Princess Charlene descends on her paternal line from the Fagans of Feltrim, gentleman-merchants of Dublin.
In the 1500s the Fagans became immensely wealthy through international commerce.They reinvested their profits in lands close to the capital, and provided finance to the Irish crown government. By the early 1600s the Fagans controlled more than 5000 acres in Dublin County, including the city’s deep-water port at Bulloch Harbour in Dalkey.
The Princess’s Fagan ancestors made enduring contributions to the development of Dublin, still visible in the city today. In 1592 Richard and Christopher Fagan – the Princess’s great (x 12) grandfathers – were key figures in the foundation of Trinity College. In the 1660s Christopher Fagan – the Princess’s great (x 9) grandfather – sold the manor of Phoenix to the Duke of Ormond, to create a royal deer park – which we know today as the Phoenix Park.
Between 1580 and 1652, the conquest of Ireland by the English crown hardened religious and cultural divisions in Ireland along political lines. The Fagans steered a careful path through the minefield of Irish politics, and held fast to their Catholic faith and their lands. In the 1660s Christopher Fagan – the Princesses great (x 9) grandfather – was restored to his Dublin estates through the patronage of the Duke of Ormond. At this time the greater number of Catholic landowners across the country were being dispossessed.
By the 1690s, religion polarised the Irish nation between supporters of the Catholic King James II and the Protestant William III. As an ‘Old English’ Catholic family the Fagans sided with James II. Captain Richard Fagan is the princess’s great x8 grandfather, and his son Christopher is the Princess’s great (x 7) grandfather.
After peace broke out, Richard Fagan was declared an outlaw for taking up arms against King William. Under the peace terms of the Treaty of Limerick, Richard should have been entitled to receive a pardon and restoration of his estates. He died suddenly leaving the issue of the Fagan’s reinstatement as unfinished business. Fro the remainder of that decade Christopher Fagan, campaigned for a pardon and recovery of his inheritance. He was thwarted in his campaign by Thomas Coningsby,one of the Lords Justices in Ireland, who abused his office to appropriate Fagan’s estates.
In the 1690s Christopher Fagan’s situation was precarious, and he risked falling into poverty and obscurity. He settled in Killarney relying on the political patronage of Sir Valentine Browne (Lord Kenmare) his former commanding officer, now also a rebel and outlaw. It was a successful survival strategy – the Brownes and Fagans were connected by blood and marriage to the landed and political elite in Ireland, and could not easily be removed from the body-politic.
In 1699 Christopher Fagan of Killarney was finally pardoned under the Treaty of Limerick, too late for the restoration of his hereditary estates.With the permanent loss of the Fagan’s Dublin lands, Christopher Fagan settled permanently in Killarney county Kerry. Between 1695 and 1772 successive generations of the Fagan family, married into old gentry and merchant families in counties Kerry and Cork, including the FitzMaurice, Trant and Gould families. During this time the Fagans re-established themselves as merchants along the southern Irish coast, trading out of the port of Cork with the West Indies, and colonial America. By the 1740s, transatlantic trade was so profitable they even established a permanent office in Philadelphia.
In 1772 John Fagan married Elizabeth Hickson – these are the Princess’s great (x 5) grandparents. They had a large family – 6 boys and 5 girls that survived to adulthood.
Remarkably, 5 of the 6 sons joined the East India Company. Of the 5 surviving daughters, three married officers in the East India Company, a fourth married a London merchant, and the fifth entered the Ursuline convent in Cork.
We can only guess why this generation of the Fagan family choose to sever their connection to Ireland, but research has pointed to some possible reasons.
In the 1790s the Fagans were connected by marriage to Richard Wellesley, older brother to the Duke of Wellington. Both families acknowledged the connexion. Between 1797 and 1805 when Wellesley was Governor General of India, the Fagans were able to call on his patronage.
The story of how this came about is worth telling. The Princess’s great (x 5) grandfather John Fagan of Kiltullagh, county Kerry, had an older brother, Christopher. Christopher Fagan, also known as the Chevalier Fagan, was an army officer in France before the Revolution. He had a natural daughter Hyacinthe Roland (1760-1816), who became an actress in the Palais Royale in Paris.
In the 1780s Hyacinthe became the mistress of Richard Wellesley, earl of Mornington, with whom she had three sons and two daughters before they married in 1794. Despite marriage, Hyacinthe was never accepted by English society who considered her a ‘demi-mondaine.’
One of the daughters of Richard Wellesley and Hyacinthe Roland, Anne Wellesley is the great-great-grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II of England. The Princess’s grandmother is a 5th cousin of the Queen of England, and the Princess herself is a 5th cousin twice removed.
A portrait of Hyacinthe Roland painted in 1791 by Elisabeth Le Brun, is on in exhibition in the San Francisco Fine Arts Museum.
The Wellesley connection was not the only Fagan family link to the East India Company. A second uncle, Andrew Fagan, left the French Army around the time of the Revolution to enlist in the East India Company. In the 1790s Andrew had first hand experience of the opportunities in India, and it’s probable that he advised his family in Ireland of the prospects there for young men seeking their fortune and adventure.
The last of the Princess’s direct ancestors born in Ireland was her great (x 4) grandfather, Christopher Sullivan Fagan born 1781, and baptised in St. Mary’s Shandon in Cork. In 1800 Christopher Sullivan Fagan enlisted as a cadet in the Honourable East India Company Service (H.E.I.C.S.). He rose to the position of Major General. On retirement he settled in Wiltshire, England where he died in 1843. Christopher Sullivan Fagan married twice, and had large families by both wives. One of the daughters of his first marriage was Agnes Cecelia Adelaide Fagan, born 11th August 1821 in Cawnpore, Bengal. This is the princess’s great (x 3) grandmother.
On 8th September 1842 Agnes Cecelia Adelaide Fagan married Charles Arthur Nicolson in Calcutta. By Nicolson’s own account given after his wife’s death they had a long and happy marriage.They also had a large family and a gentle humour, much in evidence on the birth of their twelfth child, whom they named Albert Duodecimus Nicolson. Albert Duodecimus is the Princess’s great (x 2) grandfather.
The Nicolson’s now took the family name forward, but family members kept the memory of their Fagan family history. Albert Duodceimus Nicolson’s own grand-daughter born 17th August 1921 was named Sylvia Fagan Nicolson.
Sylvia Fagan Nicolson is the paternal grandmother of Princess Charlene.