Have you recently discovered that you might be a descendant of Charlemagne? Is there a way to find out for sure? Find out in this post!
In addition, you will also discover:
- How many children Charlemagne had
- How many living descendants he has all around the world
- Whether Queen Elizabeth is also related to Charlemagne (and thus, to you!)
- Whether it is possible to prove that you are descended from Charlemagne
I was inspired to write this post because I have seen quite a few family trees on the internet that claim to have traced a line all the way back to Charlemagne, also called Charles I, who died in 814. How likely is it that any given person is descended from Charlemagne, and would they really be able to document a line of their tree back 1200 years?
To explore the idea of whether you, or anyone else, might be descended from Charlemagne, we must start at the obvious point: his offspring. Charlemagne was a very powerful ruler, who at one point ruled over almost all of Western and Central Europe.
This left him in an advantageous position for procreation. Over the course of his lifetime, he had a total of ten known wives and concubines.
How many children did Charlemagne have?
Charlemagne had at least eighteen children born to nine of the ten women with which he was known to be associated, whether through marriage or concubinage. Even though he had so many children, not all of them went on to have families of their own.
With eighteen children, you might imagine that Charlemagne ended up with an impressive number of grandchildren. Since Charlemagne’s children lived a very long time ago, we do not have full details about their relationships and children that they might have had.
For example, we know that he only ended up with four legitimate grandsons. However, we know that his genes were passed down to many more grandchildren, whether they were considered legitimate heirs or not.
How many direct descendants does Charlemagne have?
It is likely that everyone that had ancestors who were in Western Europe around the 9th century is descended from Charlemagne, or more than a billion people worldwide. This includes everyone living in Western Europe with ancestry from the region, as well as members of the European diaspora who live in Africa, Asia, as well as North and South America.
And no, you don’t have to have known royal or noble ancestors to imagine that you, too, are descended from Charlemagne.
Even if someone only has a small percentage of European heritage relative to their total ancestry, if their European ancestors were in Europe a thousand years ago, they are probably descended from Charlemagne.
Of course, what this means is that it is true that a great number of people are indeed descended from Charlemagne, one of the most famous rules in European history. However, it also means that it isn’t really very notable to be his descendant because, well, there are just so many of us!
Why are all Europeans are descended from Charlemagne?
The reason that we can be quite sure that most, if not all, Europeans are descended from Charlemagne is because of math and the population of Europe at the time of Charlemagne’s life. To put it simply, there were not enough people alive in the year 800 to fill in all of the spots on our family tree with different people, which means that we must be descended from most of them.
We all know how family trees work, of course. Everyone has two biological parents, four grandparents, and eight great-grandparents.
Basically, the number of ancestors gets doubled each generation. By the time we get back to great-great-great-great grandparents, we will probably find that we all have 64 different ancestors in those spots on our tree.
For most of us, it goes like this for a number of generations, with different people occupying each spot in our family tree.
When it comes to going back as far as Charlemagne’s time, which was 1200 years ago, things get a little tricky. If we estimate that there are about 20 generations in 500 years, we realize that we must keep doubling the number of ancestors more than 40 times!
If we do that, we will find that we will have 500 billion spots to fill on our family tree. The estimated population of Europe at the time of Charlemagne’s live in the year 800 was less than 40 million, and perhaps as low as 20-30 million.
In short, there weren’t enough people alive in Europe, or even all over the world, 1200 years ago to fill the one billion places on your family tree. This means that you simply must be descended from almost all of them, including Charlemagne, multiple times.
Is Queen Elizabeth descended from Charlemagne?
Genealogy and heraldry are crucial to those who are members of any royal family, and the same is true for the current royal family of the United Kingdom. The ancestry of Queen Elizabeth II has been well-documented, and thus shows her being descended from Charlemagne, possibly even more than once.
For example, she is descended from Charlemagne through descent from William the Conqueror, who descended from Charlemagne through his son, Pepin of Italy. Queen Elizabeth II is also descended from Robert the Bruce, who also might have been descended from Charlemagne.
Does this mean that everyone who is descended from Charlemagne is also a cousin of Queen Elizabeth? Well, technically, yes.
However, the exact nature of the genealogical relationship to Her Majesty would prove to very distant. For example, if Charlemagne is the most recent common ancestor shared with her, then we might all be her 45th cousins – give or take.
