We are often told by visitors, friends and followers that they are descendants of Richard III or that he is one of their ancestors, unfortunately this as far as we know, can not be the case, but they could be a relative of the last Plantagenet King.
We think these inaccurate and confusing claims may be to do with the words we use and what they mean, allow us to explain…
Richard III definitely has no living Ancestors and (as far as we know) he also has no living Descendants. None, at all, not one, despite all the claims and stories that you may hear. He does however have collateral descendants, also known as relatives.
Richard III doesn’t have any living ancestors. This is because an ancestor is someone further back in your family tree (parents, grandparents, great-grandparents etc.), so any living ancestor of Richard III would have to be over 580 years old to be alive today, which is why he has no surviving ancestors.
As far as we know, Richard III doesn’t have any living descendants. This is because a descendant is your child, grandchild, great-grandchild, and so on. Richard III only had three recognised children, all of whom died without having any children of their own. So there cannot be any living descendants, because the family line stopped with Richard III’s children, Edward of Middleham the Prince of Wales, John of Gloucester (illegitimate) and Katherine Countess of Huntingdon (illegitimate), which is why he has no living descendants.
There are many living collateral descendants, or relatives of Richard III, and this fact was the incredible way the University of Leicester’s Professor Turi King was able to trace and prove with 99.999% accuracy that the remains found under a car park in Leicester were indeed those of King Richard III. Following the mitochondrial DNA line which is passed through successive female descendants from one of Richard III’s Ancestors. It is also possible to follow the male descendants through the Y chromosome, which has a gene which is only passed down from a father to son and so on down through the generations. However as Richard III did not have any children who had children of their own, his genetic line on the Y chromosome ended back in the 15th Century.
So to trace Richard III’s DNA it was necessary to look for his living relatives, his collateral descendants. Collateral descendants are the descendant of a sister or brother, it could also be from an ancestor in your family tree; such as a parent or grandparent, a cousin, a second cousin, an auntie, an uncle or a great auntie, or great uncle etc.
To trace these relatives the University of Leicester used mitochondrial DNA which is the DNA code passed down through the female line, from mother to child, they were able to prove that Richard III’s mother Cecily Neville’s Ancestor mitochondrial DNA was present in Richard III and his collateral descendants from his siblings, who were alive today and turned out to be Cecily Neville’s great-(x16)-grandson and her great-(x18)-granddaughter. Incredible!
Read more about the incredible work undertaken by the University of Leicester to identify Richard III
This half-term we have Discover DNA hands-on activities every day from the 18th to the 26th February, included as part of your Annual Pass admission ticket. You can extract DNA from a Banana, make a DNA Strand using gummy bears or create some DNA jewellery with a family & friends bracelet.