Exploring your family history can reap many rewards.
But one of the biggest thrills may be the discovery that you could be related to nobility, to someone who sat under gold and atop velvet at a time long ago when most of the world was mired in muck and the mundane.
Are you related to British royalty, or at least the aristocracy of days past?
There may be a connection based on your family name, if you share one of these surnames.
After the Queen, Princes, and Princesses of the British royal family (who technically don’t need family names at all), the leading aristocratic family in the United Kingdom are the Howards.
Since 1483, when Richard III was king, Howards have held the premier title of nobility in the United Kingdom as Dukes of Norfolk.
Although Thomas Howard, the Third Duke of Norfolk (and also the uncle of two of King Henry’s six wives), supported King Henry VIII in his break from the Catholic church, over the next five hundred years, the Howards became famed for their devotion to Catholicism.
Philip Howard, the great-grandson of the Third Duke of Norfolk, was imprisoned and died in the Tower of London in 1595 for a plot against Queen Elizabeth I. In 1970, the Catholic church canonized him as a saint and martyr.
The Seymours are another family with a long-held dukedom, also tied to King Henry VIII.
Dukes of Somerset since 1547, the Seymours first rose to nobility with the marriage of a female family member, Jane Seymour, to King Henry in 1536.
The name Seymour is a place-name, originally referring to Saint-Maur-des-Fossées in Seine, northern France, or possibly to Saint-Maur-sur-Loire in Touraine. Both places refer to the church dedicated to St. Maur
The Percys, once Norman French followers of William the Conqueror, have been Earls of Northumberland since 1377 and Dukes of Northumberland since 1766.
For 700 years, the family has held the massive Alnwick Castle in northern England; the 12th Duke of Northumberland, Ralph Percy, has turned the Castle into a tourist attraction.
As befitting a family with ties to the Norman Conquest, the name Percy is originally a French place-name, arising from several possible locales in Northern France arising from the Gallo-Roman personal name Persius.
The Byrons are another family tied to aristocracy — and more. Since 1643, Byrons have held the title of Baron Byron.
George Gordon Noel Byron (1788–1824), the 6th Baron Byron, is the family’s most famous member, known more commonly as Lord Byron, the most famous of the Romantic poets of the 19th century.
Five months after the birth of his daughter, Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron fled England amidst scandalous rumors of sexual immorality.
Raised by her mother, Ada is now considered the first computer programmer after realizing the potential of the “Analytical Machine” (created by her friend Charles Babbage) to compose complex music, produce graphics, and compute complex mathematical formulas.
Lord Byron’s cousin George Anson Byron, a naval officer who became the 7th Lord Byron, had a tragic brush with royalty himself in 1824. He has tasked with transporting the body of Kamehameha II, the king of Hawaii, back to his Pacific island home from England, where he had died of measles while traveling.
The Grosvenor family are notable for holding the titles of Baronet of Eaton since 1622 and Duke of Westminster since 1874.
But they may be more famous because the family scion, 28-year-old Hugh Grosvenor, the 7th Duke of Westminster, is the richest aristocrat in England (which is saying a lot), and the richest person in the world under the age of 30 (which is saying a lot more).
Hugh is also godparent to Prince George, great-grandson of the Queen of England.
The Grosvenors’ wealth comes from their vast landholdings in Mayfair and Belgravia, two of ultra-expensive London’s most ultra-ultra expensive neighborhoods.
Mayfair is also famous for its association with the United States. In the eighteenth century, John Adams lived on Grosvenor Square, located in the heart of Mayfair, while serving as the first US ambassador to England.
The US embassy building moved to Grosvenor Square in 1938, and during World War II, when both the embassy and General Eisenhower’s headquarters were located there, Grosvenor Square became known as “Little America.”
The family name Fitzroy may lead to royal connections because in Anglo-Norman, “fitz” means “son of” and “roy” means “king.”
So Fitzroy literally means “son of the king.” Famous Fitzroys include Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset (1519-1536), the only illegitimate son that King Henry VIII acknowledged. There’s also Henry Charles FitzRoy, the third of five illegitimate children of King Charles II, named the First Duke of Grafton by his father in 1675.
Ties to this last name are a bit more complex than the others, in that the surname was given to royal children born out of wedlock yet recognized as royal offspring. Nonetheless it’s a surname with a connection to royalty.
While the Howard family may be the preeminent aristocratic family in the United Kingdom, the Howard name is also fairly common in the U.S., as are Seymour and Percy.
In 2010, according to the last census, 264,826 people in the United States had the last name Howard, making it the 75th most common surname in the country (after Kelly at 74 and Ramos at 76).
Explore Your Possibly Royal Roots
So how can you determine if the Howards, Seymours, and Percys, and other aristocratic-sounding members in your family tree could lead to an Earl Marshal of England (an office held by the Duke of Norfolk)?
Look for wealthy ancestors, as shown by land and business holdings. Wills and probate records on Ancestry® can help with that. Also search for records of ancestors who traveled first class—another sign of money, status, and possibly royal connections. For that, ship manifest records on Ancestry may be useful.
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