Join 3,418 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


"The (legal) Wars of the Roses Part 2"
August 17, 2013 1:12 AM   Subscribe

When the remains of Richard III were discovered beneath a car park in Leicester (previously) there was some debate over where he should be reburied. It seemed that the question was settled by the decision of the University of Leicester to follow up the stipulation in the exhumation licence that the remains be re-buried in Leicester. However, a group of Richard III's collateral descendants were not content to let this rest, and issued an application for judicial review of the Ministry of Justice's decision to set and abide by that restriction on the location for reburial. The first stage of that application has been successful, with Mr Justice Haddon-Cave QC granting permission for a full judicial review (order and reasons, PDF).

The judge cited the historical importance of the find and the wide interest it had generated as reasons for holding that there should have been a wider and more detailed consultation on the question of Richard III's final resting place. However, he went on to suggest that all involved should avoid an "unseemly, undignified and unedifying" legal battle, proposing instead that an independent advisory panel should resolve the matter rather than a "(legal) Wars of the Roses Part 2".

His Lordship also noted the ironic symmetry by which the case came before him in the High Court in London, literally across the road from the spot where Shakespeare, in Henry VI, Part 1, depicts the Wars of the Roses as having begun.
posted by Major Clanger (63 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
People will fight over anything.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 1:23 AM on August 17, 2013


Because I live in the East Midlands, this is regularly on the news. Practically every day. So, really, it's already "unseemly, undignified and unedifying".

But since we're already in this mess...

I really want a Scooby Doo-esque ghost Richard III to show up and haunt Leicester Cathedral.

Driving away tourists, causing problems, evil cackling. Bonus points if he glows in the dark.

And then it's revealed it's that one woman from York who's part of the Plantagenet Alliance and who was on the news last night saying "He lived here, his son was born here, why would he want to stay in the place he was murdered???" (And, yes, her voice got really indignant at that last point, what the hell, he's been under a goddamn car park for decades now.)

And she would have gotten away with it if it wasn't for those meddling kids.
posted by Katemonkey at 1:28 AM on August 17, 2013 [20 favorites]


It's funny to me when people claim to be "collateral descendents" of Richard III, given that, when you go back more than half a millennium, pretty much every single white person alive today is a "collateral descendent" of Richard III (and every other living European then).
posted by koeselitz at 1:49 AM on August 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


(Also, I propose that the matter be resolved via trial by combat.)
posted by koeselitz at 1:51 AM on August 17, 2013 [8 favorites]


Why, exactly, does "wide attention" have any legal basis for interfering with the issue? The university was given permission to do the excavation under the stipulation that any remains found be reburied close by, they are following it. I can't see why the whining of people who think they were descended from distant relatives of Richard III should have any play, and why a judge is requiring them to waste money fighting dumbasses in court.
posted by tavella at 2:15 AM on August 17, 2013


Leicester should get to keep his remains since its in accordance with the established archaeological practice. This is just an opportunity for some loons to boast on TV that they're related to royalty. I'm surprised that Hyacinth Bucket isn't having a dinner party on the lawn of York Minster to raise funds for the campaign.
posted by arcticseal at 2:37 AM on August 17, 2013 [9 favorites]


This is just an opportunity for some loons to boast on TV that they're related to royalty.
I think we're missing the more terrifying consequences.
Somewhere, Dan Brown's accountant has stirred.*

*accountingly
posted by fullerine at 2:50 AM on August 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


I really want a Scooby Doo-esque ghost Richard III to show up and haunt Leicester Cathedral.

Blackadder's Richard III, as played by Peter Cook, would be ideal for this: A kind and cheerful ruler, he played games with his nephews in the tower and brought them toys in a sack disguised as a hump. Saddly, wiki informs me Peter Cook is dead, but this might make him even more suitable for playing a ghost.
posted by Dr Dracator at 3:06 AM on August 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


Oh grief. This is "My opinion is important, no-one asked me, therefore I will complain and start a petition and campaign so my opinion carries the day" syndrome. Despite being umpteen generations removed. Better hope that the remains of Genghis Khan are never located because, by precedent, there would be an awful lot of opinions on where he should be reburied...
posted by Wordshore at 3:18 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


If the fact that you're related to somebody who died 500 years ago is important to you, you need to get a fucking life.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:22 AM on August 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


And then it's revealed it's that one woman from York who's part of the Plantagenet Alliance and who was on the news last night saying "He lived here, his son was born here, why would he want to stay in the place he was murdered???" (And, yes, her voice got really indignant at that last point, what the hell, he's been under a goddamn car park for decades now.)

Centuries, even.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:25 AM on August 17, 2013


He needs an official funeral at Westminster Abbey and he should be interred there as a King.
posted by Renoroc at 5:26 AM on August 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


It shouldn't be that hard to find a suitable grave site for him somewhere in York.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:29 AM on August 17, 2013


Centuries, even.

