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Royal Descents of famous people - The "John McCain and Robert the Bruce" controversy


The "John McCain and Robert the Bruce" controversy of 2008

by Mark Humphrys


In January 2005, The Guardian printed an article of genealogical nonsense about Republican US President George W. Bush's descent from Strongbow. They enjoyed associating Bush with the invader and villain Strongbow. They declined to print my letter of corrections.

In March 2008, The Guardian were back again, with another article of genealogical nonsense about the new Republican candidate for the US Presidency, John McCain. They attack claims by the McCain family to be connected to Robert the Bruce. They declined to print my letter of corrections.

In both articles they attempt to make the Republican look bad. Dare I suspect that they write this stuff because they don't like Republicans?




Grave of Robert the Bruce.




My points in reply

  1. First, the claim by the McCain family is not that John McCain descends from Robert the Bruce! The claim is that his grand-uncle Bill McCain married a woman, Mary Louise Earle, who descends from Robert the Bruce and also from Charlemagne. (The latter claim is in fact redundant, since Robert the Bruce himself descends from Charlemagne.) So even if this claim is true, it means nothing to John McCain! These are not his ancestors!
  2. I don't know about Mary Louise Earle's ancestry, but the article ignores the fact that John McCain himself descends from Edward I, King of England and hence from Malcolm III, King of Scotland. See Ancestry of Sen. John McCain by William Addams Reitwiesner. In fact, the most recent Scottish monarch John McCain descends from is William I, King of Scotland. He also obviously descends (many times) from Charlemagne.

  3. They ask Katie Stevenson, lecturer in medieval studies at the University of St Andrews, to comment. She may know the period, but that doesn't mean she understands the remarkable chains of descent discovered by genealogists over the last 200 years.
    1. She says: "Mary Louise Earle's claims to descent from Robert the Bruce are likely to be fantasy. Earle is not a Scottish name. I think it is incredibly unlikely that name would be related to Robert the Bruce." But of course the descent could be through a female line. Millions of ordinary people with non-Scottish names provably descend from Robert the Bruce (for example, my own children).
    2. In any case, would you not ask for details of the claimed descent before confidently rubbishing it? Here is the claimed descent of Mary Louise Earle from Robert the Bruce (also here) by professional genealogist Will Johnson (also here). As I expected, the descent goes through many female lines - Earle, Robinson, Monteith, Drummond, Bruce, Montgomerie, Kennedy and finally back to Stewart.
    3. In fact, we can see that even the claim that Mary Louise Earle descends from Robert the Bruce is the wrong way to state it! The claim is that Mary Louise Earle descends from Robert III, King of Scotland, who descends from Robert the Bruce.
    4. Stevenson says: "Charlemagne and Robert the Bruce were not connected - that's ludicrous." No, it is her statement that is ludicrous. Robert the Bruce descends (through many different lines) from Charlemagne. If she thinks otherwise, please show me where these descents (laid out on my site) are wrong.
    5. The article further quotes her: "Claims of Scottish medieval ancestry, she said, are virtually impossible to prove unless traced through rare documentation. 'There are no records of that nature. Any historian will tell you that it's virtually impossible to prove ancestry through the middle ages.' " But in fact, any genealogist for the last 200 years will tell you there are millions of proven, step-by-step descents of ordinary modern people from medieval Scottish (and other western) nobility and royalty. She is basically arguing here that all the works of the last 200 years of the genealogy of British nobility and royalty is false. I think I would like to see some evidence of errors before dismissing the entire works of, say, The Scots Peerage and The Complete Peerage.
    6. She could start by showing me where my wife's multiple descents from Robert the Bruce go wrong. To see these descents, follow the lines marked: on my site. Seriously, I would love to know where the error is.

  4. The article says: "Of all the claims in support of John McCain's bid for the White House, perhaps none is quite as grand as this" (that his grand-aunt by marriage has Royal ancestry). Well there is a much grander claim - that McCain himself has Royal ancestry. And this is true.

  5. Finally, many other US Presidential candidates have Royal ancestry:
    1. John McCain descends from Edward I.
    2. Barack Obama descends from Edward III.
    3. George W. Bush descends from Edward III.
    4. Dick Cheney descends from Edward I.
    5. John Kerry descends from Edward III.
    6. Howard Dean descends from Edward III.
    7. Mike Huckabee descends from Henry I.
    8. Mitt Romney descends from Edward I.
    9. Bill Richardson descends from Edward I.



Other people's criticisms

The article provoked an explosion of ill-informed comment on blogs and in the media, much of it politically-motivated (people hostile to McCain who were enjoying the chance to sneer at him). Most people who report the Guardian's claims are simply credulous. Only the genealogists realise what is wrong with the article.


My letter to The Guardian

I sent the following letter to The Guardian on 27 Mar 2008:


Dear Sir

Your article of March 21 cast doubt on the story of John McCain's family connection to Robert the Bruce. In fact (contrary to the "experts" you quoted), provable descents of modern people from medieval Royalty are common. Thousands of such descents have been published, and since 1995 I have been collecting them at my "Royal Descents of famous people" website. This shows, for example, how people as diverse as David Hume, Bertrand Russell, Marie Antoinette, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, Anthony Eden, Lewis Carroll, John Kerry, Howard Dean, Ralph Fiennes, Johnny Dumfries and David Cameron all descend from Robert the Bruce.

As for McCain's family, the article needs the following corrections:

  1. The claimed descent is for McCain's grand-aunt Mary Louise Earle, not for him. No claim was ever made that McCain descends from Robert the Bruce.
  2. Mary Louise Earle has a documented descent from Robert III, King of Scotland. Your experts never showed us what is wrong with this.
  3. Robert III, King of Scotland, descends from Robert the Bruce.
  4. Robert the Bruce descends (many times) from Charlemagne (contrary to your expert who claimed they have no relationship).
  5. McCain himself has a documented descent from Edward I, King of England (and hence from Malcolm III, King of Scotland). Your experts never showed us what is wrong with this.
  6. The most recent Scottish monarch McCain descends from is William I, King of Scotland.

Finally, the reader may be surprised to hear that Barack Obama also descends from Edward I, as do George W. Bush, Mitt Romney and Bill Richardson. John Kerry and Howard Dean descend from Edward III. Mike Huckabee descends from Henry I. And Dick Cheney descends from Ethelred II the Unready. Professional genealogists have been discovering these kind of descents for years, but it seems that word of how normal this is has not yet reached the world outside genealogy. All this is documented at my site (humphrysfamilytree.com).

Yours

Dr. Mark Humphrys


I should have added that McCain also descends from Charlemagne. Also I have since found that Cheney has a descent from Edward I, and Bush and Obama have descents from Edward III.

They did not publish this letter.

Shame on the Guardian. They published an article of genealogical nonsense, written by people who are not expert on the topic. An expert in the topic writes to them to correct the article, and they do not publish it. The genealogical nonsense stands uncorrected.





The "Bush is descended from Strongbow" controversy of 2005




Return to Royal Descents of famous people.



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