From a second-hand shop-owner called Rain to a Japanese teacher and a seafood company boss: Are these Prince William and Harry's 'secret cousins' who are all descended from their great-grandfather's lovechild?
- Americans Art Hodgins and brother Hal say they may be Diana's cousins
- Their grandmother had a lifelong love affair with Princess of Wales's grandfather
- Americans may be first cousins, once removed, of Princes William and Harry
Theirs is a life lived close to nature, amid the scenic splendour of America’s North West coast.
Retired fishing skipper Art Hodgins enjoys sipping a gin and tonic on the verandah of his timber-framed house on a tiny island overlooking Seattle and spectacular Puget Sound as birds reel overhead.
And 20 minutes away, his older brother Hal lives in a log cabin amid the trees in the picturesque village of Gig Harbour.
Art and Hal Hodgins may be first cousins, once removed, of Princes William and Harry
It might seem a far cry from the grandeur of Kensington Palace, but the brothers may be connected directly to the Royal family thanks to an extraordinary twist in their history, which can be told for the first time today.
For these Americans may be forgotten cousins of Diana, Princess of Wales, and so first cousins, once removed, to Princes William and Harry.
Their grandmother, Edith Travis, had a lifelong love affair with Princess Diana’s grandfather Maurice Roche, the 4th Baron Fermoy.
Despite marrying other people, the pair corresponded in secret throughout their lives, maintaining an intimacy which would last 40 years until Lord Fermoy’s death in 1955.
Left, Linnea who is Art Hodgins's daughter, may be related to Harry and William as well as Rain, right, who is Wayne Hodgins's daughter
The peer is widely believed to have fathered Edith’s daughter, also called Edith but known as Lambie.
He flew to New York to meet the five-year-old Lambie in 1926, telling her mother Edith: ‘To think she could be mine.’
And certainly, Lambie grew up believing that the handsome stranger, who met her in the lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel, took her to the circus and bought her ice cream, was her father.
Remy Sherman, who looks to be related to the princes, teaches classes in Japanese writing and transcription and Sena Hodgins, daughter of Art Hodgins, could be related to Princess Diana if her father's theory is correct
She went on to have three sons: Art, Hal and Wayne, who sadly died in 2004, and today there are six grandchildren, including Sena, who runs a family fishing firm, accountant Liza, Remy, a teacher of Japanese, and Rain, who runs a second-hand clothing company.
Art, now 71, says: ‘It was a story, which was always there, told around the dinner table at Christmas and Thanksgiving. As boys, we didn’t pay it that much attention. Of course, for our mother, it meant a lot more.’
Edith Travis, the daughter of German immigrants, and Lord Fermoy, who was close friends with the future George VI, met on the long train journey from New York to San Francisco, in 1915.
Tracing Harry's lineage back to Ruth Gill, who was married to Lord Fermoy, links the prince to Edith Travis and her descendants
He was 30 and unmarried, while she was on her way home to stay with her parents, with her sons, Jack, seven, and Ned, five, after separating from her delinquent husband Forrest.
Today the romance that started there could have ended in marriage, but they lived in another era and the prospect of introducing an American divorcee at court was inconceivable.
Even two decades later, Edward VIII had to choose between the Crown and the woman he loved when he married Wallis Simpson.
Edith was entranced by the peer when they met on the observation deck of the train, where he played magic tricks on her sons, and she dined with him on the next two nights.
But they lost each other when they got off the train and that could have been the end of their story.
Instead, Edith, read about her beau in the society pages of the Washington Post and wrote him a letter, saying that she was visiting New York, where he lived.
Garret Hodgins, son of Hal Hodgins, can trace his ancestry back to Edith Travis, who had an affair with Lord Fermoy
After going skating, they had dinner at the Waldorf Hotel, ending up in the penthouse suite.
Edith moved to New York to be near her lover, settling in a small apartment with her boys in Lakewood, and getting a job selling ice cream from a stall.
But their relationship was doomed as Maurice, who was deeply conscientious, enlisted as an officer and went to France to fight for his country in the First World War.
Torn between his sense of duty and his love, he came up with an old-fashioned solution, sending her a legal contract and a $1,000 cheque and suggesting she became his mistress.
Stung by his suggestion, which did not mention the word ‘love’, Edith turned down his proposal and, in 1919, married her boss Dr Henry Howitt, a widower 29 years her senior. Fermoy was heartbroken.
‘Grandmother was a proud, strong woman,’ says Hal, 73, a retired lawyer. ‘She wasn’t going to be any man’s mistress, lord or not, and Fermoy was unlike King Edward with Mrs Simpson.
