The Prime Ministerial Candidates: A Genealogical Backdrop

The Prime Ministerial Candidates: A Genealogical Backdrop


With the UK General Election only a week away, people are really starting to size up the Prime Ministerial candidates. We’ve seen endless discussion on their policies, personalities, expenses, and even interactions with the public, but so far relatively little has been said about their genealogy. This post aims to help fill that gap.

We’ve researched the background of the three major party leaders – Gordon Brown, Nick Clegg, and David Cameron. While there’s a lot more information out there than we could possibly fit into a single article, this post should give you a good overview of where the candidates come from. As you’ll see, there are some extraordinary connections among the candidates’ roots.

David Cameron

David Cameron is often characterized as an aristocrat, and so far as his family background is concerned this assessment seems to be a valid one. On his mother’s side, Cameron stems from the Mount family, a long line of baronets from the south of England. Interestingly, the Mounts were not only well-to-do, but had a long parliamentary tradition as Conservative backbenchers going back at least as far as Cameron’s ancestor William Mount – conservative MP for the Isle of Wight in the 1830s.

George Osborne (1), and Harry Mount (2)

Through this side of his family David Cameron is also related to Ferdinand Mount, who headed up the 10 Downing Street policy unit under Thatcher in the 1980s, and is now a prominent novelist and commentator. This connection makes Ferdinand’s son, Harry Mount, a cousin of David’s. By coincidence, Harry Mount was photographed in the same Bullingdon Club shot as Cameron’s future Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne.

On his father’s side, Cameron’s roots are in finance and entrepreneurialism. His father came from a long line of stockbrokers, with Cameron’s great-great-grandfather heading up the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank (now HSBC). Another great-great-grandfather, Alexander Geddes, made something of a name for himself in the Chicago grain business, before taking his fortune back to Britain in the 1880s.

As well as passing on enormous wealth, this paternal line of Cameron’s family was if anything even more blue-blooded than his mother’s side. Tracing their roots back, we discover that Cameron is, through this side of his family, a direct descendant of King William IV – although not without a dash of aristocratic scandal. Cameron’s royal blood comes through his ancestor Elizabeth FitzClarence, who was an illegitimate child of the King’s long-running affair with actress Dorothy Jordan. Cameron thus has a claim to royal blood, though perhaps not royal prestige.

Nonetheless, this relationship makes David Cameron fifth cousin twice-removed from the Queen, and seventh cousin of princes William and Harry. Less well-known, it makes Cameron a distant cousin of Boris Johnson, both tracing their roots back to George II (and Boris also through illegitimate lines). The pair were known to have been acquaintances at Oxford and at Eton, but their connection, it seems, goes back even further than that.

Nick Clegg

Nick Clegg has an extraordinarily colourful genealogy, the diversity of which has left him only one-quarter-English by blood.

Clegg’s mother was Dutch, and lived out her childhood in the Dutch East Indies – now Indonesia. She had something of an idyllic early childhood, but this was shattered in the early 1940s with the Japanese invasion of the islands. The invasion led to the future leader’s mother being sent to a concentration camp, where she was separated from her family and spent the next three years in terrible conditions. It was only after the war, when she moved to England, that she was to meet Clegg’s father.

Interestingly, on this side of the family Clegg is related to Johann V, Count of Nassau-Dillenburg. This connection not only makes Clegg a descendant of the Dutch nobility, but also establishes him as a distant relative of David Cameron, who shares this ancestor. The party leaders who clash so markedly in election debates are, it transpires, actually cousins – albeit 16th cousins!

Clegg’s similarities with David Cameron don’t stop at their aristocratic heritage, however. Like Cameron,

Clegg's relative, Moura Budberg

Clegg’s father hails from the world of finance, where he actually brushed shoulders with Ken Clarke, Cameron’s business secretary. This elder Nicholas Clegg was half-Russian, on his mother’s side being descended from the Russian nobility. Clegg’s great-great-grandfather, Ignaty Zakrevsky, was attorney general of the Imperial Russian Senate. His daughter and Clegg’s great-great aunt, Moura Budberg, was something of a mover and shaker amongst European high society in the early 20th Century, and as well as marrying a Count and later a Baron had affairs with the writer HG Wells and the Russian literary giant, Maxim Gorky. She also moved among intelligence circles, and was long suspected of being a double agent, working for both Soviet intelligence and MI6 – although nobody knows where her true loyalties lay. She was described by the British Embassy in Moscow as “a very dangerous woman”.

