The problems of Richard III’s Y chromosome; the problems relating to the burials at Clare Priory, and the problems of working with Historic England

In 2004, following the request of colleagues in Belgium, I discovered the mtDNA sequence of King Richard III and his siblings. 1 Mitochondrial DNA is inherited only in the all-female line. In that same year I was commissioned by the BBC to research the ‘body in the river’ story which was then widely recounted in Leicester regarding the fate of Richard III’s remains. As a result of my research on that story, in 2005, with the help of the Richard III Society East Midland (Leicester) Branch, I persuaded Leicester City Council to allow the erection of a new plaque next to the Victorian plaque near Bow Bridge, which commemorates the ‘body in the river’ myth. My new plaque stated that the nineteenth-century inscription of the Victorian memorial was untrue.

By 2005 I was working with Philippa Langley. At her suggestion, on 17 October 2005 I contacted the television archaeological programme Time Team to propose an excavation project at the Social Services Department Greyfriars’ Car Park in Leicester, in an attempt to rediscover the lost remains of Richard III. To Time Team I put the evidence of my DNA discovery, my evidence of the falsity of the ‘body in the river’ story, my discovery of a previously unpublished fifteenth-century text confirming that Richard III had been buried at the Franciscan Priory in Leicester,2 and my evidence (based on my wider knowledge of medieval mendicant priories) of where approximately the priory church would have stood. Unfortunately Time Team felt that the required work would take longer than their normal time allocation, and declined the project.

In 2009 Philippa Langley invited me to present all my evidence relating to the burial site of Richard III to the Richard III Society Scottish Branch. When I had done so and our research dovetailed she formally created “The Looking For Richard Project” (hereinafter LFR) of which I was one of the founder members. In 2012, with the financial backing of the membership of the Richard III Society and other bodies, Philippa commissioned ULAS (the University of Leicester Archaeological Service) to excavate the Social Services car park, and on the first day of the dig the remains of Richard III were found.

The remains were later identified by a mixture of genetic and circumstantial evidence. The circumstantial evidence included:

    • correct location
    • male sex
    • correct age
    • right social class
    • correct death date (carbon dating)
    • died a violent death
    • a slightly deformed back3
    • a low-status burial in a high-status part of the church
    • an independently produced facial reconstruction which resembled surviving portraits of Richard III.

The genetic evidence comprised a match between the mtDNA of the bones and that of the collateral descendants of Richard III’s elder sister, discovered by me in 2004.

In 2006 I had also advanced the possibility of revealing the Y chromosome of England’s medieval royal family.4Unlike mtDNA, the Y chromosome is transmitted only in all-male lines of descent. Although there are no living legitimate all-male line descendants of Edward III, the Somerset family are theoretically descended illegitimately from Edward’s son, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. In 2006 the head of the Somerset family, His Grace the Duke of Beaufort, was asked by me for a DNA sample – a request which he declined. However I also researched names and addresses of a number of the duke’s cousins who could also be asked for DNA samples. In the autumn of 2012, following the exhumation of Richard III’s remains, I passed the relevant details, together with the suggestion that the Y chromosome should also be explored, to the geneticists of the University of Leicester who were testing the DNA of the bones found at the Leicester Greyfriars site.5

Unlike the mtDNA of the Leicester bones, which matched the sequence I had discovered in 2004, the Y chromosome of the Leicester bones proved not to match that of the Somerset family. Because living male members of the Somerset family also revealed two different Y chromosomes, this inconsistency strongly suggests that at least one of the Somerset female ancestors produced sons who were fathered, not by her legal husband, but by a lover.

However, there is also some speculation that Richard III’s paternal-line grandfather, Richard, Earl of Cambridge, may have been illegitimate.6 If so, he would not have inherited the Y chromosome of Edmund of Langley, Duke of York, and of King Edward III. Although this would not have affected Richard III’s and Edward IV’s subsequent claims to the throne (which were based upon their female line descent from Edmund’s elder brother, Lionel, Duke of Clarence) it could mean that Richard III and his brothers did not have the same Y chromosome as their ancestor, King Edward III and his male-line descendants.

