Foreshadowing and Courteney Cox’s Royal Roots on “Who Do You Think You Are?”

By Diane Haddad

WARNING: Spoilers ahead!

Courteney Cox’s lengthy family tree is unfurled.

Whenever a WDYTYA? celebrity says at the beginning of the episode “I hope I don’t find X in my family tree,” it’s foreshadowing. You know the person is going to find X in a BIG way. 

It happened twice in the Courteney Cox season premiere, last night at 10 Eastern (hello, tired genealogists!) on TLC. Joking about possibly finding rich royal ancestors, Cox said, “I hope I’m from Buckingham Palace … No, I’m sure I’m not.” Then she worried about finding a murderer.

Um, yes, on both counts. She comes from a long line of English royalty, dating back to her 26th-great-grandfather William the Conquerer in 1066.

See the resemblance?

Cox’s 18th-great-grandfather Thomas de Berkeley owned the castle where King Edward II was imprisoned and then killed (probably gruesomely) after being forced to abdicate the throne in a coup led by Roger Mortimer (who was de Berkeley’s father-in-law, so Cox’s 19th-great-grandfather).

Cox visits the chamber where Edward II was held.

Mortimer was later executed for his crimes, and de Berkeley was acquitted. Cox descends from de Berkeley’s son, Maurice, and Elizabeth Despenser, granddaughter of King Edward I and daughter of Hugh Despenser, an ally of Edward II who was killed in the coup.

The drama was fascinating once we got into it, but I’ve liked other episodes more. Partly because I don’t enjoy immediately zooming back 10 generations, partly because the Medieval period isn’t my favorite historical era, and partly because I relate better to stories more like those of my ancestors (mostly everyday Germans whom I’ve researched only as far back as 1800). But if you’re one of the millions descended from English monarchs, Courteney Cox’s story might also be yours.

Got English roots? Check out our e-book A Genealogist’s Guide to Discovering Your English Ancestors.

I also found a neat blog about Edward II, subtitled “Why almost everything you think you know about Edward II is wrong; welcome to the site which examines the events, issues and personalities of Edward II’s reign, 1307-1327.”