2 Dec 2014

What did King Richard III really look like?

Research suggests that King Richard III probably had blond hair and blue eyes, and new information about the line of descent poses interesting speculative questions over succession.

Researchers from the University of Leicester analysed all available evidence, including DNA of living relatives of Richard III, and concluded that the skeleton found in a Leicester car park in 2011 was 99.999 per cent certain to be that of King Richard III.

The scientists also used genetic markers to determine his hair and eye colour and found that he was almost certainly blue-eyed and had blond hair, at least during his childhood.

Richard III died more than 500 years ago. He was cut down at the bloody battle of Bosworth Field, ending the Wars of the Roses and leaving Henry VII as the new king and first of the Tudor dynasty.

Line of descent

Living female-line relatives of Richard III were found to have DNA that matched the skeleton’s, but male-line relatives did not have matching DNA, indicating at least one break in the line of descent.

Picture: Richard III portrait at the Society of Antiquaries in London (left), and Richard III as imagined with blond hair and blue eyes (right)

The male-line is thought to have broken before the fifth Duke of Beaufort, Henry Somerset. Depending on when the break occurred, it could cast doubt on the Tudor claim to the throne.

Professor Kevin Schürer, pro-vice-chancellor for research at the University of Leicester, said that the line of descent research “does pose interesting speculative questions over succession as a result”.

Richard III skeleton

Dr Turi King, who led the international research team, said: “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.”

In 2009, a fundraising drive by the Richard III Society embarked on a push to uncover the truth of his final resting place, by making an archaeological dig on the site of the friary – a modern-day city council car park.

Archaeologists from the University of Leicester recovered a body which showed signs of battle injuries including 10 separate wounds, and scoliosis, in tune with historic accounts of the monarch.

Shakespeare portrayed the king exclaiming: “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”

Richard III skeleton