I had been so looking forward to the results of the DNA processing of King Richard the III. Richard was killed in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 and was reportedly buried in the “choir of the church” at the Greyfriars friary in Leicester. The friary was dissolved in 1538, following the orders of King Henry VIII who ordered all monasteries destroyed. The building was later destroyed, and over the years, the exact location of the cemetery was lost. In 2012, the friary location was found again, quite by accident and remains believed to be King Richard III were discovered buried under the car park, or what is known as a parking lot in the US.
Richard had a very distinctive trait – scoliosis to the point where his right shoulder was higher than his left. He was also described, at age 32, as a fine-boned hunchback with a withered arm and a limp. This, in addition to his slim build and his battle injuries led investigators to believe, and later confirm through mitochondrial DNA matching, that it was indeed Richard. At least they are 99% sure that it is Richard using archaeological, osteological and radiocarbon dating, in addition to DNA and good old genealogy.
Mitochondrial DNA testing was initially used to identify Richard the III by comparing his mitochondrial to that of current individuals matrilineally descended from his sister, Anne of York. That DNA was rare, and matched exactly in one case, and with only one difference in a second descendant, so either the skeleton is Richard or another individual who is matrilineally related. Fortunately, Richard’s mtDNA was quite unusual, with no other individuals matching in more than 26,000 other European sequences. The scientists estimated that the chances of a random match were about 1 in 10,000. The scientific team has utilized other evidence as well and feel certain that they have identified King Richard III himself.
King Richard III did not have any surviving descendants, so why was I so excited?
As it turns out, his Y DNA is representative of the Plantagenet family line which includes King Richard III’s great-great-great-great-grandfather, King Edward I, who is also my 19th great-grandfather, which would make King Richard III my 5th cousin, 16 times removed, I think. Maybe.
According to a paper released this week by Turi King, et al, “Identification of the remains of King Richard III”, it seems that there is a bit of a fly in the ointment. It’s no wonder this paper was in peer review forever. The authors knew that when it was released, it would be the shot heard round the world. For one thing, a tiny trivial matter, one of the possible outcomes could call into question the legitimacy of the current English monarchy. Only a detail for an American, but I’m thinking this is probably important to many people in England, especially those who think they should be the ruling monarch, and in particular, to the ruling monarch herself.
I wonder if Dr. Turi King rang up the Queen in advance with the news. I mean, what would you say to her??? How, exactly, would one begin that conversation? “Um, Your Highness, um, I think there has been a fox in the henhouse…”
In order to confirm the Y DNA line of King Richard III, his Y DNA was compared to that of another descendant of King Edward III, the great-grandson of my ancestor, Edward I. Edward III had two sons, Edmund, Duke of York from whom King Richard III descended and John of Gaunt, from whom the other Y DNA testers descend. Five male descendants of Henry Somerset were tested for comparison. Of those five, four matched each other, and one did not, indicating an NPE (nonparental event) or undocumented adoption in that line. The pedigree chart provided in the paper, below, shows the line of descent for both the Y and mitochondrial DNA participants.
Now, what we have is an uncertain situation. We know that Richard’s mitochondrial DNA matches that of his sister’s descendants, Michael Ibsen and Wendy Duldig, shown at right, above.
We know that the Y DNA of Richard does not match with the Y DNA of the Somerset line. We know that in the Somerset line, there were two illegitimate births, according to the paper, in the 13 generations between John of Gaunt and Henry Somerset, which were later legitimized. The first illegitimate birth is John Beaufort, the oldest illegitimate child of John of Gaunt and his mistress, Katherine Swynford, who later became John’s third wife. Katherine was previously married to a knight in the service of John of Gaunt, who is believed to have died, and was governess to John of Gaunt’s daughters.
The second illegitimate birth is Charles Somerset (1460-1526) who was the illegitimate son of Henry Beaufort and Joan Hill, about whom little is known.
The Somerset line proves to be downstream of haplogroup R1b-U152 (x L2, Z36, Z56, M160, M126 and Z192) with STR markers confirming their relationship to each other. King Richard III’s haplogroup is G-P287.
In this case, we don’t even need to scrutinize the STR markers, because the haplogroups don’t match, as you can see, above, in a haplotree provided in the paper.
