Richard III was blond, blue-eyed – and that skeleton is definitely him

2 Dec 2014 @ 4.16 pm
| News

York scientists have helped prove beyond doubt that the remains discovered under a Leicester car park are those of the city’s favourite deceased royal, Richard III.

They have also discovered quite a bit more about what he looked like.

Key research carried out at York University helped an international team lay to rest what is probably Britain’s oldest forensic case.

It’s all in his genes

The team traced seven living relatives of Richard III – two by the female line and five by the male line.

Researchers collected DNA from these living relatives and analysed several genetic markers.

They then compared this evidence with DNA collected from the skeleton.

The complete mitochondrial genomes showed a genetic match between the skeleton and the maternal line relatives.

The team’s research which is published in Nature Communications, is also the first to carry out a statistical analysis of all the evidence together to prove beyond reasonable doubt the skeleton discovered at the Greyfriars site in Leicester is indeed the remains of King Richard III.

Blue eyed boy

The researchers used genetic markers to determine hair and eye colour of Richard III to determine that he probably had blond hair and almost certainly blue eyes.

So the king looked most similar to his depiction in one of the earliest portraits of him that survived, that in the Society of Antiquaries in London.

richard-III-soc-of-aniquities“Even with our highly conservative analysis, the evidence is overwhelming that these are indeed the remains of King Richard III, thereby closing an over 500 year old missing person’s case,” said Dr Turi King from Leicester University, who led the research.

Professor Michi Hofreiter from the biology department at York is an expert in ancient DNA. “It’s amazing how much we can deduce from ancient DNA today,” he said.

“Making inferences about hair or eye color of a person just from some DNA snippets obtained from a skeleton would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.”

Professor Hofreiter and Dr Gloria Gonzalez Fortes worked on the analysis at York and, subsequently, at the University of Potsdam.

Two cities working together

Since the discovery of the remains, York and Leicester have been at loggerheads over where Richard III should be interred.

But this project has brought the two cities together.

Professor Mark Ormrod, of the Department of History at York, said: “These exciting results are testimony to the positive collaboration between two great historical cities associated with Richard – Leicester and York – and the crucial part they have played in identifying and commemorating England’s last Yorkist king.“

The research team now plans to sequence the complete genome of Richard III to learn more about the last English king to die in battle.