8. The Wrong Royal Family?
King Richard III’s remains were discovered beneath a parking lot in Leicester in 2012. Proof that it was really Richard came from mitochondrial DNA samples (those passed from mother to child) which matched those of two modern female relatives. The surprise was in the Y-chromosome haplotypes, passed through the male line. It didn’t match any of the king’s present descendants.
The conclusion is inescapable: Somewhere along the line, the chain of paternal DNA had been broken. A child whose father was not of the royal bloodline had been mistakenly taken as legitimate. The finding has significant implications on the legitimacy of the ruling House of Windsor, depending on where in the 500-year-old chain the break occurred. A recent break would only affect the dukes of Beaufort, but a break at the top of the family tree would call into question the legitimacy of most of Britain’s monarchs.
Without exhuming more bodies, scientists cannot tell just who the illegitimate child was, but chief suspect is John of Gaunt (1340–1399), alleged son of Edward III. John’s real father was rumored to have been a Flemish butcher. If true, that makes his son Henry IV, and the rest of the monarchs who descended from him, illegitimate. We have already noted how Henry VII claimed the throne through Elizabeth of York, but Elizabeth, too, traced her line back to John of Gaunt. (Henry’s royal bloodline derived from his mother Margaret Beaufort, but the Beauforts were excluded from the throne by law.)
Professor Kevin Schurer of the University of Leicester, said: “The first thing we need to get out of the way is that we are not indicating that Her Majesty should not be on the throne. There are 19 links where the chain could have been broken so it is statistically more probable that it happened at a time where it didn’t matter. However, there are parts of the chain which, if broken, could hypothetically affect royalty.”