New DNA study ‘confirms 99.999%’ that Leicester skeleton is Richard III

New genealogical research proves “beyond reasonable doubt” that the remains discovered underneath a Leicester car park in 2012 are those of the last Plantagenet king, Richard III

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According to a team of researchers at the University of Leicester, the latest analysis of all available evidence “confirms identity of King Richard III to the point of 99.999 per cent at its most conservative”.

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The researchers collected DNA from living relatives of Richard III and analysed several genetic markers, including the complete mitochondrial genomes, inherited through the maternal line, and Y-chromosomal markers, inherited through the paternal line, from both the skeletal remains and the living relatives. The mitochondrial genome shows a genetic match between the skeleton and the maternal line relatives.

The findings are today published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications.

From the genetic markers, researchers also concluded that Richard was blue-eyed and probably had blonde hair, at least during his childhood. This means the portrait that most accurately depicts the former king is the Arched-Frame Portrait in the Society of Antiquaries – one of the earliest portraits of him that survived.

Dr Turi King from the University of Leicester Department of Genetics, who led the research team, said: “Our paper covers all the genetic and genealogical analysis involved in the identification of the remains of Skeleton 1 from the Greyfriars site in Leicester and is the first to draw together all the strands of evidence to come to a conclusion about the identity of those remains.

“Even with our highly conservative analysis, the evidence is overwhelming that these are indeed the remains of King Richard III, thereby closing an over 500 year old missing person’s case.”

Richard III expert Chris Skidmore told History Extra: “This confirmation that the Leicester skeleton really is that of Richard III is very welcome, and provides us with the proof beyond any reasonable doubt of the identity of the remains.

“The new revelations concerning Richard’s appearance demonstrates the value of this kind of scientific research, and I hope that this pioneering work can be extended to investigate the DNA of other monarchs, such as Richard’s brother, Edward IV, and ultimately may be one day used to reveal the identity of the supposed remains of the ‘Princes in the Tower’ held in Westminster Abbey.”

Historian and journalist Dan Jones told History Extra: “Richard’s bones are still yielding fascinating new information about his life and death, even two years after they were unearthed. I don’t think many people were quibbling the fact that the skeleton found in 2012 was Richard’s – but if they were, then this latest report sets the matter to rest. The evidence about his eyes and hair colour is intriguing, although I’m afraid they’ll have to change the facial reconstruction that was commissioned last year, showing Richard with dark hair and brown eyes.

“Of course, none of this new evidence gets us any closer to solving the real mysteries of Richard’s reign – who killed the Princes in the Tower, what Richard was really thinking when he usurped the throne, and so on. We’ll have to wait for someone to dig up his diaries before we can work those out…

“But it’s still been an astonishing project, and a real credit to the team at the University of Leicester and their colleagues of many disciplines – historians, genealogists, scientists, statisticians and all – who have contributed to this project from all over the world.

“But this also raises the question: is there a case for exhuming and analysing other eminent (or infamous) skeletons? It is rather paradoxical that in a relatively secular age, where we are better equipped to study historical remains than ever before, we are so squeamish and prissy about meddling with the dead.

“Wouldn’t we like to have a look inside that urn in Westminster Abbey containing the supposed remains of the princes in the Tower? Or to stick a camera inside Elizabeth I’s tomb? In the 18th century tomb-raiding was all the rage. It is such a shame that it has gone out of ethical fashion at a time when we would be better equipped than ever to glean new information from these long-dead bones.”

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The findings have, however, been called into question by leading historian Michael Hicks, the recently retired head of history at the University of Winchester. Hicks told History Extra the latest research “tells us that the two modern relatives share the same mitochondrial DNA as the bones, not that the bones belong to Richard III.”