The paper goes on to say that given a conservative false paternity rate of between 1 and 2% per generation, that there is a 16% probability of a false paternity in the number of generations separating King Richard III and the Somerset men.
What does this really mean?
According to the paper:
“One can speculate that a false-paternity event (or events) at some point(s) in this genealogy could be of key historical significance, particularly if it occurred in the five generations between John of Gaunt (1340–1399) and Richard III). A false-paternity between Edward III (1312–1377) and John would mean that John’s son, Henry IV (1367–1413), and Henry’s direct descendants (Henry V and Henry VI) would have had no legitimate claim to the crown. This would also hold true, indirectly, for the entire Tudor dynasty (Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I) since their claim to the crown also rested, in part, on their descent from John of Gaunt. The claim of the Tudor dynasty would also be brought into question if the false paternity occurred between John of Gaunt and his son, John Beaufort, Earl of Somerset. If the false paternity occurred in either of the three generations between Edward III and Richard, Duke of York, the father of Edward IV and Richard III, then neither of their claims to the crown would have been legitimate.”
While the known illegitimate births in the Somerset line lead us to look at those generations with scrutiny, the break in the Y chromosome inheritance could have happened in any generation, on either side of the tree.
According to the BBC article announcing the DNA results:
“Henry’s ancestor John of Gaunt was plagued by rumors 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 Prof Schurer.”
So where does this leave us? I wonder if anyone has the name of that Flemish butcher????
Will the real Plantagenet, please stand up…or maybe be dug up.
What we need is a tie-breaker. Although the paper did not state this explicitly, I’m sure that the scientists also knew that they needed a tie-breaker – a male that descends through all males from someone upstream of Edward III. It appears that the Plantagenet line may well be a dead end, other than the Somerset line. I’m sure, with all of the resources brought to bear by the authors of this paper, that if there was another Plantagenet Y DNA male to be found, they would have done so.
So, the bottom line is that we don’t know what the real Plantagenet Y DNA line looks like, short of exhuming one of the Plantagenet Kings. They are mostly buried in Westminster Abbey in crypts. The Plantagenet line could be a subgroup of haplogroup R1b-U152. It could be haplogroup G. And, it could be yet something else. How? There could have been a NPE in both lines. I have seen it happen before.
Purely looking at the number of generations, meaning the number of opportunities for the genetic break to occur, there were 3 opportunities between King Richard the III and his great-great-grandfather, King Edward III, and there were 14 opportunities between Henry Somerset and King Edward III, so it’s more likely to have occurred in the Somerset line.
But that is small comfort, because all it took was one event, and there clearly was one. We don’t know which one, where. In this case, probabilities don’t matter – only actualities matter.
Back to my ancestor, King Henry III, father of King Edward I….
Dear Grandpa King Henry III,
I was just writing to catch you up on the news. This is your 20 times great-granddaughter….you do remember me…right?
I am sorry to report that there seems to have been a fox in the henhouse. Yes, that would be the Plantagenet henhouse. No, I don’t know when, or where. We just have fox DNA. Yes, we probably also have hen DNA, which would be your DNA, but you see, we can’t tell the difference between fox DNA and hen DNA.
By the way, would you mind trying that Houdini message thing and sending me a message about which DNA is fox and which is hen?
Thanks a million….
Your 20 times great-granddaughter
Even though we will probably never know what the Plantagenet DNA line looks like, we do know a lot about King Henry III, the father of King Edward I. We also have some idea what King Henry himself looked like. The effigy on his coffin in Westminster Abbey is shown below.
King Henry III was born on October 1, 1207 in Winchester Castle, shown below, the son of King John and Isabella of Angouleme, and died on November 16, 1272. He was known as Henry of Winchester and was King of England, Lord of Ireland and Duke of Aquitaine from 1216 until his death.
He ascended the throne at age 9, on October 28th, 1216, at Gloucester Cathedral, and ruled under a guardian, council of 13 executors and the tutelage of his mother until he became of age. He assumed formal control of the government in January 1227, although he didn’t turn 21 until the following year. He ruled for a total of 56 years. A 13th century depiction of his coronation is shown below.