At present, the interpretation of the Leicester Y chromosome test results remains unclear. Therefore in 2015 I began work on an important project which sought to clarify the picture in that respect. I proposed trying to establish for certain the Y chromosome of Edward III and his male-line descendants by extracting DNA from the remains of Edward III’s son, Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence. It would then be possible to assess whether or not this matches the Y chromosome of the Richard III bones found in the Leicester car park, or whether it matches either of the Y chromosomes produced by living members of the Somerset family.

Lionel Duke of Clarence (1338-1368) was the second surviving (third) son of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault. His first wife was Elizabeth de Burgh (1332-1363), heiress of the earldom of Ulster.7 Married in 1352, this couple had one child, Philippa (1355-1382), from whom the royal House of York was later descended. Although the house of York was descended from Lionel in a female line (via Lionel’s daughter), the men of the house of York (Richard, Duke of York and his sons, including Edward IV and Richard III) should have shared the Y chromosome of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, because they were also theoretically descended in the male line from Lionel’s younger brother, Edmund, Duke of York (see family tree below).8

Reportedly Lionel’s osseous remains were buried before the high altar in the pre-Reformation church of Clare Priory in Suffolk. The church was destroyed in the sixteenth century, and only the remains of the south wall now survive. However, the locations of the high altar and of three graves in the presbytery appear to be marked on-site. One of these graves is directly in front of the altar, and it is reputed to be that of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, and his first wife, Elizabeth de Burgh.

In 1953 Clare Priory was restored to the Augustinian Order of the Catholic Church. In 2016 I approached the Prior of Clare. He confirmed that he and the Augustinian Community would be willing to allow Lionel’s gravesite to be excavated, and for the remains to be exhumed and examined in an attempt to establish

a) that the male remains in the grave  belong to Lionel
b) Lionel’s Y chromosome

on the condition that the remains should be respectfully reinterred on-site when the process had been completed. That response was very helpful, and it is interesting to compare it with the apparently negative responses of the Church of England in similar situations which were later cited to me by Historic England (see below).

I therefore submitted the evidence I then had available together with a project proposal to Dr Will Fletcher of ‘Historic England’. He is based in Cambridge. In discussions with him by telephone and by email it emerged that he had doubts about allowing excavation on a scheduled monument site. However, formal permission was granted for a GPR survey to explore the choir of the pre-Reformation Priory Church at Clare and see where there are burials.

Clare Priory

With the assistance of several Suffolk Historical societies and of the University of Essex, the GPR survey was carried out in March 2016. It appeared to confirm the basic proposed layout of the choir and the side chapel of St Vincent. It also revealed a few apparent burial sites in the choir and the side chapel which had not previously been recorded. An interesting point which emerged was the fact that two of the apparent unexcavated burial sites in the choir seemed rather small (see below).  However, the GPR survey raised various questions. Also, it revealed nothing in respect of the three alleged burial sites – two of which are marked with stones, and the third, with a plaque dating from the twentieth century – except for the fact that the areas around two of them (the alleged central and northern burial sites marked with stones) had apparently been disturbed by previous excavation.

Meanwhile, my ongoing research on the documentary evidence in respect of the alleged burials at Clare Priory was attempting to clarify the situation in that respect. In 1904 Sir George Barker, the former owner of Clare Priory, commissioned Sir William St John Hope to excavate the site of the former church choir. Apart from a plan which he reportedly produced (see illustrations), St John Hope himself left no documentary evidence in respect of his excavation at Clare Priory. However, Lady Barker (later Mrs Barnadiston), the widow of Sir George, produced an account which contains the following information: ‘[Lionel] was buried first in the city of Pavia (1369) and was afterwards interred in the Convent Church of the Austin Friars at Clare in accordance with the instructions left in his Will that he should be buried in that Church before the High Altar.9 During the recent excavations at Clare Priory two graves were found in a position answering to this description. In one was the skeleton of an unusually tall man; in the other were female bones. There can be very little doubt that these were the graves of Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence, and Elizabeth his wife. Their bones have been reburied where they were found, and the position of the graves is marked on Sir William St. John Hope’s plan and the spot is also marked in the Priory Garden’.10 1924, pp. 72-73 (SRO – Ipswich).]

