Diana and Yvonne had been friends since university. They meet once a year to catch up, but last week their meeting was different. Diana had just come back from a brief stay in Moscow where her life had been turned upside down. She went there to be immersed in the language and, in passing, to probe into her family tree. Now back in London, she needed to talk things over.

Diana, had just retired and now lived alone. At school she had two passions – history and languages. Even then she was infatuated by the Tudors and had adopted Elizabeth I as her heroine. Her red hair, slight frame and rather boyish looks often led friends and colleagues to say how she looked eerily like Elizabeth I, and the Elizabethan traits appeared to be inherited – a family portrait of her great grandmother showed a similarly uncanny likeness.

Diana’s language interest related primarily to Russian, so taking Russian at A-level had been a natural step. As she got close to retirement this interest was rekindled. She was determined to curl up once again with Dostoevsky or Turgenev in their original text. For this, however, she would have to regain her A-level fluency, a goal she planned to achieve through fourteen days’ immersion in a Moscow language school.

In addition to satisfying her linguistic needs, she hoped that her Moscow trip would satisfy a second objective.  Her fascination with Russian had an underlying family dimension. Her paternal grandfather, a certain Sergei, had fled to England from Russia in the early 1900s, and family rumours told how he had been an aristocrat directly descended from Ivan the Terrible.

Whatever Diana wanted to discuss over lunch, Yvonne was the obvious confidant. Although their career paths were very different, with Yvonne reading molecular biology at a University and then researching into in vitro fertilisation as a career, as friends they had clicked from the start. They had the same attitudes towards work, liked the same books, had similar political views and, more importantly, listened and chatted to each other with ease.

From Diana’s comportment alone, Yvonne could sense that the effect of the Moscow trip had indeed been profound. Gone were her hunched shoulders, drab outfit and modest demeanour, now she bubbled away and looked almost boastful, close to radiant. Yvonne realised that on this occasion it would be her turn to do the listening.

Diana had heard that sections of Russia’s FSS and FIS (successors to the old KGB) ran a highly sophisticated, gene sequencing, research data bank linked to state-of-the-art, DNA-mapping computer software. The Agency’s function was primarily directed at aiding the military and supporting counter-terrorism and the prosecution service. However, for a fee, it offered members of the public help with tracing relatives ‘living or dead’. To find out if, through grandpa Sergei, she was indeed related to Ivan required her to send a sample of her hair (with roots), scrapings from the inside of her mouth, $3000 in notes and a multitude of forms completed in Russian longhand. All were duly sent over in advance.

On Day One of her Moscow trip Diana went to the Agency to confirm her identity and to give a blood sample. On Day Thirteen, she went for the results. She knew then that something important had been found; why else would her meeting be with the Agency’s director? Tall and thin, and speaking worryingly good English, he told her that the analysis showed that she was, without question, descended from Ivan. In fact, the closeness of the genetic match was exceptional.

That was momentous enough, but, unannounced, the Agency had undertaken additional research. By intercepting and reading her emails, the agency had verified her authenticity and had also discovered her likeness to Elizabeth I. This apparent similarity was not missed by the Agency who had just sequenced the DNA of Elizabeth I using cell samples  – dandruff – found on one of the Queen’s recently discovered silk dresses. Seeing an opportunity, the director had taken it upon himself to investigate whether the DNA of Diana and Elizabeth I matched and, amazingly, they did. So, not only was Diana descended from Ivan the Terrible, she was,  almost certainly, a descendent of her heroine queen.

But there was a problem. Any historian will tell you that Elizabeth I was childless, and therefore that the Agency’s conclusion seemed unsustainable. However, Russian history books tell a different story. Ivan the Terrible was, along with Philip II of Spain, a suitor of Elizabeth I. While no marriage took place, after much clandestine negotiation coupled with a sizeable contribution from Ivan to the royal coffers, Elizabeth and Ivan had at a one-night tryst on a royal barge anchored off Dover. The product, or so the Russians believe, was a boy who was subsequently brought up in Richmond Palace by a certain Anne Vavasour, one of the Queen’s Ladies in Waiting. This royal bastard son lived into his late fifties, siring children galore along the way.

It was now obvious why Diana was so keen to tell someone about her Russian adventure. But when she added other elements, Yvonne pricked up her ears. Before Diana left for Moscow, she saw her future as bleak. Since returning, not only did she feel fortified by being so much more at ease with the Cyrillic alphabet, but she also felt strengthened by discovering the richness of her new-found past.

But with all this there came a dilemma. Her gene pattern was of such significance that the head of the Agency had invited her back, all expenses paid, so that they could take further samples ‘for research’. Diana was keen to go.  Yvonne was more reticent and knowing the reputation of the Agency the word ‘cloning’ came into her mind.

But such discussion was for another meal.

 


Illustration:The “Darnley Portrait” of Elizabeth I  (National Portrait Gallery)

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