The Last Days of Richard III contains a new and uniquely detailed exploration of Richard s lastdays By deliberately avoiding the hindsight knowledge that he will lose the Battle of Bosworth Field, we discover a new Richard no passive victim, awaiting defeat and death, but a king actively pursuing his own agenda It also re examines the aftermath of Bosworth the treatment of Richard s body his burial and the construction of his tomb And there is a fascinating story of why, and how, Richard III s family tree was traced until a relative was found, alive and well, in Canada Now, with the discovery of Richard s skeleton at the Greyfriars Priory in Leicester, England, John Ashdown Hill explains how his book inspired the dig and completes Richard III s fascinating story, giving details of how Richard died, and how the DNA link to a living relative of the king allowed the royal body to be identified


10 thoughts on “The Last Days of Richard III and the fate of his DNA: The Book that Inspired the Dig

  1. Sarah (Presto agitato) Sarah (Presto agitato) says:

    Richard III was King of England for only two years, but the story of his brief reign is a notorious one His suspected misdeeds, the most disturbing of which is the accusation that he murdered his young nephews in order to usurp the throne, were immortalized by Shakespeare He lost his crown and his life to Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 For obvious reasons, there wasn t much in the way of a ceremonious funeral, and the location of his gravesite was lost to history.Enter the Rich Richard III was King of England for only two years, but the story of his brief reign is a notorious one His suspected misdeeds, the most disturbing of which is the accusation that he murdered his young nephews in order to usurp the throne, were immortalized by Shakespeare He lost his crown and his life to Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 For obvious reasons, there wasn t much in the way of a ceremonious funeral, and the location of his gravesite was lost to history.Enter the Richard III Society, a group that works to secure abalanced assessment of the king and to support research into his life and times in order to make the case for Good King Richard They think he got a bad rap, slandered by Tudor propagandists trying to bolster the shaky credentials of Richard s successor, Henry VII Through historical detective work by members of the Richard III Society and the University of Leicester, Richard s remains were discovered in 2012 underneath a parking lot in Leicester He was finally buried again, this time withceremony, in March, 2015 The Last Day of Richard III is advertised as the book that inspired the dig Historian John Ashdown Hill worked on the project to locate the gravesite He also found a living relative of Richard s, a direct female line descendent of his sister Anne, whose mitochondrial DNA was used to match to the skeleton found in Leicester While Ashdown Hill s contribution to answering these historical questions cannot be denied, the book itself is not as impressive It is no surprise that Ashdown Hill is a passionate Ricardian, but his bias undermines his credibility as a historian Right out of the gate he refers to Elizabeth of York, Richard s niece and the future wife of Henry VII, as the eldest daughter of the late King Edward by his bigamous pretended marriage to Lady Grey Any reference to Edward IV s children includes a snide comment reminding us of their bastard status What Ashdown Hill does not get into is that this illegitimacy is far from accepted historically He takes it for granted as an accepted fact and glosses over it as quickly as possible view spoiler Richard s case for taking the throne was based on a story brought forward by a bishop at the time of Edward s death The bishop claimed that Edward IV had pre contracted marriage with another woman before he married Elizabeth Wydeville and so the king could not have been legally married to the mother of his royal children Thus the children, including the heir to the throne, Edward V, were illegitimate This story was a bit suspicious, coming almost twenty years after the marriage and after both Edward IV and the lady in question had died There was no one around who could refute the bishop s story, as he was conveniently the only witness hide spoiler Another odd authorial quirk is Ashdown Hill s insistence on using quotation marks every time he uses the name Tudor His footnote the first time he does this tersely refers us to another of his books for explanation If you read Royal Marriage Secrets Consorts Concubines, Bigamists Bastards, you can find out that Ashdown Hill has a theory that Edmund Tudor was really the son of Edmund Beaufort and, you guessed it, another bastard view spoiler For aobjective discussion of this lineage, see Susan Higginbotham s post here hide spoiler The author just can t resist the opportunity to get in a little dig, albeit an esoteric one, against Henry VII The effect for me each of the dozens of times I read Tudor was to picture Dr Evil and his sarcastic air quotes It was a bit distracting Ashdown Hill excuses minimizing the pesky controversies surrounding Richard s accession by stating that his focus is a narrow one, covering just the last few months of the king s life Fair enough this is not a long book, so there must be a lot of information to fit in.Well, yes, but the level of detail is both strangely obsessive and largely speculative There is a lengthy digression into whether or not Richard would have been a guy who liked to eat breakfast, and if so what he might have liked to eat We get a similar level of detail about his carriage, tapestries, and bed hangings Then we have a long list of shirts, doublets, gowns, hoods, shoes, boots, handkerchiefs, and ostrich feathers owned by his brother Edward IV The same information isn t actually available for Richard, but we are assured that he probably had the same kind of stuff There is some conjecture about English partridge species then and now Oh, and Richard also possessed a library and was therefore presumably interested in reading It is almost a relief to get to the chapters about tracking down a living relative for DNA analysis Unlike nuclear DNA, mitochondrial DNA changes little from one generation to the next, so it is useful for historical DNA comparison when hundreds of years have elapsed But it is only passed from mothers to their children Finding an unbroken maternal line over something like twenty generations is no small task, especially since women are often lost to genealogy research since they usually took their husband s surnames Even here, though, there is a lot of excessive discussion about the lives of all of these people over the generations If they, like most people, didn t have the most exciting lives, we learn about some of their other relatives, people who have absolutely nothing to do with the topic of this book view spoiler For anyone interested, this article from Nature Communications provides acoherent and focused discussion of the DNA analysis identifying Richard III s remains hide spoiler While there is some good information in this book, the hyper focused myopia regarding some topics while downplaying the controversial andinteresting ones makes it hard to recommend The biases regarding the subject made me wonder if the superfluous detail was meant to numb us into accepting everything we were told, a case of a writer who doth protest too much


