At the beginning of this year, it was proven that a body discovered in a car park in Leicester, England, actually was that of King Richard III. Mitochondrial DNA was compared with living descendants to confirm the identification of the remains. News agencies around the world today are reporting on new DNA findings, and of course, they are focusing on the sensationalistic.
The problem is that the y-chromosome DNA (passed down from father to son), does not match. Somewhere along the line, the father of one of the children was not the husband of the mother. This is what is known as a “non-paternal event.”
Unfortunately, sensationalists in the media are now wondering what this means for Queen Elizabeth II and the current royal family. Does she have the right to sit on the throne? No matter what the sensationlists say, the reality is that it is far more likely to be yes than no.
Because Richard III left no descendants, testing was done on modern-day individuals descended from his second-great-grandfather, Edward III. All of the living people tested are descended from Henry Somerset, the 5th Duke of Beaufort. Unfortunately, their y-DNA does not match that of Richard III. Both Somerset and the current royal family share a common ancestor in John of Gaunt, the brother of Richard III’s great-grandfather, Edmund, Duke of York. Both of these men were sons of Edward III.
The issue of the non-paternal event is: where did it fall? The reality is that there are so many possibilities that the vast majority of them would not impact the royal family at all. It is also likely that the answer will never be known because it is so complex.
In the line of Richard III, for example, we have Richard III; his father Richard, Duke of York; grandfather Richard, Earl of Cambridge; and great-grandfather, Edmund, Duke of York. Any of these could be the non-paternal event.
How we have John of Gaunt, the common ancestor with the royal family. If John of Gaunt were not the biological son of Edward III, a case could be made that the Tudors were not entitled to sit on the throne, leading to questions about the sitting monarch.
However, between John of Gaunt and Henry Somerset, 5th Duke of Beaufort (the common ancestor of those living descendants who were tested), there are 14 generations. That leaves fourteen additional possibilities. In other words, out of the nineteen possibilities for a non-paternal event, only one would have the possibility of impacting Queen Elizabeth II.
Trying to prove this would require massive testing of living male descendants of each branch in each of the fourteen generations from John of Gaunt just to see if the break possibly occurred there. But even then there are still are four other possibilities on the Richard III branch. It will be interesting to see if anyone would care to undertake such an endeavor. You can read more about this story in reports from the BBC and the Telegraph. The Telegraph story has an interesting chart that makes it easier to understand the lines of descent and where the problems might be.