Pre-Conquest Royalty in the Ancestry of Peter Worden I

John R. Schuerman


            In the February 2004 issue of Wordens Past I gave the ancestry of Peter Worden I back to William I, King of Scotland.  In the May issue I described some of the Scottish royalty ancestry of William.  As indicated earlier, William also descended from pre-Conquest kings of England, through his great-grandmother, Saint Margaret, wife of the Scottish king Malcolm III.  The line is as follows:


13. King Egbert  (d. 839) =  Redburga

12. King Aethelwulf  (d. 858) =  Osburga

11. King Alfred  (b. 849;d. 26 Oct 899) =  Ealhswith  (d. Abt 905)

10. King Edward  (b. 875; m. 919; d. 924) = Edgiva  (d. 961)

9. King Edmund I  (b. Abt 922; d. 26 May 946) = Elgiva

8. King Edgar  (b. Abt 943; d.8 Jul 975) = Aethelthryth

7. King Aethelred II  (b. Abt 968; m. 985;d. 23 Apr 1016) =  Aelfgifu

6. King Edmund Ironside (b. 989; d. 30 Nov 1016) = Ealdgyth

5. Edward Aetheling (b. 1016; d.1057) = Agatha

4. St. Margaret  (d.16 Nov 1093) = King Malcolm III of Scotland (d. 13 Nov 1093)

3. King David I (d. 24 May 1153) =  Matilda  (d.1131)

2. Henry  (d. 12 Jun 1152) = Ada de Warenne

1. King William I  (b. Abt 1142; m. 5 Sep 1186; d. 4 Dec 1214)


One can find accounts of the ancestors of Egbert on the Internet and elsewhere, some even tracing to Romans in England and on the Continent, but the further back these lines go, the more they should be viewed with skepticism.


As I discussed in the last issue, there was great upheaval in the British Isles for several hundred years following the departure of the Romans in the early fifth century.  There were invasions from Scandinavia, Ireland, Germany, and France and there was much internal conflict among the native tribes.  There was no England as an identifiable state.  Even before the Romans left, the Germanic Angles and Saxons had begun to settle on the east coast, in East Anglia and Kent, and began to spread to the west and south.  They founded a number of kingdoms.  During the eighth century, the Mercians dominated, their power base located just east of what is now Wales. In the next century, Wessex, to the south in the area of modern day Hampshire and Wiltshire, came into dominance and eventually united most of England.  The people of Wessex, called West Saxons, embraced Christianity in the seventh century.  All of the kings in the above line were West Saxons, although the later ones are thought of as kings of England.


Egbert became king of Wessex in 802.  In 815 he waged a successful war against Cornwall and in 825 he defeated the Mercians at Ellendun, near the modern town of Swindon in Wiltshire.  This battle gave him control of the lands south of the Thames.  After a second victory in 829, he was considered king of all England, but his control was shaky and did not last. 


Aethelwulf was king of Wessex from 839 to 858.  He defended Wessex against the Welsh and Danes but was primarily interested in non-military matters, notably the church.  He went on a pilgrimage to Rome in 855 and returned with a Frankish wife, Judith.  Aethelwulf was father of four kings, the eldest of whom, Aethelbald, succeeded him and married Judith.


            Alfred the Great, the youngest son of Aethelwulf,  was king of Wessex from 871 to 899.  He defended his realm against repeated attacks by the Vikings (losing some battles along the way) and eventually united most of England.  But Alfred’s accomplishments went far beyond the military.  He was known as a skilled administrator, lawgiver, boat designer, translator of Latin texts, and author.  He developed a system of “burhs” throughout the country, forts or towns to aid in its defense.  Alfred’s translations and other writing were directed toward the education of his people, teaching them their responsibilities as subjects.


            Edward (“the Elder”) was king of England from 899 to 924.  Fights with the Danes continued and Edward defeated them at Tettenhall in Staffordshire in 910.  Afterwards, the Danes settled, more or less peacefully, in East Anglia and the Vikings in York and elsewhere, eventually recognizing his rule.  His dealings with the Mercians were smoothed by the fact that his sister, Aethelfleda (the “Lady of the Mercians”) was married to Aethelred, the ruler (“ealdorman”) of the Mercians.  Edward exploited the burh system and forged useful alliances to solidify the English kingdom.


            Edmund I, king from 939-946, succeeded his brother Athelstan, who was one of the most successful Anglo-Saxon kings.  Edmund, too, had to deal with Scandinavian intrusions, losing and then regaining control of much of northern England.  He was murdered in a private feud at the age of 24 or 25. 


            Edgar was king from 959 to 975, having succeeded his uncle Edred and brother Edwy.  Edwy was unsuccessful as ruler and the Mercians revolted, resulting in a division of the kingdom in which Edwy ran Wessex while Edgar, at the age of 14, took over the north.  Edwy died two years later and Edgar reunited England.  There was relatively little trouble from the Scandinavians during his reign which was known for peaceful administration and considerable cooperation with the Church.


            Aethelred II (“the Unready”) was king from 978 to 1016.  The early part of his reign was noted for good government and cultural and religious advances.  Later on there were a number of missteps and the Danes again threatened.  In 1013 the Danish king Sweyn Forkbeard (also an ancestor of King William I of Scotland) forced Aethelred into exile in Normandy. 


