Monday, February 4, 2013
King Richard III's (House of York and last of the Plantagenet dynasty) bones have been found in a car park in Leicester. The king's history is a bloody one: defeated at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 (the decisive battle of the War of the Roses) and linked to the disappearance (murder) of his brother's two sons with Elizabeth Woodville. He's certainly not one of the beloved kings in British history; known and portrayed as the "evil Crookback." Of course, according to the Blackadder series, Richard III has been much aligned by history! (See the Guardian's collection of clips on Richard III). But, this find is an extraordinary one and speaks to one of the reasons I love England. Literally, everywhere one looks, walks and has lunch is a veritable site on which history was made!
Another remarkable thing about this discovery is that they were able to verify the DNA of Richard's remains with that of a Canadian descendent. Joy Ibsen was a 17th century descendent of the king's sister and since she died last year, her son Michael, who works in London, provided a DNA sample. If ever there were a story that showcased Canada's connections to Blighty - this would be it! Of course, there have been waves of British migration and Brits have settled everywhere. So, that a Plantagenet king's descendent decided to make a home in this part of the Commonwealth is entirely accidental. Yet, it's striking that at the exact moment that our PM is bending over backwards to highlight our "British" roots/ origins and inject monarchy back into our understandings of Canadian citizenship, here's a very real connection. Of course, the Ibsen family's ancestry isn't something that every Canadian can relate to but certainly we will be prompted to perhaps revisit this period of English history and (re)discover the story of a controversial king that has been lost for 500 years to the annals of history, myth and legend.
(Note: Thanks to @Joe_Klotzkopp for messaging me about the story!)
I too have watched the Richard III car park "saga" (there is really no other word for it) unfold over the past few months, and particularly the last day or two. This morning the twitter-machine was filled with the sort of simultaneously educated, witty and irreverent banter that only the Brits can truly do. First there was the hashtag #Kinginthecarpark and then an apparently (to professional historians) embarrassing Channel 4 documentary of the Plantagenet king, complete with a sad and weepy commentator. It was a day of both joy and merriment to historians and nerds everywhere.
The Canadian connection has received little comment so far, but no doubt local media will soon pick it up in a "look at us!" moment. My colleague is correct that most Canadians cannot relate to the Ibsen connection to royalty -- most of us are from a decidedly more humble lineage and also much more recently arrived in Canada. But, it is certainly extremely intriguing and demonstrates the transatlantic ties that bind Canadian history with that of Great Britain -- even as we forge our own identity in the twenty-first century.