I am more interested in this carpark of dreams and the implied induced demand for invention of cars! If you build it they will come!
posted by srboisvert at 5:51 AM on August 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


A judicial review! A judicial review! My kingdom for a judicial review!
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:55 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


(And, yes, her voice got really indignant at that last point, what the hell, he's been under a goddamn car park for decades now.)


For years I writhed beneath those Jeeps,
although, a born Plantagenet....
posted by ocschwar at 7:48 AM on August 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


He needs an official funeral at Westminster Abbey and he should be interred there as a King.
At the very least they should get him a horse.
posted by fullerine at 8:16 AM on August 17, 2013 [8 favorites]


If the fact that you're related to somebody who died 500 years ago is important to you, you need to get a fucking life.

The Crown would like to have a word with you.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:32 AM on August 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


If the fact that you're related to somebody who died 500 years ago is important to you, you need to get a fucking life.

If the fact that you're related to somebody who died 500 years ago isn't important to you, you have no sense of history—nor any real roots.

(Old aphorism: "To a Brit, 100 miles is a long distance; to an American, 100 years is a long time.")
posted by cstross at 8:56 AM on August 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


The amazing thing is, most people are related to someone who died 500 years ago.
posted by Dr Dracator at 8:58 AM on August 17, 2013 [9 favorites]


When the remains were first identified, I was all for interment at Westminster. But I've been to enough family occasions where That One Uncle showed up to understand avoiding the awkwardness.

Sure, the Tudor sisters are buried together, but even if the situations were exactly the same, they've been there long enough that most people don't think of the bad blood.

Eh, my ancestors were Lancastrians, anyway.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:11 AM on August 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think we're jumping to conclusions here. Everybody alive is related to someone that was alive 500 years ago, but that doesn't mean that they died 500 years ago. Just because 500 is an angel number doesn't mean that it killed off someone in everyone's family.

Number 500 promotes the courage and personal freedom to live and serve your soul mission as your intuition and inner-knowing dictates. Angel Number 500 brings a message to live your life as it suits you personally, and to not allow your fears or other people’s opinions deter or hinder you. Having the courage to make positive changes that are in-line with your personal lifestyle choices ensures that you always remain true to yourself.

If angel number 500 doesn't speak to you, then maybe it is you that needs to get a fucking life. Or at the very least, a numerology certificate from an accredited program.
posted by oceanjesse at 9:13 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Whatever one thinks about him, Richard III was the last reigning King of England to go down swinging, sword in hand. "They can have my Crown when they take it from my cold, dead skull."

Sword in hand, hacked and stabbed to death by an angry mob with sharp, pointy things... Ah, tradition. This is how a King is supposed to die, not put down like a dog in your bed with a speedball for the convenience of the news cycle.

Given how basely lied about he was by the Tudors and their propagandists, reburial in the North where he was appreciated seems much more fitting.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:43 AM on August 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


cstross, The saying was originally, "The difference between America and England is that Americans think 100 years is a long time, while the English think 100 miles is a long way." It is ascribed to Earle Hitchener, and seems to be relatively recent. But given that York and Leicester are about 100 miles apart, it may well be fitting.
posted by Thing at 10:12 AM on August 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


From the judge's directions:

6. The substantive hearing of these proceedings to be set down for hearing
next term (estimate 1 day). Skeletons to be exchanged 1 week before the
substantive hearing.


Well that ends the whole dispute.
posted by wilko at 10:16 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


If the fact that you're related to somebody who died 500 years ago is important to you, you need to get a fucking life.
If the fact that you're related to somebody who died 500 years ago isn't important to you, you have no sense of history—nor any real roots.
Oh, that's silly, not to mention condescending.

First of all, no one alive today is descended from Richard III. No one. These people claiming to be his descendants are descendants of cousins of his and crap like that.

Second of all, even if there were people today descended from Richard III, they would also be descended from an absurdly huge number of Richard III's contemporaries, both royal and peasant. Of those ancestors, the overwhelmingly vast majority (100% would be a minor rounding error) are completely unimportant to these people who are so worked up about (supposedly) being descendants of Richard III.

Third of all, again even if there were people today descended from Richard III, it's not like there would be a select few of them; there would be a vast, vast number of people descended from him. The ones who are worked up about it are nothing special.

It has nothing to do with whether you have a "sense of history" or "any real roots". In fact, I'd suggest that it's exactly the opposite: You have a vastly warped sense of history and your roots. Richard III was a blip in your family history, and that blip is shared by a ridiculous number of people. Claiming descent from him or his great-aunt or whatever does not mean you have "a sense of history" and "real roots", it means you're ignorant of mathematics, or ignorant of reality, or putting on airs, or some combination thereof.
posted by Flunkie at 10:50 AM on August 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


The Crown would like to have a word with you.

