Scientists have confirmed that a skeleton found under a parking lot in Leicester, England, is almost certainly the remains of King Richard III. The bones were discovered in 2012, and preliminary analysis the following year suggested the body of the 15th-century monarch might have been discovered, but the paper, published today in Nature Communications, is the first published confirmation of the theory.
The paper was the first to integrate genetic and nongenetic types of evidence to figure out whether the skeleton discovered in Leicester was really the body of the notorious monarch. The scientists used a combination of evidence from mitochondrial DNA, the archaological record, and historical documents. For the DNA analysis, they looked at the DNA of two relatives of Richard with an unbroken line of female ancestors connecting them to Richard III’s oldest sister, Anne. Unlike nuclear DNA, mitochondrial DNA is passed down matrilineally without recombination; in other words, every child inherits the unmixed mitochondrial DNA of his or her mother. This means that a line of female descendents will all have the same mitochondrial DNA, except for mutations that can take place in the germ cell.
Richard III ruled England from 1483 to 1485, a brief and brutal 26-month reign ending with his death in the last battle of the War of the Roses. Over the centuries, his image has been shaped by his depiction as one of Shakespeare’s most memorable (and physically deformed) villains, and the rumors he murdered his nephews to consolidate his own power. Genetic evidence suggests that the king was blonde-haired, blue-eyed, and was survived by relatives who apparently committed acts of infidelity at some point between Richard’s time and the 18th century; the implications of the latter have already spawned tabloid speculation on the legitimacy of England’s current royals.