A secret hovers over the continuing relationship between Prince William and his wife Kate Middleton. A skeleton so large that even a vast royal closet would struggle to contain it.
William and Kate are distant cousins. Not only that, the common ancestor who links the two lovers is a murderer whose bloody deeds have been forgotten. The man who links Prince and Princess Kate is Thomas Leighton. He was an Elizabethan soldier, diplomat and for 40 years, the cut-throat Governor of Guernsey. He is Prince William’s 12th generation great-grandparent, and Princess Kate’s 11th, making them 12th cousins.
THE BRUTAL ANCESTOR.
‘He disregarded civil liberties and kept the people down by main force. This hard-nosed figure was a gentleman who came as a timely snub to those critics of Kate Middleton who dismiss her antecedents as being working-class.
So hated was Leighton, that on his death in 1610, the official report on his demise was defaced by angry Guernsey residents. And uniquely for such an important figure in the Elizabethan court his wife was the Queen’s cousin. No portrait of him survives. All were either destroyed or lost.
Leighton has been a hugely successful soldier, serving with distinction in France and Ireland. He lustily enjoyed the quelling of a revolt in northern England in 1569. Some said he enjoyed the sight and smell of blood just a little too much.
To reward him, or perhaps just to get this thug out of her way, Queen Elizabeth gave him Guernsey to govern in 1570 and so his reign of terror began. The root of the problem was his misappropriation of funds, his tyranny, his taste for imprisonment without trial, and his press-ganging of Guernsey men to go to sea against their will to fight pirates.
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As the years passed, he made his son a Lieutenant of the island, too. Surrounded by allies, Leighton felt emboldened to seize four French ships tied up in St Peter Port – even though Guernsey was supposed to be neutral.
THE EMBARRASSMENT SUFFERING.
The Royal Court in London, embarrassed by this act of brigand, declared the seizure invalid. Leighton airily ignored their judgment. ‘In 1587 Leighton sailed to England to recommend Sir Walter Raleigh on defense.
It is from Elizabeth Leighton’s side that Princess Kate descends, while Prince William’s ancestor is her sister Anne. Curiously, there is not a single titled person on Princess Kate’s side of the family tree. Yet on Prince William’s side he can count the earls of Rochester and a few baronets among his ancestors before his forbears marry into the Spencer family. In fact, Duchess of Cambridge, Kate’s family slid decidedly down-market for a few generations before picking itself up and becoming respectable again.
FORGETTING THE ANCESTOR.
On the other hand, not everyone would wish to be associated with an ancestor who cared so little for the sanctity of life. The short official record of Sir Thomas, who is after all the blood-tie between our future king and queen. ‘Leighton is recalled in Guernsey with rancor. In United Kingdom, he is barely remembered at all’.