• Hollywood Ancestry

William Moseley's Relative Discovered the Atomic Number

Updated: Mar 7

'Narnia' actor William Moseley is related to the eminent scientist who discovered the atomic number, revolutionizing the Periodic Table of Elements.

Physicist Henry Moseley portrait side by side with his relative actor William Moseley.
Physicist Henry Moseley (left) and his relative, actor William Moseley (right).

You know William Moseley best from his roles as Peter in The Chronicles of Narnia films and as Prince Liam in the E! series The Royals.

William was kind enough to share some family information with me and mentioned he was related to Henry Moseley, who was involved with the formation of The Periodic Table of Elements. Armed with this info, I set out to discover how the two were connected and found some other interesting connections in his family tree.

The periodic table of elements which we arrange today based on Henry Moseley's discovery.
The Periodic Table of Elements today. We understand its correct organization by atomic number, thanks to Henry Moseley.

The Periodic Table of Elements is kind of a big deal. It's everything to chemistry and the sciences. So you could say that the Moseley family has a pretty big claim to fame in their family tree.

Relation to English Physicist Henry Moseley

Let's take a look at how William and Henry Moseley are related.

William Moseley relationship chart to physicist Henry Moseley - Chart by Mike Batie
Line of descent chart showing actor William Moseley's relation to physicist Henry Moseley. / Chart by Mike Batie

As you can see from the chart above, Henry Moseley is William's second cousin, twice removed (2C 2x). We say 'twice removed' because there is a difference of two generations between William and Henry.

Henry Moseley's Scientific Breakthrough

Henry Gwyn Jeffreys Moseley was born 23 November 1887 in Weymouth, Dorset, England. His father and both of his grandfathers were also scientists (more on them later).

At Oxford University from 1913 1914, Henry Moseley discovered, or proved through his experiments, the existence of atomic numbers. Quite a brilliant achievement for a 26 year-old. Before Henry's discovery, the Periodic Table of Elements was erroneously arranged according by atomic weight.

Physicist Henry Moseley in his lab at Trinity College.
Physicist Henry Moseley in the lab at Trinity College. / Public domain image

To do this, Moseley shot high-energy electrons at different chemical elements, and through his measurements, discovered that each element emits x-rays at a unique frequency. Moseley's data showed that the positive charge in an atomic nucleus increases by one unit from one element to the next. This showed that the atomic number is the same as the number of protons in an atom's nucleus. Today, we call his findings Moseley's Law.

Henry Moseley's photo recording of x-ray emission lines of elements.
Henry Moseley's photographic recording of characteristic x-ray emission lines of a range of elements from calcium to copper, and of zinc. / Public domain image

Thanks to Henry Moseley, the Periodic Table of Elements was properly sorted by atomic number. His foundational contributions to the Periodic Table influences chemistry, nuclear physics, and other branches of science to this day.

British Physicist Henry G.J. Moseley reading a book.
Henry G.J. Moseley / Public domain image

When World War I broke out, Henry felt a patriotic duty to his country and, to the dismay of his family, friends, and colleagues, he enlisted with the Royal Engineers of the British Army.

By April 1915, he was serving as a technical officer in communications at the Battle of Gallipoli in Turkey. On 10 August 1915, the brilliant 27 year-old physicist Henry G.J. Moseley was killed in action, shot in the head by a sniper while in the act of telephoning a military order.

Announcement of Henry Moseley's death in the newspaper with a portrait of Henry.
Announcement of Henry Moseley's death in the newspaper.

The scientific community absolutely lamented his loss. Of Henry Moseley, Isaac Asimov wrote, "In view of what he might still have accomplished...his death might well have been the most costly single death of the War to mankind generally."

Clarendon Laboratory building at Oxford, where Henry Moseley conducted his experiments.
The Clarendon Laboratory at Oxford, where Henry Moseley conducted his experiments. / Images by Jonathan Bowen (left) and Owen McKnight (right)

Had Henry Moseley survived, he almost certainly would have won the Nobel Prize in Physics for 1916. We are only left to imagine how much further and quicker the field of physics may have advanced had Henry lived to a ripe old age and continued his scientific work.

