How George Washington’s Great-Grandniece Became Royalty


Way back when the U.S. was deciding what the government would look like, there was some discussion about what exactly the leader of the country should be. Some were in favor of having a king, since that was the framework most of them were used to. Others, including George Washington, pointed out that the monarchy system hadn’t exactly worked out for them in the past. You’ve probably noticed who ended up winning that argument.

Despite the United States’ democratic government, there did end up being at least one royal member of Washington’s family. But first, a quick history lesson:

Napoleon’s younger sister Caroline married one of her brother’s generals, Joachim Murat, who eventually became the King of Naples and Sicily (until he was executed, that is). Achille Charles Louis Napoleon was their first son. When Napoleon was exiled for the second time and his family was placed on house arrest, a 21-year-old Achille fled to New York. After spending a few months in the area, he decided to see what else the country had to offer and ended up settling down in Florida.

He did his best to create his own little kingdom there in the swamplands – he even bought a large plantation and named it Parthenope after the republic he would have ruled in Naples if history had taken a different turn. Another plot of land was named Lipona, an anagram of “Napoli,” the Italian name for Naples. Achille became such a Floridian mainstay that he was elected the mayor of Tallahassee, surely making him the only Prince to ever hold the title.

Enter 22-year-old Catherine Daingerfield Willis Gray, Washington's great-grandniece. She had just moved to Florida with her parents following the death of her first husband and son. She was unimpressed with the young royal at first – apparently hygiene wasn’t one of his biggest priorities - but Catherine’s parents managed to convince her that marrying the newly-minted mayor and exiled prince could be a pretty good financial move. In 1826, Catherine Willis Gray became Princess Murat – the only royal in the Washington family. Though the happy couple lived in the U.S. for the rest of their lives, they did enjoy a few royal perks, such as a seat at Westminster Abbey when William IV was crowned King of England in 1830.