Thoughts on the Y-DNA of Richard III

Richard IIII wrote in American Ancestors last year about the fascinating discovery of the remains of King Richard III in a Leicestershire parking lot, and the use of mtDNA via matrilineal relatives over many generations to get a positive match. Now, in another twist to this story, comes the publication of Richard III’s Y-DNA results, published in Nature on 2 December 2014 – a second and more detailed genealogical chart appears in the Telegraph.

The gist of the story regarding the Y-DNA is that Richard III [haplogroup G-P287] did not share the same Y-DNA as four of the five documented descendants of Henry Somerset, 5th Duke of Beaufort [haplogroup R1b-U152], descended from Richard’s great-great-grandfather King Edward III (1312­–1377), with some commentary on how this could affect claims to the crown during the War of the Roses.

Solid conclusions from this Y-DNA report:

1) Richard III, King of England (1452–1485) has the Y-DNA of G-P287 (based on his human remains);

2) Henry Somerset, 5th Duke of Beaufort (1744–1803) has the Y-DNA of R1b-U152 (based on the Y-DNA of four of his five documented male line descendants through two different sons); and, thus,

3) The 5th Duke of Beaufort and King Richard III cannot be patrilineally related, as the paper evidence would indicate.

Where the break could have occurred:

There are 16 generations between the 5th Duke of Beaufort and Edward III, and five generations between Richard III and Edward III. There are four opportunities between Richard III and Edward III for a false-paternity event, and fifteen between Edward III and the Duke of Beaufort, for a total of nineteen possibilities for a false-paternity event. (For the generation of John of Gaunt and Edmund of Langley, sons of Edward III, there are two opportunities, as one son could have been by Edward III, and one not.) In terms of how any of this could have affected royal succession during the Wars of the Roses with either the House of Lancaster or House of York making claims to the throne, only five of these instances are germane: those generations between the sons of Edward III and Richard III –and (to a degree) Henry VII.

It is important to keep in mind that, as much as claims to the English throne relied on inheritance through the male or female lines of the “Plantagenet” royal family, for much of this period the throne was claimed by right of conquest: possession meant far more than blood. Still, considering the genealogical implications of this new discovery for the English royal family of the medieval period, there are not a whole lot of other avenues for finding male line descendants to compare with Richard III.

The Somerset family are the only surviving male line descendants of King Edward III. As my genealogical research indicates, there may only be only one other generation between the 5th Duke of Beaufort and John of Gaunt for other male line descendants to be found, and that is with Henry Somerset, 1st Marquess of Worcester (1577–1646), who had nine sons, some of whom may have left surviving male-line descendants. This Henry is nine generations after John of Gaunt and seven generations before the 5th Duke of Beaufort. Other than this one other possibility, there are no other surviving male-line descendants of Edward III to be tested (and I’m not absolutely sure other male-line descendants of this Lord Worcester exist). Say descendants through a younger son of the 1st Marquess of Worcester can be found and tested, the options are:

1) They could have the same Y-DNA as Richard III (thus the break occurred between the 1st Marquess of Worcester and his descendant, the 5th Duke of Beaufort, and nothing regarding the lineage of the York and Lancaster kings is affected);

2) They could have the same Y-DNA as the descendants of the 5th Duke of Beaufort (thus the break occurred between Lord Worcester and Richard III, at any of the thirteen opportunities indicated above, with only five instances potentially affecting the claims of the York and Lancaster kings); or

3) They could have a completely different Y-DNA, thus introducing at least one other false-paternity event at some other undetermined point.

Henry III
Henry III

Going further back in the patrilineal ancestry of Edward III, another option possibly exists in testing the Y-DNA of the Cornewalls. These are the male line descendants of the younger brother of King Henry III (1207–1272), the great-grandfather of Edward III. The younger brother, Richard, Earl of Cornwall and “King of the Romans” (1209–1272), had surviving patrilineal descendants living in the early twentieth century through his two illegitimate sons, Richard and Walter de Cornwall. These descendants were published in the 1908 genealogy The House of Cornewall by the 4th Earl of Liverpool and Compton Reade. Say male-line descendants alive today of Richard, Earl of Cornwall, are found and tested, there are possible outcomes:

1) They could have the same Y-DNA[1] as Richard III[2];

2) They could have the same Y-DNA as the descendants of the 5th Duke of Beaufort[3]; or

3) They could have a completely different Y-DNA, thus introducing at least one other false-paternity occurring at some other undetermined point.

