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  • Writer's pictureMary Ellen Johnson

Reincarnation, Genetic Memory or Just Plain Spooky?

Last night I was trying to frame the marriage of Richard II to his seven-year-old Isabella of Valois. As always I wrestle with how much history to add without boring the reader to death. One of my current problems is Thomas of Woodstock, who is the youngest child of Edward III. He's been a thorn in Richard II's side for many years and will soon be dispatched by our ruthless monarch. But what to say and how to say it? Without coming up with a satisfactory solution, I signed off for the evening and settled into bed, anticipating reading a new novel. Only to have my daughter call and ask if I'd seen the latest genealogical chart from my dad's mother's side of the family. (Irene Babb died when my dad was little more than a toddler, bleeding to death in a work camp soon after the birth of her fourth son in five years. We knew very little about her or that side of the family and for all of us being interested in history, we weren't very interested in our own. ) So when my daughter told me to check out the email attachment, I promised that I would. And then she said, "Guess who we're related to?"

"I have no idea."

"John of Gaunt!"

Gobsmacked is the word that comes to mind. A romantic hero since I read Anya Seton's KATHERINE at age thirteen. (A man I've written about and admire, though I do not find him quite so captivating as his brother, the Black Prince.)

So last night I went digging on the Babb side of the family--forget America, let's get back to the medieval age--and there it was.

All the people I've written about, having NO earthly idea that I'm related to them. ALL OF THEM. (If this is true. Still can't believe it. An ordinary family recently in Utah? A woman cranking out medieval fiction in a Colorado mountain town? Sounds pretty far fetched. )

Edward II and his jailer, Thomas Berkeley. My ancestors once walked the halls of Berkeley Castle, which I wrote about. And where Edward II--can we really be kin?--was probably murdered by having a red hot poker jammed up his anus.

John of Gaunt and his first wife, Blanche of Lancaster, who died of plague.

Thomas of Woodstock, John's youngest brother--and also brother to the Black Prince. So does that mean when I think about the Black Prince, I am tapping into my primordial past?

The de Bohuns. One of them stupidly took on Robert the Bruce before 1314's Battle of Bannockburn and got his head bashed in for his stupidity. I write about it.

Henry "Hotspur" Percy. I am researching him right now. I place my fictional knight's earldom near Northumbria, home of the Percys.

Edward III. Two books with him as king.

Then spinning farther back... what is this John Lackland, youngest son of Eleanor of Aquitaine? Just mentioned him when writing about Richard II's Irish expedition.

Richard the Lionheart? Wrote about him wading from the sea into Jaffa where he proceeded to kick some Infidel butt.

On and on.

What accounts for our interests in certain periods of history? It might be something as simple as being captivated by a book or a movie. But there is a voice within each of us that seeks to be heard and maybe, just maybe that voice is the voice of our ancestors, whispering, "Hear me!"

Trust me, I am listening!

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