Richard III – The Problem of burial
So it’s official – the skeleton under the car park is Richard III. The most amazing part of this story to me is how a skeleton that is nearly 600 years was matched with a living relative in Canada.
The mitochondrion is an interesting part of our cells. It’s believed that it was an organism in its own right way back in pre-history – nowadays it keeps the show on the road for us by managing respiration in our cells. 100% of it’s own DNA comes from our mother. In males the “Y” chromosome is passed on from the father but over the course of hundreds of years this may not be a reliable way to match living relatives with remains due to “indiscretions” such as the results of an extra marital dalliance. Accordingly we’re much more likely to be descend from a recorded maternal line than a paternal one. This kind of sucks genealogically as our paternal line is generally more traceable through records as we get our name from our fathers.
This is the triumph for me – genealogists were able to trace a Plantagenet maternal line to a Michael Ibsen in Canada. Matching this information with Mitochondrial DNA from the remains could only have revealed that the remains and Ibsen are related or not. The marriage of this positive DNA match with the archaeology and the documented history of Richard’s demise when triangulated has more or less conclusively proven the identity of the remains.
I’m really impressed with how this came together and it can probably be used to investigate all sorts of historical problems.
The Problem of Burial
When the excitement has blown over there will be a fraught debate over where to bury the king that has a range of implications.
The press today seem to suggest that the most likely spot for burial is Leicester Cathedral. Great for the city to keep it’s tourist PR win of the century local. “Come see the Shakespearean king so admirably identified by science.”
Only problem here is that Richard III as a pre-reformation king died a Catholic. In fact he’s already been buried by the friars in Catholic rites. Does it make sense for him to be put in an anglican cathedral?
Other locations being suggested are a good old fashioned royal entombment in Westminster Abbey. The Royal Family have made no claim on the body. Telling. Of course the present Royal family are a from a line of usurpers if you follow the rules of succession properly. By claiming the body they could risk turning on attention to this mad fact that the “Windsors” are de facto and not de jure.
It looks like Leicester Cathedral will win this one but it’s an interesting little side line on the whole thing. Personally I think someone should ask Michael Ibsen since he’s the only proven relative!