Will the sequencing of Richard’s genome prove he was good or bad….?

On Tuesday 2nd March a new series commences on BBC2 (9 pm) about what may or may not be revealed by the in-depth study of DNA and sequencing genomes. Of course, this will include Richard. How can it not? Especially when Professor Turi King is involved. Richard is surely the most important and prominent historical figure about whom everyone really wants to know. His detractors have nothing good to say about him, while we, his supporters, will hear little bad. Was the real Richard somewhere in between? Can they really say whether he was good or bad, simply by analysing his genome?

Well, studying it might reveal a few things, e.g. whether he was likely to go bald and accurate indications of his  blood type, hair and eye colour. However, “….scientists are scientists are studying possible associations of genes with personality traits, including propensity to violent aggression, psychopathy and narcissism…” Ah. This is where I begin to feel uncomfortable. Just because someone might have had certain characteristics does not mean they definitely did. For instance, every man who likes enthusiastic sex might be predisposed to be a rapist. Yes, he might, but that doesn’t mean he is a rapist.

Professor King’s findings are to be published in the coming months, and I look forward to reading them—hopefully they won’t be so technical that I won’t have a clue what she’s really saying. However, she is apparently at pains to say that this area of genetics remained “extremely fuzzy” and that it would take years to tease out any associations. If ever, I find myself adding.

Here is one paragraph in this article from The Times (which to read in full, you’ll need to subscribe) :-

“….[Professor] King said that even if Richard did order the deaths of his nephews, as most historians believe, this did not necessarily reflect particular personality traits but was simply how monarchs behaved at the time. Significantly, the analysis will reveal more specific information on Richard’s Y chromosome type. This is DNA that is passed down through the male line, from father to son through generations. Earlier analysis predicted that Richard’s Y chromosome was of a different type from that of living individuals believed to descend from Edward III, Richard’s paternal great-great-grandfather, in the male line. More details of Richard’s Y chromosome could one day help to establish which was the original Plantagenet Y chromosome and whether Richard or members of the Somerset family, with a documented male-line descent from Edward III, carry an interloper variant arising from extramarital shenanigans….”

But, being well-documented doesn’t mean that that those documents were 100% truthful. Has every man in the line from Edward III owned up to fearing he wasn’t the father of the son who bears his name? Or even knowing he wasn’t? A great deal of face-saving would be involved. Legitimacy was a very, very, very sensitive subject for the nobility. It still is. So to my mind it just isn’t possible to be so certain that no margin of error is to be allowed.  The discrepancy in the Y Chromosome merely indicates that someone, somewhere, sometime told a little porky.

So on Tuesday, 2nd March at 9 p.m. I will start watching this new TV documentary series on BBC2 with great interest, especially when it covers Richard III. I don’t know in which episode he will be discussed. The series is called DNA Family Secrets, and Professor King will be using DNA to solve mysteries in various Britons’ family trees. “…The team, from Leicester University and Potsdam University’s genomics laboratory, have also sequenced the whole genomes of Michael Ibsen and Wendy Duldig, who are descended in the female line from Richard’s sister, Anne of York, and whose mitochondrial DNA, inherited from mother to child, was matched to Richard’s, confirming the identification of the remains…”

Bring it on, I’m more than avid to know the findings.

1 comment

  1. Good piece in the Radio Times for this week (issued last Tuesday, the one with David Attenborough on front) about it. Full page picture of Richard as a jigsaw! Think I might stick it on to card and make it a proper jigsaw…

    Liked by 1 person

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