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Genghis Khan

Who's the daddy? The most prolific fathers from history

Here is a selection of nine of the most fertile fathers from former times, from the smallest tally of tots to the largest litters (not including famous sperm donors).

Image: Genghis Khan | Public Domain

Today, a dad with a dozen children would possibly make the news, but to the famous historical fathers featured on this list, that number is child’s play.

From Ancient Egypt to 19th-century America, these men have made it into the history books not just by their deeds but by the spreading of their seeds. These prominent papas were kings, warlords, and religious leaders. They produced progeny – legitimate and illegitimate - for politics, power, and pride.

Here is a selection of nine of the most fertile fathers from former times, from the smallest tally of tots to the largest litters (not including famous sperm donors).

1. Henry I – 27 children

Henry I, King of England from 1100 until his death in 1135, is believed to have fathered more children than any other monarch in British history.

Henry had two, possibly three, legitimate young’uns with his wife, Matilda of Scotland, but he also had a large troop of illegitimate children. The exact number is unknown, but 24 have been established.

Henry, the son of William the Conqueror, found useful political ends for his royal romping and such extramarital behaviour was not unusual for kings of the time. However, scholars have commented that even by the standards of the day Henry was particularly unchaste.

2. Brigham Young – 56 children

Mormon leader Brigham Young was the second president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the first state governor of Utah.

In the 1890s, the Mormon Church officially denounced the practice of polygamy, but in Young’s time ‘plural marriage’ was an established practice among Mormons, having been initiated by Mormonism founder Joseph Smith.

By the time of his death, Young had had 56 children by 16 of his wives (out of over 50 wives that he had in total in his life), though 10 of his children did not survive childhood.

It was estimated in 2016 that there were 30,000 direct descendants of Brigham Young alive and kicking.

3. John II, Duke of Cleves – 66 children

Anne of Cleves, the fourth wife of Henry VIII, had an interesting family. Among these was her grandfather, the rather busy John II, born in 1458, and the Duke of Cleves-Mark from 1481 until his death in 1521.

As a young nobleman John had, in the words of one historian, ‘almost unfettered access to the women at court’. Cleves, when he wasn’t having coitus, served in numerous battles, including the Battle of Nancy in 1477, in which he fought alongside the Duke of Burgundy (who lost).

John isn’t known to historians as 'The Babymaker’ for nothing. As well as his four legitimate children, the frisky duke was also thought to have fathered 63 illegitimate bairns.

4. Rehoboam – 88 children

Rehoboam was the son of the famous King Solomon, to this day associated with wisdom and meditation. Solomon’s royal wives and concubines were said to have totalled 1,000 in number.

Rehoboam succeeded his dad as King of Israel before becoming the first King of Judah in about 931 BC. Rehoboam had 18 wives and 60 concubines.

In the Second Book of Chronicles in the Old Testament, it says that Rehoboam ‘begat twenty and eight sons, and threescore [60] daughters’. It goes on to say that Rehoboam wisely ‘dispersed all of his children’ to ‘every fenced city’ in the land. In other words, he put them in command of fortified towns for strategic purposes.

5. Bindusara – 101 children

Bindusara (died c. 273 BC), was the ruler of the powerful Maurya Empire of Ancient India and father of the famous emperor Ashoka the Great.

Bindusara would have needed a large cupboard at home in his royal palace to store all of his ‘Best Dad’ mugs, as sources claim that he fathered a total of 101 children with 16 wives.

6. Murad III – 130 children

Murad III was Sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1574 until his death. He is famous for, among other things, his friendly diplomatic relations with Elizabeth I.

One day early in his reign the young sultan went to his concubines to attempt to produce heirs. But he had a problem – he was impotent. Royal physicians were called in and commissioned to make a remedy. It is said that the doctors’ solution worked well – too well! One author from the 19th century says that the total size of Murad’s brood was 130.

Just after Murad’s death, about 40 of his children were to meet their makers in a very grisly way. When Murad’s son succeeded to the throne as Mehmed III in 1595, one of his first acts as sultan was to order the execution of his 19 brothers, a deliberate move to eliminate them as rivals, along with over 20 of his sisters for good measure. They were all strangled with a bowstring, so as not to spill any royal blood.

7. Ramesses II – 170 children

Ramesses II wasn’t called Ramesses the Great for no reason. He is widely considered to be the greatest of the pharaohs, the rulers of Ancient Egypt.

Ramesses ruled for 66 years and is known as an important builder and a successful military commander. Historically he was also known to Egyptians as the ‘Great Ancestor’.

Between all the temple-building and campaigning, Ramesses clearly found time to sow his wild oats. According to a 19th-century book, Ramesses had 170 children in total, made up of 111 sons and 59 daughters.

8. Ismail Ibn Sharif – 1,171 children

Ismail Ibn Sharif was Sultan of Morocco from 1672 until his death in 1727 and is well-known to historians for putting the productive in reproductive.

Recent studies have revealed that the sultan may have had even more kiddiewinks from his wives and 500-strong harem than previously thought.

The Guinness Book of Records, in featuring the sultan’s prodigious pack, quoted 1,042 as the total number who called him dad. However, in 2014, two academics stated that the ruler in fact added 1,171 to the population through his copulation.

He couldn’t have found all that siring too tiring, though, as in his 55-year reign he was busy in international diplomacy, ambitious construction projects, and the expansion of his kingdom. Brutal and callous, he is known as the ‘Warrior King’, having overseen something of a peak in Moroccan power.

9. Genghis Khan – 3,000 children

The Mongol Empire was the second-largest empire in history, at its territorial peak stretching from the forests of Eastern Europe to the Korean Peninsula. Its founder was Genghis Khan, one of the most famous conquerors in history, known for his brutality - but he left his mark on the world in more ways than one.

Modern studies have suggested that today around 16 million people globally may carry the DNA of Genghis Khan.

This is because the warlord is believed to have fathered at least 1,000 children, with some modern experts estimating that his offspring might have totalled a jaw-dropping 3,000.