The Crown should be relegated to a museum as a relic of a terrible but past time and the family that holds it should be dispossessed.


Disclaimer before the next paragraph: If you're part of an ethnic or racial group who is oppressed, put down, maltreated, and such for your membership in that group, this next paragraph does not apply to you. It's a white guy talking to a white guy. I have nothing but respect for the efforts of oppressed peoples to reconstruct and reclaim what was denied them and take the pride that is refused them by our white supremacist society, and the following is one member of the oppressor class addressing another.

If the fact that you're related to somebody who died 500 years ago isn't important to you, you have no sense of history—nor any real roots.

You know, I typed a bunch of paragraphs of (honestly fairly inflammatory) shit about what a crock this is for white people to pretend it matters and how fucking stupid it is to think that a particular person from another culture and era that you'll never meet is more interesting than another person from that culture and era just because you share slightly more genes with one of those people, but the short version is that I can't see a reason why it would matter. If something genuinely affects me, that's great. But somebody I never met, who nobody living met, who passed nothing down to me? Why should I care that my ancestors lived in a particular city at a particular time? What does it matter than three hundred years ago a particular person whose descendents eventually included me practiced a particular profession? What possible impact could that have that isn't veering into race realism or a particularly stupid kind of astrology? Am I looking for evidence that lycanthropy runs in the family line or something? History's a great thing to study, but giving a shit about how a particular family fit into a particular time more than you give a shit about how some other family did simply because you're related to them is pathetic. I'd rather study the things that do matter- how my race, sex, and sexuality affect how I see the world and how it sees and treats me. All of those things are far more worth knowing than how many generations of my mother's family lived in the city she was born in, which would maybe be an interesting factoid but would mean nothing.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:15 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Finding a historical figure is an ancestor can be illuminating, interesting, and fun, no matter what your race or culture. My grandmother claimed we were descended from Cromwell, for example, which always makes the English Civil War more interesting to me. I'm certainly not going to get cross about someone enjoying this tenuous claim to the past...
posted by alasdair at 11:41 AM on August 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Disclaimer before the next paragraph: If you're part of an ethnic or racial group who is oppressed, put down, maltreated, and such for your membership in that group, this next paragraph does not apply to you. It's a white guy talking to a white guy. I have nothing but respect for the efforts of oppressed peoples to reconstruct and reclaim what was denied them and take the pride that is refused them by our white supremacist society, and the following is one member of the oppressor class addressing another.

I don't understand this disclaimer: if being descended from kings is not important, why is being descended from slaves important? Even for oppressed and struggling people, no single person from 500 hundred years ago would be significant for someone alive today in the way you describe. Would it be ok for someone of, say, Native American descent to claim special privilege for being descended from some named historical figure from 500 years ago?
posted by Dr Dracator at 11:43 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


. . . This is how a King is supposed to die, not put down like a dog in your bed with a speedball for the convenience of the news cycle.

Holy shit, I had no idea. The medical ethics of this are mindboggling.

History's a great thing to study, but giving a shit about how a particular family fit into a particular time more than you give a shit about how some other family did simply because you're related to them is pathetic. I'd rather study the things that do matter- how my race, sex, and sexuality affect how I see the world and how it sees and treats me . . .

This is actually a very American viewpoint, rooted in a particular kind of American immigrant history based on fleeing poverty or oppression and deciding to start over again with a firm rule that there will be no talking about the past. We are all woven into history. No one floats free from it, no matter what books he reads or how enlightened he becomes.

(On the other hand, I won't defend going on about royal ancestors. That kind of thing is tacky, and has been tacky for centuries. I was just reading about these ridiculous people last night.)
posted by Countess Elena at 11:47 AM on August 17, 2013


This is actually a very American viewpoint, rooted in a particular kind of American immigrant history based on fleeing poverty or oppression and deciding to start over again with a firm rule that there will be no talking about the past. We are all woven into history. No one floats free from it, no matter what books he reads or how enlightened he becomes.

I also think it depends on what you're looking for in your study. School gave me a good grounding in the big events of history. The general gist of how and what happened. Now I find myself more interested in specific areas. The history of domestic work I find fascinating for instance. This is connected with a broader look at history from a female perspective which has tended to be missed.

On my mother's side there has been a lot of work done on tracing several lines of the family. I have a duotang of the names of hundreds of names of, including mine, or people descended from 5 siblings that came from Ireland 150 years ago. I know why they came over and where they came from. I know about my Grandfathers line that came from Scotland. This past year I decided to do some work on my Father's side as well as focus more on looking at the women from my Mother's. What were they doing? Where did they come from? How did they end up here.

Through doing this I've connected my own ancestry with the bigger picture of history. In my case predominantly the history of the working class and laborers. Farmers, sheep gate makers (found one part of the family that did this for generations), blacksmiths, charwomen, a pin maker, tavern owner and lots of general laborers. Of course it would be cool to find a distant relation to someone more famous but what it's really done is to help me see more concretely where the everyman and woman fit in to the larger time.