  2. Nicky Nicky says:

    The idea of looking at the last days of Richard III s life as if the battle of Bosworth s outcome was unknown seems so obvious to me that I m wondering why it wasn t done before It s only a literary text that can plant portents and a sense of fatalism in Richard III s story as this book shows, he expected to win at Bosworth, and he was a man of considerable piety and courage The version of Richard III shown in Shakespeare s plays as elsewhere, of course is a part of the Tudor myth no sur The idea of looking at the last days of Richard III s life as if the battle of Bosworth s outcome was unknown seems so obvious to me that I m wondering why it wasn t done before It s only a literary text that can plant portents and a sense of fatalism in Richard III s story as this book shows, he expected to win at Bosworth, and he was a man of considerable piety and courage The version of Richard III shown in Shakespeare s plays as elsewhere, of course is a part of the Tudor myth no surprise to those who ve looked at the history plays in any detail, I think.Granted, the scope of this book is deliberately limited Such infamous issues as the Princes in the tower are barely touched upon, and Ashdown Hill is wholly on the side of Richard III, viewing Henry Tudor s claims as dubious in the extreme But, to his credit, Ashdown Hill makes that explicitly clear and points out several instances of double standards applied to that period of history by writers both contemporary and modern.The first section of the book, up to Richard III s death, is thefascinating to me Genealogy is not one of my things, and even if I personally were a descendant of someone important say, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd or Owain Glynd r I d find it difficult to be interested in the exact doings of all the unbroken line from that person to me So the chapter tracing the female line of Richard s family was one I skimmed though I was fascinated to know that it was done and that the mitochondrial DNA survived for comparison with the body now known to be Richard III s.The success of the search for Richard s body and the comparison with a living descendent speaks very well of Ashdown Hill s meticulous and accurate research


  3. Margaret Sankey Margaret Sankey says:

    Although some of the Richard III Society people can veer off into the nutty, this is a useful corrective to the Shakespearean doomed Richard III, since actual records showed that he not only expected to win against the little Tudor invasion, he was actively pursuing a Portuguese marriage, installing various relatives in positions of authority and carrying on thoroughly non nefarious royal business as usual.


  4. Elizabeth Ashworth Elizabeth Ashworth says:

    An interesting account of the last few months of the life and reign of Richard III John Ashdown Hill makes the important point that although this time is generally regarded as unimportant except as the lead up to the battle of Bosworth, King Richard did not know he would be killed Although Henry Tudor was a threat, he probably didn t see him as a huge threatof a minor irritation Richard expected to defeat him and spent these months busily planning the rest of his life and his reign N An interesting account of the last few months of the life and reign of Richard III John Ashdown Hill makes the important point that although this time is generally regarded as unimportant except as the lead up to the battle of Bosworth, King Richard did not know he would be killed Although Henry Tudor was a threat, he probably didn t see him as a huge threatof a minor irritation Richard expected to defeat him and spent these months busily planning the rest of his life and his reign New legislations were brought before parliament The prospect of marrying again was being discussed For Richard this time was filled with possibilities and new beginnings, and this book takes a fresh look at what occurred


