The problems of Richard III’s Y chromosome

The problems of Richard III’s Y chromosome; the problems relating to the burials at Clare Priory, and the problems of working with Historic England

In 2004, following the request of colleagues in Belgium, I discovered the mtDNA sequence of King Richard III and his siblings. Mitochondrial DNA is inherited only in the all-female line. In that same year I was commissioned by the BBC to research the ‘body in the river’ story which was then widely recounted in Leicester regarding the fate of Richard III’s remains. As a result of my research on that story, in 2005, with the help of the Richard III Society East Midland (Leicester) Branch, I persuaded Leicester City Council to allow the erection of a new plaque next to the Victorian plaque near Bow Bridge, which commemorates the ‘body in the river’ myth. My new plaque stated that the nineteenth-century inscription of the Victorian memorial was untrue.

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Nerdalicious: Fit for a King interview with John Ashdown-Hill


What did you have in mind when you were designing the crown?

Well, obviously the modern kind of crown would look a bit inappropriate, so the first thing was to try to get at the kind of crown Richard would have worn. Unfortunately the fifteenth century was a time of change in terms of English royal crowns. Previously they had all been open crowns, but in the fifteenth century, closed (arched) crowns were coming into fashion, and Richard III probably wore one of those on occasions. But at his crown-wearing at Leicester, prior to the battle of Bosworth, and during the battle itself, I think he must have worn an open crown over his helmet. So I decided to go for an open crown, and took the basic design from Anne Neville’s open crown depicted in the Salisbury roll.

The crown commissioned by John Ashdown-Hill

The crown commissioned by John Ashdown-Hill

The next thing was the size and shape of the crown. Since Richard III’s facial reconstruction has hats to wear, details of his head size are obviously now available, so I got the measurements from Phil Stone, and ordered a crown of the right size and shape – so that, if he wanted to, Richard III could actually wear it. (But of course, he never will.)

The ornamentation of the crown was inspired by the surviving crown of Richard’s sister, Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy. That’s a very pretty, very feminine little crown. Obviously a copy of that wouldn’t really be appropriate for Richard. But we borrowed the idea of setting the jewels on top of enamelled white roses, because that’s how the jewels are set on Margaret’s crown. As for the jewels, themselves, the jeweller who is making the crown suggested sapphires and garnets, with pearls in between. I’m not certain why he proposed sapphires and garnets, but I jumped at his suggestion, because murrey and blue were the livery colours of the royal house of York.

Read the full interview here