            Edmund Ironside was king of England in 1016.  At the time, the country was under attack from Cnut, Forkbeard’s son (Forkbeard had died in 1014).  After some success, Edmund was defeated at Ashingdon in Essex.  When Edmund died in November 1016, Cnut became king of England and ruled for nearly 20 years, until he died in 1035.


            Edward the Atheling (“atheling” means “prince,” he was also known as “the Exile”), was a most tragic figure.  When Cnut took over the country he sent Edward and his brother Edmund (both infants) to Sweden, intending for them to be eliminated.  The Swedish king did not carry out this intention, facilitating their escape to Russia where they stayed for a while and then moved to Hungary.  King Edward III (“the Confessor”), who was childless, invited Edward Atheling to return to England as his successor and in 1057 Edward, with his wife Agatha and children Edgar, Margaret, and Christina, did come back.  However, Edward Atheling died before he ever saw the king.  His son Edgar was proclaimed king in 1066 (after the battle of Hastings) but was brushed aside by William the Conqueror.  Edgar, his mother, and sisters escaped, intending to return to Hungary, but their ship was blown off course and they wound up in Scotland, where Margaret married King Malcolm III.


A note on the mathematics and genetics of ancient genealogy.  It is of interest to consider the degree to which we share the genetic material of long ago ancestors.  It is convenient for me to talk about my children and King Egbert, since King Egbert is in the 40th generation preceding them.  At the 40th generation we have about one trillion, one hundred billion ancestors (2 to the 40th power).  Actually, we can’t have that many different ancestors from that time, since in 800 A.D. (when Egbert lived) it is estimated that there were about 222 million people in the world and about 29 million in Europe.  It is likely that nearly all of the ancestors of my children in 800 A.D. were in Europe (perhaps some from Mediterranean Africa and the Middle East, but that wouldn’t add much to the total population available for ancestors).  Hence, many of the people of Europe then are ancestors of my children many times over.  In fact, the average number of times a European of 800 A.D. is an ancestor of my children would be about 37,900 (dividing the number of ancestral “slots” by the number of residents of Europe in that generation; this is an average, including some people who are not our ancestors at all and some who are ancestors many more times).   The converse, determining how many people living today are descendants of Egbert is, of course, impossible, but it is likely to be a large proportion of residents of the United Kingdom, the U.S., and other countries settled by Englishmen.


            What is the chance that my children have one or more genes from King Egbert?  There are about 30,000 genes in the human genome, but each has two instantiations, one on each member of a pair of chromosomes (the genes are found on 23 pairs of chromosomes).  Thus, there are about 60,000 possible genes that we might have inherited from Egbert.  If my children are descended from Egbert in only one way, the probability that they would have any particular one of Egbert’s genes is about one in a trillion (actually one in a trillion, one hundred billion).  A little more arithmetic indicates that the chance that they would have one or more of Egbert’s 60,000 genes turns out to be about 55 in one billion (this assumes that chromosomal crossover effects over 40 generations have made the inheritance of genes on the same chromosome independent, this calculation is 1 – [1 – 1/(number of ancestors)]^[number of genes], where the caret means exponentiation).  This is for one instance of Egbert in their ancestry.  We could multiply that by the number of times Egbert is an ancestor to get a better estimate of the probability.


            However, my daughter, who has taught genetics and who helped me with the above, points out that all humans share about 99.9% of their genetic material.  Hence, in the end, how much we share with Egbert doesn’t have much to do with whether or not we are his descendants.


            [The above discussion ignores a number of possibly complicating factors, such as the fact that the 40th generation occurs at various points in time in various lines, and the population was different at those times, and “spontaneous” mutations of genes, which would make the inheritance of Egbert’s genes even more unlikely.  There is also an argument as to how many genes we have, many scientists believe the number to be 30-35,000, but others think the number is higher.  Then there are the assumptions made of probabilistic independence.  But I think the general idea holds.]


Another Correction.  I have previously claimed that Agatha, wife of Edward Atheling, was the daughter of St. King Stephen of Hungary.  It turns out that there has been a long dispute as to her parentage.  Her parents have been claimed to be royalty from Russia, Germany, and Hungary, but the hypothesis that she was Hungarian is generally in disrepute.  The dispute is reviewed in Ian S. R. Mladjov, “Reconsidering Agatha, Wife of Edward the Exile,” in The Plantagenet Connection, Summer/Winter 2003 (this 85 page paper is available on line for $5 at Mladov adds still another possibility, that she was of Bulgarian royalty, although he suggests that the truth may never be known.  There have also been a number of papers on this topic in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register (106 (1952): 52-60; 150 (1996): 417-432; 152 (1998): 217-223; 152 (1998): 224-235).


Sources:   Again, I have depended heavily on The Oxford Companion to British History.  Much of what we know about the Anglo Saxon monarchs comes from various chronicles which were written at various times after the events they recorded.  Most notable is The Anglo Saxon Chronicle, begun during the reign of Alfred.  There are several versions of this work, as successive scribes copied existing texts and elaborated on them.  The versions are often complementary and sometimes contradictory.  A recent translation has been published in paperback by Routledge, 1998, available from online bookstores.  Another more or less contemporary text is Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People (paperback: New York: Penguin, rev. 1990).  Bishop Asser’s hagiographic Life of King Alfred, written during the subject’s lifetime, is also readily available in various editions.  Scholars generally advise caution in accepting Asser’s account.


I welcome comments and corrections from genealogists, geneticists, probabilists, and others at