The quest has been started by English Heritage, which believes that the descendants of King Harold (Harold Godwinson), defeated by William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, could be living in Scandinavia.
The state-run organization, which maintains historic English buildings, has placed adverts looking for descendants in newspapers in Britain, Norway, Australia, Germany and the United States, but says that there could also be potential claimants to the throne in Sweden.
“If William had not taken the throne in 1066, the entire course of English history would have been very different,” said Dr Nick Barratt, who presents BBC ancestry programme Who Do You Think You Are?
“We’d probably be speaking a different language, consider our closest allies to be Scandinavian and have a completely different system of government. Who knows? We may even be a republic by now.”
In fact, many of those who were vying for the crown in 1066 had Scandinavian links, although Harold’s were among the strongest. His mother was Gytha Thorkelsdóttir, granddaughter of Swedish Viking Styrbjörn the Strong.
The strong links between England and Scandinavia at the time are demonstrated by the Scandinavian-sounding name of Harold’s common law wife, Ealdgyth Swanneshals, known in English as Edith Swanneck.
The researchers are also looking for people of the lineage of Edgar the Aetheling, who was chosen as king but never crowned.
Simon Judges, who is promoting English Heritage’s ancestor search, says there are no plans to throw Elizabeth II off the throne.
“This is a what if scenario. We’re not into sedition or treason or anything,” he said. He also points out that the throne in that period was less likely than today to pass down through generations of the same family.
“There were many challenges to the throne at the time. In a sense, it was more democratic.”
People who think that they might be descended from one of the English kings are encouraged to visit a special website, where they can find out how to stake their claim.
The search for Harold’s descendants is part of efforts to promote a new visitors centre at the site of the Battle of Hastings in southern England.