Richard III’s DNA

   Posted by: Dorothea Preis   in News, Research

The results of the DNA analysis of the remains found in Leicester in 2012 has been published, amid some quite sensationalist headlines. So what does the research actually show?

The remains were with 99.999% certainty those of Richard III. This was shown by a match of the mitochondrial DNA between Richard III and modern female-line relatives, Michael Ibsen and Wendy Duldig. This is a confirmation of what was already stated at the unforgettable press conference on 3 February 2013. The only addition is the name of the second female-line descendent, who had wished to remain anonymous.

The second finding was more of a surprise. Based on the (posthumous) portraits of Richard III extant, we had the pre-conceived idea that he was dark haired and had dark eyes, the dark one among the here brothers. However, his DNA showed that with a probability of 96% he had blue eyes and with 77% probability blond hair, although this might have darkened during adolescence. The researchers suggest that the Society of Antiquaries portrait probably best reflects Richard’s adult colouring.

The third finding, which caused all the media interest, is that the male line of descent is broken at one or more points in the line between Richard III and living male-line relatives descended from Henry Somerset, 5th Duke of Beaufort (1744-1803). These modern day descendants of Henry Somerset and Richard III share a common ancestry in Edward III, Richard’s great-great-grandfather (1312-1377). The Beaufort line is assumed to be descended from Edward III’s son John of Gaunt, while Richard is descended from Edmund, duke of York. This ‘false-paternity event’, i.e. where the father is not in fact the assumed father, could have happened in any of the 19 generations, which separate Richard III from Henry Beaufort, though it is not known when in all the time since Edward III.

A lot has been made by the media of this last finding, however, as there are so many possibilities where someone was unfaithful, most of these are completely over the top. My thoughtful daughter brought me yesterday an article from MX News, a free daily paper available to commuters with the headline: “Doubtful Heritage: Richard III a bastard if a king”. The present evidence does not suggest any evidence that Richard himself was a bastard, at least where his paternity is concerned (though I also doubt he was a bastard in a figurative sense). Fortunately the article itself keeps to the actual facts.

However, apart from the headline grabbing news about the false-paternity event, the analysis allows us insight into the prehistoric origins of Richard’s family. The male line of the Planatagenets are recorded back to Hugues, Count of Perche (documented in 1028) in northern France. Richard’s genes show that his male ancestor migrated with the first farmers from the Near East and Anatolia (modern Turkey) to Europe about 8000 years ago. They quickly spread along the Mediterranean and into Central Europe and France by 5500BC

(This post has been updated on 5 December 2014 as further information became public.)


King, T.E. et al. 2014 ‘Identification of the remains of King Richard III’, Natural Communications 5, Article number: 5631 (2 December 2014). URL: http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2014/141202/ncomms6631/full/ncomms6631.html Date accessed: 3 December 2014

‘King Richard III: DNA and genealogical study confirms identity of remains found in Leicester and uncovers new truths about his appearance and Plantagenet lineage’, University of Leicester – Press Office (2 December 2014). URL: http://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/press/press-releases/2014/december/king-richard-iii-dna-and-genealogical-study-confirms-identity-of-remains-found-in-leicester-and-uncovers-new-truths-about-his-appearance-and-plantagenet-lineage Date accessed: 3 December 2014

‘King Richard III Identity: Case closed after 529 years!’, ULAS News (3 December 2014). URL: http://ulasnews.wordpress.com/2014/12/03/king-richard-iii-identity-case-closed-after-529-years/ Date accessed: 4 December 2014

‘Richard III – case closed after 529 years’, University of Cambridge (2 December 2014).  URL:  http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/richard-iii-case-closed-after-529-years  Date accessed:  5 December 2014)

‘Doubtful Heritage: Richard III a bastard if a king’, MX News (3 December 2014), p.9

You might also be interested in Matt Lewis’ analysis of the findings: ‘Richard III’s Remains Rumble On’, Matt’s History Blog (3 December 2014). URL: http://mattlewisauthor.wordpress.com/2014/12/03/richard-iiis-remains-rumble-on/ Date accessed: 4 December 2014


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This entry was posted on Thursday, December 4th, 2014 at 19:05 and is filed under News, Research. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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