Henry took the cross, declaring himself a crusader, which entitled him to special protections from Rome. While Henry never did actually go on Crusade, he might well have joined the Seventh Crusade in 1248 had he not been engaged in such a negative rivalry with the King of France. After Louis’s defeat at the Battle of Al Mansurah in 1250, Henry announced that he would be undertaking his own crusade to the Levant, but that Crusade never happened. Henry was aging by that time, at 43. It would he Henry’s son, Edward, who would represent the family in the Crusades, leaving in 1270 for the Eighth Crusade.
Henry was also crowned a second time, after the first Baron’s War, on May 17, 1220, at Westminster Abbey, in an effort to affirm the authority of the King, and with the Pope’s blessing. The medieval manuscript by Matthew Paris depicts the second coronation.
While the first coronation was hurried after his father’s death and with, in essence, a borrowed crown from Queen Isabella, since the royal crown had been either lost or sold during the war, the second coronation used a new set of royal regalia.
Engravings of Henry’s great seal.
Henry married Eleanor of Provence, daughter of Raymond-Berengar, the Count of Provene and Beatrice of Savoy, whose sisters all married Kings as well. Eleanor had never seen Henry before their marriage at Canterbury cathedral on January 14, 1236. At the time of their marriage, she was age 12 and he was 28. It was feared she was barren at first, but they went on to have 5 children, including Henry’s successor to the crown, Edward I. Her first child was born when she was age 15.
This medieval manuscript chronology from the early 1300s shows Henry III at the top, with his children left to right, the future King Edward I, Margaret, Beatrice, Edmund and Katherine.
In 1239 when Eleanor gave birth to their first child, Edward, named after Henry’s patron saint and ancestor, Edward the Confessor, Henry was overjoyed and held huge celebrations, giving lavishly to the Church and to the poor to encourage God to protect his young son. Their first daughter, Margaret, named after Eleanor’s sister, followed in 1240, her birth also accompanied by celebrations and donations to the poor.
Eleanor accompanied Henry to Poitrou on a military campaign, and their third child, Beatrice, named after Eleanor’s mother, and born in Poitou, France in1242.
This manuscript by Matthew Paris depicts Henry and Eleanor returning to England from Poitou in 1243.
Their fourth child, Edmund, arrived in 1245 and was named after the 9th-century saint. Concerned about Eleanor’s health, Henry donated large amounts of money to the Church throughout the pregnancy. A third daughter, Katherine, was born in 1253 but soon fell ill, possibly the result of a degenerative disorder such as Rett syndrome, and was unable to speak. She died in 1257 and Henry was distraught.
Henry’s children spent most of their childhood at Windsor Castle and he appears to have been extremely close to his family, rarely spending extended periods apart from them. King Henry III and Eleanor had the following children:
- Edward, eventually King Edward I, was born on June 17, 1239 and died on July 7, 1307. He married Eleanor of Castile in 1254 and Margaret of France in 1299.
- Margaret was born on September 29, 1240 and died on February 26, 1275, at age 35. She was the Queen of Scots and married King Alexander III, the King of Scotland at age 11. She had three children; Margaret born in 1261 who married King Eric II of Norway, Alexander born in 1264 who died at age 20 and David born in 1272 who died at age 9.
- Beatrice was born on June 25, 1242 and died on March 24, 1275 at the age of 33. She married John II, Duke of Brittany, a love match, and had 6 children. Two of her descendant females would marry kings.
- Edmund, known as Edmund Crouchback, was born on January 16, 1245 and died on June 5, 1296, at the age of 51. Crouchback reportedly refers to “crossed-back” and refers to his participation in the Ninth Crusade, although with King Richard III’s scoliosis, I have to wonder. He married Lady Aveline de Forz in 1269 at age 11. She died 4 years later, at age 15, possibly related to childbirth. He then married Blanche de Artois in 1276, in Paris, widow of Henri I, King of Navarre, with whom he had three sons, two of whom revolted against King Edward II.
- The story of Katherine is sad indeed. She was born either deaf or a deaf-mute at Westminster Palace on November 25, 1253 and died on Mary 3. 1257, before her 4th birthday. It was obvious at her birth, that in spite of her beauty, something was wrong. As she aged a bit, it also became evident that she was mentally challenged. Matthew Paris, chronicler of King Henry III, described her as “the most beautiful girl, but dumb and useless.” She was therefore not a political asset and was never betrothed. Her parents, however, loved her devotedly.