The other remaining option, which seems unlikely, would involve the exhumation of some king closely related in the male line to King Richard III. The kings that are candidates for this would be: Henry II, Richard I, John, Henry III, Edward I, Edward II, Edward III, Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI, and Edward IV.[4]

In conclusion, I think it’s incorrect to say these DNA results seriously affect the claims of the House of York, Lancaster, Tudor or the current royal family. (Remember, the current rights of succession have to do with descent from Sophia, Electress of Hanover [1630–1714], and would not be affected by her ancestry.) While the patrilineal ancestry of six kings during this period may be in question, the overwhelming majority of potential false-paternity events would have occurred after 1500, and so can have nothing to do with Richard III’s ancestry – and, in fact, putting the question in those terms reveals how speculative the whole subject remains.

Notes

[1] It should be pointed out the claim of the House of York related to their descent, through females, from Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence (the second son of Edward III). Their patrilineal descent from Edmund of Langley, Duke of York, herein discussed, is relevant with regard to their male-line ancestry, but not so much with their claim to the throne.

[2] The break occurred between Edward III [only through his son John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, ancestor of the Worcesters and Beauforts] and the 5th Duke of Beaufort, at any of the fifteen opportunities, with only one of these fifteen opportunities affecting the claims of the House of Lancaster (and two regarding the ancestry of Henry VII), and none affecting the lineage of the House of York.

[3] The break occurred between Edward III [only through his son Edmund of Langley] and Richard III, thus allowing for only four opportunities of a false paternity event, all affecting the lineage of the House of York (the last one only affecting Richard III if Edward IV and Richard III had different fathers), and confirming the ancestry of the Houses of Lancaster and Tudor (through Henry VII’s mother Lady Margaret Beaufort, the heiress of John of Gaunt).

[4] The remains of the uncrowned Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York, would also be useful, if their location is ever found.

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About Christopher C. Child

Chris Child has worked for various departments at NEHGS since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

25 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Y-DNA of Richard III

  1. Love this! I am one of those researchers who delights in black sheep, etc.

    There is a similar scandal in my extended ancestry. Thanks to the DNA testing, it was determined that of (as I recall) three sons and their descendants, two of the sons matched and the third did not. He actually matched the DNA of the next door neighbor.

  2. The circumstances of finding and identifying the remains of Richard III are amazing enough (really, the body was found under the precise location of the mysterious painted “R” on the parking lot surface?). But isn’t this DNA research the silver lining of the dark way that the brave King’s body was disrespectfully dumped into his grave? What an opportunity! It is inconceivable that the remains of other British monarchs will ever be exhumed for DNA testing. Fortunately, no authority had the chance to deny permission to test Richard’s body. His enemies disposed of him in order that he be forgotten, but here he is, the subject of worldwide speculation centuries later. The irony is fascinating!

    1. When I visited the car park about a decade ago, I did not see an “R” on the parking lot surface. I did see a plague on the wall commemorating him. Can you even imagine the “law of probability” on his really being there! You should have seen my husband’s eyes roll when he took me there.

      It would seem more reasonable that the break in the line would not be on the mtDna (matrilineal) line. Really when women of that time had ladies maids, a rockstar entourage and all the other hangers-on, when was she going to have opportunities to misbehave.

      The break logically had to be on the Y (patrilineal) side somewhere. The nature of the beast, and all that. LOL

  3. Thank you for posting this! I have been wondering how to explain it to people. And I agree with Candy about they wanted him forgotten and look what has happened. I find it all incredibly fascinating! Your book was part of the reason I decided to do charts for family. I’ve done a few for myself for working on a line…..my goal is to get it ALL down on paper. It helps to see it in front of you. I just did the Edward III and Phillippe chart (9 generation). I’m working on Philip Stapleton one’s. So, so true that’s a lot of years and a lot people. Anytime you have that many….

