Richard III’s genome to be sequenced

The course of our Richard III nerdathon last Saturday did not run smooth, I’m afraid to say. I’ll just tear off the band-aid and state up front that the recording of the colloquium is as messed up as the live stream was. Right now, it doesn’t look like there is much of anything salvageable. St. Louis University’s Jonathan Sawday was kind enough to confirm the sad news in the comments. He apologized too, because he is a scholar and a gentleman, not because whatever went wrong was his fault.

We shall have to feed our Richard III habit with something else, like, say, that a team led by University of Leicester geneticist Dr. Turi King will attempt to sequence the full genome of Richard III and of Michael Ibsen, his relative down the female line from Richard’s sister Anne of York. All they may have in common is in their mitochondrial DNA, but there’s always a chance they share other genetic links.

There’s a chance all of us share some genetic connection to Richard III, and we’ll get the chance to check it out for ourselves once the sequencing is done. Richard’s full genome will be posted online for scholars to study and the rest of us to geek way out over. He will be the first identified historical figure to have his genome sequenced.

Analysis of Richard III’s genome will allow insight into his genetic make-up, including susceptibility to certain diseases, hair and eye colour, and as the genetic basis of other diseases becomes known, these too can be examined for. It is also expected to shed light on his genetic ancestry and relationship to modern human populations. In addition, next generation sequencing technologies will allow the researchers to detect DNA from other organisms such as pathogens. Whole genome sequencing from Otzi the Iceman found the first known human infection with Lyme disease, for example.

Turi King is particularly interested in looking for DNA evidence of a predisposition to scoliosis. Since there are no surviving contemporary portraits of Richard III — the oldest were painted 40 or 50 years after his death — whatever information they can find regarding his appearance and physical traits will be an interesting confirmation or denial of the dead king’s posthumous press.

The sequencing project is being funded to the tune of £100,000 ($165,000) by the Wellcome Trust, the Leverhulme Trust and Alec Jeffreys, the genetics professor at the University of Leicester who developed genetic fingerprinting. It will done at the University of Leicester and in collaboration with Professor Michael Hofreiter at the University of Potsdam.

Although the question of where to reinter the remains has become a thorny one thanks to the legal challenge brought by the Plantagenet Alliance, a group of distant relatives of Richard’s who believe he should be buried in York rather than in Leicester, the king’s remains and all the samples taken from him will have to be buried sooner or later. Once they’re gone, there will be no going back to get a second look. Have a fully sequenced genome will provide new information well into the future. As scientists identify more genes and determine which are responsible for any given feature, researchers will be able to return to the recorded genome to find them there.

Here’s Turi King giving a brief introduction to the genome sequencing project:


Here’s Leicester’s pitch to keep Richard’s body in the city where he was buried:

The next movement on the burial issue will be a judicial review at the High Court in London March 13th.


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Comment by Louis A. F. F. von Wetzler
2014-02-16 00:24:28

As a Roman Catholic likewise King Richard III who didn’t kill the princes, I wish and hope that he will receive a Roman Catholic burial, King Richard and both houses of Your and Lancaster and even Henry Tudor were catholics at the time, “the defender of the [Catholic] Faith didn’t even exist at the time, one of his victims Blessed Margaret Polo Countess of Salisbury was just born. The House of Wittelsbach the legitimate descendents of the last Catholic King of England James II and from Charles I Stuart expressed their feelings that their ancestor should received a catholic burial and not from the Church of England, which wasn’t there at the time of his tragic death.

Comment by Aruvqan Myers
2014-02-16 13:24:26

I could swear that they sequenced one of the Egyptian Pharaohs

Ah well. It will be interesting. I just caught the documentary that Smithsonian Channel has on Netflix on the finding of Richard Third and thought it very interesting. They were damned lucky to find a surviving family member.

And I do agree, he should have a Catholic funeral as he was Catholic. Not to mention, he is not even related to the current crop of royalty, so they should have no say in the matter.