A few days after her christening, on the day of Saint Edward the Confessor’s death, January 5,1254, the King held a massive banquet, to which he invited all the nobility. The provisions for this banquet included “fourteen wild boars, twenty-four swans, one hundred and thirty-five rabbits, two hundred and fifty partridges, fifty hares, two hundred and fifty wild ducks, sixteen hundred and fifty fowls, thirty-six female geese and sixty-one thousand eggs”.
After Katherine’s death, both Henry and Eleanor were heartbroken.
Although the marriage of Henry III and Eleanor was clearly political in nature, Henry was kind and generous and they apparently came to love each other. Henry, unusual as compared to other English Kings, had no illegitimate children.
Henry was reported to have a drooping eyelid and an occasional fierce temper, but was generally known to be “amiable, easy-going and sympathetic,” as reported by historian David Carpenter.
The sketch above is from Cassell’s History of England published in 1902 but it does not reflect a drooping eyelid. The painting, below, from an unknown artist in 1620 is titled simply “Edward,” but it does depict the drooping eyelid. King Edward I was the son of Henry III. Now, if Richard III had only been reported with a droopy eyelid, we’d have another clue. Interestingly enough, the National Portrait Gallery has a discussion about the “crooked eye group” of kings, the latest of which is Edward II.
Henry III was known for his piety, celebrating mass at least once a day, holding lavish religious ceremonies and giving generously to charities. He fed 500 paupers each day, fasted before the feast days of Edward the Confessor and may have washed the feet of lepers. He was often moved to tears during religious ceremonies. The King was particularly devoted to the figure of Edward the Confessor, whom he adopted as his patron saint. Edward the Confessor was an early English King who lived a very pious life and who was also Henry III’s 6 times great-grandfather.
Henry reformed the system of silver coins in England in 1247, replacing the older Short Cross silver pennies with a new Long Cross design, shown below. Between 1243 and 1258, the King assembled two great hoards, or stockpiles, of gold. In 1257, Henry needed to spend the second of these hoards urgently and, rather than selling the gold quickly and depressing its value, Henry decided to introduce gold pennies into England, following the popular trend in Italy. The gold pennies resembled the gold coins issued by Edward the Confessor, but the overvalued currency attracted complaints from the City of London and was ultimately abandoned.
In 1247, Henry was sent the “Relic of the Holy Blood” by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, said to contain some of the blood of Christ. He carried the Relic through the streets of London from its storage location at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in a procession to Westminster Abbey, shown below, by Matthew Paris. He then promoted the relic as a focus for pilgrimages, but it never became popular.
Henry III’s reign in England was marked by multiple insurrections and allegations of ineffective government at best and improprieties at worst.
Henry started out at a disadvantage due to his age and of course, inexperience as a child. The first problem happened before Henry was of age.
Taking advantage of the child-king, Louis VIII of France allied himself with Hugh de Lusignan and invaded first Poitou and then Gascony, lands held by the English monarchy. Henry III’s army in Poitou was under-resourced and lacked support from the French barons, many of whom had felt abandoned during the years of Henry’s minority and as a result, the province quickly fell. It became clear that Gascony would also fall unless reinforcements were sent from England.
In early 1225 a great council approved a tax of £40,000 to dispatch an army, which quickly retook Gascony. In exchange for agreeing to support Henry III, the English barons demanded that the King reissue the Magna Carta, originally issued by King John in 1215. Henry complied, declared that the charter was issued of his own “spontaneous and free will” and confirmed the new with the royal seal. This gave the new Great Charter and the Charter of the Forest of 1225, shown below from the UK National Archives, much more authority than any previous versions. The barons anticipated that the King would act in accordance with these definitive charters, subject to the law and moderated by the advice of the nobility.
Henry invaded France in 1230, in an attempt to reclaim family lands lost since the reign of King John, but his attempts were both unsuccessful and very expensive. As you can see, most of the Plantagenet family holdings in France had been lost, except for Gascony.
The drawing below depicts Henry travelling to Brittany in 1230, by Matthew Paris.