  4. Help me here. I thought the remains of the princes in the tower had been found in the last 10 years or so, and were in preserved in Westminister Abbey, or am I having a senior moment?

    1. Caith, the remains of the “Princes in the Tower” were found in 1674, during construction under a staircase in the Tower of London, and buried as such in Westminster Abbey. Given the primitive CSI capabilities of that period, it’s very possible they are the Princes; given the great antiquity of the site, it’s also very possible they’re not. Limited testing was done on the bones in the 1930s (before the discovery of DNA) but my understanding is that the likelihood of their being exhumed for further testing, even if minimally invasive, is very low.

      1. Hi Caith & Julie – Yes there is now new interest in DNA analysis on the bones, but any removal of a royal tomb would need to the permission of the Queen, which she has so far not granted. there is also second possible burial site of the princes at Windsor Castle, where in 1789, workmen discovered an adjoining vault next to the tombs of Edward IV & Elizabeth Woodville, with the tombs inscribed as George, 1st Duke of Bedford (died at age 2), and Mary of York (died at age 14) two of their children who had predeceased them, however the coffins themselves were not identified; however later two lead coffins were found in 1810-1813 clearly identified clearly as George Plantagenet and Mary Plantagenet, leading to speculation as to who were the bodies in the unidentified coffins, however no DNA testing has been done on the bodies in those coffins either

      2. As I recall, given the ages the boys were at the time of their supposed time of death (if we’re supposing 1483 rather than post-1485), their skeletons would be pre-pubescent and indistinguishable from those of girls.

  5. Chris, your work here is positively brilliant – so logical and well thought out. Many kudos to you for your fine analysis of all possible combinations and scenarios. Utterly fascinating – As an “R1b” soul myself I look forward to seeing where all of this might go. As you say, none of this really has any effect on the current Royal Family, but indeed it does tend to rewrite history for many of the houses – long live the Plantagenets!!

    Best regards,

    J. Record

  6. A couple of thoughts occur to me. First of all, between John of Gaunt and the Duke of Beaufort are two illegitamacies- it seems likely places for mistakes in paternity. Also I remember reading that more or less contemporary to them, both John of Gaunt and Richard the Third were said to not be the child of Edward III and Richard Duke of York respectively. It is likely that those were just meant to be insults (or in the case of Richard III to cast doubt on his right to reign), but maybe there is no smoke without fire.

  7. Unfortunately, with that many generations between the time of Edward III and now I would assume that there would definitely be instances of false-paternity. Current rates pf false paternity are anywhere from .2% to 4% on average. Can you imagine what those rates might have been hundreds of years ago when marriages were based on land, politics, and power? To me, this news about Richard III is not surprising. However, maybe the next king on the throne will allow a brief exhumation in the not too distant future.

  8. I HAVE heard it rumored that Edward IV was not the son of Richard, Duke of York, but have never heard it rumored that Richard III was not the son of Richard, Duke of York.

  9. Chris, I keep coming back to your essay. I’ve been fascinated with Yorkists since I was a kid (even though any descendant of Dr. Richard Palgrave is also related to Sir William Brandon, Henry Tudor’s standard bearer at Bosworth and the last man Richard III struck down before he was himself killed.)

    “Foundations” carried an article a few years back suggesting a non-paternity event for Edward IV (citing, among other things, his hasty, rather informal baptism at Rouen in 1442 vs. the grand affair laid on for brother Edmund’s baptism a year later) but as I remember did not treat Richard III. The historical evidence always has to be read and sifted, and contemporary mud-slinging (from every side) has also to be factored in. And then some!

