Saturday, 29 July 2017

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, which also makes them direct descendants of William the Conqueror, the first Norman King 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 happened to discover 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. How cool is that? If you are at all interested to know the particulars of this intricate connection, you are very welcome to keep on reading.


William the Conqueror at the Battle of
Hastings (painting by Peter Jackson)
Let us begin with EDWARD I (1239-1307). He was the son of King HENRY III of England (1207-1272) and his wife, Eleanor of Provence (c. 1223-1291), renowned in her time for her beauty and cleverness. For his part, Henry III was the eldest son of JOHN, King of England (1166-1216), a 2nd great-grandson of WILLIAM the Conqueror (c. 1028-1087), who was acclaimed as the first Norman King of England after defeating the Anglo-Saxon King Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. In turn, William was a 3rd great-grandson of ROLLO (c. 846-c. 930), an early Viking settler who became the first ruler of Normandy around 911. 

In 1254, Edward I married his first wife, Eleanor of Castille (1241-1290), daughter of Ferdinand III of Castille (1199/1201-1252), a great-grandson of Afonso Henriques (1106/1109/1111-1185), the first King of Portugal. 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 became King of England following his father's death in 1307. 

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 after his father was deposed by his mother and her lover, Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March, in 1327. (Mortimer was a really unpleasant fellow. We will learn more about him further on.) That same year, fifteen-year-old Edward married the French-born Philippa of Hainault (1314-1369) by proxy and eventually became father to thirteen children, whose numerous descendants would later bring about the long-running and bloody dynastic conflicts known as the Wars of the Roses.

Portrait of John of Gaunt, attributed to
Lucas Cornelisz de Kock (c. 1593)
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. 

Around 1399, John Beaufort married Margaret Holland (1385-1439), the daughter of Thomas Holland, 2nd Earl of Kent (1350/4-1397), who was the son of Joan of Kent (1328-1386), granddaughter of Edward I of England and his second wife, Margaret of France (c. 1279-1318). Joan of Kent also happened to be the mother of King Richard II of England, whom she bore to her third husband, Edward, the Black Prince, son of Edward III and brother of John of Gaunt. In turn, Margaret Holland's mother, Alice FitzAlan (c. 1350-1416), was a 2nd great-granddaughter of Henry III, father of Edward I. Alice was also the sister of Richard FitzAlan, 11th Earl of Arundel, Humphrey Bogart's 16th great-grandfather. This means that, through the FitzAlan family blood line, Larry and Bogie are distant cousins. Pretty cool, right?

Moving on. 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 (1401-1437) and her second husband, Owen Tudor (c. 1400-1461), a Welsh courtier. Edmund's half-brother was actually King Henry VI of England, Catherine's son by her first husband, King Henry V of England. 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.

Portrait of King Henry VII of England
by unknown artist (1505)
By Edmund Tudor, Margaret Beaufort was mother to HENRY VII (1457-1509), who won the throne of England when his forces defeated King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, the culmination of the Wars of the Roses. Time for a history lesson. 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 (mentioned above); and the House of York, which descended from John's brother, Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York. Henry VII was the first king of the House of Tudor and succeeded in restoring the power and stability of the English monarchy after the civil war. He cemented his claim to the throne by marrying Elizabeth of York (1466-1503), daughter of Edward IV and niece of Richard III, in 1486. 

Henry VII and Elizabeth of York had eight children, but only four survived into adulthood. One of these was their eldest daughter, MARGARET TUDOR (1489-1541), whose first husband was King James IV of Scotland (1473-1513). The couple had six children, of whom only one, King JAMES V of Scotland (1512-1542), survived infancy. He ascended to the throne of Scotland at just seventeen months old, when his father was killed alongside many Scottish noblemen at the disastrous Battle of Flodden Field in 1513. Here is another history lesson. In 1512, King Henry VIII, brother of Margaret Tudor, declared war on France as part of the larger conflict known as the War of the League of Cambrai, which had originated from territorial disputes over the Duchy of Milan and the Kingdom of Naples. In order to fulfill Scotland's alliance with France, James IV (even though married to Henry's sister) invaded England and ended up being killed at Flodden Field. Are you still with me? Good. Let us move on, then.

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 was beheaded after being found guilty of plotting to assassinate her 1st cousin once removed, Queen Elizabeth I of England. In 1565, she married her first cousin, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley (1545-1567), the eldest son of Margaret Douglas (1515-1578), who in turn was Margaret Tudor's daughter by her second husband, Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus (c. 1489-1557).

