As everybody is still speculating about the names for the royal baby, there are two distinct approaches: one is to find the name that would seem silliest with the royal number I behind it, and the other is to speculate, on the basis of family tradition and genealogy, what the name might really be in the end.
This post goes for neither of these options: I look at the genealogy, and the resulting suggestion is certainly not silly, but quite impossible. But why should it be? Throughout history, ‘East’ and ‘West’ have been much more connected than many would like them to be. But this is something we really should remember.
Thus, if the Royal family really values genealogy, and wants to choose the name of their most illustrious ancestor, they should probably go for Mohammed. Let me explain why:
There is indeed a pretty good chance, as far as certainty ever can go with genealogies going back that far, that Queen Elizabeth II is a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed. The connection is via Edward IV and the royal house of Castile, who in turn were related to the Muslim rulers of Seville, and they had a claim to being descendants of the Prophet. Since Burke’s Peerage seems to have accepted it, it’s good enough for me.*
How much chance is there that this is correct? Descent from the Prophet was soon important in early Islamic politics, and is likely to have been recorded or remembered in detail early on; as the number of people with the highly prestigious claim to descent from the Prophet himself grew, it is more difficult to tell how well this would have been policed, and how easy it would have been for high-ranking families to invent such a connection. One thing is clear, however: during what we would call the Middle Ages, much of the Muslim world almost certainly had better standards of record keeping than any part of Europe.
If you try to define how European aristocracy defines the importance of ancestry, you’ll find that both an early date and historical impact or fame are crucial factors. Hardly any European aristocratic family can point to securely documented ancestors before the eighth century, yet the Windsor family can point to a famous ancestor in the seventh century. Moreover, it is difficult to point to any other of their ancestors (try it!) who has had more impact on the world, and who is considered important by more people around the world than the Prophet Mohammed.
Thus, the choice is obvious, isn’t it?
Call him Mohammed!
What would the world say?
* I have not found a direct link to the original letter written by the then editor of Burke’s Peerage to Margaret Thatcher on the issue in 1986, but here is a blog post which quotes the press release about it.
It’s not likely to ever happen of course, but interesting nonetheless. Would the Islamic world be insulted by this, or proud? I don’t know. Perhaps it could be one of his middle names.
I have no idea how the Islamic world would react, although, googling round a bit, I found that there seem to be quite a few Muslims who are quite proud of this link. I don’t know how things would be if this part of the family tree had a higher profile, like some other equally tenuous parts of the Windsors’ ancestry.
This is why I thought this was such a good topic for this blog. It’s not actually all that important whether it is actually genetically true (almost certainly not, since Edward IV was almost certainly not the son of his father, which also breaks a few other links with earlier English kings which might be seen as more important). What matters is how we choose to remember the past, which details we select on the basis of who we want to be or what we want to say about ourselves. A bit closer to our own time, the ‘Windsors’ (a.k.a. the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha) have been pretty good at ditching the German ancestry, which is a lot more dominant in the family tree.
But this putative link to Mohammed is particularly interesting, since it shatters all sorts of ideas about the separation between ‘East’ and ‘West’ or Muslim and Christian.