  5. Joan Szechtman Joan Szechtman says:

    I have just started reading the Kindle edition of The Last Days of Richard III and the fate of his DNA by John Ashdown Hill I don t often recommend a book until I finish it but this is a must read John has a lovely sense of humor and a dry style, but I m finding this book a page turner, nonetheless.In the case of books published by The History Press THP , I find the ebooks preferable to the print if for no other reason than THP uses really small type face, especially in their paperbacks Ano I have just started reading the Kindle edition of The Last Days of Richard III and the fate of his DNA by John Ashdown Hill I don t often recommend a book until I finish it but this is a must read John has a lovely sense of humor and a dry style, but I m finding this book a page turner, nonetheless.In the case of books published by The History Press THP , I find the ebooks preferable to the print if for no other reason than THP uses really small type face, especially in their paperbacks Another advantage is that I can copy bits from the text through the Kindle app on my PC and paste it into the email as I did here It even gives me the citation info that I d need for a paper.In August of 2012 a team of archaeologists from the University of Leicester went digging in a social services parking lot with the idea of hopefully finding evidence of the Grey Friars Friary Not only did they locate the friary, they found Richard III s remains In 2003, before the dig was ever considered, John Ashdown Hill started his investigation of finding a living descendent from the female line of Richard s mother, Cecily Neville The female line of descent is necessary because children inherit an exact copy of their mother s mitochondrial DNA mtDNA , but only the female passes this copy to the next generation The author describes the process of finding a living descendent of one of Richard s sisters and of the mtDNA analysis The mtDNA was now available for comparison to the remains mtDNA As exciting as this information is for me , this is the present day science This book is so much .Ashdown Hill paints a fresh picture of a man, who despite terrible personal tragedies his only legitimate son had died suddenly in April of 1484 and less than a year later, his wife died after a long illness probably tuberculosis looking forward to remarrying and producing an heir and to a long reign as England s king Although there can be no doubt that Richard genuinely grieved for his son and wife, he nevertheless was planning for the future This refreshing image is different from what most historians and novelists have portrayed.The reader also gets a sense of what daily life was like for Richard, what some of his duties were, and how he would execute them I found this book to be rich in detail and informative about Richard III s last 150 or so days and about the role of DNA in confirming the remains Not only is Last Days a significant historical reference, I found it a delight to read John Ashdown Hill achieved what is rarely seen in such a scholarly work a reference that can be read from beginning to end without compromising the facts I can t recommend this book enough.This is a shortened version of the review first published 3 14 2013 on my blog, Random Thoughts of an Accidental Author 2013 Joan Szechtman


  6. Ruth Ruth says:

    I have long followed the historical arguments surrounding the life, reign and death of Richard III I have always felt very uneasy that a, seemingly, competent soldier, pious and generous young prince, and devoted brother could have so changed, on the death of said brother, and turn into the monster portrayed by Shakespeare So many of the elements of his story, as left to us, have never added up to a whole there is a huge gap in the extant records which will probably never be filled John Ash I have long followed the historical arguments surrounding the life, reign and death of Richard III I have always felt very uneasy that a, seemingly, competent soldier, pious and generous young prince, and devoted brother could have so changed, on the death of said brother, and turn into the monster portrayed by Shakespeare So many of the elements of his story, as left to us, have never added up to a whole there is a huge gap in the extant records which will probably never be filled John Ashdown Hill s book is an attempt to help bridge that gap, but, in the main, whilst his research and work on the mitochondrial DNA sequencing proved beyond doubt what happened to Richard s corpse as the remains found in Leicester have been proved to be his , I still don t feel that gap is anywhere near being closed I enjoyed reading this book the fascinating work on mtDNA held me spellbound but I feel that the author was clutching at any straws that blew in the wind to discredit the Tudor version which has been handed down to us, and about which I still feel uneasy That some of the accepted stories have proven to be false is helpful, but one story has been proven to be true the slight deformity caused by scoliosis even though undoubtedly over exaggerated The jury is still out then and will probably remain so The enigma that surrounds Richard III s reign lives on


  7. Éowyn Éowyn says:

