Richard III, a Royal Bastard? An Illegal Queen? The King’s DNA & Signs of Adultery

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.


King Stephen

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:


Anne of York and Thomas St. Leger.

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.


Jamie Adair is the editor of History Behind Game of Thrones, a website about the history behind George RR Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels and the hit TV show, "Game of Thrones."


  • Reply December 4, 2014


    The study only shows that Richard III’s Y chromosome markers do not match any of the 5 Somerset descendants’ Y chromosomes, meaning that there was false paternity (the named father is not the real father of a son) in either of the male lines from Edward III onward. The false paternity could have occurred any time and at multiple places in either line. Indeed false paternity is not uncommon at all, especially after two dozen generations. Maybe that’s why the 5 modern-day relatives are shown as Somerset 1-5 rather than their real names like the maternal relatives .

    • Reply December 4, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      Oh that’s interesting observation about them not showing the real names of Somerset 1-5. I wonder if that is why?

      The point I was trying to make, nestled in between my somewhat salacious anecdotes, is that the illegitimacy is not in Richard’s line at all. And, you’re right. It is not necessarily one of his siblings descendants because they went up to Edward III and back down again.

      • Reply December 4, 2014


        Ah, sorry, I obviously missed your point about the illegitimacy not in Richard’s line. Come to think of it, it’s funny how many of these royal women were mired in rumors of illegitimacy. Cecily Neville, Anne of York, John of Gaunt’s mother (which BBC News immediately jumped on in their reporting of this research), Catherine of Valois, etc., etc., etc. I mean, even if only a fraction of these rumors were true, we are basically guaranteed of false paternity in a line lasting 600-700 years.

        • Reply December 5, 2014

          Jamie Adair

          That’s not how I took it. (I thought you made a good point and I tweaked the article to include ancestors.)

          This is an interesting topic.
          I think illegitimacy was the classic attack on women – or more interestingly men. I’ve read in the case of Jacquetta Woodville, attacking her reputation (via her witchcraft trial) was a way of attacking her husband and ultimately the king and queen — who were too powerful to touch. The same is true with Henry VI’s uncle Humphrey Duke of Gloucester and Eleanor Cobham, his wife. She was accused of witchcraft primarily as an oblique means of attacking Humphrey; he was too powerful to attack directly.

          Conversely, I think it would be wrong to assume that noble women never had affairs. Censure for adultery could be extreme in royalty (think: death for treason), but AFAIK not in nobility. That’s not to say that the *social* censure wouldn’t be extreme (just not life threatening).

          So, IMO, these factors could contribute to female noble adultery – or make the idea it happened plausible:
          -Noble marriage at a young age and a relatively young population (e.g., 43 is old). Some historians have noted that people tended to be more impetuous and hot-tempered partially due to their youth. Researchers today find much higher rates of adultery in those under 35.
          -Husbands away on military campaigns.
          -Logistics (e.g., separate bedrooms or quarters) theoretically might make cheating easier.
          -Not loving their husbands in a culture that increasingly idealized (courtly) love — e.g., perhaps the women and men might have had longings for love or intimacy. (BTW, this isn’t to say that some or even many arranged marriages didn’t evolve into love. It’s to say that if women didn’t love their husbands, which would be understandable, they might seek comfort or affection illicitly.)
          -Inability to divorce.
          -Isolation from parents, siblings, and extended family after they moved in with husband and/or his family after marriage.
          -Resentment at their lack of autonomy. (I have no idea if medieval noble women ever felt this way if they were raised to believe it was their duty to marry for their family (a more collectivist mentality). However, the book Holy Anorexia argues that medieval women chose, in some cases, not only the Church but also anorexia as a way of controlling some tiny aspects of their lives. Surely, some women must have felt resentment, even if only unconsciously, that they had to marry somebody of their parents choosing?)
          -We cheat — Kinsey asserted 50% of men and 30% of women have cheated, although other studies cite much lower numbers (~20%) — why wouldn’t they? Anthropologists and evolutionary biologists allege this is a biological and anthropological phenomena that transcends time and even species in some cases.
          -If medieval women could avoid detection in their affairs (see next section), in a society that censured adultery more harshly than we do, it might be very easy to find a married partner who would take her secret to the grave.
          -People assume that nobody in the Middle Ages had sex before marriage. But, this just wasn’t true. Virginity was heavily emphasized for noble women. I’ve read (I think in Ruth Karras’ work) that female country dwellers (presumably peasants) were more apt to have sex before marriage — especially if they were in love and intended to wed (but weren’t necessarily betrothed) — and nobody was particularly concerned about the Church’s moralizing on this topic (which was often seen as out-of-touch). If some women had sex before wedlock, should we assume noble women were as terrified of the Church’s stance or damnation as we might otherwise think?