Moura also raised Cameron’s paternal grandmother, since her mother Alla appears to have had something of an unstable lifestyle. She moved to Paris to marry her second husband, Rene Moulin, and later divorced him and married V. I. Trubnikov. She lived a raucous life, and later became addicted to morphine. In 1929 she had to be rescued by Moura after her husband, V. I. Trubnikov, shot himself in Naples under strange circumstances.

But what of Clegg’s English roots? This seems to be the only segment of Clegg’s family which was not part of high society. Nick’s grandfather, Hugh Anthony Clegg, was certainly well off, and was editor of the British Medical Journal for 35 years. But the family had relatively modest roots, going back to John Clegg, who appears to have been a grocer and cabinet maker in Yorkshire in the early 19th century.

Gordon Brown

When it comes to ‘ordinary’ roots, Gordon Brown certainly comes ahead of his two competitors. Brown’s father, John Ebenezer, was a minister of the Church of Scotland, and his ancestors seem to have been Scottish farmers in Fife for at least three traceable generations. There is at least one exception to this, though. Brown’s great-grandfather, James Mavor, set himself up as a stone mason in the 1870s, and by the start of the following decade was employing 17 men and 3 boys in his construction firm. Brown does hail from highland farmers, but it would be fair to say that some of them displayed an upwardly-mobile streak.

Brown’s maternal lineage is if anything more varied. Gordon’s mother, Jessie Elizabeth Souter, was the daughter of a timber merchant, and her grandfather, John Henderson Souter, worked as a mason. There is also a little-known secret in this side of Brown’s family past, discovered by extensive searches of online records. Brown’s great-great-grandmother, Jessie Cruickshank, had an illegitimate child at the age of just 16, following a relationship with a doctor of medicine 20 years her senior. It’s hard to believe that the affair didn’t cause extensive gossip in their small highland village.

Despite their differences, Brown and Cameron do share a connection of sorts – albeit by geography rather than blood. David Cameron’s family have been in finance for several generations, but this tradition was started only after a much longer period of highland farming. Searches have revealed that Cameron’s ancestors were tilling land in Scotland, and not far from the fields that Brown’s family used to work so hard on. It’s fascinating to think how far the two families diverged since then.

Brown's family and friends, with Gordon in front left and his father just behind him

So that’s a brief overview of the candidates’ genealogies. We hope it adds some more colour and depth to the background of the electoral candidates. If you have any further thoughts or information, make sure you post them in the comments below!

12 May 2010 – This post was composed from a mixture of primary and secondary research. The information relating to the illegitimate daughter of Brown’s great-great-grandmother, Jessie Cruickshank, was sourced from a FindmyPast Blog of April 2010, which we understand was originally researched by Roy Stockdill.

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  • Roy Stockdill

    May 12, 2010

    I am the genealogist who researched the ancestries of the three party leaders for the genealogical website, Findmypast. They issued a press release on it and, though I wasn’t credited by name, I recognise some of my work in the above material. Particularly, it was I who uncovered the Victorian scandal of the farmer’s daughter and the doctor in Gordon Brown’s family tree!

    On Nick Clegg, I should point out that though his most recent ancestors were indeed mostly foreign and from nobility and the upper classes, his early male line roots in Yorkshire were relatively humble. I have traced at least back to his four-times-great-grandfather, Christopher Clegg, baptised in 1775 at Birstall, near Bradford, who was a coal miner.

    Hs son John Clegg, born about 1803, was a master joiner and cabinet maker and later a grocer. John’s son Simeon, born in 1844, was first a railway porter, then a butcher and later an engineer’s clerk in Hull. Both John and Simeon were born at Adwalton, Drighlington, near Bradford, which was the site of the Battle of Adwalton Moor in 1643 during the Civil War. In the Victorian census returns they appear to have been just an ordinary working family, with no servants or any such trappings.

    It was the son of Simeon, another John born in 1869 at Leeds, who appears to have started the Cleggs on the upwardly mobile path. Nick Clegg’s great-grandfather, he became a clergyman and a schoolteacher, eventually running his own schools at St Ives, Huntingdonshire, and Lowestoft, Norfolk. His son Hugh Anthony Clegg, Nick’s grandfather, continued the trend by becoming a doctor and distinguished editor of the BMJ.

