the British Royal Navy who saw service in the American War of Independence and the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.
LEFT: Photograph of Robert Eden (late 1850s). RIGHT: Photograph of Dacres Olivier.

Emma and Dacres were parents to twelve children, including Gerard Kerr Olivier (1869-1939), who married firstly Agnes Louise Crookenden (c. 1872-1920). The couple had three children, the youngest being a boy named Laurence Kerr Olivier (1907-1989), who grew up to be the best actor of his generation, stunning audiences both on stage and on screen. His film Hamlet (1948), which he adapted, produced, directed and starred in, became the first non-American movie to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.

And there you have it, the royal ancestry of Sir Laurence Olivier. I could have gone into a lot more detail and tell you how Larry is related to both Queen Elizabeth II and Catherine Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, for instance, but I didn't want to bore you even more that I probably already have. Anyway, I hope you found this (very long, but hopefully not very confusing) article interesting to read, even if you're not a History and Genealogy geek like myself.
Laurence Olivier by Francis Beckett (Haus Publishing, 2005)


  1. Fascinating! That's so cool how he's related to the Queen and Kate (both of which I love). I really need to watch one of his Shakespeare roles since that's what he's known for!


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