          Why Adultery Might Have Been Rare for Medieval Noble Women
          -In one word: opportunity.
          -In a world with significantly less privacy than we have, could a noble woman find a way to hide from her household (ladies/servants/staff) long enough for a clandestine meeting?
          -Extremely gossipy household (“servants”).
          -Lack of freedom of movement. Given their “flashy” lavish clothes (the velvets, jewels, etc), it would be hard to move about a city without being spotted and your servants would surely notice if you wanted to change into more average clothing.
          -Medieval brothels used to rent beds by the hour – kind of like a modern-day sleazy motel — to adulterous couples. But, I’d assume that noble women would never be caught dead in such an establishment.
          -Church reaction.
          -Fear of being beaten by husbands, which I believe was legal.

          I was doing research about medieval sexuality for an (unfinished) article a while back. I’ve only ever seen one article about noble (female) adultery and it focused on Italy or Tuscany maybe. The article argued that noble women in that region cheated quite a bit — but the evidence was anecdotal I believe based on their husbands’ complaints (like a general bemoaning).

          So, are the allegations true? This is just my two cents, but I think it could go either way. It is easy to assume they are just character assassination – and they may well be just another example of misogyny. Conversely, many people argued that the paintings of Richard III in which one shoulder was higher than the other or depictions of him as a hunchback were just Tudor propaganda. It turned out that he had scoliosis.

          • December 5, 2014


            I must admit I thought none of these points that you raised. I have to think about them some.

            My immediate gut reaction to the news was related to previous posts here about how nobles behaved “badly” despite a lot of efforts from social institutions like the church and morality and codes of behaviors. Take together with extramarital affairs, one could argue that people will do what their hearts’ desire, be it sex, violence, competition, war, and love. I don’t know about others, but when I was taught history, there is a feeling from the serious textbooks that important people in the past (usually those who immortalized in history books) were somehow more stiff and less human than us now today. We rarely think of them as mere mortals but rather kings and queens and dukes and duchesses who changed the course of history. Knowing that many of them did not like arranged marriages to strangers any more than we would and fell in love with whoever they were attracted to and did not obey all the rules and regulations that were contrary to their hearts’ desire … it gives me pause.

            Obviously, men had more opportunities to cheat on their wives than women did on their husbands in most of human society and history. The difference is that when men did it, he couldn’t hide the results (illegitimate children) as easily as women could — at least before the availability of contraception. A popular but unsubstantiated theory (from people who fancy themselves evolutionary psychologist) says that women are less inclined to have multiple sexual partners than men because of their natural physiology. It always strikes me as missing a lot of confounding factors, such as various restrictions society puts on women. What if women are not naturally different from men in their hearts’ desire? People will do what people will do, even if it’s restricted and regulated by society as a threat to the stability and harmony of the social fabric.