  • Dr Nick Barratt

    May 12, 2010

    I too researched the backgrounds of the three leaders, but at the time they were elected to head their respective parties – so we’re talking 2005 for David Cameron, and 2007 for Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown. These findings were originally reported in the Telegraph, and are now summarised in the new magazine Your Family History, published on 22 April 2010.

  • Robert

    May 12, 2010

    The blog post was composed from a mixture of primary and secondary research. The information relating to the illegitimate daughter of Brown’s great-great-grandmother, Jessie Cruickshank, was sourced from a FindmyPast Blog of April 2010, which we understand was originally researched by Roy Stockdill, and we thank Roy for binging this to our attention. We also appreciate any comments made on this post which add new genealogical information about Cameron, Clegg and Brown, or suggesting corrections for any errors.

  • Roy Stockdill

    May 12, 2010

    Actually, it was an illegitimate son that Jessie Cruickshank had called Francis Troup MANSON, born about 1847/8, and he was one of Gordon Brown’s maternal great-grandfathers. His father was Alexander James Manson, a doctor born at Scarborough, Yorkshire, in 1811 or 1812 (the IGI says 1811, Scottish Old Parish Registers 1812) but of Scottish parents. His father, Sinclair Manson, was a captain in the 15th Regt of Foot, which eventually became the East Yorkshire Regiment which would perhaps explain why Alexander was born at Scarborough. I managed to piece the story together at Scotlands People because, as we know, Scottish GRO records are much superior to those of the GRO for England & Wales and give much greater detail.

    Jessie Cruickshank subsequently married a farmer called Alexander Murison at Inverkeithny in 1855 and had other children. Alexander Manson married a naval surgeon’s daughter, May Mitchell, in the same year at Aberdeen. There were no children and Manson died in 1891 at Banff where he was a comfortably-off GP. Whether Manson ever met his illegitimate son or had any contact with him I couldn’t say.

    However, Francis Troup Manson died in 1917, aged 69, and on the death certificate it states that his father was Alexander James Manson, a medical pratitioner – “reputed father, deceased” and that his mother was “Jessie Cruickshank, a lady’s maid, afterwards married to Alexander Murrison, farmer”. Since the informant at the death was Francis Manson’s son-in-law, John Souter, this establishes that Francis must have known about his parentage and told others about it. The same details of parentage also appear on Alexander Manson’s marriage certificate to Barbara Topp in 1866, so there seems no doubt about it.

  • Roy Stockdill

    May 12, 2010

    I read the original comments by Nick Barratt in the Telegraph online and I confess they made a useful start to my researches – thanks Nick!

    On Nick Clegg, I believe I have tentatively got his ancestry back a couple more generations because I obtained the certificate of John Clegg’s marriage at Tong in Bradford registration district on March 1 1841. Some sources claim his wife was Martha Sykes but she was actually called Martha Townsend, maiden name Jowett. Both she and John Clegg were widowed, so had had previous marriages. Clegg’s father was Christopher Clegg, a collier, and Martha’s father was John Jowett, shoemaker.

    Interestingly, in the 1841 and 1851 censuses there was a lad called Jowett Townsend living with the Clegg family, who was clearly Martha’s son by her previous marriage to John Townsend at Birstall in 1825.

    Christopher Clegg appears in the 1841 census at Adwalton as a banksman (a job in the mining industry) and he died in 1849 and was buried at St Peter’s, Birstall, aged 74. Incidentally, the National Burial Index (Version 3) DVD has no fewer than 132 burials recorded of Cleggs at Birstall – many of them probably Nick Clegg’s ancestors or relatives. Clegg is a very common name in West Yorkshire!

    The IGI at FamilySearch produces many entries for Cleggs at Birstall. I am, of course, well aware that these need checking in the original records but these were sourced from the bishop’s transcripts and thus official extractions – NOT private submissions by members of the Mormon Church which I am always wary of. There was only one Christopher Clegg that I could find, one of 9 children born to Jonathan Clegg and Sarah Waddington who married at Birstall in 1758. The baptismal date accords with his stated age at death of 74, so I believe this Christopher was Nick Clegg’s 4-times-great-grandfather and Jonathan Clegg was a 5-times-great grandfather.

