Try as we all might, non-royalty can't help but be fascinated with royalty. It's why the British monarchy stays strong and supported by British tax dollars despite their role being almost completely ceremonial. It's also why Americans, in the absence of real royalty, have created our own facsimiles in political dynasties like the Kennedys and in the entertainment industry's cult of celebrity. And boy howdy, do we get excited when actual royalty crosses paths with our self-made monarchies.
Most of the time that happens through marriage -- Grace Kelly famously married into the royal family of Monaco and became immortalized as Princess Grace before her untimely death. You also may have heard of Meghan Markle, who just got engaged to Prince Harry of House Windsor and upset several traditions on the way (a divorced minority's never been welcomed into the Buckingham Palace fold before now).
In actuality, there are a lot more seemingly common celebrities hiding royal ancestry in their family trees without any marriage necessary. We've gathered a list of 18 of today's most prominent celebrities who can also claim to be from a royal bloodline in addition to being all-around fabulous people. We guarantee there are a few names on this list you haven't seen before.
Here are 18 Celebrities You Didn't Know Were Royalty.
18. ANGELINA JOLIE
This shouldn't come as a complete surprise given Angelina Jolie's seemingly eternal status as goddess among mere mortals, but in case you didn't know, she's descended from French royalty through her mother, Marie Betrand.
Jolie can trace her lineage all the way back to the 12th century French king, Phillip II. He was the son of Louis VII, which also makes Jolie related to Marie of France, another influential French royal of the time and Phillip's half-sister.
It also has the added benefit of relating her Queen Elizabeth II -- Angelina Jolie and Elizabeth Windsor are 26th cousins. We're not sure this is getting her invited to too many state dinners, but it's certainly a fun bit of trivia -- not that Jolie needs anything else to make her more interesting.
17. BRAD PITT
In a bit of an awesome coincidence, Brad Pitt can trace his roots back to another 12th century monarch -- King Henry II of England. Henry II's wife was Eleanor of Aquitaine, the first wife of Louis VII, Philip II's father. Pitt's ex, Angelina Jolie, is a descendant of Prince Philip II. Interesting how the two families found their way back to each other after nearly 1000 years spent drifting about in different directions.
As a matter of fact, Pitt and Jolie's ancestors had an even more tumultuous relationship than their famous descendants. Eleanor of Aquitaine and Louis VII didn't share a happy marriage, and after 15 years (and no sons), they got an annulment. Eleanor almost immediately married Henry II, which seemed to confirm rumors they were already having an affair. She's the only woman in history to have been queen of both France and England at different times.
She's already pop royalty in her own right, but Queen Bey is also legitimately descended from royalty. Beyonce happens to be the 25th cousin once removed of Queen Elizabeth II through a connection with Henry II, King of England from 1154-1189. It's a fitting connection -- Henry II and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine were kind of an "It Couple" like Beyonce and Jay-Z.
Eleanor was a wealthy heiress in her own right, holding very valuable (both materially and strategically) lands in the south of France bordering the Pyrenees. She was also Queen of France when she met Henry. After she divorced her husband, King Louis VII, she immediately married Henry, who was a duke at the time, and then became Queen of England when Henry inherited the throne from his uncle. The two would go on to have eight children and spawn a lasting legacy.
15. TOM HANKS
Tom Hanks has a few notable ancestors, Abraham Lincoln among them. But the one that connects him to Queen Elizabeth II is the same one that could conceivably connect him to Brad Pitt, as well. Tom Hanks can trace his ancestry back to King John, the villainous king that inspired the English to develop the Magna Carta as a check on his power. He was also the brother of Richard the Lionheart, which accounts for his appearances in Robin Hood tales, but, more importantly, he was the son of Henry II, one of Brad Pitt's ancestors.
If the two leading men have made this connection, they've done so privately, but we think it's a neat bit of trivia that they're both related to English kings from the same era.
14. ELLEN DEGENERES
Ellen DeGeneres' goofy candor could not be further from any idea anyone's ever had of the stiff and private British monarchy, but with the marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton in 2011, she's now related to it.
While DeGeneres isn't related to the Windsors, she can say she's related to royalty now that Kate's the Duchess of Cambridge. The two share an ancestral line with Sir Thomas Fairfax and his wife, Agnes Gascoigne, a couple who lived in London in the 1500s.
While little else is known about the pair other than their famous descendants, Ellen can claim to be 15th cousins with the Duchess of Cambridge. Or the Duchess can claim she's 15th cousins with Ellen -- both women are pretty aspirational in their own rights, and we can't imagine one not admiring the other.