Comment by Alison C
2014-02-16 15:16:51

Regarding his re-burial
I understand they are from different houses & the Anglican/RC dilemma, but has Her Majesty been brought into it? She was a participant of the Czar’s family burial, and it was Russian Orthodox (understanding that they were much more closely related family of course) service.
And as for honoring his Catholicism, on the official press review/presentation of his remains, I thought I had read that a Roman Catholic priest was present for that “event.”

Comment by anja
2014-02-16 18:08:46

The name was Pole, not Polo. DUH.

Comment by Countess
2014-02-16 22:24:04

What would learning Richards genetic sequencing mean in lay-mans, tearms to a decendent of Richard’s family line of desent? Also, yes Her Magisty is related to Richard they do share a common desent I copied this from Wikipedia 1.William I of England
2.Henry I of England
3.Empress Matilda
4.Henry II of England
5.John of England
6.Henry III of England
7.Edward I of England
8.Edward II of England
9.Edward III of England
10.Lionel of Antwerp, 1st Duke of Clarence
11.Philippa Plantagenet, 5th Countess of Ulster
12.Roger de Mortimer, 4th Earl of March
13.Anne de Mortimer
14.Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York
15.Edward IV of England
16.Elizabeth of York
17.Margaret Tudor
18.James V of Scotland
19.Mary, Queen of Scots
20.James VI of Scotland and I of England
21.Elizabeth of Bohemia
22.Sophia of Hanover
23.George I of Great Britain
24.George II of Great Britain
25.Frederick, Prince of Wales
26.George III of the United Kingdom
27.Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn
28.Victoria of the United Kingdom
29.Edward VII of the United Kingdom
30.George V of the United Kingdom
31.George VI of the United Kingdom
32.Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom

Richard has desents from Edward 3 from both mother and father. He desends from Lionel Duke of Clarence and also From Edmund of Langley
So far the only Royal I have heard say anything on the subject..has been Prince Michael of Kent.Mind you I dont live in England or have a contact in the Royal Family.

Comment by Rex I.
2014-02-17 00:32:42

Phhhh … If there is anybody with royal genes, it is probably Dr. King !

Comment by livius drusus
2014-02-19 23:59:20

Zing! :giggle:

Comment by Jonathan
2014-02-17 12:58:23

Dear History Blog,

We have put up some of the recent R3@slu colloquium on you tube. It’s very choppy, still, I’m afraid, but you cant get something of what Mathew and Turi were saying, and you get the images from their presentations:

On re-burial: well, as someone who was born and grew up in Leicester, I’m hardly unbiased. But for me the clincher was that, in 1485, Leicester was Yorkist and York (the city) was…. Lancastrian! So you could argue that, were he to be re-interred in Leicester he’d be amongst “friends.”

What I’ve heard re. HM The Queen is that she is following the RIII issue with “great interest” but that Buckingham Palace is remaining studiously aloof from the debate.

On Catholic rites: it has to be assumed, so I understand, that Richard III, because of where he was buried (in the choir of Greyfriars), would have already received a funeral service, under the old pre-reformation rites, which would have been performed by the Franciscans (Friars Minor or Grey Friars).

So, the re-interment is a different kind of beast. As SLU’s Tony Hasler explained at the colloquium, the exhumation and re-interment of medieval monarchs was hardly uncommon in the period. This was a culture, which, after all, used human remains, particularly if they had the aura of sanctity, or royal associations, as a kind of income generator, in the founding and establishment of different sites of pilgrimage or veneration (see the examples of Edmund of Abingdon (1240), Henry I, and Richard I (“coeur du lion”) all of whom wished to be buried in multiple locations.

One sometimes feels, indeed, that bits and pieces of particularly important individuals were being trundled backwards and forwards around Europe with almost disturbing regularity. It was perhaps this practice that, in 1299, prompted Boniface VIII to promulgate the Bull “Detestande feritatis” (also known as “De sepulturis”) which tried to curtail the practice.

My point is that we should perhaps be wary of applying modern solutions (Richard died before the reformation, ergo he should be re-interred in such and such a way) to a culture which is, in some ways, both deeply strange, and in many ways which we still do not fully understand.

