A royal road to immortality


King Athelstan (reigned 924-927)  the earliest known depiction of a crowned British monarch. Coincidentally, he has a red beard.

Scanning the news, I came across a photograph of a red-bearded Prince Harry looking remarkably like his namesake, King Henry VIII. Although, with the changing lines of the royal houses over the centuries, their relationship is distant in more than time, there is a genetic link through King Henry’s sister, Margaret. I was struck by how easy it was to recognise the resemblance of a 21stC prince to a 16thC king and realised how many statues and memorials there are to the members of the various houses of the British monarchy.

I doubt there are many places in this country where there is not at least one representation of a member of the royal line and their images are found worldwide. Love them or hate them, royalist or not, the monarchy is at the heart of British history and its imagery cannot be dismissed. It is everywhere, from our postage stamps to our currency and most of the time, it is so familiar that we barely even notice it is there.

I wonder if it feels odd for the Royal Family to see the portraits of their ancestors and predecessors everywhere they look? Perhaps, if they think of it at all, it is to wonder if it seems odd for us not to do so with our own. Can you imagine what it would be like to know, not only the faces but the histories of your own family, not as scattered anecdotes or fragmentary evidence, but in depth and detail, going back many hundreds of years and spanning many countries?

King Henry VIII

Many of us have the odd photograph or two of our grandparents, maybe even our great-grandparents. A few may have a pre-photographic portrait in paint or pencil. For the majority of us, though, the faces that are more than a generation or two back in time are already lost, their memories fading into oblivion as those who knew them follow them through that final portal. Our grandfather’s grandfather ceases, in some way, to be a ‘real’ person and becomes an ancestor… and our society lost its reverent connection to the Ancestors many moons ago.

It is an odd thought…  you may still live in the house they built, or be able to see their names carved on a memorial…trace their lives back through legal paper trails or hold a treasured possession in your hand. They were real…human beings… and now, somehow, they are not. They are no more than an idea, a second-hand memory. Yet their presence in our lives is as vital as it was to those of our ancestors who revered the Ancestors.

There has been a good deal of research done in recent years about the transmission of genetic traits and scientists have highlighted the possibility that even memory can be transmitted from one generation to the next. The promises in genetics at present are both exciting and disturbing. One piece of research even claims that in as little as twenty-five years we could be capable of maintaining youth indefinitely and achieving theoretical immortality. This immediately raised questions for me about overpopulation and even whether any sane person would want to live and be young forever… but that is a whole other debate.

Even so, that thought has spawned many stories of the quest for an Elixir of Youth and the desire for immortality haunts many who would wish to leave a lasting mark upon the world forgetting that we already do. What we have received from our ancestors through evolution, genetics and memory lives on in each one of us. Every person contributes to the collective experience of the species and each of us may transmit it to the next generation, carrying the legacy of our ancestors’ lives forward to a time when we will have long since joined them. In this respect, we carry the seeds of immortality, from the first Man to the last, from the beginning to the end of time.

Even that made me wonder…if humankind ceases one day to exist, what dies with us? Will the universe itself even exist without our observation creating it for our attention, nanosecond by nanosecond? Perhaps the multiplicities of our human ‘being’ will resolve itself into Unity without the interference of our presence and consciousness and our need to dissect in order to understand?

The world may continue without us, the universe may keep spinning its mysteries, but without Man to observe the measure of linear time, will time still exist as we know it or will its absence open the doors to a single and universal Moment of No-Time? And if there is a No-Time that is All-Time, then Man can neither come into being nor cease to exist.

We will never know the answer to that particular riddle… or if we do it will be because ‘it’s life, Jim, but not as we know it’.


Winterhalter portrait of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their children

Perhaps our ancestors were right to revere the Ancestors, because they have not simply been erased from the story, but will live on each of us for as long as mankind survives… and every one of us adds our own experience to the continuing story of the future. It follows then that we have a responsibility to ensure that our legacy of experience is worth leaving and has value for our descendants.

It occurred to me too that the royal family are not the only ones to be able to look into the eyes of their ancestors every day; humanity ultimately shares a common heritage and every face we see, every pair of eyes we meet, mirrors back to us something of our own.

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at scvincent.com and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email: findme@scvincent.com.
This entry was posted in History, Memory, nature, Relationships, Responsibility, Spirituality and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to A royal road to immortality

  1. TamrahJo says:

    Isn’t it funny and not (at least here, on my side of the pond..) how such things aren’t noticed? LOVE this post!!!