    This is only a fairly short book with a limited focus, but nevertheless I found it very interesting It s odd really, because opinion on the subject tends to be so polarised that it s easy to lose sight of a few simple facts and some of what Ashdown Hill presents here should really be so obvious For starters, for all the association of Bosworth with Richard III he didn t know it was going to happen and obviously didn t go in knowing that he was going to be defeated hindsight may be a great This is only a fairly short book with a limited focus, but nevertheless I found it very interesting It s odd really, because opinion on the subject tends to be so polarised that it s easy to lose sight of a few simple facts and some of what Ashdown Hill presents here should really be so obvious For starters, for all the association of Bosworth with Richard III he didn t know it was going to happen and obviously didn t go in knowing that he was going to be defeated hindsight may be a great thing, but not if you want to look at historical events in context The Portuguese marriage proposals was something that I did know about, but here it s presented so logically it makes absolute sense The chosen bride was a princes of Portugal, with a Spanish Infanta also in the playing as a reserve option Both of these princesses were descended from the legitimate and senior branch of the House of Lancaster Further, it seems that a Portuguese marriage was also in the offing for Elizabeth of York That being so, the letter supposedly written by her reported by Buck, but now seemingly lost makessense as does the confusion over Richard II wanting to marry Elizabeth, his niece, which never made any real sort of sense as, if we accept the truth of the Eleanor Butler pre contract, then the children of Edward IV by Elizabeth Woodville were undoubtedly illegitimate, so there would be absolutely no point in Richard marrying her On the other hand, Elizabeth and her sisters were the closest things available to Royal Princesses to be traded on the dynastic marriage market


  8. Juliet Waldron Juliet Waldron says:

    John Ashdown Hill is a historian and member of the Royal Historical Society and the Richard III society With several non fiction books already to his credit, he brings close attention to bear upon the last eight months of the King s life As a Ricardian since my 60 s teens, I felt the author s insights as important as his research For instance, we know how the king s story ends, but it s wrong to let that knowledge color how we imagine his last months We are given permission to forget Bosw John Ashdown Hill is a historian and member of the Royal Historical Society and the Richard III society With several non fiction books already to his credit, he brings close attention to bear upon the last eight months of the King s life As a Ricardian since my 60 s teens, I felt the author s insights as important as his research For instance, we know how the king s story ends, but it s wrong to let that knowledge color how we imagine his last months We are given permission to forget Bosworth, and that leaves us free to see a man of action deeply involved in life and in his plans for England s future There are chapters about the king s death, about his last battle and the aftermath, about his re burial and grave, and about the fate of his family under Tudor rule A section about recent mtDNA research performed by the author is a human interest piece, tracing fugitive Plantagenet material through 15 generations The Last Days of Richard III should prove of interest to anyone who wants to go deeper into this watershed moment in English History Review first published in magazine of The Historical Novel Society


  9. Bettie Bettie says:

    view spoiler Bettie s Books hide spoiler view spoiler Bettie s Books hide spoiler


  10. Norman Revill Norman Revill says:

    If you re a Ricardian, you ll give this 5 stars If not, you ll enjoy the first half and then be bored by the detail This is serious stuff, but then the author has a very serious point to make that the remains found in that Leicester car park are indeed those of King Richard III and he makes it with a rigour that should satisfy the most stringent examining board, or jury Of course, establishing that long dead remains are indeed those of a King of England tells us little of the man s person If you re a Ricardian, you ll give this 5 stars If not, you ll enjoy the first half and then be bored by the detail This is serious stuff, but then the author has a very serious point to make that the remains found in that Leicester car park are indeed those of King Richard III and he makes it with a rigour that should satisfy the most stringent examining board, or jury Of course, establishing that long dead remains are indeed those of a King of England tells us little of the man s personality or character, but concentrating on the known facts of Richard s last 150 days is very revealing Increasingly now, we re coming to believe King Richard III was not the evil being of Shakespeare s great play that the Welsh Tudors had in fact done a thorough job of assassinating the character of the last English King because their claim to the throne was so weak One key fact the narrative brings home is that this was a man who had just lost his beloved wife and his only legitimate son within a year of each other A man also troubled that his elder brother King Edward IV had married bigamously and so his children were bastards and the throne onceat risk Hence Richard s usurpation of his nephew, for the good of the Plantagenet cause Yes, it suited Richard to eliminate the Princes in the Tower , but of course, it suited Henry Tudor even , as his claim was far weaker than Richard s So this book is a welcome addition to the growing body of evidence that Richard was not the man history has handed down to us But it is a book of two halves The first half is riveting and revealing, but once Richard s dead arguably charging bravely straight at his enemy to end the battle early and so minimise loss of life verifying his remains is dull stuff, if an essential process