Do the Monarchs of England Claim Descent ... from Wotan?

This is a bit of a bizzare factoid I’d like to hunt down.

When I was visiting the Tower of London, I saw a gigantic geneological chart depicting the descent of the kings & queens of England. In spite of numerous regime changes over the centuries, there was always some line of continuity, right back to the anglo-saxon monarchs of the dark ages. Right at the top of the chart was the very first Saxon king, Cedric I think … and above him, the ultimate ancestor: Wotan.

This I found very strange, as I understand that Wotan (also Woden or Odin) is, in point of fact, a Germanic pagan god. Not that this makes him any more or less real than the Judeo-Christian variety of course, but the monarchs of England have been at least nominally Christian for a very long time … do they still proudly claim descent from a pagan god, even though as Christians they presumably don’t believe in such beings? :smiley:

Well, I headed over to the official monarchy page, and they trace their ancestry to the warring chieftanships and kingdoms of 500s to 600s Britain. The actual family tree given goes back to Egbert, king of Essex, in 802. Link.

The Anglo-Saxon kings claimed descent from Wotan. I don’t think that Queen Elizabeth believes it herself, though.

An Old Norse book called Heimskringla purports to trace the ancestry of some of Scandinavia’s historical kings back to someone named Odin. I believe the current crop of British and Scandinavian monarchs are descended from some of the historical kings mentioned in the book. The version of the book that has come down to us was written by the Icelandic scholar Snorri Sturluson, a Christian. In his telling, this Odin was a mortal man, not a god. I don’t know if this Odin was the god Odin in Snorri’s pagan sources.

Allegedly, Cerdic is the ancestor of Egbert:

I assume not. :smiley: I was mostly just amused that their family tree still includes him in such a matter-of-fact way.

Well, this is interesting - it is quite possible that an actual man has been deified, or conversely, that a diety has been substituted for a man.

In comparative anthropology, it is not unusual for a society at the “chieftianship” stage to have chiefs who claim divine descent (traces of this very ancient practice even show up in the Hebrew Bible, where the “heros of old” are said to be descended from “sons of God” mating with mortal women).

It went the other way around. The god became manified. Snorri Sturluson, when he wrote his sagas, Christianity was well entrenched. No one of the time would consider gods outside of Christ as real, either in history or their current time. Snorri to make sense of the pagan pantheon, determined that the Vinar were made up of a ruling tribe of people that were attacked from the east by the Æsir tribe. After a protracted war, they merged and became the Æsir that is known as the gods of Norse mythology. Snorri considered them great men of history, and that view point carried on for quite sometime. It only makes sense that royal families would attribute their lineage to such legends.

You could probably also find an alleged line of descent back to the Greco-Roman gods, via the Caesars, who claimed descent from Aeneas, son of Aphrodite.

It could be that both happened - originally, in pagan days, a chief would gain legitimacy by claiming descent from a god, as being “god-born” would be a sign of his right to be a chief (thus elevating an ancestor into a god); in Christian times, naturally no-one would admit to the existence of pagan gods, so the gods would be “demoted” back into men again - noble ancestors to be sure, but no longer actual gods.

Do the kings of England claim descent from the Ceasars?

If so, that would be even more amusing - godly ancestors from completely different pantheons. :smiley:

While searcing around, I found a copule of ancestries that claim descent from King David and the Biblical patriarchs. Obviously the ancestors of the English got around. I’m imagining James T Kirk in a longboat…

Indeed. A somewhat related earlier thread: Mythic origins of the British nation.

Some time after starting that thread, I did buy an old copy of Burke’s Peerage and, if I recall correctly, it did begin the monarch’s genealogy with Wotan.

Didn’t Queen Victoria have genealogists trace her ancestry back to Noah? Granted being a descendant of Noah isn’t all that prestigious since according to the Bible everone is :smack:. I know she did need experts to find out what her actual surname was (or would be if she ever had need to use one).

Like Snorri Sturluson, the antiquarians tracing the lineages of the Anglo-Saxon petty kings of the ‘Heptarchy’ showed lineages through Woden (AS form = German Wotan/Norse Odin), but either Euhemerized him as a Jutish/Angelcynn monarch later deified, or considered him as a human king who adopted the ‘throne name’ derived from the god. In either case, they showed multiple generations of HIS ancestry, leading back to one Sceaf, who arrived at the proto-Anglo-Saxon villages in a ship as a boy bringing a sheaf of ‘corn’ (i.e., grain crops) – probably an etiological legend. The actual lineage of Egbert from Cerdic, though a cadet line, is available online, as are the supposed lineages of Cerdic from Woden’s son Baeldaeg (probably a variant on Baldur) and of Woden from Sceaf.

Human beings used to have much more magical powers, so our antideluvian ancestors may very well have been the Gods of legend. ;p