I've explored the social conditions of Victorian England more deeply by looking into the details of those in my family who lived in London at the time. I know where they lived. Likely what the conditions were like and learned more about the forces of what might have made them chose to leave. I went off into the history of the highland clearances when I discovered a Great Grandmother who came to Canada at the exact time where one happened where she was living. American history has become more interesting since I found out the extent of my family that immigrated there, including 2 Grandfathers that were in the Civil War for a brief period of time. They left it shortly after signing up as part of some internal revolt against conditions where lots of men left. Never knew about that before.

I could go on and on because I find it so fascinating. Looking at history through the ordinary people in my ancestory has given me a different perspective on history. I take a person and move out from them as I speculate and learn about what bigger stuff was going around them. Through doing this I've learned about things that I knew nothing about and aren't covered much in more mainstream 'big' history.

And yes it really doesn't matter much what a grandmother was doing two hundred years ago with one exception. Their response to the wider context of their lives and the choices they made are the reason I'm alive today. If my GrX3 had decided not to revolt and been killed in the Civil War, no me. If that Scottish Island wasn't cleared, more then likely no me. If the job of sheep gate making hadn't died out in the industrial revolution probably, no me.

Looking at history through the lens of my ancestors has helped me understand the forces of history as it relates to regular people in a much broader way. I think that's a good thing.
posted by Jalliah at 12:41 PM on August 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


It is my sincere hope that if, 500 years from now, the remains of King George VII (currently the Baby Prince), is discovered under a hovercraft parking lot, the population of Leicester reacts overwhelmingly with embarrassment to the reminder that their nation had Royalty well into the Third Millennium (even if they only had Privilege and no Power), and in response to a popular insta-vote, the Robot Manager of York has the remains relocated to a landmark enshrined with the title "Dustbin of History".
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:33 PM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Second of all, even if there were people today descended from Richard III, they would also be descended from an absurdly huge number of Richard III's contemporaries, both royal and peasant. Of those ancestors, the overwhelmingly vast majority (100% would be a minor rounding error) are completely unimportant to these people who are so worked up about (supposedly) being descendants of Richard III.

This may be true about this small group. This small group may be made up of dicks. It is hard to say. But your throwing aspersions upon the entire class of geneologists, and of people that spend laborious work uncovering their family histories, is kind of shitty.

I'm currently working on a massively ambitious geneological project right now for my own family - I'm attempting to find everyone related, as far back as it can be gone. This will undoubtedly take me many years. There are (at least on my husband's side) some kings. There are also farmers and stenographers, printers and criminals. I am genuinely interested in all of their stories - as much of their stories as I can discover. For me, it is like meeting new friends - hearing stories of people that I would not have known. And I think this is common for people who go really in depth into it. You begin to empathize with these people - get interested in hundred-year-old family scandals - learn about their bravery and courage. You keep your ancestors alive as part of your body of knowledge and the information you pass on.

I don't think you mean to shame that. I think you just have the instinctive American reaction to anyone claiming descent from royalty, which is "fuck those guys." But I think you're expanding your reaction a bit too far.
posted by corb at 2:00 PM on August 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm throwing my aspersions on someone who claimed that if the fact that you are related to someone who died five hundred years ago is not important to you, then you lack a sense of history and have no real roots, not upon genealogists in general.
posted by Flunkie at 2:23 PM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


A ghost Richard III haunting Leicester Cathedral wouldn't drive tourists away. Quite the opposite, I suspect. I'd want to go there to see that.
posted by Anne Neville at 3:08 PM on August 17, 2013


A ghost Richard III haunting Leicester Cathedral wouldn't drive tourists away. Quite the opposite, I suspect. I'd want to go there to see that.

And I'd love to watch when you tell it your name.
posted by Jalliah at 3:39 PM on August 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


I enjoy genealogy. However, nothing whatsoever about it makes me a better person, nor gives me any say in what happens to graves of people I am a "collateral relative" of. So yes, if you think that possibly being descended from some relative of Richard III gives you some right to decide things, I am 100 percent confident you are a dick.

Also, corb, I wouldn't really count on your husband descended from kings, because as someone who has spent a great deal of time having to re-investigate the Really Terrible Genealogy of people who want to believe they are Royalty, 99 percent of the time that shit was made up. Every damn Scotch-Irish immigrant to the New World liked to stick some earl or laird atop the family tree, and it is usually easily disproved by going back to the source documents.