I don’t think that we will be getting an invite to the next royal engagement. After all, there are perhaps a billion of us.
Is it possible to prove you are descended from Charlemagne?
Knowing that one is probably descended from Charlemagne is different than being able to prove it. Only some people will actually be able to document a family line going back to Charlemagne with reliable research; most connections will be dubious.
The easiest way to acquire documentation about a connection to one of Charlemagne’s family lines is to research your family tree until you locate a connection to nobility or royalty.
As I mentioned before, family trees are important to those folks, and so if you are able to find documentation that brings you back to a member of the royal family, you are likely to be able to discover a legitimate connection to Charlemagne through historical research.
Since Charlemagne had so many children, and possibly even children we don’t know about, and certainly grandchildren that we are unaware of, it is possible that a great many of Charlemagne’s descendants will be unable to acquire documentation that would count as “proof” of a relationship to him.
I hope that you enjoyed this post and that you learned everything that you wanted to know about potentially being descended from Charlemagne, and how you could go about researching this question.
If you have any questions about something that you have read in this post, please join us in the comments.
Thanks for reading!
Sunday 26th of March 2023
A very reliable genealogist has recorded that I am descended from one of Charlemagne's legitimate grandsons. I have studied the history of Charlemagne, his wives, grandsons, etc., but not in depth! I'm sure that my knowledge is extremely limited and probably inaccurate. I feel a depth of gratitude for your sharing what you know of Charlemagne and genealogy. I'm also indebted to Patrick Wild for his devotion to the genealogy of Switzerland, mainly the canton of Glarus.
My future goal is to find the biological parents of Louisa Fuhrer from Bern Switzerland. I have tried for 30 years. The death record lists her mother as Elisa or Elise Fuhrer, although that surname is hard to read. Other parts of her death record are inaccurate!
My question is this: Would my son's Y-DNA give information about Louisa's father or grandfathers?
Sunday 26th of March 2023
Hi Pauline, Thank you so much for your comment and question. Your son's Y-DNA will reveal information from his father's father's father's (et al) direct paternal line. How far back is Louisa in your family tree?
Friday 23rd of September 2022
My parents were both from Europe- France/ Belgium/ and Bretagne. I’m sure somewhere there is a Royal connection.I feel it in my blood…. I just know very little of my family tree because of WW2 and my parents leaving for the USA.
Friday 15th of July 2022
My family were of the House of Taillefer, Counts & Countesses of Angouleme for many generations. They married into the Plantegenet family. Some changed their name from Taillefer to Taylor in England. Amongst them are Dr. Rev. RowlandTaylor, my 11th great-grandfather, who was executed at Hadleigh, Suffolk by decree of Mary I, aka “Bloody Mary.” His wife, Margaret Ursula Tyndale- Taylor, and several of their children, were also executed the same day, 9 February 1555. Her Uncle, (my 12th great granduncle) Dr. William Tyndale, who’d translated the Tyndale Bible from original Greek & Hebrew texts, was executed by order of her father, King Henry VIII in the 1530s. Her father, John Tyndale, was Governor of The Tower of London, until his death in the 1530s. My 10th great-grandfather, Sir Thomas Taylor, survived the slaughter, and became a Knight of Bath.
Wednesday 22nd of September 2021
My mother line is French Canadian and I have a complete ahnentafel chart of all my ancestors who came to Nouvelle France in the 17th century and compiled by those devils of detail, the Jesuits. I descend from one of the two official gateway ancestors officially recognized as descendants of Charlemagne, Duke Rollo; her name was Anne Couvent. There is also an Anne David who descends from King David according to French and Hebraic scholars. Her ancestor was an Exilarque from Babylon who was invited to rule Septimania for Charlemagne in the late 8th century. The family was converted to Christianity in 1200 due to unrest against jews in France. Not only do I descend from Charlemagne but I know all of the names in the line of descent. As a historian I would not have thought to dig into genealogy (snobbism) but my mother's cousin called Ottawa 15 years ago and got plugged into the system and to my delight gave me a copy of the 200 plus pages of hundreds of our ancestors. It is exciting to feel a part of the history I used to study from a distance.
Saturday 10th of July 2021
I'm related to all of them. Queen Elizabeth II is my 9th Cousin 1 time removed.