Australians' DNA helped identify king's body after 500 years

Remains identified as King Richard III

The remains of King Richard III, unearthed 500 years after they were buried, have been identified with the help of three Australians' DNA. 

(Transcript from SBS World News)

SBS World News can reveal the remains of King Richard III, unearthed 500 years after they were buried, were identified with the help of three Australians' DNA samples.

As Brett Mason reports, those distant descendants will soon meet for the first time when their royal relative is reburied.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)

He was England's missing king for more than five centuries, finally unearthed in 2012 deep below an inner city carpark in the modern day city of Leicester.

Now, SBS World News can reveal King Richard the Third was identified with the help of DNA from descendants in Australia.

The University of Leicester's Dr Turi King says the evidence was conclusive.

"If you bring together all of the strands of evidence -- so the archaeology, the osteology, the genetics, the genealogy, everything together -- you come up with a statistical number of the likelihood of these being the remains of Richard the Third, and that number is 99.999 per cent at its most conservative."

Samples taken from Australian Wendy Duldig -- the king's niece, 18 generations removed -- returned just one letter different from the DNA code collected from his skeleton.

University of Leicester historian Kevin Schurer says she had no idea about her royal relation until researchers made contact.

"She'd heard about the excavation, and, curiously enough, there was a story in her family about how she was actually related to the Tudors, how she was related to Henry the Eighth, I think. And that is actually true. But I don't think the family had ever realised that there was this really quite unique and distinctive female line descent from Richard the Third's sister Anne of York all the way down to the present day. So she was, I think, initially shocked by that, but, equally, quite humbled, allowing part of the DNA that's been passed through her family to her to give that to the project in such a critical way."

Two other Australian male line relatives, descendants of Henry Somerset, the fifth Duke of Beaufort, also provided swabs, confirming King Richard's identity.

Kevin Schurer says those Y-chromosome samples have led researchers to believe the former king had blue eyes and blond hair.

"We've got four of the five that gave their DNA coming to the reinternment, and they will meet as a group for the first time ever. One is coming from Brisbane, Australia, and we'll be able to sit them down at the same time and introduce them to one another as cousins."

They will be joined by modern day royalty at a week long reinternment service later this month.

Leicester Cathedral's Reverend Pete Hobson says the unveiling of a new tomb will be much different to the king's farewell five centuries earlier.

"It was a hurried burial. It was a squashed grave. It was the opposite of dignity and honour. And we're going to reverse that and put the record straight. There's never been a service like this. We're creating a service for a medieval monarch in the 21st century."

The last English king killed in battle will make his final public appearance in a coffin handcrafted by his 17th great-grandnephew.

He will be carried by procession to a funeral more than 500 years in the making.




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