Professor Johnston often said that if you didn't know history, you didn't know anything. You were a leaf that didn't know it was part of a tree. [Michael Crichton, Timeline]
Well – it seems my journal yesterday about smells that take you back really opened up a floodgate of memories. We even turned it into a piece that ran for half an hour on CHFI yesterday, and were inundated with texts from listeners with their special scents and sensibilities.
I can't do your emails justice today, so I'm going to work on putting together a journal or two for next week. I hope you won't mind and thank you for taking the time to write. I love when we find out just how much we have in common. It's a great reminder of who you are, too. Thanks for that.
Today in Leicester, England a king is being buried (actually reinterred after being uncovered in a parking lot in 2012). I'm talking about King Richard III and I have to tell you, I'm completely wrapped up in the story of this murdered king, the centuries of trash talking his tarnished legacy has endured and the incredible story behind his remains' identification and even his coffin.
I've read it so often, and so thoroughly, that I risk inadvertently plagiarizing some fine, fine writing from Maclean's magazine's Patricia Treble on this whole story, so please do go to this link. But as I did on yesterday's radio show, I'll try just to tell you what's gotten me so excited about this whole story. It's a mystery, a detective story, a real-life tale of perseverance, timing and science and it even has a great Canadian angle to it. Best of all, it would seem that the good guy wins: after being denied the ritual and honour that his death should have brought 530 years ago, the last Plantagenet king will be laid to rest today.
You'll remember the story of the bones found in a British car park in 2012? Some optimistic, dogged “amateur sleuths and scientists” had hoped that King Richard III, who'd died of some horrific wounds on the battlefield and was hastily buried in a monastery on the site, might be found there. Sure enough, a skeleton was unearthed. And just as history had suggested, there were signs of spinal malformation.
Was he, as Shakespeare described, a “Poisonous bunch-back'd toad”, complete with withered arm and limp? Hardly. Richard III's scoliosis would probably have been disguised by the right clothing. But when Henry VII vanquished Richard on the battlefield, killing him wasn't enough; his entire legacy, reputation and pretty much everyone who loved or admired him had to be destroyed as well.
Which brings us to the 21st century. You really do have to read the whole article to understand just what a collaboration of luck and science has made this day possible, but it was the DNA of a nephew 17 generations later that helped identify the king's remains. And that descendant is London, Ontario-born Michael Ibsen.
But here's where the story gets even better: Ibsen, who now lives in London, England, is a cabinet maker. And it is he who made the special oak, lead-lined coffin into which the remains of King Richard have been wrapped and laid, to be interred at Leicester Cathedral today. Members of the modern Royal Family will be on hand; even the oak for the late king's coffin comes from the Duchy of Cornwall, which (since its creation in 1337) has had the whole purpose of providing income to the Prince of Wales. Thus, the tree from which Richard's coffin is hewn comes from the land of the presumed future King of England.
Could this story have any more fascinating facets? You'll just have to read about it in Maclean's. I'm telling you: if history class was this interesting, this vibrant, this alive when I was in school, I'd have gotten better marks. This whole tale has me completely enthralled. I mean, just think of the money that was spent, the painstaking hours of tracing (matrilineal) DNA that led to a family in southwestern Ontario. To think of all of the people who never stopped searching, never stopped believing that a man's battle-scarred remains would be found, and that people would one day know who this man was – a man described as “too conscientious” and a far better leader and character than the one depicted by the pen of the famous William Shakespeare himself. It was Richard III, for instance, we can thank for the notion of bail, in order to protect suspects from pre-trial custody. That is just one of the man's contributions.
I guess that, above it all - the mystery, the history, the Canadian chapter and the outrageous odds – is that even after all of these years (530 to be exact), history has been rewritten. Not by Henry VII this time; not even by Shakespeare. But by science and facts. In these days of constant warring over interpretations of other historic writings – mostly of a religious nature, of course - it does a heart good to see the truth win out at long, long last.