In a recent article on Pamela Geller’s website I was mortified to read that a Moroccan newspaper recently alleged that it had traced Queen Elizabeth II’s ancestry back to Muhammad. Apparently, this claim was also made by Burke’s Peerage in 1986, but in his book Did Muhammad Exist?, the renowned scholar of Islam Robert Spencer makes the following points: the earliest biographical material about Muhammad dates from at least 125 years after his reported death, and six decades passed before the Arabian conquerors, or the people they conquered, even mentioned Muhammad, the Quran or Islam.
Nevertheless, it made me start to wonder about my own ancestry, so I began making some inquiries.
My maternal grandmother was from Aberdeen in Scotland, and I have it on good authority that her great, great, great, great grandmother was the offspring of Charles Edward Louis Casimir Sylvester Severino Maria Stuart, the elder son of James Francis Edward Stuart, grandson of James II and after 1766, the Stuart claimant to the throne of Great Britain. He is now known to history as Bonnie Prince Charlie. After he was soundly defeated at the Battle of Culloden Moor in April of 1746 by the Duke of Cumberland, he was in desperate need of some consolation and had a one-night-stand with Flora McDonald just before she helped him to escape to France disguised as a woman. By virtue of that ancestry, I have a claim to the British throne.
Giuseppe Garibaldi was responsible for the unification of Italy during the second half of the 19th century. As active as he was in war, he was also as active in the bedroom. He found time to produce eight legitimate children, but it turns out that his only illegitimate one was my maternal grandfather, who was born in an Italian hamlet called La Valdena in northern Italy. It appears that during one of Garibaldi’s campaigns in the north, he stumbled into my great grandmother in the market town of Borgo Val di Taro. They made an immediate connection, as well as my grandfather. Now this does not entitle me to the Iron Crown of Lombardy, but surely there must be a villa with a vineyard in the province of Parma to which I could lay claim.
In 1906, my Jewish grandparents emigrated to America and passed through Ellis Island into New York City. They had made their way from Stanislau, which had been built in the mid 17th century and became a fortress town for the Polish Potocki family; it was annexed to the Habsburg Empire during the First Partition of Poland in 1772. After World War I, it served as a temporary capital of the West Ukrainian Republic. Following the Peace of Riga, it became part of the Second Polish Republic, only to be annexed by the Soviet Union at the beginning of World War II, and two years later was occupied by the Nazis. With the Soviet liberation of the Ukraine in 1944, the Communist regime ran the city for the next 45 years, and since the fall of the Soviet Union, it has been part of an independent Ukraine. The Soviets renamed the city after one of its poets, and is now called Ivano-Frankivsk. Theoretically, I suppose, one could have lived in 5 different countries and never left the city.
The most interesting part of this is that when the town was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it was visited by Emperor Franz Joseph I in 1870. During his long journey, his favorite uniform sustained some damage, so my great grandmother, who was well known in the town as an expert seamstress, was duly summoned to effect repairs. Apparently the Emperor and my great grandmother got on a bit too famously, because nine months later out popped my grandmother, but by that time the Emperor was back in his palace in Vienna, wondering what kind of strudel he was going to serve up at his next banquet.
All this could make me an heir to the entire Habsburg Empire, if it still existed, of course, by far less convoluted means than those employed by Burke’s Peerage to connect Queen Elizabeth II to Muhammad. It seems to me that there must be at least some splendid hats, uniforms, expensive lederhosen and some decent jewels along with a few abandoned Bavarian hunting lodges to which I could lay claim, but it all happened such a long time ago, which, of course, is just one of my points.
It seems that a good deal in the way of genealogical gymnastics must have been required for Burke’s Peerage or the Moroccan newspaper to arrive at their conclusions. I suspect it is really an anxious attempt to make Islam more acceptable to the British people by linking their ancient and beloved monarchy to the unlettered warlord, Muhammad, thereby reducing the revulsion that so many of Her Majesty’s subjects have towards the determined Islamization of their country and towards a theological, political, trans-national supremacist movement that claims it is the last revelation and has the answers to everything.
Talking about having the answers to everything, I am reminded of a story about the College of Arms, founded by royal charter in 1484 by Richard III.
At the beginning of the 20th century, a London society hostess was about to give a dinner party in honor of the Aga Khan, to which several members of the British aristocracy, including three dukes, were also to be guests. Concerned about seating arrangements, she consulted the College of Arms. Its advice duly arrived, “The Aga Khan is considered to be a direct descendant of Mohammad but in Great Britain a British duke takes precedence.” Note to Burke’s Peerage and Moroccan newspapers: before making an embarrassing mistake, it’s always best to consult the College of Arms.
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