Richard III’s DNA
The chronology and contexts of John Ashdown-Hill’s discovery of Richard III’s mtDNA sequence, and of John’s research on the Plantagenet Y-chromosome and on the mtDNA of the ‘Princes in the Tower’
Centre Européen d’Etudes Bourgignonnes 44th annual conference at Mechelen, commemorating the 500th anniversary of the death of Richard III’s sister, Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy. Belgian colleagues asked John Ashdown-Hill to find an mtDNA sequence for Richard III and his siblings in connection with possible bones of Margaret, which had been found in Belgium.
John traced a living mtDNA line to Joy Brown (Ibsen), in Canada.
Joy Ibsen agreed to give a sample to be analysed initially by Oxford Ancestors, but requested that until / unless she gave permission, details of her mtDNA sequence should not be published.
Joy’s sample was sent to Oxford Ancestors, together with a consent letter allowing them to reveal the results to John Ashdown-Hill, and for him to forward them to colleagues in Belgium. The work was designated by Oxford Ancestors as ‘Special Project R13251’.
Joy Ibsen acknowledged receipt of her mtDNA sequence results (haplogroup J) from Oxford Ancestors.
John requested a hair sample of Edward IV from the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, as a possible means of confirming ‘J’ as the mtDNA haplogroup of Richard III and his siblings.
Joy Ibsen agreed to consider with her family the possibility of allowing John to publish her mtDNA sequence. Prior to any publication John sent professor Bryan Sykes (Oxford Ancestors) details of the genealogy and a draft of the planned article for The Ricardian (see below - 2006).
Samples were taken from the three sets of putative Margaret of York female bones found in Mechelen, for DNA testing against new samples from Joy Ibsen – the testing to be conducted by Professor Cassiman of the Catholic University of Leuven.
John’s discovery of the mtDNA sequence (but not the sequence itself) was first published as follows:
‘Finding the DNA of Richard III’, The Medelai Gazette.
‘The bones of Margaret of York’, Your Family Tree, 28 (2005), pp. 28-30.
Based on the results of tests conducted by Professor Cassiman, two of the sets of female bones from Mechelen were found not to match Joy Ibsen’s mtDNA. The third set produced a confused (contaminated) result.
John again published the discovery of Joy Ibsen and Richard III’s mtDNA in ‘Alive and Well in Canada – the Mitochondrial DNA of Richard III’, Ricardian 16 (2006), pp. 1-14. On p. 4 of this article John also revealed that the Somerset family of the Duke of Beaufort could potentially reveal the Plantagenet MALE-LINE DNA (Y-chromosome).
John approached Moyses Hall Museum, Bury St Edmunds, to request a hair sample of Mary Tudor Queen of France and Duchess of Suffolk, in an attempt to establish the mtDNA sequence of the ‘Princes in the Tower’.
John gave a presentation on his discovery of the mtDNA sequence of Richard III for H.R.H. The Duke of Gloucester at the Richard III Society Staples’ Inn Reception.
John wrote to the Duke of Beaufort outlining the possible Y-chromosome research, and requesting a DNA sample, but on 16 June the Duke of Beaufort replied that he was ‘not interested in participating’.
Report of John’s attempt to establish the mtDNA of the ‘Princes in the Tower’ in the Daily Mail. Attempts were made to open the locket from Bury St Edmunds containing hair of Mary Tudor (see above) – but were unsuccessful.
Towards the end of 2006 John finally received an Edward IV hair sample from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. It was hoped this would confirm that Joy Ibsen’s mtDNA was that of Richard III and his siblings.
John delivered the Edward IV hair sample from the Ashmolean Museum to Professor Cassiman at the Catholic University of Leuven. However, it subsequently proved impossible to extract a mtDNA sequence from this hair.
With Joy Ibsen’s permission, John published full details of Richard III’s mtDNA sequence in respect of HVR1 and HVR2 (exactly as subsequently found in the Leicester bones in 2013) in ‘Margaret of York’s Dance of Death — the DNA evidence’, Handelingen van de Koninklijke Kring voor Oudheidkunde, Letteren an Kunst van Mechelen, 111 2007, 193-207
John obtained a hair sample of Mary Tudor, Queen of France and Duchess of Suffolk, from Lord Derby, in an attempt to establish the mtDNA of the ‘princes in the Tower’.
Death of Joy Ibsen.
Professor Cassiman reported that the mtDNA sequence from the hair of Mary Tudor, queen of France, was unclear, probably due to contamination.
The History Press published the first edition of John’s book, The Last Days of Richard III. This contained details of the mtDNA discovery. It also included a family tree showing details of the Y-chromosome descent, and reported that the Duke of Beaufort had declined to give a sample – but that other living male members of his family remained as possible sources.
John’s mtDNA research for Richard III was made available to Dr Turi King, geneticist at the University of Leicester, who obtained a new living DNA sample from Joy Ibsen’s elder son, Michael.
John gave full details of his Plantagenet Y-Chromosome research to Dr Turi King, including a list of ten living male members of the Somerset family, and he consented to her contacting them ‘under the banner of the University of Leicester’ to request DNA samples.
Dr Turi King officially announced that the bones found in Leicester had mtDNA matching that of Joy Ibsen and her son Michael.
John received a hair sample from the third set of female remains found in Mechelen. Dr Turi King had offered to test this hair in an attempt to clarify the mtDNA sequence of the remains, and establish whether they could possibly be the bones of Margaret of York.
John gave Richard Buckley (ULAS) the hair sample for Dr Turi King
Dr Turi King told John she had not yet had time to test the hair sample from Mechelen, but that she had secured finance for full genome testing on Richard III’s remains (necessitating the taking of further samples from Richard III’s bones).