Prince William’s ancestor Eliza Kewark was at least half South Asian, possibly wholly so.
Note: This article is from the Guardian.
This morning’s revelation that Prince William has Indian blood on his mother’s side knocked news of Rupert Murdoch’s latest divorce clean off page one of the Times (though there is an obvious connection). But should we be as surprised in 2013 as we might have pretended to be in imperial 1913, but would not have been in 1813? After all, it has long been suggested that the Queen herself has African ancestry. It’s all good globalising stuff. Two cheers.
Come again? Yes. As recently as the Guardian’s Stuart Jeffries wrote a typically scholarly article discussing claims that Queen Charlotte (1744-1818), the wife of the uxorious George III was, as a German princess, linked to the 13th-century Portuguese monarch Alfonso III and his mistress, Madragana, who was probably a Moor (like Othello).
Daily Telegraph readers should not reach for their fully-licensed shotguns until they have inspected a few portraits of the late Queen whose 15 children inspired the naming of a famous maternity hospital in her honour. When one looks at the Queen’s portraits by the great Scottish painter, Allan Ramsay, you can certainly see what people mean.
Back to Prince William. As soon as I saw the headline I thought: “Di, what have you been up to?” A compliment, really, to the late princess, though misplaced in this context. Researchers at Edinburgh University who have been tracing the prince’s line on his mother’s side focused some curiosity on an ancestor seven generations back.
Her name was Eliza Kewark and she was married, according to Edinburgh Uni’s Susan Harvard, in 1812 to a wealthy Scots merchant called Theodore Forbes in the Indian port city of Surat. Eliza was described at the time as Armenian, but the miraculous DNA link now unearthed – other descendants’ saliva has been tested, not Wills’ – all but guarantees that she was at least half South Asian, possibly wholly so.
However evident that was or wasn’t at the time was ignored as Anglo-Indians such as Cliff Richard or Freddie Mercury could confirm in our own age. And though Forbes wrote a lot of “My Dear Betsy” letters on his travels, the money and allowance he left her in his will in 1818 was to his “housekeeper”. Such euphemisms are not unknown, then or now.
By that stage, Eliza’s children and Theodore’s “reputed” children, Kitty and Alexander, had been reluctantly sent “home” to Scotland, not least because well-meaning friends were worried that the Indian sun would ruin her complexion. I bet they did. Anyway, Kitty later marries into the Crombie coat family and looks a respectable Victorian matron in the sepia photos. Her great-granddaughter, Ruth, aka Lady Fermoy, was our Scots Queen Mum’s chum, the pair which manoeuvred their respective grandchildren – Charles and Di – up the fateful aisle at St Paul’s in 1981.
It’s a very common story of empire, ours and all the others. The piquancy of this particular era is well-documented by the writer William Dalrymple, himself a child of Scottish mercantile empire-builders, who has written some brilliant books on the sub-continent. One, White Mughals, explores the sheer scale of inter-marriage between Indian women and British soldiers, administrators and traders in the decades after the French defeat at Plassey in 1759 and the consolidation of fragmented British control after 1815 when naval power gave it its hegemonic reach.
The dusty stats which Dalrymple has analysed puts the level of inter-marriages as one in three. Some Brits went native – as the saying went – in habit and costume, some converted to Islam, many made handsome financial settlements on their wives and children, some even brought them “home”. The tragedy of the story, a little later than the Forbes marriage, came as more and more wives and would-be wives – the memsahibs - went out to India. It was happening at roughly the same time as the Christian revival in post-Georgian England, sometimes known as the second awakening of the Evangelical Movement, moved heavily into the missionary business, taking with it its powerful sense of sin.
A nasty, hopelessly misplaced and transient sense of racial superiority and separation arrived, too. The Indian Mutiny of 1857 – the first war of independence to Indians – consolidated that trend; the savagery on both sides underpinning separation with fear. The Raj lasted a mere 90 years. How that would have shocked the Victorians in their patronising paternalistic (and exploitative) way, but probably no more than the thought of the last Viceroy’s wife, Edwina Mountbatten, having an affair (carnal or spiritual?) with Jawaharlal Nehru, leader of the independence movement.
With her own Indian dalliances, Princess Di might have been amused. Her brother, Lord Spencer, seems to have clocked the connection: two of his daughters are called Kitty and Eliza.
Which brings us back to the latest Murdoch divorce. By general consent, Rupert is a tough cookie of Scots empire-building stock. If this Wall St Journal profile from 2000 is even half true then wife No 3, the scourge of the pie-throwing classes, is even tougher – Chinese empire-building stock, you might even say.
When the Edinburgh University research team has finished checking out those pushy middle-class Middletons it could do worse than get on the Murdoch/Deng case to see what may lie in store for News Corp – and the rest of us.
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