Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Exciting Richard III News!

Today I read an article that I found very interesting and exciting, especially as a 16th century historian. Despite the absence of a male-line genetic match, DNA results came back with a 99.999% probability that the body found in a Leicester carpark several years ago was that of the Plantagenet king, Richard III. Secondly, the break in the male line is evidence of infidelity in his family tree. This could have profound historical implications, depending on where in the family tree it occurred, as it could cast doubt on the Tudor claim to the English throne or, indeed, on Richard's. Some are even questioning if the findings have an impact on the current Royal Family's legitimacy, but this cannot be commented on as it is still unknown when the break, or breaks, in the lineage occurred.

In 2012, scientists extracted genetic material from the remains discovered on the former site of Greyfriars Abbey, where Richard was buried after his death in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Their analysis shows that DNA passed down on the maternal side matches that of living relatives, but genetic information passed down on the male side does not. Given the amount of additional evidence linking the body to Richard III, scientists have concluded that infidelity is the most likely explanation for this break. For example, the curvature in the skeleton's spine matches contemporary descriptions of  Richard having one shoulder higher than the other. Genes involved in hair and eye colour also suggest that Richard III had blue eyes, matching one of the earliest known paintings of the king. However, the hair colour analysis gave a 77% probability that the individual was blond, which does not match the depiction. But the researchers say the test is most closely correlated with childhood hair, and in some blond children, hair darkens during adolescence."If you put all the data together, the evidence is overwhelming that these are the remains of Richard III," said Dr Turi King from Leicester University, who led the study. She said that the lack of a match on the male side was not unexpected, because her previous research had shown there was a 1-2% rate of "false paternity" per generation. The instance of female infidelity could have occurred anywhere in the generations that separate Richard III from the 5th Duke of Beaufort (1744-1803), whose living descendants provided samples of male-line DNA to be compared against that of the Plantagenet king.

"We may have solved one historical puzzle, but in so doing, we opened up a whole new one” said Professor Kevin Schurer of the University of Leicester.

Richard III and Henry Tudor (later Henry VII), were both descendants of King Edward III. The infidelity could, in theory, have occurred either on the branch leading back from Henry to Edward or on the branch leading from Richard to Edward. Henry's ancestor John of Gaunt was plagued by rumours of illegitimacy throughout his life, apparently prompted by the absence of Edward III at his birth. He was reportedly enraged by gossip suggesting he was the son of a Flemish butcher. "Hypothetically speaking, if John of Gaunt wasn't Edward III's son, it would have meant that (his son) Henry IV had no legitimate claim to the throne, nor Henry V, nor Henry VI," said Dr Schurer.

Richard's maternal-line - or mitochondrial - DNA was matched to two living relatives of his eldest sister Anne of York. Michael Ibsen and Wendy Duldig are 14th cousins and both carry the same extremely rare genetic lineage as the body in the car park.

Richard III was defeated in battle by Henry Tudor, marking the end of the Plantagenet dynasty and the beginning of Tudor rule, which lasted until Queen Elizabeth I died childless in 1603. Richard's battered body was subsequently buried in Greyfriars. 

source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-30281333