            It baffled me why so many readers hate, hate, hate Cersei, even after her perspective chapters came out in A Feast for Crows. Actually, I feel like I understand her right from AGOT. I don’t like her in the same way I like Arya or Brienne, but I sympathize with her and see her as more or less an equivalent to Catelyn (or they are mirror images). I can see how she makes people uncomfortable, because acknowledging a woman as a sexual person with power in her relationships with men can be a disturbing thought to some.

  • Reply December 4, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    I heard – though I’ve never had it substantiated – that in the past, where having an heir was important, and possibly it was the male partner who had a problem if there was no child, then another male relative might “do the honours” in those times before sperm banks. I guess it was hard to know which partner had any such problem in those days.

    • Reply December 4, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      What?!? That’s wild. I wonder if there is any truth to that. It sounds salacious and could be really awful for the woman. However, as the Wars of the Roses proves, some families were willing to die for their legacy and to ensure the family name continued (e.g., especially in the face of attainder).

  • Reply December 5, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    I looked on a history site (Res Historica) and someone had mentioned that in times far past adoptions were not regulated or documented as they are today, so an unofficial adoption might account for unexplained DNA.

    • Reply December 6, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      Oh what a good point. I think wardships were very popular for orphaned children with any inheritance (noble/gentry children, children of merchants). (If memory serves, the guardian family got the income while raising the child like a foster child and got to choose their marriage, which typically means they would pick one of their children so as to provide a good marriage for them.) I believe wardships could be bought from the king or were given as a reward.

  • Reply December 6, 2014

    Jamie Adair

    re: Jun’s point about about adultery
    Sorry not to nest this comment – not that it matters that much – there aren’t any more nesting levels. (I can never decide if nesting makes threads easier to follow or harder – given the layout of these comments it might make them harder.)

    I may have read a lot of the same stuff about evolutionary psychology/biology/anthropology that you have. (I used to be a huge Desmond Morris fan years ago and started exploring from there.) I refuse to believe that people didn’t have the same behavior and basic motivations at any point in history. (I do think that circumstances can modify this behavior – e.g., fear of repercussions, social conventions, etc.) But, it would be naive to assume they didn’t have the same temptations we do.

    I was very surprised when I read about country folk scoffing at the church’s prohibitions on premarital sex. The way it was put was that if two young people were in love and intended to marry it seemed like red tape or divorced from reality to believe they were sinning before they were married and not after. However, the book implied that attitudes towards sex and premarital sex may have varied across regions, parishes, etc. and individuals. And, of course, sexual behavior is a difficult area to research (due to lack of documentation). What came across loudly to me was that our previous impressions of sexual behavior in the Middle Ages may be distorted by historians over relying on Church documents as sources. (And, assuming that people blindly accepted and obeyed all Church prohibitions.)

    On a bit of a tangent, the excerpts of Church documents I read were absurdly detailed, btw. There were so many prohibitions that it would be next to impossible for married people to remember when they were sinning and when they weren’t.

    Cynically, I found myself looking at the collective big picture and wondering if a group of people — forced into a commitment to celibacy in childhood when their parents dedicated them to the Church — unconsciously created such a huge and detailed volume of prohibitions so they could hear about sex constantly in the confessional and would have license to ask about it.

    I think if you step back and look at the big picture of monasticism itself this behavior becomes more understandable. I haven’t read much about medieval monasteries since I was a teenager or in my early twenties but as I understand it many monasteries were populated by the surplus children of the nobility and possibly other wealthy classes. If nobles had 10-12 children, it was unlikely they could find or fund decent marriages for all of them, so they might dedicate 1-2 to the Church in childhood. This was the behavior. (The rational might be because they felt like it was a good, holy, or charitable sacrifice to make.) Bridget, Edward IV’s last child, was dedicated to a nunnery in childhood.