For myself, I look at it with the archaeologist's perspective: Leicester did the work, and is acting according to the legal permissions they got beforehand, and the normal legal requirements of exhuming bodies. If the people that actually do shit get spat on in favor of a bunch of egotists and get their work taken from them, other localities are going to be that much less likely to approve investigations. So fuck the royalist primadonnas, and bury him in Leicester Cathedral.
posted by tavella at 3:44 PM on August 17, 2013


Sorry about my numerology derail, but come on. If you found out you were related to recently unearthed royalty, wouldn't you want a say in things like the reburial? It's one of the most basic facets of humanity; ties to family and bloodlines.
posted by oceanjesse at 3:48 PM on August 17, 2013


Also, corb, I wouldn't really count on your husband descended from kings, because as someone who has spent a great deal of time having to re-investigate the Really Terrible Genealogy of people who want to believe they are Royalty, 99 percent of the time that shit was made up. Every damn Scotch-Irish immigrant to the New World liked to stick some earl or laird atop the family tree, and it is usually easily disproved by going back to the source documents.

Well, in our case, it's more my anarchist husband being absolutely fucking horrified, and less Scotch-Irish and more "15th great grandmother is Hapsberg daughter who was married out and the blood gets really really thin by way of the Netherlands". And I've done enough wading through source docs to make my eyes bleed (Terrible handwriting! Spotty documents! And if I never see a Rudolf or an Albrecht again it will be too soon!) - though admittedly less on my own once you get to the first royal because that stuff is pretty well documented at least from the 1200s-1500s. I mean, I know what you're talking about - family legends are usually bullshit. But at the same time, that doesn't mean everyone who says there are kings somewhere in their line is Making It Up. There are a /lot/ of people who are descended from kings, through daughters or bastards or lines that could not inherit or them losing their nobility or what have you.

You are right that it doesn't matter - no one should listen to your opinions any more because of it - but there are some great stories.
posted by corb at 4:01 PM on August 17, 2013


No, and I'd think anyone who did was a lunatic. At some point in the future, the Jamestown Archaeology project may get around to digging up my 6xgreat-grandparents, who are buried in the "old burying ground" at Jamestown. They may end up reburied, they may end up in a museum, who knows, and I certainly am not going to be suing anyone over it. And I'm actually descended from them! Richard III is getting a respectful burial as close as possible to the original interment, which is the only thing that anyone, 'related' or no, should reasonably expect.
posted by tavella at 4:01 PM on August 17, 2013


doesn't mean everyone who says there are kings somewhere in their line is Making It Up
Everyone is descended from kings. As you go back further in time -- and it doesn't take very long -- everyone is descended from everyone (well, from everyone who anyone is descended from). And it's even a shorter amount of time to "everyone is descended from everyone from a broad geographical region (such as Europe)". Nobody's making up that they're descended from Soandso VII. Everyone is descended from Soandso VII. What many of them are making up (or at least blindly accepting) is the particular line on which they're descended from Soandso VII.
posted by Flunkie at 4:28 PM on August 17, 2013


but there are some great stories.

I have a great, great grandfather that acted like a lord. Sometimes the truth behind family legends is even better then the legend. My Mom grew up in a rural area and their were 'cousins' around that they didn't know and according to her Grandma were the 'Black' side of the family. The 'white' side, her side found religion and the black side...well we don't talk about them. Ends up there was one guy who came to the area from Ireland, got married and have a bunch of kids. He owned the first tavern in the area and went on to buy a whole bunch of land that is now in the center of the main town. It was prime land.

His wife dies. He gets a rep as cad and a drunk. The whispered family story was that he got so drunk one night that he passed out and died when the tavern burned down. The truth came out when a copy of his will was found. Ends up he died quite normally. In his will he makes proclamations about the unsuitabilty of all of his kids and bunch of talk about the nobility of descendents and how his kids just didn't meet his criteria. He gives them all one dollar each. Everything else, money and property goes to his housekeeper and her kid with one caveat, if she ever talked to the XXXX family down at the beach she would lose everything. Not that it mattered because he made the housekeeper executor. lol

From what we can tell from records the housekeeper sold all the land pretty quickly and left town. My Mom and her sisters thought it was so funny. My Grandma and her sisters were embarrassed and couldn't understand why we all found it hilarious.

Thus ends the story of how my Mom's family fell from grace and lost out at being one of the areas land barons.
posted by Jalliah at 4:30 PM on August 17, 2013


And it's even a shorter amount of time to "everyone is descended from everyone from a broad geographical region (such as Europe)"
Whoops, I misspoke here - I meant "everyone who is descended from anyone from a broad geographical region is descended from everyone from that broad geographical region."

Or more accurately "everyone alive today who is descended from anyone from the time period in question from a broad geographical region is descended from everyone from that time period and that region from whom anyone alive today is descended." Or something like that.

Basically, if you find some European dude you're descended from, and that dude lived long enough ago (which is not really all that long in the grand scheme of things), everybody today who is descended from any European dude at all from that particular dude's timeframe is also descended from that particular European dude. That dude is not your family, except in the extremely inclusive sense that your family includes the billions of people alive today who have any European ancestry at all.
posted by Flunkie at 5:32 PM on August 17, 2013


I’ve always been a history buff, so MMMV.