Portrait of King Charles I of England
Mary and Henry Stuart's only child was King JAMES VI of Scotland (1566-1625), who also became King of England and Ireland upon the Union of the Crowns in 1603. James married Anne of Denmark (1574-1619), the second daughter of Protestant King Frederick II of Denmark, by proxy in 1589. The couple welcomed three children, one of which became King CHARLES I of England (1600-1649), whose actions were perceived to be those of an absolute monarch.

Charles's many disagreements with the Parliament over financial, political, military and religious issues led to the English 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.

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 married Catherine of Braganza, the second surviving daughter of King John IV of Portugal, but the union produced no heirs. He did, however, acknowledge at least twelve illegitimate children by various mistresses.

Portrait of Charlotte Fitzroy
The most notorious of the many mistresses of King Charles II was Barbara Villiers, 1st Duchess of Cleveland (1640-1709), wife of Roger Palmer, 1st Earl of Castlemaine, a courtier, diplomat and politician who sat in the House of Commons in 1660. She was also the daughter of William Villiers, 2nd Viscount Grandison (1614-1643), who died while fighting for the Royalists in the English Civil War.

Through his mother, Barbara St. John (1592-1672), William was a direct descendant of Margaret Beauchamp and her first husband, Sir Oliver St. John of Bletso (1400-1437), as well as of Sir Thomas Blount (c. 1390-1456), who served as Treasurer of Calais during King Henry VI's wars in France. Thomas Blount was the 13th great-grandfather of Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine, which makes Larry their 14th cousin 2 times removed, through this blood line. Thomas's father was Sir Walter Blount (d. 1403), a supporter of John of Gaunt who was mistaken for the Lancastrian King Henry IV at the Battle of Shrewsbury and killed in his place by the opposing rebel forces. (More on this later on.) Walter Blount was Humphrey Bogart's 16th great-grandfather, making Larry his 17th cousin. I love how this is all connected somehow.

Anyway, moving on. 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. Through his paternal grandmother, Anne St. John (1614-1695), Edward was another direct descendant of Oliver St. John and Margaret Beauchamp. Anne's father was Sir John St. John (1585-1648), 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 (c. 1540-1597), who was the soldier's 3rd great-granddaughter.

Portrait of Charles Calvert
Charlotte and Edward Lee had eighteen children, their first being a daughter named CHARLOTTE LEE (1678-1721), who married Benedict Calvert, 4th Baron Baltimore (1679-1715) in 1699. He came from a line of Proprietary Governors of the Province of Maryland, seen as a haven for English Catholics in the New World at the time of the European wars of religion. However, the family lost their title to Maryland when John Coode seized control of the province following the Glorious Revolution in 1688, which saw the Protestant monarchs William and Mary accede to the British throne.

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 (c. 1658-1748), a founder-member of the Bank of England. Charles and Mary had three children, one of which was CAROLINE CALVERT (1745-1803), who married Sir Robert Eden, 1st Baronet (c. 1741-1784), in 1763. Robert was Maryland's last colonial governor, as his rule was overthrown during the American Revolution.

Robert Eden was a direct descendant of Anne St. John (c. 1460-1506), granddaughter of Sir Oliver St. John and Margaret Beauchamp. Anne was married to another direct descendant of Rollo, Henry Clifford, 10th Baron Clifford (c. 1454-1523), whose father, John Clifford, 9th Baron Clifford (1435-1461), had been a Lancastrian military leader during the Wars of the Roses. John Clifford's paternal great-grandmother, Elizabeth de Ros (c. 1367-1424), was a direct descendant of Robert de Ros, 1st Lord Ros of Helmsley (1172-1226), a Magna Carta Surety. Sealed in 1215, the Magna Carta was a charter of liberties agreed to by King John of England, Edward I's father, to make peace with a group of rebel patrons. Though it was not initially successful, the document was reissued (with alterations) in 1216, 1217 and 1225, eventually serving as the foundation for the English system of common law and as a symbol of freedom from oppression.

Death of Henry «Harry Hotspur» Percy
from a 1910 illustration by Richard
Caton Woodville Jr.
In turn, John Clifford's paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Percy (c. 1390-1437), was the daughter of Elizabeth Mortimer (1371-1417), great-grandaughter of King Edward III and great-great-granddaughter of Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March (1287-1330), who conspired with his mistress, Isabella of France (Edward III's mother), to depose King Edward II. Mortimer was eventually imprisoned in the Tower of London and hanged for his crimes. Elizabeth Percy's father was the notorious Sir Henry «Harry Hotspur» Percy (1364-1403), a deputy of John of Gaunt in the Duchy of Aquitaine.

