Recently, University of Leicester announced that with nearly 100% certainty the skeleton in the car park is Richard III — and they discovered evidence of adultery somewhere in Richard III’s family tree. Now newspapers are leading with headlines questioning Queen Elizabeth’s right to the throne.
Regardless of whether there is illegitimacy in Elizabeth’s line, it doesn’t matter. She’s been anointed. Monarchs can legitimately claim the right to the throne in several different ways, including by right of conquest. As soon as a monarch is crowned and anointed with holy oil, he or she is the legitimate ruler. This last point is such a clincher that when Stephen of Blois got himself crowned before the rightful heir Empress Matilda that was enough to make him king.
From the news about adultery in the line, it’s easy to automatically jump to the conclusion that Cecily Neville had another affair and Richard III himself was illegitimate. After all, people have debated the legitimacy of his brother, Edward IV, for over five hundred years.
During her time in France, Cecily Neville had an affair with an English archer named Blaybourne while Richard of York was fighting hundreds of miles away and this archer fathered Edward IV — or so the story goes. Dr. Michael Jones found a document in the Rouen Cathedral that proves that Richard and Cecily were about 100 miles (160 km) apart during the period when Edward’s conception likely occurred.
The DNA story isn’t about Richard’s paternity. It is about the “legitimacy” — to use an old-fashioned word — of the descendants of Richard’s ancestors and siblings (such as Anne of York). This video explains:
According to the Nature Communications‘ report, the maternal DNA (mitochondrial DNA) is a perfect match with a female-line relative of Richard III but the male line DNA is not.
Coincidentally, Anne of York is known to have committed adultery, albeit not in a covert way. She not only quietly separated from her violent, abusive husband, she also lived adulterously with Thomas St. Leger for over a decade. Anne received a divorce (not annulment) in 1472 and finally got to marry her lover. Edward knew about the relationship, which would have deeply scandalized the nobility, and quietly condoned it. He even employed St. Leger as an esquire of the body, which meant the couple was often at court.
With that said, Anne is not known to have had any other illicit relationships. She died giving birth to her only surviving daughter, Anne St. Leger (Baroness de Ros). She is not known to be illegitimate, and I like to think there was a great love story between Anne of York and Thomas St. Leger. Michael Ibsen, the Canadian whose DNA was used to confirm the identity of the skeleton in the car park, is descended from Anne St. Leger.
To learn more about the truth behind the University of Leicester’s announcement, see John Ashdown-Hill’s article “What do King Richard III’s Latest DNA Results Really Prove?” in Nerdalicious.