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Taylor Swift

8 celebrities related to historical figures

What do Jesse James, Vlad the Impaler and Robert the Bruce all have in common? Apart from being famous historical figures, they also share ancestors who are considered modern celebrities.

Image: Taylor Swift is related to one of the most revered poets of all time | Brian Friedman /

Thanks to the wonders of science and modern genealogy, people can now trace their family trees back hundreds (if not thousands) of years to discover their long-lost ancestors. Here are eight celebrities with notable historic relatives:

1. Taylor Swift – Emily Dickinson

She’s currently the biggest name in the music industry with no signs of slowing down. The American pop star has sold hundreds of millions of albums worldwide and racked up billions of streams, making her one of the most famous people in the world.

It was recently announced that online genealogy company had discovered Taylor Swift was related to the American poet Emily Dickinson, one of the most prominent poets in American history. The pair are sixth cousins, three times removed, and the link is quite coincidental considering Swift’s latest album is titled, The Tortured Poets Department.

2. Benedict Cumberbatch – Richard III / Arthur Conan Doyle

The English actor, famous for his role as Doctor Strange in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has made somewhat of a habit of taking roles that are linked with people he's related to. In 2016, Benedict Cumberbatch played the great Richard III in the BBC’s The Hollow Crown series.

According to a genealogist at the University of Leicester, the actor is the second cousin, 16 times removed of Richard III. Whilst that sounds quite distant, it’s actually closer than most of the 17 million people in the UK who can trace links back to the 15th-century king. It’s so close in fact that Cumberbatch was invited to read a poem at Leicester Cathedral during the reburial of the medieval king in 2015.

From 2010 – 2017, Cumberbatch played famous English sleuth Sherlock Holmes in the BBC series Sherlock, which was based on the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Conan Doyle and Cumberbatch also share a link, with discovering they are 16th cousins, twice removed.

3. Kit Harington – Robert Catesby

Another English actor who’s played a distant relative on screen is Kit Harington of Game of Thrones fame. In 2017, Harington appeared in the BBC historical drama Gunpowder, which tells the story of the infamous Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

As history tells us, Catholic dissident Robert Catesby led a conspiracy of 13 men who wished to blow up Parliament with protestant King James I inside. The plan came crashing down when co-conspirator Guy Fawkes was arrested after being found guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder stashed under the House of Lords.

During the three-part TV drama, Harington played the role of Catesby, who he’s a direct descendant of. Harington’s mother’s maiden name was Catesby and by sheer unbelievable chance, an ancestor of Harington’s father was even in the House of Parliament when Catesby planned to blow it up.

Speaking to BBC Newsbeat in 2017, Kit Harington said: ‘As Catesby's head was marched past on a pipe, Harington is quoted as saying “He's an ugly fellow isn't he?” and I thought that is brilliant that my dad's side was slagging off mum's side way back in 1605.’

4. Robert Pattinson – Vlad the Impaler

Before English actor Robert Pattinson landed the role of Batman, arguably his most famous character on screen was vampire Edward Cullen in the Twilight movies. With no real vampires for genealogists at to link Pattinson to, they found the next best thing.

It turns out the Brit is related to Vlad the Impaler, the notorious 15th-century Romanian ruler who, unsurprisingly, enjoyed impaling people on spikes. Vlad was said to be the inspiration behind Irish author Bram Stoker's Dracula, the most famous vampire in literary history.

5. Meghan Markle – Winston Churchill / William Shakespeare

She might be an American member of the Royal Family, but the Duchess of Sussex has some very British ancestors.

The first is the great wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Genealogy website discovered that Churchill and Markle are sixth cousins, five times removed. She also happens to be fifth cousins, 13 times removed with the famous English playwright William Shakespeare.

6. Tilda Swinton – Robert the Bruce

The Oscar-winning Scottish actress, who’s starred in a variety of movies from independent films to huge blockbuster hits, has been linked by a family history research centre in Edinburgh to the great Scottish hero Robert the Bruce.

Bruce was King of the Scots from 1306 to 1329 and freed Scotland from English rule after winning the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. The researchers discovered that Swinton is 19 generations removed from Bruce with both her parents sharing a common link to Bruce’s grandson, Robert II.

7. Ozzy Osbourne – Neanderthal / Jesse James / Tsar Nicholas II

The Prince of Darkness himself, Ozzy Osbourne might have one of the most impressive family trees on this list. Studying his DNA, researchers uncovered that the lead singer of Black Sabbath is the descendant of a Neanderthal man.

Moving forward in history they then linked him to ancient Romans killed during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. If that wasn’t enough, he also shares DNA with the famous American outlaw of the Wild West Jesse James and the last Emperor of Russia, Tsar Nicholas II.

8. Edward Norton – Pocahontas

Growing up, American actor Edward Norton had become accustomed to the family legend that they were all related to the famous Native American woman Pocahontas. However, during an appearance on the PBS show Finding Your Roots, Norton discovered the family rumour was very much based on fact.

It turned out that the Fight Club star’s 12th great-grandmother was none other than Pocahontas.