Monday, April 22, 2013

The last days of Richard III and the fate of his DNA

This is the second edition of the book written by John Ashdown-Hill, originally published by History Press in 2010. After the publication of the first edition of the book, excavation of a carpark in Leicester resulted in the discovery and identification of the body of Richard III. This edition was published in 2013 as was the e-book which is the copy I read.

The first section of the book outlines the known details about the last five months of the life of Richard III covering the period from Friday 25 March 1485 until Monday 22 August 1485 when Richard died. Obviously there are gaps in the material available but the author contends that an examination of the known facts dispels many of the myths that surround later accounts of the personality and supposed deeds of the king. The stories about the treatment of Richard's body after his death plus the burial of Richard's body in Leicester are also examined.

The second part of the book deals with the DNA search to prove that the bones found belonged to Richard III. Males do not pass on the mitochondrial DNA but as a mother passes the same mitochondrial DNA to all her children the challenge was to follow a direct female line from the females in the family of Richard III to the present day so that the two sets of DNA could be tested. The author describes how a direct female line was discovered from Catherine (Katherine) de Roet, Duchess of Lancaster (1348-1403), via her daughter, Joan Beaufort, then her grand-daughter, Cecily Neville, the mother of Richard III, to Anne of York (Richards's sister) until finally, sixteen generations later, to Joy Ibsen (1926-2008).

During the writing of the book the author provides many details and explanations which at times do not make easy reading but generally this is an interesting study of an era in British history as well as an account of how new scientific approaches can help verify historical data.

The University of Leicester website - The search for Richard III - contains further information about the discovery of the body of Richard III.

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