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I read once that William the conqueror was a bastard and I have heard him being referred to as William the Bastard by a beefeater on a tour in the Tower of London. I was wondering are there any other examples of bastards becoming kings in history? I'd be especially interested if any bastards from common bloodlines ever became kings.

I love how I am able to use the word bastard so much in this post!

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William I most certainly was a bastard as well as The Conqueror. – Pieter Geerkens Apr 18 '14 at 1:43
William's mother was a tanner's daughter, which is pretty common, compared to other recognised bastards usually made with other nobles e.g. Gruffydd son of Llewellyn the Great. Gruffydd was heir to the throne of Wales, but his father named Dafydd heir, to please the English as he had an English mother. William I was actually teased by rivals about his origins, e.g. They hung skins from a wall under siege "you stink like a tannery" – Duncan Apr 18 '14 at 5:44
I'd rule out William, not because of Bastardy but because he won the crown by conquest as an adult. – Oldcat Aug 15 '14 at 21:17
There's a slight subtext to the beefeater's phrase. Supposedly William should NOT be referred to as Conqueror in the City of London because he didn't conquer it. However as the Tower of London (built by William!) is not itself in the City (it's just outside it) their argument seems weak. – TheMathemagician Jan 8 '15 at 10:25
up vote 20 down vote accepted

Bernard of Italy, illegitimate son of Pepin of Italy (himself a legitimate son of Charlemagne), became king of the Lombards in 810.

Edward the Martyr, briefly king of England from 975 to 978, was probably illegitimate; his father Edgar I acknowledged his younger son Æthelred as the only rightful heir (but Edgar's opinion lost most of its strength when he died).

Vladimir the Great became "Knyaz" of Kiev in 978, the title deriving from a Proto-Germanic word meaning "king". He was a natural son of Sviatoslav I, a previous ruler of the Kiev Rus'.

João I of Portugal was an illegitimate son of a previous king (Peter I) and conquered the throne after a civil war triggered by a lack of legitimate male heir.

Atahualpa was "illegitimate" son of Huayna Capac and still became Sapa Inca, roughly translated as "Emperor". The concept of illegitimacy is not the same as in contemporary Europe; the Inca had a primary wife (formally said to be his "sister"), whose children were heirs, and many secondary wives, who could be chosen for political reasons (hence not exactly "concubines" dedicated to the ruler's concupiscence). Atahualpa was son of one such secondary wife.

Paul I of Russia was most probably the son of Sergei Saltykov, and not of Peter III, husband of his mother Catherine (who became Catherine II). Paul succeeded Catherine (and was murdered 5 years later).

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According to the Catholics of the time, Elizabeth I was illegitimate, since the Catholic church never recognised the marriage of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn. Not that Elizabeth was ever king ;-)

Even the Protestant parliament of England retroactively declared her illegitimate, with no place in the succession, when they annulled the same marriage (in 1536?). Naturally this inconvenience was ignored when the Tudors ran out of other heirs: Edward VI and Mary I both died, and none of Henry VIII's other "official" children survived to adulthood (including his acknowledged bastard Henry Fitzroy).

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I was actually thinking of her when I was writing but I couldn't remember which daughter. – Ronan Apr 17 '14 at 16:13
Yabut, after Henry VIII severed the Church of England from the Catholic Church, his marriage was recognized by the new head of the English church, Henry VIII. – David H Apr 17 '14 at 16:25
@DavidH: Yabut, then he changed his mind and had it anulled. So at the time of her birth she was legitimate according to Henry, a couple of years later she wasn't, then many years later during the reign of Mary I she was again (not according to Henry, him being dead, but according to enough of the right people that she was crowned when Mary died). Being a bastard is a changeable property, it seems. – Steve Jessop Apr 17 '14 at 16:43
@SteveJessop D'oh! Good points :) – David H Apr 17 '14 at 16:49
@SteveJessop You are all confusing marriage with transient recognition. The question is were the parents married when the child was born? – andy256 Apr 18 '14 at 0:43

Cleopatra's bastard with Julius Caesar, Caesarion, ruled jointly with his mother as the last kings of the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt.

After Caesar's assassination, Cleopatra went on to acquire a set of bastard twins from Mark Antony. Had they won their bid for power against Octavian, the male twin Alexander Helios would have been on track to succeed as the next Roman Emperor, but alas that story ended in tragedy.

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He even ruled alone for a few days after his mother's death. – Pierre Arlaud Apr 17 '14 at 12:31
It is a little odd to impose Medieval notions of bastardy on Ptolemaic Egypt. Their rules were far different, with brother/sister marriages being preferred to keep the blood pure. – Oldcat Apr 17 '14 at 21:37
@Oldcat I can see that, but for the most part I'll have to take your word about Egypt since I know little. It does seem highly at odds with how the Romans did things though. I think under Roman law, if a father acknowledged a child as his then the child was legitimate under the law and none could say different. – David H Apr 17 '14 at 21:50
I don't think those rules applied for liaisons with foreigners. Caesar never even tried to make Caesarion is her, adopting Octavian instead. – Oldcat Apr 17 '14 at 22:12

Tancred of Lecce was King of Sicily.

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Alexander the Great

His mother was from Epirus (not part of Macedon)

Alexander not only became King of Macedon, but also of all Greece and all Asia Minor :)

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Do you have any references for those who might want to read in more detail? – Pieter Geerkens Apr 17 '14 at 23:37
That doesn't technically make him a bastard though, he was born in wedlock as far as I know – Ronan Apr 18 '14 at 7:50
-1 What @Ronan said. – Felix Goldberg Apr 18 '14 at 9:52
"King's whose mother was foreign" are much easier to come up with :-) – Steve Jessop Apr 18 '14 at 10:30
@SteveJessop Er... what? – Felix Goldberg Apr 18 '14 at 12:49

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