The Moseley Family of Scientists and Scholars

The Moseley family is full of scholars and scientists. Physicist Henry Gywn Jeffreys Moseley's father was Henry Nottidge Moseley (born 1844). He was a natural historian (or zoologist) and and sailed around the world on a four year expedition on the HMS Challenger from 1872 to 1876, helping to lay the foundations of oceanography. Henry Nottidge also went on naturalist expeditions to Ceylon, California, and Oregon. He even wrote a book about Oregon in 1878 (which I think is rad because I grew up in Oregon).

The crew of the HMS Challenger on the ship deck in 1874.
Crew of the HMS Challenger in 1874. Henry Nottidge Moseley is probably one of the men in this photo, but I am not sure which one. / Public domain image

Henry Nottidge Moseley was also an expert in invertebrate biology, specializing in the evolutionary tree of arthropods, corals, and mollusks. One of his books was even praised by Charles Darwin, the "father of evolution."

Henry Nottidge Moseley's father was also named Henry Moseley (born 1801). I know, it can be confusing with all the same names. Use the line of descent chart up above to follow along, if needed. This Henry, the grandfather of the great physicist, was a mathematician and scientist. He was Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy and Astronomy at King's College London, where his brother Andrew Moseley was lecturing on Arts in Architecture. Andrew Moseley is the 2nd great grandfather of actor William Moseley. These two brothers who taught at King's College London were the sons of Rev. Dr. William Willis Moseley, who kept a large private school in Staffordshire and was involved in various studies that kept him visiting the British Museum.

So in summary, there are a lot of smarties in the Moseley family tree. And there's another interesting connection between actor William Moseley, his scientist relatives, and his role in The Chronicles of Narnia...

Ancestors of William Moseley and Skander Keynes were Colleagues

William Moseley and Skander Keynes were colleagues who worked together on The Chronicles of Narnia films, with Moseley playing Peter Pevensie, and Keynes playing the role of Peter's brother, Edmund.

William Moseley (as Peter) and Skandar Keynes (as Edmund) in The Chronicles of Narnia.
William Moseley (as Peter) and Skandar Keynes (as Edmund) in The Chronicles of Narnia. / Image via Disney

Here's where there is an interesting connection: Skander Keynes is the 3rd great grandson of Charles Darwin — the same Charles Darwin who studied and praised Henry Nottidge Moseley's book.

Charles Darwin with a long white beard in his old age.
Charles Darwin (3rd great grandfather of Skandar Keynes) read Henry Nottidge Moseley's scientific book and gave high praise for it. / Public domain image

As for the physicist Henry G.J. Moseley, one of his colleagues was Charles Galton Darwin, the grandson of the Charles Darwin. At one time, physicist Henry Moseley and Charles G. Darwin were colleagues working together building x-ray equipment. Of Henry Moseley, Darwin wrote: "Working with Moseley was a most impressive experience. He was without exception the hardest worker I have ever met. He had two principles in his work. The first was that when one starts to set up an experiment one must not stop for anything until it is set up. The second was that when one starts the experiment itself one must not stop till it is finished.”

So the Moseley and Darwin families were working together in the 1800s and early 1900s as scientists, and then again we find branched descendants of the Moseley and Darwin families working together in films in the early 2000s.

Pretty cool, yeah? You guys, my brain hurts, but I love doing this research. Stay tuned for more articles on William Moseley's ancestry.

William: A massive thanks to you for giving me this lead to research in your family tree!

About the Author

Storytelling binds generations. Films and family history are both powerful forms of storytelling that do just that. Family history research has been a passion of mine since I was a teenager. Having researched my own family tree extensively, I enjoy looking into the family trees of notable people. It gives me a sense of their background and what shaped them and their family into who they are today. To see their roots and where they come from is always inspiring. Being a history geek, I’m often in awe of the historical experiences of their ancestors and how they connect to the present day. I hope to inspire others to research their own family trees and find out where they come from by sharing interesting insights from the family trees of some of my favorite artists and entertainers.

— Mike Batie


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