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Arms of the King of France (not your arms, not my arms)

The Etiquette of Having Noble
and Royal Ancestors

 John P. DuLong

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A royal gateway ancestor is an ancestor who leads back to noble ancestors and eventually to a royal or imperial ancestor.  Now that several royal gateway lineages have been documented for French Canadians and Acadians (see Denis Beauregard’s list of Quebec and Acadian Royal Descends), I think some etiquette advice is in order.  While you may be very proud to discover that you descend from monarchs, it is advisable to follow some elementary etiquette guidelines to avoid social embarrassment.

  • Royal Blood: Some of your very distant ancestors had “royal blood;” you do not.  Your royal ancestor is so remote from you that any royal blood running through your veins is so diluted by bourgeois and peasant ancestry that it is meaningless.  Furthermore, you are not part of the royal house, you are not in the line of succession for any kingdom, and you will never be invited to any royal functions because of your extremely distant relationship to a reigning monarch.

  • Bragging: In general, it is not wise to boast about having royal ancestors.  First of all, most people without an appreciation of genealogy will not believe you and will think you odd.  Secondly, those who do have a firm understanding of genealogy and the probability of finding a royal gateway ancestor will not be impressed.  Beauregard has estimated that of the Quebec couples married in a sample of 100 from 1939 and 1940, approximately 84 percent descend from royal gateway ancestors.  You are not alone.  Many people can prove descent from Charlemagne.

  • Joking: It is appropriate to joke about your royal ancestry among friends and family.  You can put on airs when they are in on the joke.  It can be fun to insist that they treat you with greater dignity and that you should be excused from menial tasks because of your royal status.  They know that you know that you do not have any royal status.  However, be careful referring to others as peasants even in jest, they might not find it humorous.

  • Snobs: Should you encounter another person who is bragging about their royal and noble connections, especially if they are ignorant of non-British royal gateways, you are justified to let them know how proud you are of your French connection to royals and nobles. You can freely and vigorously boast about your own royal and noble ancestors. Lay it on thick and make sure they understand that you are surprised that they are so ignorant about the French-Canadian and Acadian royal gateways.

  • Names: It would be in bad taste to change your surname to reflect your long ago royal ancestors.  For example, you should not add “de Capet” to your surname.  Surnames are generally speaking a patrilineal inheritance and most of us with royal gateways reach back to a royal ancestor through bi-lineal descent.  So you are undoubtedly not entitled to use any names associated with a royal or for that matter noble house. (Also, please make sure you understand that the prepositions de or du in a surname does not imply nobility.)

  • Arms: While it is interesting and instructive to learn about the heraldry associated with your ancestors, unless you are the direct male descendant of an armiger, you are not entitled to these arms.  The study of heraldry can be very helpful in genealogical research and a knowledge of it is required for anyone researching medieval families, but adopting royal arms or incorporating them into your arms is the height of folly.  Here in the United States of America you can assume your own arms as long as a matter of protocol they are not identical to anyone else’s and in Canada you have a Heraldic Authority you can work with to get a grant of arms.  Adopting unique personal arms is encouraged, taking the arms of others is bad form. Displaying the arms of ancestors for illustration or education, as long as you make it clear that you are not claiming the arms as your own, is fair use.

  • Family Traditions: Many families have traditions that their ancestors were nobles or royals.  A family tradition is not a fact.  And even if in the course of your research you discover a royal gateway ancestor, that ancestor was undoubtedly so remote from you that none of your family really had a clue about how they descended from royalty.  Even your ancestors in New France who were nobles or bourgeois and descended from royalty, were probably ignorant of any specific lineage going back to a royal because it would have been most likely more than eight generations in the past.

  • Nobles of New France: For those of you with noble ancestors who lived in New France, please understand that many of them were of the minor nobility, recently ennobled, were bourgeois and pretending to be noble, or they were not nobles at all but commoners who happened to own a seigneurie.  Major nobles who lived in New France were usually administrators or in the military and did not settle in the colony but returned to France at the end of their service.  In a North American context it might be impressive to have noble ancestors in New France, but should you be travelling in France and met a real noble with many generations of noble ancestors, I would suggest being cautious about sharing your noble ancestry.  It would just not be remarkable in a European context.

  • Honoring Royals: Do not go overboard honoring your royal ancestors.  Keep in mind that many of them were not really nice people or worthy of your admiration.  We had the French Revolution for very solid reasons.  And avoid paying too much respect to modern-day royals.  This attempt to appear in sympathy with them because you share some distant royal ancestry with them will only make you look like a royal want-to-be or worse a stalker.  If you are an American, then remember we live in a republic.  We had a revolution to rid ourselves of a monarchy and nobles.  It is awkward to see Americans so fascinated with royalty.  In general, our Canadian cousins, who have a monarch, pay less attention to royalty than we Americans do.

  • Lineage Societies: If you can verify a lineage back to a royal gateway ancestor, then you might be tempted to join a lineage society like the Order of the Crown of Charlemagne.  Although some of these societies are easy to join, others require that you be invited to apply for membership.  Be prepared to document with citations to original sources for each generation.  Your application will be submitted to a registrar who will examine it in detail.  Once you become a member, be cautious about bragging that you are in a lineage society.  Others who already belong to such societies will not be impressed.  And many people see these groups as rather snobbish.  Also, people living in countries with a monarchy that acts as a fount of honor, look down on self-proclaimed orders like American lineage societies for descendants of nobles and royals.   Lastly, do not pester the researchers who established the lineage to a royal gateway ancestor.  They are usually more interested in doing new and unique research and not in helping you file your lineage society application.  They will not be impressed that you descend from a royal.

  • The Value of a Royal Gateway: So with all these etiquette restrictions, what is the value of having royal ancestry?  As genealogist you should welcome having a royal gateway ancestor because it will allow you to extend your research back to the Dark Ages.  You will be able to learn more about European history while you trace back your royal ancestors.  You will see that the royals were tied together by intermarriage and you will find you can trace back to many different European royal houses because of these intermarriages.  Lastly, because you will be working with different types of records you will develop some important research skills that will help you in your other non-royals research.

I hope you find these etiquette suggestions of value.  I offer them as guidelines, not rules, to help you avoid socially awkward situations.  Enjoy your royal ancestry, but do so with dignity and reserve.

One final note, please remember that having a royal gateway ancestor does not release you from the obligation of properly citing the work of others you may rely on as evidence for your lineage back to royalty.  It irritates and demoralizes serious researches when their work is used without attribution and it makes the person failing to cite sources look like a rank amateur.  When you properly cite the research of serious scholars you reinforce their efforts and encourage them to continue their valuable work.

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This page, and all contents, are Copyright 1998 by John P. DuLong, Berkley, MI.   Created 1 April 2016.  Last modified 6 April 2023.