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A surprise discovery in the DNA of Richard III



<![CDATA[After his defeat at the Battle of Bosworth Field, the body of King Richard III was hastily and unceremoniously buried in an unmarked grave in Greyfriars. Ever since the friary was demolished in the 16th century, intrigue surrounded the final resting place of King Richard III. That was, until his skeleton was discovered buried under a parking lot in Leicester in 2012. Now, it turns out that the remains of the much maligned Plantagenet ruler may reveal more about the English Monarchy than anyone had bargained for.
richard the 3rd


After studying the genetic material from the body, scientists have discovered evidence of infidelity in the Royal Family tree. Depending on where the break in the family tree occurred, a fact which is yet to come to light, this question of infidelity could cast aspersions on Richard’s claim to the throne – or, in fact, the claim of the Tudor line.
As Professor Kevin Schurer of the University of Leicester put it: “We may have solved one historical puzzle, but in so doing, we opened up a whole new one.”
After King Richard III’s skeleton was excavated two years ago, scientists extracted genetic material from the King’s remains. These genes were compared with those of Wendy Duldig and Michael Ibsen, two living descendants of Richard’s oldest sister, Anne of York. And while dead ruler’s maternal DNA matched perfectly with those of Wendy and Michael, genetic matter passed down from the male side did not.
When Richard III’s DNA was compared with that of the descendants Henry Somerset, the 5th Duke of Beaufort, a discrepancy was found. Male heirs of the Duke of Beaufort were found to carry a fairly common Y chromosome, unlike King Richard, who possessed an extremely rare chromosome. This only means that the infidelity could have occurred either in the line between Richard and his ancestor, King Edward III, or in the Beaufort line.
According to Dr Turi King, the revelations of female infidelity are far from shocking. Her previous research has shown that there was a 1-2% rate of “false paternity” per generation. She believes that the instance of unfaithfulness occurred somewhere in the generations that came between Richard III and the Duke of Beaufort, who lived from 1744 to 1803.
However, the implications of this discovery on the present Royal Family are less than severe. As King Richard died without an heir (His young son, Edward, predeceased him by a year) this possibility of infidelity plays no part in the current Monarch’s claim to the throne.
Queen Elizabeth II is directly descended from Richard’s niece, Elizabeth of York, and her husband, King Henry VII  (the great-grandson of John of Gaunt), who both had a claim to the English throne as descendants of King Edward III – between them, they were descended from 3 of King Edward’s 5 sons. Besides, by defeating the reigning King in battle, King Henry won the throne for himself and his heirs by the right of conquest.
In fact, if the Plantagenet family tree is closely studied, it can be seen that infidelity in the female line would not diminish even King Richard’s claim to the throne, as both his mother and his paternal grandmother were descended from King Edward.
This is not the first time that accusations of unfaithfulness have been made against noble women from the Middle Ages. It was rumoured that John of Gaunt, the third son of King Edward III, from whom Henry Tudor derived his claim, was really the son of a Flemish butcher, while questions were raised about the paternity of Richard’s own brother, King Edward IV.
In addition to the controversial declaration of infidelity, the study also revealed something about the King Richard’s appearance. The genes that concern hair and eye colour were also tested, revealing that Richard III had blue eyes and blond hair. However, that information doesn’t quite match what we know about Richard from his portrait, where he is depicted as having dark hair. It has been suggested that, as a child, he had light hair, which darkened as he grew older.
The full study has been published in the Nature Communications journal.
Photo credit: lisby1 via photopin cc
 
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