When I was a kid, there was this company where your parents could send in a form with your name and a bunch of personal information, and order a set of story books, and they’d be custom-printed with the personal information so it’s be like they were written about you. One of my cousins got a set for Christmas when I was six, and my name ended up in a couple of them. I was fascinated! I wads in a book, just like the people in books!

That’s the same sort of sensation I get as an adult, learning about the relationship my ancestors had to historical events. It doesn’t really make a difference in my life, but it brings history a little closer, and hopefully helps me see it in a slightly different light.

My ancestor was lucky enough to survive the Battle of Tewkesbury, and to be considered just important enough for someone to write that fact down. He was, however, on the losing side, so Edward V seized his lands and gave them to his Yorkist brother-in-law. Burn! But he landed on his feet and married a rich widow with lands of her own.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:38 PM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]



Sword in hand, hacked and stabbed to death by an angry mob with sharp, pointy things... Ah, tradition. This is how a King is supposed to die, not put down like a dog in your bed with a speedball for the convenience of the news cycle.


Dafuq????

Isn't that kind of thing still punished with the whole hanged, cut down, disembowelled, drawn, quartered, and finally executed thing??
posted by ocschwar at 7:37 PM on August 17, 2013


See, I think that the Russians had the right idea as to how kings should die.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:46 PM on August 17, 2013


Basically, if you find some European dude you're descended from, and that dude lived long enough ago (which is not really all that long in the grand scheme of things), everybody today who is descended from any European dude at all from that particular dude's timeframe is also descended from that particular European dude.

This is...not at all the case. Did you mean to say everybody is related? That might be closer.

The only people who had wide-spread marriage-mingling over areas as big as Europe were nobles. One of the big things of pre-industrial society was its lack of mobility - not just upwards in class structure, but how few people lived very far away from where their grandfathers and their grandfathers were born. So, let us say you are largely descended from regular Joes from, say, Italy, your likelihood of also being descended from Joe-From-Iceland of that time period is actually staggeringly, staggeringly low. Now, would that person's line of descendants possibly touch yours? Would you have an enormous amount of cousins? Absolutely. But it is just plain inaccurate to say that if you threw darts at your geneology charts and chose a random person, that any random person also could trace their ancestry back through descent to that specific individual.

Unless that guy is Ghengis Khan, then yeah.
posted by corb at 9:20 PM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


It depends on how many generations back you go. Multiply by two often enough and you get really high numbers.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:28 PM on August 17, 2013


To make it all mathy, leaving aside the issue of records...your lines of descent can be tracked as exponents of two.

So you - two parents - four grandparents - eight great-grandparents - sixteen great-great-grandparents, and so on.

Tracing it back, say, sixteen generations, gives you 65,536 people who you are directly descended from in some way. (And again, you are never going to have perfect records allowing for you to trace all of those people.) That's huge, but that's still not all the people who have ever lived in Europe. The population of Europe at around that level is estimated at 50 million.

Going back to around the year 1000, which is really pushing it, and most people will not even be able to track that far - and assuming no repeats, which is also flawed for a lot of families, particularly once you start dealing with small, insular towns - you are looking at roughly 25 generations, giving you a mindboggling 33,554,432, which is still less than the estimated population of Europe at that time., estimated at about 38mil.

There's a general point I think you wanted to say, which is that we're all related and very likely to be descended from the same people, but to say that we are all, every man woman and child, descended from the same people is a bit much.
posted by corb at 9:38 PM on August 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


If I'm understanding you right, though, I'm as likely to be descended from one particular person in Europe in 1000 AD as another. So why get excited about one and not the other?
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:41 PM on August 17, 2013


Go back far enough, corb. For a scale like "Europe", Richard III isn't far enough, but he's well on his way there (something like the timeframe of Charlemagne is what it takes for that scale, rather than the timeframe of Richard III).

The most recent common ancestor of essentially "Europeans" as a whole -- or of any other broad group on that scale -- is almost certainly only a bit older than Richard III. And once you start going back past the most recent common ancestor, more and more people become common ancestors, exponentially rather than linearly. Surprisingly soon, everyone who is the ancestor of anyone alive in that broad group is the ancestor of everyone alive in that broad group. This is with even minimal levels of migration.

Here's a popular article on it, and here's a paper on it.
posted by Flunkie at 9:46 PM on August 17, 2013


I think it's different for everyone. I grew up with a very strong cultural sense of family being intensely important, and I think some strands of that resonate when it comes to, say, tenth or eighteenth-great-grandparents. I empathize with them. I wince at their failures and cheer at their triumphs and feel a little sad when their babies die like I would a distant cousin I don't talk to today.