    The actual result for the dedicated children could be good or it could be quite cruel. (Presumably, if they were at a pleasant monastery or convent, with people they liked, doing interesting tasks, and it wasn’t too strict, it might not be that bad.) It is also worth remembering that not all nuns and monks upheld their vows and lived a celibate lifestyle and many didn’t live an impoverished lifestyle. Still, when children as young as seven were dedicated, it often wasn’t their choice. For those who lived in monasteries that actually were strict and celibate, it might feel like a prison and festering resentment might result consciously or unconsciously. I think it was quite cruel in many ways.

    Consequently, it is understandable that the monks in the medieval Church might become obsessed with sex.

    • Reply December 15, 2014

      Ben Bradshaw

      Same caveats from me on the nesting of comments.

      (Also, I apologize if I come off as defensive at all, but I’ve found that being a guy and commenting on topics like these on the internet leads to me being insulted even by people who know me personally. For some background info on myself, I bailed out of an Anthro/Archaeology PhD program with a master’s several years ago. I like to tell myself that one of the reasons for this decision was that I took a class on sex and human evolution which made me instantly regret not having spent the previous nine years of my life studying that topic instead.)

      I haven’t gotten around to reading this book yet, so take my recommendation with a grain of salt, but you might want to check out “Sex at Dawn”: . From what I gather, it covers a lot of the same material I encountered in the class I mentioned above, but for a popular audience. Chris Ryan also has a podcast which is on my To-Start-Listening-To list.

      With all that out of the way, I wanted to point out that a huge amount of human behavior and emotions seems to be directed towards limiting paternity uncertainty for males. When I got to the sections of World of Ice and Fire about Tywin and Aerys, I made a post on Facebook about how much less strife there would be in Westeros if they just had paternity tests. I mean, one of the main storylines in GoT directly concerns the heritability of hair color, right?

      Two points to consider about human sex and adultery as it relates to some of the things you guys have been discussing:

      -I don’t know for sure when exactly we nailed this fact down, but it is only relatively recently (as in since the invention of the microscope) that we knew for sure that children are the result of ONE sperm fertilizing ONE egg (although I’ve heard of one extremely rare case where twin zygotes recombined very early in the pregnancy in such a way that the combined zygote grew up to become a single woman who actually had TWO distinct sets of DNA depending on where you took your tissue sample). As a result, the Medieval belief that a child can only have one biological father has just about as much empirical support as the belief among certain Amazonian tribes (whose names escape me and Google at the moment) that a child is literally “built” out of semen, i.e. a pregnant woman who wants a strong child will have socially-acceptable sex with as many men as are willing.

      -For a woman, there is never any doubt that the child she gives birth to is her own; modern surrogacy techniques notwithstanding. For men, there will ALWAYS be uncertainty that the child his wife or girlfriend or baby mama gives birth to is actually his own. Even the most controlling, abusive, insecure guys in history who never let their mates out of their presence had to sleep sometime. Harems guarded by eunuchs and shackles could conceivably reduce the risk of adulterous behavior, but I’m not aware of much evidence for these strategies for the ~93,000 years of human history before the advent of sedentism in the Old World.

      There are a ton of fascinating behaviors which spin out of this logic, but I’ve already missed the whistle marking the end of my lunch break. Ok, here’s another quick one: it turns out that relatives of the mother are much more likely to make comments about a child looking like the father than the father’s relatives. The maternal relatives want to make it as unlikely as possible for the father to disown the child due to suspicions of adultery.

      • Reply December 17, 2014

        Watcher on the Couch

        I think the people who post here, male and female, have a bit of brain, Ben (hope that doesn’t sound pompous), and to date (hope I’m not tempting Providence) I’ve not noted any trolling here thus far. I was “trolled” on a (non GoT) forum where people were blaming black people for a crime. The culprits had not been found and I said something like let’s wait till we know who did it before apportioning blame and I got a lot of hate – that it was because of folk like me the UK was going to the dogs, etc. Some people just like to “knock” I think.

        Slightly off-topic but in the old days marriages, whether in the upper or lower classes and anywhere in between, must have been a game of hazard. Ok if you were female and married a decent man, not so nice if you married a nasty one (I mentioned on the Chivalry thread that way back when a man could beat his wife with a stick if it wasn’t thicker than his thumb). In a way I can understand that unhappily married women would be tempted if someone seemingly more pleasant than her husband made a move; though there could have been hell to pay if she got pregnant.

        • Reply December 17, 2014

          Ben Bradshaw

          Thanks for the reassuring words. I have this theory that’s been percolating in my head for a while about why online interactions seem to generate so much strife, and it basically comes down to the novelty of the medium. I bet that if dashboard cams existed in the early days of the proliferation of the automobile before we’d developed some of the basic rules of the road we now take for granted, we’d have a pretty grisly record of the consequences of people improvising new standards of interpersonal behavior.

          Back to the topic of this post and to add some context from my educational background to your observations about the game of hazard that is marriage; there is a statistical trend among men where child rearing abilities are INVERSELY correlated with physical/genetic desirability. In other words, the best fathers tend to not be the most attractive to women (and presumably gay men). Don’t worry though. This is a statistical observation, so we can all carry on believing that we’re the outliers who buck the trend.

          However, one logical consequence of this inverse correlation among men is that a woman who prioritizes the well-being of her children above all other considerations could be justified in getting a “good father” to believe that he is raising his own offspring when they really are the biological offspring of a different “attractive man”. One of the reasons I think George R. R. Martin is a genius is that he can provide relatively uncontroversial examples of this logic playing out in the world of fantasy which would probably get him tarred and feathered if he pointed out similar examples in the real world. I am extremely curious how much background he has in evolutionary theory because as far as I know, this is still a very taboo approach to understanding human behavior, even in academia and especially in the humanities. Is he just so attuned to the games people play that he unconsciously made these issues such a crucial part of these stories or are they more intentional?

          (Again, my apologies if I’m offending any women with this comment. I am a University of Virginia alum, so I’m acutely aware of what a minefield I’m venturing into. I just couldn’t stop myself from sharing some of the things I find extremely fascinating about human behavior as they relate to sex and relationships.)

          • December 19, 2014

            Jamie Adair

            Sorry I didn’t reply before. Also, thanks Watcher. I’ve been somewhat heads down with another December cold and getting ready for the holidays.

            Just as an FYI, hopefully you don’t need to feel wary of flaming/trolling here. While sometimes people have sharp opinions, nobody seems to be aggressive about flaming. (I have a policy of approving all comments (even ones that trash me) to try to promote lively debate and for freedom of speech. But, I’m not going to put up with any bullying.) Anyone should be able to say what they want (or reply), as long as they are respectful.

            Evolutionary psychology and biology are controversial, but so are a lot of academic disciplines.

          • December 20, 2014

            Jun Yan

            I may write a longer comment underneath outside of nesting comments, but just want to drop a quick reply here that many of what Ben has brought up are ideas I have been fascinated with too. I also agree that this is extremely complicated, like most areas of human behaviors and motivations.

  • Reply December 7, 2014


    Social and historical and political issues aside (too many things to think about and not enough space to write about), I just want to note a technical issue that a lot of articles have not reported correctly.

    The study results showed that four of the Somerset 1-5 modern samples have the same Y-chromosome haplotype, and one sample has a different haplotype from the other four. Since all five modern relatives are supposed to come from the male line of Henry Somerset, Duke of Beaufort (b. 1744), clearly, that one person with a different Y-chromosome had a false paternity at some point between 1744 and his or her birth, which spans only 4 or 5 generations.

    However, the Y-chromosome from Skeleton 1 (ie, Richard III) matches none of the Somerset 1-5 samples, which indicates that Richard III and Henry Somerset do not match on the male lineage either, and there must have been one or more cases of false paternity somewhere from Edward III to Henry Somerset, which spans about 20 generations.

    Therefore, Mr. Ashdown Hill’s interpretation of the study results is not entirely correct, because at least one case of false paternity occurred before 1744, not just between Henry Somerset and the samples’ generation. Isn’t it strange that now historians need to be learn a lot of genetics?

    • Reply December 7, 2014


      Sorry I should have written there must have been one or more false paternity somewhere from Edward III to Henry Somerset OR from Edward III to Richard III. That involves more than 20 mothers, one or more of whom at some point passed off an illegitimate son as a legitimate one, knowingly or (more likely) unknowingly. I don’t know why people act so surprised.

  • Reply December 14, 2014

    Bandit Queen (@KAHMANTA)

    The story about Cecily having an affair in France has never been seriously substantiated and the only real question of Edward IV being illegitimate was made by George Duke of Clarence to justify his own failed attempt to take the throne. He repeated the accusations after the death of his wife as he felt Edward had denied him justice and dismissed his claim that she was poisoned. But we have to remember that Clarence was distressed, desperate, easily mislead, and probably unstable. His accusations cannot be taken seriously or proven. Yes it appears that the dates of Cecilys pregnancy with Edward are off somewhat by a few weeks and this has been argued by Michael Jones as evidence of an affair. A counter argument has been made by her biographer Amy Linacre that there are statistics that show women can come to full term at 37 weeks. It has also been argued that Richard Duke of York was no more than a day or so away and could have met with Cecily before his official return to Rouen on 20th August 1441. This may be a bit of a stretch, but it is possible. There is no evidence for this scenario but there is no reliable contemporary evidence of an affair either. Even if the baptism was in the castle chapel and not the Cathedral as it was for Edmund, the second surviving son, this proves nothing. Cecily had lost a son recently and she and her husband may have been concerned about the princes health. In time of war an extravagant baptism may not have been appropriate. Even if Cecily did risk all, when her children could be he is to the throne, there is no evidence that Richard Duke of York did not recognize Edward as his son. The DNA does not make any suggestion that Richard iii was illegitimate. His parentage has never been in doubt. It could also be said that the old argument that Edward was a bastard because he had fair hair is also moot. Richard lll was also blonde as were some of the other kids. In fact most of the Plantagenet dynasty were blonde. While the rumours spread that Edward was a bastard make a good story, they were politically motivated and there is no evidence to support them.

    • Reply December 16, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      Hi Bandit Queen, Thanks for reading. I agree with many of your points with a few caveats. I don’t know if we can definitely say the rumors were politically motivated. Regardless of the origin, they were certainly used for political purposes so it is seems likely to me they were political Still the rumors were surprisingly specific and persistent. I believe the rumors first surfaced when Edward married Elizabeth Woodville. I believe Ross talks about this but I’d have to check.

      re: “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.”

      I left it handing after I wrote about the document found in the Cathedral – I probably should have followed up with a statement about my own personal opinion that it’s likely poppycock. But, conversely, it is an argument of sufficient merit that it warranted an entire TV show devoted to it.

      The part I didn’t say is that there are many possible explanations about the distance – IMO, it proves relatively little. Like you say, it isn’t inconceivable that Cecily visited her husband or vice versa. Likewise, it isn’t inconceivable that she had Edward early. I highly doubt his low-key baptism was due to questions of legitimacy. (If there was any truth to the rumors, you’d think Richard of York and Cecily would want to hide it by having a lavish baptism.)

      With that said, while part of me thinks it is probably not good form to slander long-dead queen mothers, another part of me thinks that noble women were human and it isn’t inconceivable that she might have had an affair.

      At any rate, thanks for this great comment. You bring up many interesting points — great food for thought/conversation. 🙂

  • Reply December 20, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    The dreaded December cold, I think we all know about them if we live in the northern hemisphere – and there’s still the January and February ones to come (I’m a proper little ray of sunshine am I not). Being an oldster now I have reached the magic age where I can get the flu jab for free (in the UK) but I still sometimes find myself coughing when I get up (bronchitis?) I’ve a couple of friends who are in care homes that I owe visits where I’ve had to write to them and say I’ve not forgotten them but I don’t want to spread my germs around.

    I am not working in the hallowed halls of academia myself, but it’s true that controversy lurks there (I’m even aware of that as a lay person) – the endless debate as to whether Richard III was a bad ‘un or a good ‘un is a case in point – and there are still some folk who are not convinced the body found under the car park in a certain English midlands town does belong to a certain long deceased King of England.

    To get back on topic, valid points have been made that the adultery in the maternal line could have occurred long after Richard III’s time. Reading this does reinforce how dreadfully unfair rules were for women in the past (if Ben B reads this I do hope I don’t come across like a whinging female). It was alright for the king to frolic in the thistles but the women must hold on to their kirtles – I know it all had to do with keeping the bloodline “pure”. I think I said on one of the Cersei threads that while I don’t particularly like the character of Cersei (sorry Jun), she was not the only unfaithful partner in her marriage. I can’t remember offhand whether I (or somebody else) mentioned that Philip Le Bel of France’s oldest son, Louis Le Hutin’s daughter was suspected of being the child of adultery and was excluded from succeeding to the throne. (Two of Philip Le Bel’s daughters-in-law were accused and found guilty of adultery – the men accused of being their lovers were executed in a horrible manner and the women were imprisoned in Chateau Gaillard in a very grim dungeon). This features in Maurice Druon’s “Accursed Kings” series (which series GRRM has cited as one of his inspirations for ASOIAF).

    • Reply December 20, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      Hmmm… not that I’m a doctor but be sure to get your cough checked out and inquire about the pneumonia vaccine. I was reading something yet again the other day about the harsh penalties for medieval noblewomen. I think it was somebody in Scotland punishing their adulterous wife quite harshly around Edward I’s time I think. Yes, I’ve thought of writing a post about the Tour de Nesle affair but I haven’t gotten there yet. That was yet another harsh punishment about some believe trumped up for political reasons. (AFAIK, for centuries, there has been debate over whether Philip IV was gullible. Historian Tracy Adams I think it is argues that he might have been and the adultery was highly unlikely due to logistics. E.g., How would the queens sneak around through Paris? They were always with their ladies.)

  • Reply December 21, 2014


    Regarding Ben’s comments about trying not to offend female readers, I am reminded of what Steven Pinker has written about how our pursuit of social science is often hampered by what we want to believe and perhaps more often what we don’t want to believe. The concern for morality and discrimination is understandable but sometimes can overtake cold, hard evidence. I can sympathize with the fear and worry that certain facts and truths can lend cause to evil and dehumanizing agendas (eg, social darwinism). On the other hand, the importance of equality and justice and social improvement should not be a reason to obscure our effort to understand the truth about humanity, not the least because the truth is more likely to set us free than to make us worse than we already are.

    GRRM has said he writes the female characters in the same way he writes male characters. They are motivated by pretty much the same things as men are, except the external condition is different for men and for women. He is not wrong. To maximize the chance of survival of one’s genetic material is the most important instinct for every organism on earth. No reason to expect women to pursue the goal any less aggressively than men. It is not surprising that women try to achieve it by being attracted and wanting to mate with men with strong (or more compatible) genes without losing the resources she obtains from a lesser-looking husband.

    Similarly, it is not surprising that men are always anxious about paternity. Tywin Lannister’s anxiety is completely natural and even reasonable. His obsession with family legacy seems to represent the “selfish genes,” who really could not care less about their carriers’ (ie, the humans’) well-being, as long as the genes are replicated as much as possible into the future.

    By the way, the Amazonian belief about multiple sperms making one child is pretty cool and could be a good setup for a science fiction or fantasy story. In humans, however, this theory can be easily disproved with empirical evidence from a sufficient sample size. Once we observe that the child almost always looks like the man who mated with the mother nine months earlier, it’s hard to argue otherwise. Besides, knowledge and experience in breeding domesticated animals (which some tribes might not have) would have made it very clear that one male is necessary and sufficient.

  • Reply December 21, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    Jun, I started typing something but hit a wrong button I think – it’s vanished into cyber space anyhom (Jamie if I have double posted will you edit?) I mentioned that I had read somewhere that litters of domestic kittens sometimes have more than one father – that sounds a bit odd, but what it means is that there could be half-brothers and half-sisters in the same litter. The little dark tortoiseshell (US calico I think) that I had that lived to be 19 and died about three years ago, when she was young – and when I thought erroneously that she was too young to get pregnant – in the one litter she had, gave birth to two ginger and white kittens and two tabbies. Tortoiseshell and ginger are from the same gene I believe, so they could all have come from one tom. My present cat (tortie and white – light calico??) was a rescue cat so she had had “the snip” by the time I had her when she was aged 8.

    I mentioned on another thread that I thought that some of Henry VIII’s wives had been harshly treated for not providing a son (although Olga reminded me that Katherine of Aragon did give birth to a son but that he did not live very long), when we know nowadays that it is the sperm that defines the sex of a child rather than the ovum.

    Jamie (sorry for a while I think I have been spelling your name the “Kingslayer” way, you know, I had never thought of Philip the Fair’s daughters-in-law possibly being innocent. I shall have to look up the work you mention that explores the chance that they were “framed”.

    • Reply December 23, 2014

      Ben Bradshaw

      That Amazonian tribe I was thinking of are called the Canela. Wikipedia tells me this is a language group and not a tribe, but that should give anyone who’s interested something to go on for further study.

      I think the people in this tribe recognized that one man was sufficient to get a woman pregnant. If I’m remembering correctly, they just thought of the extra semen as bonus insurance that the child would be healthy and strong. They would interpret different aspects of the child’s appearance or behavior as coming from the mother’s primary mate or from one of the other guys who tagged in to give the first guy a break. So if a child ended up looking more like someone else in the tribe rather than the primary mate, they would explain it away in terms of each man’s relative spiritual strength, I.e. The other man’s essence overpowered the primary mate’s during gestation resulting in the child sharing more physical traits with the latter than the former.

      You’re right about individuals probably having a more sophisticated understanding about heredity than I had originally suggested based on the breeding of domestic animals. Of course, animal husbandry was much more limited in the New World vs. the Old World, but then again, one could argue that the New Worlders were way more skillful when it came to plant breeding.

      On a side note, I think women throughout history have generally had plenty to legitimately whinge about, and they still do to this day. But I start to get annoyed when sensitivity to cultural and historical biases against women hold up the application of evolutionary theory to the analysis of human behavior.

      Anyway, thanks all for being receptive to my thoughts.

  • Reply December 21, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    Edit to clarify above post – my cat who died when she was 19 obviously did not die young – for a cat it was quite a good innings. I meant to say that she had kittens when she was young. Allusion to something vanishing into cyberspace “ahyhom” should of course be “anyhow”. While I am typing, where I alluded to having had a cold in an earlier posting, I hope I did not wax too lyrical. Nothing is forever of course but I hope it’s not a case of the old adage “It wasn’t so much the coughin’ as the coffin they carried her off in”. I don’t think I’m quiet that bad, though as they say nothing is certain in this world.

    Not directly on topic,but not 100% off either, some acquaintances and I were discussing how perceptions of morality had changed since the 1960s. At one time women who gave birth outside marriage were often given a hard time – nowadays people do not seem to take it so seriously. Quite often at present-day weddings the children of the couple are bridesmaids or pages.

  • Reply December 22, 2014


    Hope you are feeling better, Watcher. Chinese women had it pretty bad too. Some regions had a tradition of punishing adulterous women by drowning in the river.

    • Reply December 26, 2014

      Jamie Adair


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