The English people paid for military actions as well as Henry’s expensive lifestyle, carrying out major remodeling of royal properties, through increased taxes, which caused Henry, over time, to become very unpopular.
In 1258, a group of Barons seized power in a coup, reforming English government through a process called the Provisions of Oxford, which is regarded at England’s first constitution. This document was the first to be published in English since the Norman Conquest 200 years previously. As a result, Henry ruled in conjunction with a council of 24 members, 12 selected by the crown and 12 by the barons. Those 24 then selected 2 men to oversee decisions. This certainly wasn’t what Henry wanted, but he had little choice at the time.
However, in 1261, Henry overthrew the Provisions of Oxford and the superceeding Provisions of Westminster, with assistance from the Pope in the form of a papal bull which started the second Baron’s War. In 1264, Henry was defeated and taken prisoner at the battle of Lewes, but his oldest son, the eventual King Edward I, escaped from captivity and freed his father the following year.
This time, Henry won and was restored to power, initially reacted harshly, confiscating all of the land and titles of the revolting Barons. In an effort to bring eventual peace, the Dictum of Kenilworth was issued to reconcile the rebels of the Baron’s War with the King.
Their rebel leader, Simon de Montfort, Henry’s brother-in-law who had married his sister, Eleanor, was now dead at the Battle of Evesham in 1265, shown above. The Dictum pardoned the revolting Barons and restored their previously confiscated lands to them, contingent on payment of penalties equal to their level of involvement in the rebellion, typically 5 times the value of the annual yield of the land.
The spirit of peace and reconciliation established by the Dictum of Kenilworth lasted for the remainder of Henry III’s reign and into the 1290s, although reconstruction was slow. Henry died in 1272, succeeded by his son, Edward, who became King Edward I, who was on crusade in the Holy Lands at the time of his father’s death.
Although unpopular due to his spending habits, Henry invested significantly in many properties still enjoyed by people today, improving their defenses and adding facilities, including rebuilding Westminster Abbey and his favorite palatial complex by the same name in London.
The Tower of London was extended to form a concentric fortress with extensive living quarters, although Henry primarily used the castle as a secure retreat in the event of war or civil strife.
Tower of London as it appears today from the Thames.
Henry also kept a menagerie at the Tower, a tradition begun by his father, and his exotic specimens included an elephant, a leopard and a camel.
Henry was given an elephant, above, as a gift by King Louis IX of France.
King Henry III visiting Louis IX of France.
Among other projects, Henry built the Great Hall of Winchester Castle, shown above.
Perhaps Henry’s legacy contribution is the creation of what would become the English Parliament. The term “parliament” first appeared in the 1230s and 1240s to describe large gatherings of the royal court, and parliamentary gatherings were held periodically throughout Henry’s reign. They were used to agree to the raising of taxes which, in the 13th century, were single, one-off levies, typically on movable property, intended to supplement the King’s normal revenues for particular projects. During Henry’s reign, the counties began to send regular delegations to these parliaments, and came to represent a broader cross-section of the community than simply the major barons.
In Henry’s last years, he was increasingly ill. He continued to invest in Westminster Abbey, which became a replacement for the Angevin mausoleum at Fontevraud Abbey in Anjou, France, In 1269 Henry oversaw a grand ceremony to rebury Edward the Confessor in a lavish new shrine, personally helping to carry the body to its new resting place in the rebuilt Westminster Abbey. Edward the Confessor has built the original Westminster Abbey in 1065 which was demolished by Henry III to construct the new Westminster Abbey in its place.
In 1270, Henry’s son, Edward left on the Eighth Crusade and at one time, Henry voiced his intention to join Edward. That never happened, and Henry III died at Westminster Palace on the evening of November 16, 1272. Eleanor was probably at his side.
At his request, Henry was buried in Westminster Abbey in front of the church’s high altar, in the former resting place of Edward the Confessor. A few years later, work began on a grander tomb for King Henry III and in 1290, Edward moved his father’s body to its current location in Westminster Abbey.
See, it wouldn’t be difficult at all to access the remains of King Henry III…no digging involved!!! For that matter, we could just skip to the beginning and start with the remains of Edward the Confessor.