  • Edward J. Davies

    May 13, 2010

    Gordon Brown’s Cruickshank/Manson link has been known for quite a while and Nick may have been the first to touch on it in print. Full details and documentation were included in my article on Brown’s ancestry published in Genealogists’ Magazine last year.

  • Roy Stockdill

    May 13, 2010

    Does it really matter that much who got there first? The interesting thing is that we all, quite independently, arrived at the same conclusion.

    I have now read Edward’s article in the Genealogists’ Magazine, of which I find I still have a copy. I do not know who David Webster is but he clearly made significant errors in his article in Family History Monthly, Feb 2008. I agree completely that there is no evidence whatsoever that Alexander James Manson and Jessie Cruickshank ever entered into any form of marriage. I too found the marriages of both parties to quite different people in 1855. I agree also about Jessie’s parentage – she was clearly the daughter of James Cruickshank and Elizabeth Sharp and was born circa 1829. Her entry in the 1851 census makes this clear. As I have pointed out, Alexander James Manson was almost 20 years older than her when Jessie’s son was born.

    My assumption (and, yes, I know they can be dangerous things!) is that James Cruickshank and Francis Troup (Francis Troup Manson’s adoptive father) were friends and near neighbours, both being farmers, and that Francis adopted Jessie’s illegitimate son, which would seem to explain the middle name of Troup in Francis jr’s name.

    BTW, one thing which no-one seems to have mentioned is that when Gordon Brown’s maternal grandfather, John Henderson Souter, died in 1929, aged only 48, the cause of death was given as “chronic alcoholism”.

  • Edward J. Davies

    May 14, 2010

    To be fair to David Webster, he got in touch with me a few months ago and the suggestion in his article that Francis Troup Manson was the “adopted son” of Alexander and Jessie seems to have been down to editorial error and was not David’s belief. He was happy to accept the other corrections.

    You might be right that James Cruickshank and Francis Troup were friends. James Cruickshank was indeed a farmer, although above the average in social standing. He was apparently also a justice of the peace for Banffshire.

  • Roy Stockdill

    May 14, 2010

    Thank you for pointing that out and I apologise to David Webster if I unfairly criticised him. As a former national newspaper journalist, I have myself occasionally suffered from poor editing.

    I must say, Edward, that I found your article in the Genealogists’ Magazine well researched and admirably sourced. I can assure you that I had not read it when I carried out my own research (an unfortunate confession since I am a Trustee of the SoG and clearly should have done!).

    However, I am glad that we seem to agree on the facts.

  • Edward J. Davies

    May 15, 2010

    No problem, Roy. Thanks for your kind comments.

  • Wayne Roberts

    May 15, 2010

    I have been looking into the genealogy of Nick Clegg to see if he may connect back to my mother’s ancestor, the Rev Dr James Clegg (1679-1755) of Lancashire and Derbyshire. No such luck yet but I did find his family tree quite interesting and being the amateur genealogist I am, I have found a few things out.

    Simeon Clegg married Mary Brook in 1868. She was the daughter of Jonathan Brook and his wife Ann Ellis (married 1838). They are found on the 1841 census living at Leeds, Yorkshire with 2 yo Harriet. Jonathan Brook being a cloth draper by occupation. By 1851 census Jonathan was a coal leader and the family were living at Wortley near Leeds. Along with Harriet there were now Mercy, Mary, Thomas, John and Ann. Jonathan was a farmer of 66 acres and employing 6 men and 2 boys at 13 Mill Green, Holbeck by the 1861 census. Ann was a farmer’s wife and the family had expanded to include Ellis, William, Sarah and Jane while Harriet appears to have married and left the household. On the 1871 census Jonathan Brook has 13 acres and employing 2 boys. His wife Ann is not there, perhaps passing away in the preceeding years. What links this family to Nick Clegg is that his ancestor John Clegg aged 2 years was staying with his grandfather Jonathan Brook and uncles and aunts on the night of the census and not with parents Simeon and Mary Clegg.

    Mary Brook died at Hull, Yorkshire in 1884. Simeon then married Mrs Emma Ward later in 1884 at Hull, Yorkshire. She had been Emma Matchan and was the widow of Benjamin Batty Ward and they had a young son, Robert Ward born about 1876. He appears on the 1891 census with Simeon and Emma Clegg.