The evidence upon which Mrs Barnardiston based her claim that the Duchess of Clarence was buried at Clare and that her husband, the Duke, was subsequently interred beside her, was presumably the English version of the poem written in the late 1450s, known as the ‘Dialogue at the Grave of Dame Joan of Acre’:

“‘Sir Lyonel, which buried is hir [his wife] by,
As for such a Prince, to[o] sympilly’.”11

However, the Latin version of this poem does not say that Lionel was buried beside his wife:

‘Leonello   … post sataque tumulato
ut vides exigua pro tanto principe tumba
inque chori medio’. 12

‘Lionel … was afterward reluctantly so entombed
– As you can see, a small tomb for such a prince
– In the midst of the choir’.

Also, while the Latin version of the poem does say that Lionel was buried in medio chori (‘in the midst of the choir’), that does not necessarily mean that his gravesite was in the very centre of the choir.13
Meanwhile, other medieval evidence clearly reveals that, in reality, the Duchess of Clarence was not buried at Clare Priory. ‘A document, dated 1364, just after Elizabeth’s death, shows that she was buried at Bruisyard, Suffolk. The document is in The National Archives, catalogued as E101/394/19, and is the account of her former chaplain, Nicholas de Fladbury and another of Lionel’s officials bringing her body back from Ireland and taking it via Chester and Coventry to Bruisyard.  The coffin was covered by a linen pall on which was a cross of red silk, and the funeral was conducted by the bishop of Norwich’.14 Thus, the female bones found in front of the site of the high altar by William St. John Hope in 1904, and recorded by Mrs Barnardiston as almost certainly the remains of the Duchess of Clarence cannot possibly have belonged to Lionel’s first wife.

As for the interment of Lionel himself, the ‘Summary of the Will of Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence’ as published in N.H. Nicolas, ed.,Testamenta Vetusta, vol.1, London 1826, pp. 70-71, offers the following evidence:

‘Lionel Duke of Clarence,15 in the house of the Duke of Milan, in the city of Alba, the 3d of October 1368.  My body to buried in the Church of the Friars Augustines at Clare, in the County of Suffolk; to Violenta, my wife,16 my vestments with gold coronets; to John de Bromwich, Knt. my courser called Gerfacon; to  Richard Musard, Knt. a girdle of gold and a courser called Maugeneleyn; to John de Capell, my chaplain, a girdle of gold, to make a chalice in memory of my soul; and to the said John my best portiforium with musical notes; to Master Nicholas de Haddeley a small portiforium,17.] without notes; to John Wayte, my chaplain, a portiforium, with notes; to Thomas Waleys a circle of gold, with which my brother and Lord was created Prince;18 to Edmund Mone the circle with which I was created Duke; to Nicholas Bekennesfeld x marks a year out of the manor of Bremsfeld.  And I appoint Violenta, my wife; Bartholomew Pigot, and John de Capell, my chaplain; and Sir John de Bromwich, Knight, my executors.  In the presence of Nicholas de Bekennesfeld, Robert Bradway, John Bray, and others.  Proved before William Archbishop of Canterbury19 6 ides of June20 1369, at Lambeth’.21

Although Lionel’s will definitely requested burial at Clare Priory, it is reported that ‘on his deathbed he … stipulated that, while his heart and bones should be brought back to the Suffolk Augustinians, his flesh and entrails should be buried at Pavia, near to the tomb of St Augustine of Hippo (Capgrave, De illustribus Henricis, 100 [sic – actually p. 105], idem., Chronicle, 225-6)’22

Moreover, it seems clear that Lionel’s flesh and entrails were buried in Pavia, for in 1392 Henry, son of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster (the future King Henry IV) made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. En route he visited Pavia and prayed at the tomb of St Augustine. ‘He also saw the body of Lionel, the late duke of Clarence, his uncle, who had been buried there. For this Lionel, just before his death, had given commandment to his attendants that his heart and his bones should be conveyed to the convent of the Hermit Friars of S. Augustin, at Clare, in England, but that his flesh and entrails should be solemnly interred beside the grave of that distinguished doctor’.23

Nevertheless, clear evidence does exist, showing that Lionel’s heart and bones were brought back to England and buried at Clare Priory. Lionel’s bequest to Clare Priory of embroidered black clothing and fabric was fulfilled, and Lionel’s funeral expenses at Clare Priory were settled.24 ‘The sum of ten marks was paid to the prior and brethren, in the chapter-house, on 12 September, 1377, for their share in the funeral expenses’.25 Moreover, John Newbury (or Newborne) esquire, one of the men who brought Lionel’s remains back to Clare from Italy, was subsequently also interred at Clare Priory, near Lionel’s grave.

