The Fuss over Prince William’s Indian Origin

For the past couple of weeks, media reports have been highlighting the Indian ancestry of Prince William, second to the throne of the United Kingdom. British geneticists, who used DNA from saliva from one of his relatives, claim that he has inherited the mitochondrial DNA (solely passed through mothers as the sperms lack mitochondria) from an Indian woman.

How close exactly?

The Indian woman was the prince’s great-great-great-great-great grandmother. In early 1800s, a Scottish merchant named Theodore Forbes, stationed at the East India Company, Surat, had a child  with his house-keeper. This woman, Eliza Newark, was half-Indian and half-Armenian. The couple named their girl Katherine. One of her descendants, Diana Spencer married the Prince of Wales. Princess Diana was the first and ,except Princess Kate, the only other commoner to marry in the British royal family. Also, she is the most popular royal ever. Prince William is their son.

How did the geneticists conclude?

Prince William
Prince William

Newark is connected to Prince William purely through the maternal side. In simpler words, he is her daughter’s daughter’s daughter’s daughter’s daughter’s daughter’s son (Phew!). The mitochondrial DNA in our cells has no paternal attributes, because only the egg contributes the mitochondria during the formation of zygote. Birth, death and marriage records were carefully scrutinized to trace two of Eliza’s living descendants.

Both of them were third cousins of Princess Diana’s mother. And the relatives whose saliva were sampled. These two were genetically 0.3% to 0.8% South-Asian. The two independent genetic evidences put together prove the Prince’s Indian ancestry.

So what!

A tabloid claimed that revelation of Prince William’s Indian ancestry would boost his popularity in India. Indian media too highlighted the issue as if it was some “achievement” for the country. But in a world globalized since the Industrial Revolution, should it be any surprise?

There are phylogenetic trees constructed from a global sample size which hint that all modern humans arose from a single woman who lived in Africa about 2,00,000 years ago.


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