This past week involved BBC News publishing an article that discussed the surprising genetic discoveries within Richard III’s DNA. According to author Paul Rincon, after Richard III’s body was dug up on the former site of the Greyfriars Abbey, scientists studied the genetic material in those remains. In particular, they studied the DNA from the maternal and paternal side. While Richard III’s mitochondrial DNA matched two living relatives who were descendants of his elder sister Anne of York, his paternal DNA did not. There is no question that the body that was discovered in 2012 was in fact Richard III’s (especially with the curved spine). As a result, scientists have concluded that infidelity was involved.
According to Rincon, this discovery “could cast doubt on the Tudor claim to the English throne or, indeed, on Richard’s” depending on where the infidelity took place (Rincon). Both Henry Tudor and Richard were descendants of Edward III, and both claimed this in order to either gain or retain the English throne in the late fifteenth century. If the infidelity occurred on the branch leading from Henry to Edward, then the Tudor claim to the throne would become non-creditable, and it could have “implications for the legitimacy of the present-day royal family” (Rincon). In addition, John of Gaunt – Henry’s ancestor – was constantly plagued by rumors of being a bastard child since Edward was not present at the time of his birth. If John were really a bastard, then the legitimate claims of Henry IV, Henry V, and Henry IV to the throne would not be so legitimate. On the other hand, if the break in the family lineage occurred on the branch leading from Richard to Edward, then the creditability behind Richard’s claim to the throne would be discarded.
Meanwhile, this has made me think of times that the English throne has experienced infidelity through its history. According to Dr. Schurer, “Royal succession isn’t straightforward inheritance from fathers to sons, and/or daughters. History has taken a series of twists and turns.” (qtd in Rincon). In fact, William the Conqueror – the first Norman king of England – was a bastard himself. In addition, Richard III declared the marriage of his brother Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville invalid, thereby declaring their son and heir to the throne Edward V and his brother bastards. According to Youngs, Richard proclaimed this after the Woodville family “seized the regency [that Richard was supposed to receive when Edward IV died] and excluded [him]” (78). Maybe the Woodville family knew that Richard was a bastard.
Furthermore, let’s not forget the sex life of Henry VIII. Henry VIII had plenty of mistresses, and one of those mistresses, Elizabeth Blount, gave birth to a son named Henry Fitzroy. Henry was not shy in acknowledging his bastard son since he had no legitimate male heir with his wife at the time Catherine of Aragon. In fact, Henry awarded Fitzroy the dukedoms of Richmond and Somerset (“Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond (1519-1536)”). One may wonder if Fitzroy would have gained the throne had Henry VIII not received a legitimate male heir. In general, there were plenty of incidents where infidelity was present in the English royal family throughout the times.
Overall, the point is that infidelity is not that shocking in the English royal family. It does not surprise me that Richard III has illegitimate blood in him. On the other hand, the legitimacy of any kingdom rests in their direct ancestry, but like Dr. Schurer explained, the English line of succession has never been a walk in the park.
“Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond (1519-1536).” Luminarium.org. Anniina Jokinen,
2010. Web. 8 Dec. 2014.
Rincon, Paul. “Richard III’s DNA Throws Up Infidelity Surprise.” BBC.com. BBC, 2
Dec. 2014. Web. 2 Dec. 2014.
Youngs, Frederic A, et al. “The English Heritage: Volume I: To 1714.” 3rd ed. Wheeling,
Illnois: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1999. Print.