The fact that only the heart and bones of the Duke of Clarence were brought back to England suggests that they would probably have been in one (or two) small container(s). Interestingly, this corresponds with the description of Lionel’s grave at Clare Priory in the ‘Dialogue at the Grave of Dame Joan of Acre’. As we have seen that poem states that he was buried there ‘for such a Prince, to[o] sympilly’, in ‘a small tomb … in the midst of the choir [exigua … tumba / inque chori medio]’.26 This raises the intriguing question as to whether the real burial site of Lionel’s bones and heart at Clare Priory might possibly be one of the small and rather shallow burial sites identified by the recent GPR survey on the south side of the presbytery (see above and illustration).

However, the documentary evidence seems to prove that the marked burial site in the centre of the former presbytery, before the high altar, in which two bodies (one male and one female) were found and reburied in 1904, cannot possibly be the tomb of Lionel Duke of Clarence and his first wife, Elizabeth de Burgh. Possibly therefore this prime tomb site, directly in front of the high altar, actually comprises the graves of an earlier royal patronesss, Joan of Acre (daughter of Edward I), and that of her son, Edward Monthermer, who is reported to have been buried beside his mother, and who may well have inherited his height from his grandfather, King Edward I (‘Longshanks’).

Meanwhile, the alleged tomb site on the north side of the presbytery, marked by paving slabs in the grass, remains intriguing. Its discovery was never recorded by William St. John Hope or by Mrs Barnardiston. It first appears only on the 1958 plan of Philip Dickinson (see illustrations). Dickinson carried out a second excavation of parts of the former church site in the 1950s. However, his work seems to have focused on the central and western parts of the former church site. Curiously, Dickinson appears to have recorded the existence of this alleged northern tomb site on his published plan merely because there were paving slabs lying there in his day. Thus it is by no means certain that a real tomb site ever existed in that position.

Position of the Gravesites in the Choir at Clare

See LC 01, LC 02 and LC 03 (above).

Comparing the first two images appears to show that the alleged northern gravesite only became marked on the ground at some stage between 1924 and 1958. It also seems to indicate that the marking of the central gravesite was altered (moved south a little, and possibly made slimmer). One possible explanation for this would be if originally there had been two lines of paving slabs in the centre of the presbytery, marking the site of those two burials recorded by Mrs Barnardiston, but if the northern row of paving slabs was dug up and moved to a position further north at some point between 1924 and 1958.

The evidence of LC 03 seems to imply that the position of the single row of paving slabs which remains more or less in the central area was also altered between 1924 and 1958 and that the row of slabs in question was possibly moved slightly further south. Thus:

  1. The real location of the central burial site containing two reinterred bodies (one male and one female) may now be slightly incorrectly marked on site.
  2. The genuine existence of a burial site on the north side of the presbytery is uncertain.
  3. As indicated in LC 03, the GPR survey suggests the existence of two small burial sites on the south side of the presbytery, towards the east, and one larger burial site a little further west on the southern side. It also suggests the existence of two burial sites in the Chapel of St Vincent.

In August 2016 I submitted all this new evidence to Dr Will Fletcher at HISTORIC ENGLAND, with two requests. First, that a second GPR survey should be carried out on the church site by a colleague from the University of Essex, and second, that the alleged area which is now marked as the northern tomb site should be subjected to a small and very limited excavation in an attempt to confirm whether or not it really is a burial site. I had a meeting with him and some of his colleagues in Cambridge, and in October 2016 I received the following written response:

The Reply Received From Historic England

Thank you for coming into the office to meet with us. I appreciate that you had asked for a meeting to discuss your proposals, and for us it was a useful opportunity to talk to you about further work at Clare Priory. Thank you also for sending through a revised copy of your proposal (dated 27th September 2016).