    Simeon died in 1903 in Hull, Yorkshire. His second wife Emma possibly died before him, as he was living with another man, an artist/sculptor in 1901. However she seems to have been living elsewhere in Hull as Emma Ward born about 1839 at Brandesburton, Yorkshire according to 1901 census. Why did they separate or divorce? Was Simeon having a bisexual relationship with the single Charles Mead? Emma was born at Brandesburton, but she may have been born as early as 1831. She married Benjamin Batty Ward, some 40 years her senior, in 1873. Their son Robert was named after her father.

    It is all quite fasinating.
    Wayne (Brisbane, Australia)

  • Roy Stockdill

    May 16, 2010

    My researches tell me that in every census apart from 1841 and 1851 Emma Matchan (or Matcham) knocked around 10 years off her age. In 1841 she is shown as 10 and in 1851 as 19, yet in the 1861 census (where she was a visitor at Sculcoates, Hull, with a couple called Lunt) her age is given as 20! Then in 1871 she is living with her father and says her age was 32 but she was more likely 39 or 40.

    From their given ages in the 1881 census – Benjamin B Ward was 89 and she was supposedly 43 – she was 46 years younger than her husband. However, if she was born in 1831, then she would actually have been nearer 50 and about 44 or 45 when the son was born. Would it be pushing my luck to harbour an idle thought about whether Benjamin was the father? (!) When she married Simeon Clegg in 1884 she would have been some 13 or 14 years older than him, since he was born in 1844.

    I agree with you, Wayne, that in the 1901 census she was the Emma Ward who was still alive but living apart from her second husband, Simeon Clegg, presumably having reverted to her previous married name. He said he was married but Emma said she was a widow. I think it unlikely there was a divorce, since divorce was virtually impossible for ordinary people , being far too expensive, in those times.

    Finally, the GRO death indexes (consulted at FreeBMD) have the death of an Emma Clegg at Hull in the final quarter of 1915, aged 85. I suggest this was her and the given age of 85 accords with a birth circa 1830/31.

    An interesting lady, Emma! What were her motives for marrying firstly to a man some 40 years older than her and then to a much younger man the second time around?

  • Wayne Roberts

    May 18, 2010

    Thanks Roy, yes I would say Emma would have been quite a remarkable woman for the time. I wonder if she had the looks to go with dropping her age 10 years etc.

    On the matter of other spouses, did you find the name of John Clegg’s first wife who died prior to 1841? She was the mother of at least two of his children.

  • Roy Stockdill

    May 20, 2010

    Will: I regret I do not know for certain, but the IGI throws up two possibles…..

    An Elizabeth Barber who married John Clegg at Bradford on 20 May 1829, and Elizabeth Ward who married a John Clegg at Batley on 14 June 1832. The National Burial Index has an Elizabeth Clegg who was buried at Drighlington (Adwalton was part of Drighlington and in Birstall parish), aged 31, on 11 September 1839, and she sounds a likely candidate to me.

    There are a couple of websites that claim John Clegg’s first marriage was to a Martha Sykes but I have found no evidence of this.

    Given that in the 1841 census John Clegg’s eldest child was Phoebe, aged 8 (and of course relationships are not given and must be assumed in that census), it seems possible his 1st wife was Elizabeth Ward, but I could not swear to it.

  • Theo

    October 1, 2011

    How all very coincidental…

  • Electra ‘Bolshe-chik’ Smith

    February 18, 2012

    That was the most terrifying bit of genealogy I have ever read. 1) none of these people should be in power. 2) none of these people should be the head of any political parties. 3) All of these people should have been executed by the bolsheviks.

  • Richard Paxman

    September 25, 2014

    Whilst the Jessie Cruickshank part of Gordon Brown’s genealogy is the most interesting, I can add further generations to it. As is generally known, Dr Alexander Manson’s parents were Captain Sinclair Manson and Janet Smith. They married in Olrig parish, Caithness, in 1810. Present were her uncles Arthur Smith and James Smith of Olrig. James is my Great x3 Grandfather.

    Although a Caithness landowner, James came from Aberdeenshire. His father was John Smith “in Silverburn”, in the parish of Peterculter. His father was John, as very probably was his grandfather.

    James Smith of Olrig also had a brother William, who was the school master at Peterculter, and father of Janet Smith above mentioned.