Hotspur and the Percys initially supported Henry IV in a war against King Richard II, Edward III's grandson, which ended when Henry took the throne in 1399. Henry IV promised the Percys land, money and royal favour in return for their continued support, but the promise never materialised. The Percys subsequently revolted and raised an army to fight the King's forces in the aforementioned Battle of Shrewsbury. Hotspur led a charge aimed at killing Henry IV himself, but was fatally shot in the face when he opened his visor. Hotspur's former enemy, Archibald Douglas, 4th Earl of Douglas, then hacked down Sir Walter Blount, mistaking him for the King. After Hotspur was buried, rumours began to spread that he was not really dead. In response, Henry IV had him disenterred and his body was salted and quartered, his head being sent to York and impaled on the north gate, looking towards his own lands.

History lesson over, let us go back to Caroline Calvert and Robert Eden. Their only child was a boy named Sir FREDERICK EDEN, 2nd Baronet (1766-1809), who became a writer, 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 The Right Reverend ROBERT EDEN (1804-1886), the first Bishop of Moray, Ross and Caithness, in Inverness, Scotland. Dignified and firm in character, Robert was a good and sound preacher, known for his bonhomie and love of telling jocose stories.

Dacres Olivier, Larry's grandfather
In 1827, Robert married Emma Park, by whom he had five sons and five daughters. One of the girls was EMMA SELINA EDEN (c. 1835-1908), who became the wife of Reverend Dacres Olivier (1826-1919). He was the son of Mary Milligan Dacres (1795-1858) and Henry Stephen Olivier (1795-1864), a Lieutenant-Colonel in the service of the British Army. Dacres' maternal grandfather was Sir Richard Dacres (1761-1837), an officer of the British Royal Navy who saw service during the American War of Independence (1775-1783) and the French Revolutionary (1792-1802) and Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815).

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, arguably, the best actor of his generation. Learning his craft at the Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art, Larry made his acting debut in 1925 at the Brighton Hippodrome, in a «curtain-raiser» — a short play performed before the main play of the evening — called The Unfailing Instinct, by Julian Frank. His first successful West End role was in Nöel Coward's play Private Lives in 1930, around the same time that he began venturing into the motion picture industry. His first film was George King's Too Many Crooks (1930), opposite Dorothy Boyd and Arthur Stratton.

After years of stunning audiences playing Shakesperian roles on the London stage, Larry received his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his portayal of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights (1939). He earned a second nomination with Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940), eventually winning for his acclaimed performance in Hamlet (1948), which he also adapted, produced and directed. Hamlet became the first non-American film to win the Oscar for Best Picture, giving Larry his only nomination for Best Director. He was additionally nominated in the acting categories with Richard III (1955), The Entertainer (1960), Othello (1965), Sleuth (1972), The Marathon Man (1976) and The Boys from Brazil (1978). Interesting fact: Richard III, played by Larry in the film, was a great-great-grandson of King Edward III via his son Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York, who founded the House of York. Edmund was the brother of Larry's ancestor John of Gaunt, who founded the House of Lancaster. If you remember, it was the rivalry between these two royal houses that prompted the Wars of the Roses. I wonder if Larry ever knew about his family connection to these people.

Laurence Olivier aged 2 in 1909, 26 in 1933 and 65 in 1972

Larry was married three times to three actresses. His first wife was Jill Esmond (1908-1990), with whom he appeared in the Royalty Theatre production of Bird in the Hand in 1928. They were parents to a son named Tarquin (b. 1936). In 1940, he divorced Esmond to marry Vivien Leigh (1913-1967), his co-star in Fire Over England (1937), 21 Days (1940) and That Hamilton Woman (1941). She became Lady Olivier seven years later, when Larry was appointed Knight Bachelor, a title which he once said was «sacred» to him. In 1961, he married his third wife, Joan Plowright (b. 1929), with whom he appeared in The Entertainer. The couple had three children, Richard Kerr (b. 1961), Tamsin Agnes Margaret (b. 1963) and Julie-Kate (b. 1966), and remained married until Larry's death from renal failure in 1989.


And there you have it — the very 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 did not 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 are not a History and Genealogy geek like myself.

Laurence Olivier by Francis Beckett (Haus Publishing, 2005)

1 comment:

  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!