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Who Do You Think You Are?: Alexander Armstrong's blue blood

4-5 minute read

By The Findmypast Team | June 11, 2024

Here's what Alexander Armstrong discovered within his family tree...

Alexander Armstrong is a comedian and actor, perhaps best known as the host of the BBC quiz show Pointless alongside Richard Osman. He's half of the comedy duo Armstrong and Miller (alongside long-time friend Ben Miller), and also presents a morning show on Classic FM. This multi-talented personality boasts a long and diverse career which includes radio, appearing regularly on Have I Got News For You, and voice acting credits on Danger Mouse, Sarah Jane Adventures and more.

He married Hannah Bronwen Snow in 2003 - the couple have a son, Rex.

Armstrong is no stranger to family history - in 2010, he appeared on Who Do You Think You Are. Despite his surname being the 140th most common surname in the UK, the achievements of his notable relatives were not too difficult to find using historical records and newspapers.

Alexander began his genealogy adventure on Who Do You Think You Are by saying he had always been called 'posh', and that he would be disappointed if his family tree research didn't reveal a 'posh' background. As it turned out, he didn't need to worry...

Our experts have dug into all manner of celebrityfamily trees, including national treasures like David Attenborough and Julie Andrews and the cast of The Crown. Learn what we uncovered by delving into the Findmypast blog.

Alexander Armstrong's family

Alexander Henry Fenwick Armstrong was born in 1970 - with a quick search, we found Alexander's birth record in our collection. He grew up in Rothbury, Northumberland.

Alexander Armstrong's birth record.

Alexander Armstrong's birth record.

The comedian started his Who Do You Think You Are journey by talking to his parents, and revealed that he wanted to learn more about his mother Virginia Thompson-McCausland's side of the family. Virginia's mother was Helen McCausland. Helen's father was Maurice Marcus McCausland, Alexander's great-grandfather, who was born in 1872. We found Maurice's birth record on Findmypast.

Maurice's birth record.

Maurice's birth record.

A royally good discovery...

Alexander Armstrong wanted to find out how the McCauslands did so well for themselves. He learned that his 6x great-grandmother Mary Boughton (1714-1786) was a lady of the bedchamber to Queen Charlotte, confirming Alexander's solid link to royalty in the 18th century. Mary died in 1786. Mary had two sons, Edward and Charles - Charles was Alexander's 5x great-grandfather. Edward inherited the baronetcy from his cousin Sir Theodosius in a controversial turn of events.

Alexander discovered a letter which Edward sent to Charles informing him of Theodosius' death. Edward described the death as 'wonderful' news because it meant he would inherit the baronetcy. All was not well, however, as Theodosius' death was deemed suspicious and his body was examined by physicians, who claimed he'd been poisoned.

Alexander travelled to Boughton Hall to read the records of the trial which followed to see if Edward acquired the baronetcy through foul play.

In the end, Edward wasn't implicated. Captain John Donellan, Theodosius' brother-in-law, was tried for the murder instead. He was found guilty of poisoning Theodosius, although Alexander thought it was more likely that he had died from syphilis, as Donellan claimed and medical records supported.

When Edward died in 1794 he left his estate to his illegitimate daughters and left Charles £100 - a pittance compared to the value of his estate. Alexander thought it very unfair that Edward disinherited Charles, describing him as a 'rogue'.

Alexander Armstrong's aristocratic roots

Alexander discovered that Mary Boughton, his 6x great-grandmother, was the great-granddaughter of the first Duke of Beaufort, Alexander's 9x great-grandfather Henry Somerset. Today the Beauforts are one of the wealthiest aristocratic families in the country.

Henry's father was Edward Somerset, 6th Earl of Worcester, who lost most of the family's fortune in the 16th century during the civil war. Edward donated money to King Charles I from early on in the civil war; he loaned the King more than £70 million in today's money. Charles I made Edward the Earl of Glamorgan and made him a secret envoy to the Catholic confederates in Ireland.

The King's letter detailing this fell into the wrong hands and he had no choice but to deny all knowledge of the mission and accuse Edward of high treason. Edward was imprisoned in Ireland and his home, Raglan Castle, fell. In 1649 King Charles was executed.

The trial of King Charles I.

The trial of King Charles, Westminster Hall, 1649.

Edward never again occupied the family seat of Raglan. Alexander felt that Edward was heroic and didn't get the reward he deserved.

Edward turned to science in later life. He invented a water-commanding engine which harnessed steam power 40 years before steam engines were invented. Edward died in 1667 and it was believed that he took the designs for the steam engine to his grave. We searched our parish record collection and found Edward's parish burial record.

In a bizarre twist, 200 years later, a group of engineers took a trip to Raglan in 1861 to exhume a model of the engine from Edward's grave. Alexander found a detailed account of the mission which stated that the engineers hoped to find the model of the engine in Edward's tomb but after a thorough search failed to find anything.

Raglan Castle, c. 1797.

Raglan Castle, c. 1797.

Finally, the comedian traced the earliest roots of the Somerset family and discovered Edward III 20 generations back in the 1300s. Edward III was a distant relative of William the Conqueror, making William the Conqueror Alexander's 27 x great grandfather. Alexander is also related to Baron William Armstrong, whose Northumberland mansion was the first to be powered by electricity in the 1860s.

What will you discover?

It's not just celebrities that have fascinating figures lurking within their family trees - with a little digging, we can all uncover exciting new details about our roots.

Have you made a surprising family history discovery? Whatever you've uncovered about your past, we'd love to hear about it. You can now get in touch and tell us using this handy form.

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