On a more selfish note, I think being able to touch people's struggles a thousand years back gives hope for our own future descendents a thousand years from now being able to pass on our stories, our diaries, our dreams and hopes and fears. And it's the admittedly oft-repeated idea that while someone is spoken of they are not dead - which means geneology is the closest thing to touching immortality we can know.
posted by corb at 9:46 PM on August 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Going back to around the year 1000, which is really pushing it, and most people will not even be able to track that far - and assuming no repeats, which is also flawed for a lot of families, particularly once you start dealing with small, insular towns - you are looking at roughly 25 generations, giving you a mindboggling 33,554,432, which is still less than the estimated population of Europe at that time., estimated at about 38mil.
There's not really a good number of years for "generation" that can give you accurate numbers at that scale. For example, you can get from William the Conqueror (approximately the year 1000) to Queen Elizabeth II in 24 generations, but you can also get to her from him in 31 generations along a different path. And other numbers of generations along lots and lots of other paths.

And the difference between 2^24 and 2^31 is, essentially, 2^31. Literally billions.
posted by Flunkie at 10:01 PM on August 17, 2013


Actually, the idea that I am probably descended from every single person living in England and Ireland in the year 1000 makes those people even more fascinating to me.
posted by maggiemaggie at 10:22 AM on August 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Flunkie: “Go back far enough, corb. For a scale like ‘Europe’, Richard III isn't far enough, but he's well on his way there (something like the timeframe of Charlemagne is what it takes for that scale, rather than the timeframe of Richard III).”

Actually, I think Richard III is far enough. I say that because, in fact, nobody is descended from Richard III, since he had no children. In this case, people aren't talking about being direct descendants; they're talking about being "collateral descendants," which is to say descendants of someone to whom Richard III was related. Which broadens the pool substantially.

corb: “On a more selfish note, I think being able to touch people's struggles a thousand years back gives hope for our own future descendents a thousand years from now being able to pass on our stories, our diaries, our dreams and hopes and fears. And it's the admittedly oft-repeated idea that while someone is spoken of they are not dead - which means geneology is the closest thing to touching immortality we can know.”

It really is true that we are all directly descended from everyone alive in a certain year – virtually everyone in the Western world today is directly descended from Muhammad, for example – but I don't think that changes the significance of descent and family identity. Those things are still very important even though they all run together if you go far back enough.

More to the point in this case, I think the thing that many of the "this was half a millennium ago, who cares?" people here are missing is the fact that (gasp!) Richard III has contemporary significance for a lot of people, and that the effects of the Tudor ascendancy and the denigration of Northern kingship as somehow base or vile is something that has echoes to this very day.
posted by koeselitz at 8:05 AM on August 19, 2013


These people claiming to be his descendants are descendants of cousins of his and crap like that.

His sister, actually.

Third of all, again even if there were people today descended from Richard III, it's not like there would be a select few of them; there would be a vast, vast number of people descended from him.

Not all family lines expand exponentially. Some family lines are very narrow over the course of hundreds of years and sometimes they go extinct. This is often the case with royal and noble families, and I'm sure it's often the case with the less well-publicized genealogies of common folks.

It really is true that we are all directly descended from everyone alive in a certain year


It really isn't, unless you go back far enough to when there are no surviving records to document such a claim.

virtually everyone in the Western world today is directly descended from Muhammad, for example

That's not even remotely true. There are a great many descendents of Muhammad, but not THAT many.
posted by snottydick at 9:26 AM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


me: “It really is true that we are all directly descended from everyone alive in a certain year...”

snottydick: “It really isn't, unless you go back far enough to when there are no surviving records to document such a claim.”

Did you actually read the articles Flunkie linked to above? It's mathematically certain. We are all directly descended from everyone alive in a certain year. The intermarriage and interrelation of the human race guarantees it. It is true, beyond a doubt, not because of "no surviving records" but because that is how descent and lineage works.

me: “virtually everyone in the Western world today is directly descended from Muhammad, for example”

snottydick: “That's not even remotely true. There are a great many descendents of Muhammad, but not THAT many.”

That is absolutely true; and I was even putting it a bit mildly, it turns out. As Flunkie's Atlantic article points out, this isn't even a matter for confusion or dispute – it's documented by actual historical records:
For example, almost everyone in the New World must be descended from English royalty—even people of predominantly African or Native American ancestry, because of the long history of intermarriage in the Americas. Similarly, everyone of European ancestry must descend from Muhammad. The line of descent for which records exist is through the daughter of the Emir of Seville, who is reported to have converted from Islam to Catholicism in about 1200.
So, yes. Everyone of European ancestry is a direct descendant of Muhammad.
posted by koeselitz at 10:37 AM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


snottydick: “Not all family lines expand exponentially. Some family lines are very narrow over the course of hundreds of years and sometimes they go extinct. This is often the case with royal and noble families, and I'm sure it's often the case with the less well-publicized genealogies of common folks.”