He wasn’t about to give up his title for love.’ However, in 1920, when Fermoy inherited his title, the couple had a final reunion. After going for a carriage ride in Central Park, they retired to his suite at the Plaza Hotel.
Art Hodgins's daughter, Liza Hodgins, has also been linked to Princes Harry and William as a family tree reveals their 'secret cousins'
It is there, the family believes, that Lambie was conceived – and certainly the date of her birth matches with that theory.
‘Back then being illegitimate wasn’t something anyone talked about or discussed in polite society,’ says Art. ‘I don’t remember there being a particular moment when she told us who her real father was. It was something that was always there, in the background.’
Lord Fermoy returned home to England, renting a shooting lodge in Heacham, Norfolk, and becoming the Conservative MP for King’s Lynn in 1924.
Two years later, he met Lambie for the first – and only – time on the trip to New York.
Afterwards he wrote to his lover: ‘I have just received two letters from you. How little changed you were and I loved your dear daughter – you ought to be very happy.
‘I can’t tell you how pleased I was to see you again and how I wished you could have arrived a week sooner – that would have made it perfect – however I’ll be over again – certainly next summer, if I get in at the Election.’
Prince William could be related to the descendants of Edith Travis, whose affair with Lord Fermoy links them to the royals
However, their plans were thwarted and they did not meet again for nearly 30 years. And in the meantime, in 1931, 46-year-old Fermoy married Ruth Gill, 22, daughter of a Scottish Army Colonel.
The couple moved into Park House on the Sandringham estate – the future birthplace of their granddaughter Princess Diana, and had three children, Mary, in 1934, Frances, in 1936, and Edmund, in 1939.
The family mixed in elevated circles and became close friends with Bertie, Duke of York, the future King George VI.
But Fermoy still found time to correspond with his first love. When Prince Charles was two, he wrote: ‘I saw Prince Charles the other day. He is a sweet child, little is he aware of what is in store for him.’
And when King George VI died, he told Edith: ‘He seemed well the day before when I shot with him. I sat next to him at luncheon.
Princess Diana, pictured here at a United Cerebral Palsy Dinner in New York, has been linked to 'secret cousins' in America
'He didn’t complain of being tired or ill. I have lost a good friend. The new Queen has made a good impression so far. I feel I know her well since I taught her to skate, years ago now…’
Yet it was not until after the marriage of his daughter Frances to the future Earl Spencer, that Fermoy and Edith met for the last time. Within months Fermoy was dead, after suffering a heart attack.
Two years later, in April 1957, Edith visited Britain for the first time. ‘She never stopped loving Lord Fermoy,’ says Hal. ‘After his death, she travelled to England to see his grave in Norfolk.
'She told my mom she sat there and wept tears of true grief.’ It was only after Edith died in 1976 – five years before Prince Charles married Princess Diana – that Lambie found her mother’s love letters, bound in a ribbon, hidden in a box.
'They had been returned to her, 21 years earlier, on the death of Lord Fermoy.
'It seems Lord Fermoy’s wife Ruth knew nothing of the letters until his death. ‘When Lord Fermoy died, Ruth is said to have found the letters and returned them with a short note.'
Frances Shand-Kydd, mother to Diana, whose father had an affair with Edith Travis, linking Princes Harry and William to American cousins
Struck by their poignancy, Lambie decided to publish them in a book, entitled Lilac Days.
While tinged with longing, the letters seem old-fashioned as they are not overtly sexual but talk about the minutiae of their lives.
The family tree linking American pensioners Art and Hal Hodgins to Princes William and Harry
Hal flicks through albums of sepia-toned photographs showing his grandmother with the elderly doctor she married and pictures of his mop-haired mother, who bears an uncanny resemblance to a young Frances – and Diana.
He said: ‘She had a happy childhood, one of privilege. I don’t think she ever had any regrets about living in America and being raised by a doctor.
But she was proud of the royal connection and was particularly thrilled when Diana came on the scene. She said her mum would have loved knowing Diana was Fermoy’s granddaughter.’
Lambie died in 2013, at the age of 92. ‘She would love this story to be told now’, says Art. ‘She was always proud of her heritage, of the true story. Back then, things like this could not be told.’
But the Hodgins will not be taking a DNA test, or any other measures to prove their intriguing royal link.
‘It’s a great love story, a romantic tale of a man who met a woman on a train and loved her – and she loved him – for the next 40 years,’ says Art.
‘Am I related to the next King of England? Possibly. Is it a big deal? No, I’m happy with my life just as it is. William and Harry don’t need to worry about us. We’re not going to be asking for an invitation to Harry’s wedding.’
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