A particular hobby has been occupying historians for hundreds of years, including long-time Yukoner and history enthusiast Jan Ogilvy. The pastime she shares with thousands of people around the world is unraveling the truth about Richard III, former King of England, now dead some 535 years.
William Shakespeare most famously told the story of Richard III in his play of that name around 1593. To the members of the Richard III Society, it was an unflattering and untruthful account. Richard has since been viewed as a corrupt, murderous, power-hungry monarch.
Ogilvy is the Yukon’s only member of the global society, founded in 1924 to “secure a more balanced assessment of the king and support research into his life and times.” What brought Ogilvy to be a card-carrying fan of a medieval king?
“When I was a child I read a lot. I used to read a lot of children’s historical novels. I became interested in English history by reading novels,” says Ogilvy, who went on to study medieval history in university. Though she didn’t continue on academically, her interest in history persisted.
“I realized that none of this was going to prepare me for any kind of work except to be a high school teacher, or an Anglican minister, neither of which I wanted to be.
“Nothing I was studying was going to prepare me for the workforce at the time. But I certainly carried on my interest in English history, well, really western European history.”
So back to Richard III, or R3, as Ogilvy refers to him.
The bare facts of Richard III’s life are thus: As the younger brother to King Edwards IV, Richard was named the Duke of Gloucester in 1461 and put in charge of Northern England.
After Edward IV’s death, Richard’s 12-year old nephew, appropriately named Edward V, was due to ascend the throne. Unfortunately, young Edward’s parents’ marriage was deemed invalid, making Ed Jr. and his brother illegitimate and no longer eligible to be king.
Richard III ascended the throne instead and the two nephews were never seen in public again, leading to rumours of murder. Richard reigned for only two years before Henry Tudor led a rebellion and killed Richard III at Leicestershire in 1485. This began the reign of the House of Tudor, a rival House to Richard’s House of York, of which he was the last heir. Under this Tudor era, Shakespeare’s account of Richard’s life was written.
Ogilvy believes this fact is notable: “He [Shakespeare] was trying to please his Tudor sponsors.”
“He was blackened by Shakespeare’s play,” says Ogilvy. “In fact, he was a very good administrator. R3 was in charge of the north in Middleham in Yorkshire. He is very well thought of to this day in Yorkshire.”
Shakespeare painted him as disfigured, but Ogilvy says that’s not true.
“He had a condition called scoliosis, so one shoulder was higher than the other and his spine was curved. When they found the body, that was one of the ways they identified him.”
Indeed, in 2012, thanks partly to the persistence of the Richard III Society, Richard’s remains were located in a present-day car park, the most likely location of Greyfriar’s Church where Richard was known to be buried. The Society was instrumental in locating and exhuming Richard’s body.
In 2015, Richard III was re-interred at Leicester Cathedral. It is a compelling story, and Ogilvy speculates that interest in R3 has increased since the discovery of the bones and reinterment.
After all these years, history continues to be Ogilvy’s travel guide. She has travelled to England 62 times, visiting and re-visiting areas rich in history. As for made-up stories about actual people, she’s less interested in it now that she’s studied so much.
“I don’t read much historical fiction now. I don’t want to read fiction about real people because I already know what happens.”