13. JOHNNY DEPP
Johnny Depp's claimed France as a second home for quite a long time - though since his divorce from French pop star Vanessa Paradis, he's seen there much less. That could have something to do with the fact that he's descended from French Huguenots, even though that particular branch of ancestors lived in 15th century England. Specifically, Depp can trace his family back to a woman named Margaret Percy, who was a direct descendant of Edward III.
This makes Depp another of Elizabeth II's famous cousins, though 20 times removed, and it also links him to the film Braveheart in a roundabout way. Edward III was the son of Edward II, the foppish prince Sophie Marceau's Princess Isabelle is so eager to be rid of. If the movie were true to life (it's not), Edward III would be the illegitimate son of Isabelle and William Wallace, making Depp Mel Gibson's "descendant."
12. HILARY DUFF
The erstwhile Lizzie Maguire is yet another royal celebrity connected to the current British royal family through a shared ancestry with Edward III. Hilary Duff's lineage can be traced back to Alexander Spotswood, an officer in the British army who was the 10th great-grandson of Edward III. This makes Duff Queen Elizabeth's 18th cousin. However, Spotswood isn't Duff's only connection to the House of Windsor.
Duff can also claim to be related to Catherine Carey, one of Queen Elizabeth I's ladies-in-waiting -- but her position isn't what makes Carey interesting, it's her parentage. Carey was the daughter of Mary Boleyn, Anne Boleyn's older sister. Mary was Henry VIII's mistress before he set his sights on her younger sister, and Catherine is said to have been their illegitimate daughter.
11. BROOKE SHIELDS
This current Law & Order: SVU recurring guest star is yet another cousin to Queen Elizabeth II. She's not as closely related as Hilary Duff, but only by a narrow margin. Brooke Shields is the queen's 18th cousin, once removed through a man named John of Gaunt, a son of Edward III. But the lineage that connects the two isn't British, but French.
Brooke Shields isn't directly related to Gaunt, but to his French wife, Blanche of Lancaster. It's through that French line that Shields can not only trace her ancestry back to British royalty, but also to the French. She's a descendant of King Henry IV of France, a powerful French monarch that was married to the infamous Marie de' Medici and the grandfather of the architect of Versailles, Louis XIV.
10. JAKE AND MAGGIE GYLLENHAAL
Star siblings Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal are two more celebrities not only have royal lineage, they also come from a pretty prominent Swedish family. The Gyllenhaal family has its own Wikipedia page that's dedicated to much more than Maggie and Jake's film careers. Their family is filled with people that were important Swedish figures in history - specifically Leonard Gyllenhaal, noted entomologist.
As for their royal lines, however, they're 19th cousins with Elizabeth II through, you guessed it, Edward III. We doubt this will get them invited to family reunions at Buckingham Palace anytime soon, but with the amount of people on this list who can claim a relation to Edward III, they could probably have one in Los Angeles and see a pretty decent turnout.
9. KIT HARINGTON
Game of Thrones' adorably broody Jon Snow is officially the heir to the Iron Throne after it was confirmed in the show's seventh season finale that he's the legitimate son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. The two were wed in a secret ceremony after which Lyanna was skirted off to Dorne, where she gave birth to a son and died shortly after. It turns out, Kit Harington has something in common with Jon Snow -- he's also descended from royalty, though his lineage doesn't make him a secret king.
Harington is descended from Charles II of England through his grandmother, Lavender Cecilia Denny (there is no more British a name than that). Denny married Richard Harington, who bore the title of the 12th Baronet Harington.
8. ROSE LESLIE
In a connection that'll have fans swooning all over again, Kit Harington's former girlfriend, now fiancée, Rose Leslie, is also descended from royalty in her own right. Her ties are a bit more impressive than Harington's, to be honest, considering she can claim royal lineage on both her mother and father's side.
Her father is chieftain of the Aberdeernshire clan Leslie, and she grew up in a literal castle called Lickleyhead. Her mother is a descendant of King Charles II, who restored the English monarchy to power in 1660 after the English Civil War ousted his father, King Charles I, in 1649.
In a hilariously Targaryen twist, both Leslie and her fiancé, Kit Harington, are descendants of King Charles II, making them related (very distant cousins).
7. TILDA SWINTON
The icy beauty whose unique, chiseled features have brought to life many a regal character - including The Chronicles of Narnia's evil Snow Queen - is descended from royalty in her own right. Tilda Swinton is a direct descendant of Robert the Bruce, the Scottish King who warred with Edward I, "Longshanks," over control of Scotland in the 14th century.
