DNA Tests Uncover Evidence Of Infidelity In Royal Family Tree

University of Leicester
Janet Fang 26 Mar 2015, 21:48

At last, King Richard III of England has been reburied in Leicester Cathedral this week. And at the same time, researchers have announced even more evidence of infidelity that could potentially shake up his royal family tree. 

Richard III, the last Plantagenet king, died at the age of 32 at the Battle of Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485. But it wasn’t until in 2012 when his skeletal remains were discovered under a parking lot on a former friary site in Leicester. This past December, a genetic analysis with DNA samples from his living descendants confirmed with 99.999 certainty that the remains do, in fact, belong to the much maligned monarch. And according to a blow-by-blow account created using CT imaging of his bones, the last king of England to die in battle went down fighting -- sustaining at least 11 wounds, nine of which were to his skull. 

That genetic analysis, published in Nature Communications last year, also hinted at infidelity in his royal family tree. Mitochondrial DNA (inherited from the mother) was a match between the skeleton and two descendants of Richard III’s older sister, Anne of York. The Y-chromosomal markers in the male relatives, however, do not match: The male line of descent was broken at one or more points between Richard III and five living male-line relatives descended from Henry Somerset, 5th Duke of Beaufort, who died in 1803. The Beauforts were descended from Edward III, Richard’s great-great-grandfather who died in 1377.

“The break in the Y-chromosome line is not overly surprising given the incidence of non-paternity, but does pose interesting speculative questions over succession as a result,” University of Leicester’s Kevin Schürer said at the time. "We may have solved one historical puzzle, but in so doing, we opened up a whole new one," Schürer told BBC. The false paternity could have occurred anywhere between Richard III and Henry Somerset.

Well, the plot thickens. University of Leicester’s Turi King, the lead author of the 2014 genetic study, has been analyzing a sample of DNA from Patrice de Warren -- who says he’s a male-line descendant of Geoffrey Plantagenet, the Count of Anjou, who died in 1151. If de Warren's Y chromosome matches that of Richard III, that means the adulterous act occurred between Edward III and Henry Somerset. If de Warren's Y chromosome matches Henry Somerset’s, the affair occurred between Edward III and Richard III. 

“As it happens, it’s revealed that another false paternity seems to have occurred in the tree as his Y chromosome type doesn’t match either of them!” King says in a news release. “The hunt continues, and another mystery has arisen!”

King announced these findings this week at the Science Museum in London, which is opening a new exhibit on Richard III. 

Images: University of Leicester

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