    I’ve been reading a biography of Harriet Spencer (1761-1821), Countess of Bessborough (sister of Georgiana), who had two extra children not by her husband but by a long-time lover who eventually married her namesake niece and lived happily ever after (raising even from this jaded reader an “oh my”). Given such a milieu I suspect the non-paternity event appears in the later generations of which there are many. (The late Dr. Tom Roderick used “non-paternity” rather than the loaded “false paternity.”)

    Again, thank you for this article!

    1. Considering that Edward IV’s mother, Cecily Neville (Proud Sis) was considered to be practically a saint, how could anyone think otherwise of her……..

      The only slanderous words I have heard were the ones put forth by her son, George, Duke of Clarence and Richard Neville, The Kingmaker, in 1469 at which time they were intriguing and trying to wrest the crown from Ed IV, by saying he was illeg. It would appear this, and other things, got George “whacked”. No, he did not drown in a vat of maulsey wine. LOL

      Although I am a member of the Richard III Society, English Branch, I do not speak for them.

      Julie, please consider joining the organization, if you have an interest in the Yorks, Lancasters, and/or the Wars of the Roses. The literature they generate is very educational.

  10. More likely Edward IV was not the son of Richard Duke of York rather than Richard III. There was much talk that Edward was illegitimate, the son of an archer, conceived whilst the Duke of York was away at battle. He did not look like the Duke of York either, whereas Richard had a strong resemblance to him, both facially and in build (short, as was his brother George, whereas Edward was a strapping 6′ 4″.

  11. To add to my comment, I wonder if there are any growth disorders which would cause height discrepancies between siblings? It has been calculated that Richard III would have been 5’8″ if he hadn’t had the scoliosis. That makes a difference of 8 inches in height between him and Edward. Rather a lot.

  12. My thoughts are that Richard III was legitimately Plantaganet. The male line goes back to Hugues du Perche, coming from a place near Alençon, where the migrating Alans of Sarmatia settled within the Roman Empire in the 5th century. They then became part of the early Frankish military aristocracy. Their modern day descendants include the people of Ossetia, having the highest level of type G Y-DNA which is very rare in Britain. The genetic break more likely occurred in the Beaufort line. IMHO

  13. Anyone who knows their British history – especially during the War of the Roses – is that there were rumors at that time that held that Cecily Neville’s son Edward IV was an archer’s son named Blaybourne. Her husband, Richard of York, was supposedly 100 miles away fighting when she became pregnant. Would it not be possible that another of her son’s (RICHARD III) was also illegitimate? Now, we need other male line descendant DNA or exhumation to prove this but that will never happen.

    1. Yes, I had wondered about the paternity of Edward IV. I am a bit confused about it. If he was not the son of Richard of York, how would that affect this issue as it’s RIII’s Y-DNA in question?

      1. It’s more in the realm of if his mother had an adulterous relationship which produced one son then it is not out of the realm of possibility that she had more than one affair. However, I don’t think we will ever find the answer when we have no one we can compare it to.

        1. Might Edward III himself have been illegitimate? Consider that his father was reputed to be gay and that his mother, the so-call She-Wolf of France, later had an affair and, with Mortimer, seized power. Of course, this was long after Edward III was born, but this was obviously a dysfunctional family. (This isn’t a claim, btw, just something else to think about.)

          If we really want to know the Plantagenet Y, I’d say go straight to the source: the bones of Henry II.

          1. The Edward III idea would not explain the Richard / Somerset rift. Obviously, something else happened. But we certainly need to go much further back to find Y-DNA that is undeniably Plantagenet.

          2. Yes, go straight to the bones. Hopefully, in the future it will be more “fashionable” to do dna testing on the ole Royal bones. But, who is going to pay for all that digging and testing in terms of $s. I feel it is very important to revise and correct history. Now that is a real history lesson.

            Perhaps the next English King will do so, someone who is more forward thinking.

  14. It’s being done in France on the Dukes of Normandy–Richard I and Richard II, I think. Once completed, we’ll know something about The Conqueror’s genetic makeup. But that’s not the reason for the testing. A Danish research group wants to prove that Rollo was from Denmark, not Norway.

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