While the movie Braveheart makes it appear as though Robert the Bruce would've kowtowed to Longshanks had it not been for the efforts of William Wallace, in actuality, the Scottish monarch is believed by many to be the real hero of that chain of events. Robert the Bruce never betrayed William Wallace as he does in the film, and the nickname "Brave Heart" actually referred to him. Who's up for a remake in which Swinton takes on the role of her heroic ancestor?
6. HUGH GRANT
If anyone on this list could pass for a member of the current royal family, it's Hugh Grant. He's already played a member of the peerage in Sense and Sensibility, and with his chiseled and timeless good looks, not to mention his terrifically posh (but still accessible) British accent, we're certain if he weren't so famous, he could probably have crashed a few royal gatherings over the years and blended right in. Turns out, there's a possible explanation for that -- he's actually descended from royalty.
Grant can trace his lineage back to the first Tudor King, Henry VII, father of the notorious Henry VIII and grandfather to Elizabeth I. He can also claim a relation to James IV of Scotland, if you weren't impressed enough.
5. RALPH FIENNES
The erstwhile Lord Voldemort's made a name for himself as one of Britain's top talents. His incredible range has gotten him cast in every role from esoteric hotel manager to environmental activists to, of course, the darkest of dark wizards. But one role he doesn't have to fake is royal descendant. Ralph and his brother, fellow actor Joseph Fiennes, can trace their lineage back to King James II of Scotland, a fact that makes for an interesting modern connection, as well.
We're not sure that the Fiennes family's netted many advantages from what you're about to learn (and they don't really appear to need them), but it's a fact that they're 8th cousins with Charles, Prince of Wales. Charles is also descended from James II of Scotland, who ruled from 1437 - 1460.
4. CHRISTOPHER GUEST
The man behind This is Spinal Tap, Best in Show, A Might Wind, and For Your Consideration needs no introduction to film buffs. But it's a little known fact that Christopher Guest not only holds duel-citizenship in England and the US, but he's also a member of British nobility. His formal title is 5th Baron Haden-Guest, and at one point his family had a seat in the House of Lords.
It's important to note that while we've placed Guest on this list, he's not technically royalty, but instead part of the peerage. To be considered royalty, you must be related to the royal family in some way. Peers are people who've had noble title bestowed upon them by royalty, but aren't royal themselves. For reference: Downton Abbey = Peerage, The Crown = Royalty.
3. YAPHET KOTTO
You might not know him by name, but Yaphet Kotto's face is sure to be familiar. He's appeared in many iconic films including The Running Man, Midnight Run, and can claim a spot in the coveted Bond Villain pantheon for his turn as Dr. Kananga/Mr. Big in Live and Let Die. He also had a six-year run on Homicide: Life on the Street as Lieutenant Al Giardello. In addition to his impressive resumé, he's also Cameroonian royalty.
Though he was born in New York City, his father hailed from the Doualla region of Cameroon and was Crown Prince of the Royal Bell family. Kotto also claimed, though this isn't nearly as documentable, that he was the great-grandson of Britain's Queen Victoria. According to him, the queen's son, Prince Albert Edward VII had an affair with a Cameroonian princess that produced Kotto's grandfather, Alexander Bell. The Brits dispute his claim, though.
There are definitely a few purists who'll take issue with us including Madonna on this list, and that's because her "royal" connection happens to be with a pretty controversial figure -- Camilla Parker-Bowles. Widely believed to be a major factor in the breakdown of Prince Charles' marriage to Princess Diana, Parker-Bowles was also a divorcee, something the House of Windsor has famously frowned upon for decades (see: Wallis Simpson).
When the Prince and Parker-Bowles were finally able to marry in 2005, she was granted the title of Duchess, so now Madonna can say she's 9th cousins with royalty (sort of). Parker-Bowles and Madonna share two common ancestors, actually -- early Canadian settler Jean Guyon and 17th century French carpenter, Zacharie Cloutier. If that weren't enough of a coincidence, Celine Dion shares both ancestors, as well, making all three women cousins.
1. CELINE DION
As we mentioned in Madonna's entry, Celine Dion can also trace her roots back to Quebec settler Jean Guyon and French carpenter Zacharie Cloutier. This not only links her to the Divine Miss M, but to the current Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla Parker-Bowles (the three women are 9th and 10th cousins with each other). But Celine Dion has other royal roots beyond her connection to Prince Charles' second wife.
The Canadian chanteuse also has ties to medieval France. Like Angelina Jolie, Dion can trace one branch of her family all the way back to Phillip II. All these common connections make us wonder if there's some sort of distant family reunion that shouldn't be planned sometime soon... Goodness knows it'd be one seriously good-looking and talented soiree.
Did we miss any other royal celebs? Share them in the comments!
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