Best wishes,


Comment by livius drusus
2014-02-19 23:59:08

Thank you so much for posting the video you had, Jonathan. I had the same experience as Countess with it clearing up a little three quarters of an hour into the recording.

Comment by Johnnie Bank
2014-02-17 15:13:11

Love your blog, but can someone or the author tell me why every single photo is so large/high definition? How did the pix come in such large sizes? Did the author ask the photographers/websites for originals, or is it photoshopped to make it larger/high definition. Some photos need not to be high-resolution or so big. This would make it easier for some readers without the benefit of high speed internet. Thank you once again!

Comment by livius drusus
2014-02-19 23:57:21

I often ask for high resolution photographs, yes, and usually people give them to me without question. I never use any photo editing software to make them look larger than their native size because that would make them pixelated and blurry. Large size isn’t what matters to me; being able to see the details as closely as possible is.

I used to post small pictures but found them inevitably disappointing. Most of us will never get to see these things in person. An information-dense picture is as close as we’re likely to get, so it’s very important to me that I provide the highest resolution I can secure.

You’re the first person to have ever expressed a wish for smaller pictures. Usually people are as gluttonous as I am. :D

Comment by Alison C
2014-02-17 15:16:41

Ahh, found Prince Michael of Kent’s comments. A perfect non-answer answer, but one can understand his feelings, I’m pulling this from The Telegraph online, in an article from last March “Prince Michael of Kent has entered the debate about where the remains of Richard III should be re-interred. “I don’t think it should follow that bodies should always be re-interred in the cities where they are discovered,” he tells me. “People can be discovered in odd places.”

In 1998, he attended the state funeral in Russia of his distant relation, Nicholas II, the last Tsar, and members of his family, on the 80th anniversary of their executions. “King Richard needs to be buried somewhere appropriate. No matter how long ago people have died, the important thing is that any subsequent burial is conducted with dignity.”

Speaking at the Intelligence Book of the Year Award at St Ermin’s Hotel, he ruminates: “If only we could choose where our bodies are unearthed. I did feel for King Richard when I learnt that he had been located beneath a council car park in Leicester.”

Comment by Lapinbizarre/Roger Mortimer
2014-02-17 19:54:05

He received a Roman Catholic burial in 1485. This is a re-interment.

Comment by Annie Delyth
2014-02-17 20:00:48

Maybe Luvius could offer both a low-res and a high-res version of the photos. I understand the frustration of those with slower connections, but I also appreciate the high-res photos– love to study the details!

As for the lineage of the English Royal Family, it does not follow a straight line, as most know. Even with the intermarriages, there are breaks (and they did have a habit of deliberately creating those breaks at times). Here is an website with more detail about the various dynasties of the English throne. Promise it’ll give you a headache.

Comment by Countess
2014-02-17 23:17:30

Thank You Jonathan. :love: I stuck it out to the end.Even though it was choppy,most of it was understandable.It clears up around the 40min point apx. Annie I will def.check out the English Monarchs sight it looks good.When Richard is reburried.Would the services be filmed and brodcast at some point? Or would be a privet affair? I also wonder if The Royal Family will attend..just wondering out loud. Luvius You have the coolest blog around.

Comment by Matt Ward
2014-02-21 09:24:01

This is amazing. Can’t wait to hear what the scientists discover. I will surely include this when I write my article on Richard for my blog’s historic figures section.

Comment by Johnnie Bank
2014-02-21 15:46:32

thanks! the only reason i mention this is b/c the technician in this post is not doing anything i can’t see with a smaller image. however, her image took a very long time to load (from philadelphia, usa). so why a big image for so little information? that was my reasoning. i agree that larger, high resolution pics are clearly a welcomed addition to your blog, esp. when detailed pics are essential for artifacts. in fact, that was the first thing i noticed. big pix. i like that for the most part. i’m willing to take the time to wait for those images to load. thanks for answering my question.

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