This is, in fact, generally a relic of the fact that patriarchal and non-scientific genealogy was the paradigm for centuries. When "family lines" are defined solely by married couplings producing "legitimate" male heirs who have a claim to property, the tacit rules of ascendancy mean they can narrow over many years and then die out. When they're defined, however, by any offspring produced by any member, the only sense in which a line dies out is the sense in which a person who dies without offspring is a dead end. But there are no multi-generational families of people who died without having children; all multi-generational families, even those who "died out," were contributed to by other families and themselves contributed to other families. Statistically, eventually the only real "dead ends" are those individuals who never produced offspring.
posted by koeselitz at 10:47 AM on August 19, 2013


koeselitz, I even think you're making some pretty good points, but your insistence on making it "every single person ever" is kind of hanging you up. From the article you quoted,
Chang's model incorporates one crucial assumption: random mating in the part of the world under consideration. For example, every person in Europe would have to have an equal chance of marrying every other European of the opposite sex. As Chang acknowledges in his paper, random mating clearly does not occur in reality; an Englishman is much likelier to marry a woman from England than a woman from Italy, and a princess is much likelier to marry a prince than a pauper. These departures from randomness must push back somewhat the date of Europeans' most recent common ancestor.
The quote about "Everyone being directly descended from Muhammad" is in fact not from a geneologist, but from an Atlantic reporter, who creates a lot of "musts" without giving us any evidence.
posted by corb at 11:19 AM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


1200 isn't far enough back, but it's true in general: there is a remarkably recent time for when, given any genetic flow between areas at all, that everyone shares common ancestors. And there has been plenty of genetic flow across Europe and the Med rim.
posted by tavella at 11:27 AM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


corb: “koeselitz, I even think you're making some pretty good points, but your insistence on making it 'every single person ever' is kind of hanging you up.”

The only limitation is, as I said above, on people who don't have children. Lack of true randomness (which is less of a factor than one might believe) only pushes the date back a bit; it doesn't eliminate it at all. You push things back a thousand years, for example, and any negligible effects from supposed non-randomness disappear complete.

As far as descendants from Muhammad – sure, it's an Atlantic reporter, but it's also all but an established fact, too. It's past a thousand years, so the likelihood that we aren't descendants of Muhammad is vanishingly small.

As that scientific paper points out:
Further work is needed to determine the effect of this common ancestry on patterns of genetic variation in structured populations. But to the extent that ancestry is considered in genealogical rather than genetic terms, our findings suggest a remarkable proposition: no matter the languages we speak or the colour of our skin, we share ancestors who planted rice on the banks of the Yangtze, who first domesticated horses on the steppes of the Ukraine, who hunted giant sloths in the forests of North and South America, and who laboured to build the Great Pyramid of Khufu.
posted by koeselitz at 11:57 AM on August 19, 2013


(There's a lot more Muhammadan lineage in Europe than most people realize anyway.)
posted by koeselitz at 12:07 PM on August 19, 2013


The only limitation is, as I said above, on people who don't have children.

If you understand that, you should understand that your other statement about us all being "directly descended from everyone alive in a certain year" lacks a certain clarity in that context.

I'm glad we can at least agree on that point, and I'm glad that we agree about the contemporary relevance of historical lives. We also agree that every living human being does share direct descent with common ancestors. I just believe that that those common ancestors are a lot farther back than you do, even when considering a relatively small subset of "people of English descent."

What IS true is that a certain number of people from any given year produced family lines that continue to this day.

Counting our own lines backwards through history, they do indeed expand exponentially and geographically as described in the Atlantic article and the scholarly paper linked to above, leading to very many living people sharing a common ancestry with a very many historical persons. Often, there is considerable overlap. That doesn't mean that we all are descended from exactly the same historical persons. As is stated in the Atlantic article, that would require the condition of "random mating in the part of the world under consideration" which simply isn't true, a fact which Joseph Chang acknowledges.

You can't simply assume, as is done in the Atlantic article, that everyone in the New World is related because... intermarriage or that because a great many people migrated to various parts of the world at various times in history that it's reasonable to assume that everyone has a little bit of everything in them. That's the sort of thinking that's convenient for building a useful mathematical model but doesn't stand up to historical scrutiny.

Class divisions, lack of geographic mobility for the overwhelming majority of people, and the surprisingly high rate of historical and contemporary inbreeding (of many kinds) all conspire to reduce the overlap considerably. Like does tend to attract like.

The 20th Century was certainly a time of much greater overlap, and I have no doubt that there will come a time when everyone in the world will share a common ancestor from the middle ages, but we're not there yet.

When they're defined, however, by any offspring produced by any member, the only sense in which a line dies out is the sense in which a person who dies without offspring is a dead end.

This is the sense in which I mean.
posted by snottydick at 8:29 AM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


« Older Librarians + Beastie Boys = Sabotage (SLVimeo)...  |  A look inside the cartoonist's... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments