Will new DNA technology dispel the myth that Richard III was one of history’s villains?
History, it is often said, is written by the victors. Such has been the case of the much maligned King Richard III, the last of the Plantagenet line, who has been remembered rather unfavourably as the murderer of his two nephews, ‘the Princes in the tower’ and characterised as a villainous hunchback by Shakespeare, following his defeat at the Battle of Bosworth by Henry Tudor, the father of the dynasty of the same name and future King Henry VII.
Now, geneticists are hoping to discover just how true these allegations against Richard III might be through advanced genome science that might be able to reveal his personality, and whether he was pre-disposed to conditions such as narcissism or psychopathy.
The move comes after scientists at Leicester University – the same who managed to prove that bones excavated in a carpark in 2013 belonged to the 15th century monarch – have sequenced his complete genome, the first time that this has been done for a historical figure.
Professor Turi King, of the university’s department of genetics and genome biology, told The Times: ‘It’s really interesting and runs the gamut from his blood type to was he lactose intolerant to was he genetically predisposed to baldness or heart disease.’
As well as his health, including discovering the origins of his scoliosis, which gave him the curved spine he is remembered for in Shakespeare, it is also believed that scientists will be able to learn more about what Richard looked like. Following the 2013 excavation, they were able to work out that he was blond-haired and blue-eyed.
The next stage after that could see links being made between certain genes and personality traits, such as violent aggression, psychopathy and narcissism. However, it is important to caveat that discovery of any of these predispositions does not ‘prove’ either reading of Richard as crook or hero misjudged by history, with his environment also having an impact on his personality, as the endless debate over nature vs. nurture would point out.
Professor King will appear on BBC 2’s new series DNA Family Secrets weekly from tomorrow at 9pm.
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