Wednesday, 21 March 2018

The Ethiopian mother of Europe

There exists a genealogical theory, which, if correct, would mean that many - if not most - of Europe's noble families can trace their roots to Ethiopia.

The theory, advanced by genealogist David Hughes, holds that an Ethiopian princess named Qirwerne or Qirwerneje came to Europe in the 12th century and married, firstly, a Grand Prince of Kiev, and secondly, a Byzantine nobleman.

"There is a story that the Ethiopian Emperor Lalibela, who, accompanied by his "troublesome" sister, Qirwerne, traveled to the Holy Land and visited the Byzantine Emperor at Constantinople. There at the imperial court he and his sister may have met Izyaslav II of Kiev who was there visiting the emperor during the time of their visit.


Going far from his nation for what should have been a protracted time, he took his rebellious sister with him, in order to keep an eye on her; that the rebel sister was none other than Qirwerne. If this were the case, what would have been more natural than for him to leave her in Constantinople, out of troubles' way? Meantime, the Ethiopian Princess married twice: once (in 1153) to Izyaslav II of Kiev (d1154) to whom she bore his posthumous daughter, Euphrosyne; according to Philipp Strahl's "Geschichte des Russischen Staates", 3 vols. (1866), and, upon returning to Constantinople after her first husband's death, Qirwerne married secondly (in 1158) to Andronikos Dukas Kamateros (d1176), by whom she was the mother of Euphrosyne (d1211), wife/empress of the Byzantine Emperor Alexius III (d1210), which gives a "gateway" from Africa to Europe"


So, who was Qirwerne? She belonged to the Zagwe dynasty, which had its roots in the Agaw people, a Cushitic-speaking ethnic group. The first emperor of the Zagwe dynasty, Mara Takla Haymanot, married Masoba Warq, a princess of the Solomonic dynasty which, according to legend, could trace their descent from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. The Solomonic dynasty was the dynasty to which Emperor Haile Selassie belonged.

Qirwerne was a great-granddaughter of Mara Takla Haymanot and Masoba Warq, and (more notably) a sister of Lalibela, Emperor of Ethiopia. Lalibela is perhaps best known for being the ruler who oversaw the building of the stone churches near the town with the same name.

Euphrosyne Doukaina Kamatera, the daughter of Qirwerne by her second husband Andronikos, is a known ancestor of numerous royal and noble families all across Europe. As a Scandinavian, I take special note of the fact that Euphrosyne's descendants include Håkon V Magnusson (1270-1319), King of Norway, and Christopher II (1276-1332), King of Denmark. Euphrosyne was their great-great-great-grandmother, and going by Hughes' theory, Qirwerne would be their 4th great-grandmother. In other words, these two Nordic kings would be of relatively recent Ethiopian ancestry. This is not something that has been well known, or perhaps even suspected at all, by most Norwegian and Danish historians.

Line from Qirwerne to King Håkon V of Norway:
1. Qirwerne, princess of Abyssinia (Ethiopia). Married to Andronikos Doukas Kamateros (d. 1176).
2. Euphrosyne Doukaina Kamatera (c. 1155-1211). Married to Alexios III Angelos (c. 1153-1211), Byzantine emperor.
3. Theodora Angelina (c. 1179-1246). Married to Leopold VI von Babenberg (1176-1230), Duke of Austria and Styria; crusader.
4. Agnes of Austria (1206-1226). Married to Albrecht I (c. 1175-1260), Duke of Saxony.
5. Jutta of Saxony. Married to Erik IV Valdemarsen «Plovpenning» (1216-1260), King of Denmark.

6. Ingeborg Eriksdatter (d. 1287), married to Magnus VI Håkonsson «Lagabøte» (1238-1280), King of Norway.
7. Håkon V Magnusson «Hålegg» (1270-1319), King of Norway.

King Christopher II of Denmark was the maternal grandson of Brigitte of Saxony, the sister of Jutta of Saxony.

Note that both kings descend from Qirwerne in an unbroken female line. This means that their mtDNA would have been Ethiopian, not European.

The Ethiopian ancestry of Kings Håkon and Christopher is interesting because of the kings' historical importance, but it is important to me personally for another reason as well: The two kings are my ancestors. I have a small number of ancestors who came from Danish and German nobility, and it is mainly through them that I can trace my lines back to the two kings. This means that I, too, descend from Qirwerne. In fact, I have found eight different ancestral lines leading back to her. I have not verified each and every line (since I am not a trained historian, I would be in above my head if I tried), but since most of the connections go via well-known and well-documented noble families, I find it likely that they are correct - at least no less correct than any other paper trail.

Qirwerne must have millions of descendants today, in Europe and America and certainly also in Asia and Africa. Perhaps you are one of them! Having Qirwerne as an ancestor is not an exclusive thing. However, this does not make her any less interesting a person. She was an independent-minded woman who travelled far and settled in another continent at a time where most people did not - could not - venture very far outside their home villages. We can only speculate on what Qirwerne must have experienced and what she must have thought of her adventures in the strange northern lands.

In addition to being an fascinating historical person, Qirwerne might also help us move away from separating people in terms of skin colour and "race". By acknowledging our connection with Qirwerne, we are acknowledging our connection with a African woman who ties Europe together quite literally as one large family!

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