    I started working my way through the ‘classics’ that apparently – were deemed not “New English/Literature” when I went through school (Yes – I went through the “new math phase” too – – LOL

    Funny, how my absolute, favorite work of Dicken’s is Martin Chuzzlewitz – and yet, most of those learned Master/PhD holders don’t know about it = have never read it – SERIOUSLY? It, TO my mind, so grandly illustrates the human experience – the pits, falls, traps – but also the beauty of such things – – IT also shows the difference (via DNA/Memory/etc., via differeent nationalities/generations, etc. – – I just erased the blog entry I thought I would ‘Send” in your comment section – – 🙂

    Alas – all I can say, is I, just today, received through library loan, the Thomas Covenant book – – and so – hope I’m up to conversing with you well enough, at least in one of your loves – although – I see the ‘saint/sinner’ etc. (me thinks in Henry the VIII, Elizabeth I – love the moxy of Victoria – working my way up to 20th century – alas – still trying to make sense of the chaos for everyday folks in the long-ago early days – which is why I want to vist Shrewsbury – perhaps – if I walk the space where Ellis Peters chose to place Brother Cadfael – I can truly connect with not only it – but also with those who call it home – now…cuz it means something to them – though, last I knew – Maud and Stephen aren’t ruining all the farmland by their ideas about how to win the crown – – 🙂

    Here – in US? I learned about Magna Carta in 3rd grade – BUT this current election year, you’d think the US invented the concept – – LOL – and so many election years before – – ah….We cannot escape history – we can only acknowledge and accept it (at the least) or acknowledge it and say, “We can do better -”

    I’m so tired of folks thinking we can’t ever ‘do better’ as a species – – LOL –


    • Sue Vincent says:

      We’re not as divorced from history as we’d like to think. Both good and bad.
      We were given Dickens to read in school…and to dissect and ponder over by one of thos teachers who waned to know why the author had chosen each word, not why he’d written them as a whole. I hated Dickens for years….and lost a huge part of literary heritage because of it. Such simple things change the way we see the world.

      Liked by 1 person

      • TamrahJo says:

        I hear ya! 🙂 Trying to dissect Dicken’s, by word, is useless – cuz, me thinks, he like moi – why use one word when you can use 73? LOL BUT, if ever you read one Dicken’s work, hope you choose Chuzzlewitz – it makes fun of human nature, the Old Country (England) and the New (America) all at one time – it’s deliciously sarcastic on so many fronts – – all with 73 words of prose where 1 word would have conveyed the thought – of course – – LOL


  2. I’m one of those people who think the tree falling in the forest makes a noise whether or not we are there to hear it. Humans are not the only inhabitants of planet earth. I think if we weren’t here, another species would take our place. Eventually. Maybe they’d be better custodians of the planet than we have been. They could hardly be worse.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. KL Caley says:

    Such a beautiful and thought-provoking article Sue! I enjoyed it. KL ❤


  4. Fascinating post. One overriding thought is that roots are vital and whether we’re royal or not, the more we know about our past, the healthier we are. I have also always been riveted by the physical resemblances that criss-cross generations. To be told I look like my great-great grandmother links me to this unknown women in ways I’m not sure I can describe. One could say it gives me a feeling of solidity, that I’m meant to be on this earth and am tied to the physical past and present, If that makes sense!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. vronlacroix says:

    There is much truth in your writing I suspect. Only a few days ago, we spoke of exactly the same thing. No conclusions, but a feeling or hope, that (genes) of knowledge and emotion, as well as physical attributes are passed along.


  6. you make philosophers jealous


  7. BunKaryudo says:

    I’m afraid, as with most people, my family history is a mystery once I get back beyond my great grandparents. I can’t imagine what it would be like to know about all my ancestors going back hundreds of years. It might be a little embarrassing in some cases if they had been up to no good.


  8. Éilis Niamh says:

    Very compelling post, Sue. I agree, some of those findings about our genetic possibilities are disturbing, and I’m fascinated by your thoughts about the royal family and our usual response to those gone before us. I do honor many of my ancestors, though admittedly there are thousands and thousands of them who I have never met and never will know anything about. They are not familiar to me, but certainly they would be real people even without anyone’s memory of them. 🙂 I am blessed to be able to look into the eyes of at least a few of my ancestors every day, and there is no question of me one day returning home and joining them, regardless of how much youth and longevity we can acquire as a species. And anyway, I find myself always longing to be older, not younger. The weight of inexperience lessens with passing in the world, which I am grateful for.


    • Sue Vincent says:

      I am watching the evolving study of genetics with fascination, waiting to see where it will lead. The medical possibilities are incredible, but I wonder whether human greed will lead us down other routes.
      I hear you on the ‘weight of inexperience’… a great phrase. I am much happier now I am older, I have to say. There would be no question of me wanting to live forever though… nothing physical in this world should be free of the cycles of nature.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Ali Isaac says:

    I would love to know more about my distant relatives, but there is no one left to ask. The generations in between me and them didn’t feel it necessary, and so I have very little to go on. So sad. I feel like they deserve to be remembered, not in a ‘go to their graveside and place flowers once in a while’ type of way, but to know what they were like, how they lived their lives, to know them as real people. I know the mythical characters of Ireland better than my own family! I think that’s a shame.


    • Sue Vincent says:

      It is a common scenario, unfortunately. I was lucky enough to know almost all my great-grandparents and heard many a tale of earlier days. I didn’t realise at the time what a privilege that was.

      Liked by 1 person

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