From previous correspondence we are aware that your initial proposal was to develop your work related to the discovery in 2012 of the remains of Richard III. One piece of evidence supporting the identification of these remains was the match between mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequenced from the excavated remains with those of living female-line relatives of Richard III. However, no Y-chromosome match has been made between Richard III and living male-line relatives (see King et al. 2014), and non-paternity events are thought to account for this. The ‘Lionel project’ that you proposed seeks to investigate the ancestry of Richard III by exhuming the body of, sampling and sequencing the Y-chromosome of Lionel, Duke of Clarence (1338-1368). Lionel was a son of Richard III’s Great Great Grandfather, Edward III and his remains are thought to lie at Clare Priory, Suffolk.

Your revised proposal, which we also discussed at the meeting, is to extend the GPR survey and undertake a small excavation in the chancel of the priory church. This is in an area where tombs and human remains were identified during an antiquarian excavation. This revised approach has been prompted by documentary research of these previous excavations and the new GPR survey that you undertook earlier this year. As you stated at the meeting, if in the course of this work you were to recover evidence that might purport to be grave of Lionel Duke of Clarence; you would seek permission to exhume the remains and complete the sampling for the above analysis.

As we confirmed at the meeting, your proposals raise a number of concerns. Clare Priory is designated as a scheduled monument; it is a highly valued heritage asset and the significance of the site is partly determined by excellent preservation of upstanding remains and extensive and well preserved archaeological deposits associated with the former priory. The quiet, rural location and benign use of the site provide a favourable setting for the former priory and contributes to the significance of the site. The priory is therefore well preserved, well presented and largely undisturbed. It is not under immediate threat, and there is no reason to consider the site or its archaeological deposits to be at risk and the current use of the site is compatible with long term conservation and preservation.

We have also considered the impact of the works as you have set them out and assessed the level of harm to the monument. GPR surveys and other geophysical techniques are widely supported in relation to designated assets due to the low impact and non-invasive nature of the work. The re-excavation of antiquarian trenches can represent a low-level of harm and impact, however, this still represents excavation and the removal of material. Where excavations have been poorly recorded as at Clare there is a higher risk that trenches cannot be adequately re-located, and would result in a risk of new excavation. Given the site is scheduled, and is likely to have an extensive burial ground; the disturbance of human remains even when excavating old trenches would be harmful. Your stated aim in relation to the body of Lionel Duke of Clarence would ultimately result in the removal of human remains. This, combined with the destructive sampling necessary for further analysis would represent a higher level of harm.

In legislative and policy terms the works you have outlined would require Scheduled Monument Consent and would require the excavation of part of a scheduled monument whose significance is determined by the extent and preservation of the archaeological deposits and whose importance is such that we consider its physical preservation is highly desirable. In addition with the exhumation of human remains, there is a long-established and immemorial presumption against exhumation of these remains without good cause, unless the site and the burials were demonstrably at risk. DCMS guidance (DCMS 2013) also states that in research-related cases which would result in harm to, or loss of, the significance of a Scheduled Monument we would have particular regard as to whether, preservation of the monument in situ is reasonably practicable. Any work would need to demonstrate that the potential increase in knowledge and understanding of our past cannot be achieved using non-destructive techniques. Also that the same results cannot be achieved with less harm through work in another place, and that the potential increase in knowledge would ‘decisively’ outweigh the harm.

Although the works that you have proposed are primarily research, the principles applied through National Planning and Policy Framework (NPPF) remain relevant to this process as discussed in the Historic England/Church of England 2005 Guidance. Paragraph 132 of the NPPF that states ‘when considering the impact of a proposed development of a designated heritage asset, great weight should be given to the asset’s conservation….As heritage assets are irreplaceable, any harm or loss should require clear and convincing justification’. The 2005 guidance goes on to state that ‘The desirability of a research excavation at a burial site should be considered within the general framework of weighing the need to preserve the ancient remains undisturbed against the benefits in terms of the accrual of knowledge, which would result from the archaeological work’ (paragraph 43).There is therefore a presumption against disturbance of burials without proper justification or without sufficient public benefit, with weight being given to schemes that advocate avoidance of archaeological deposits once they have been identified (e.g. see paragraph 178).

The exhumation of human remains requires permission from the Ministry of Justice under Section 25 of the 1857 Burial Act and our guidance also states that permission should also be sought from the surviving family members if known (see Historic England 2013). This is also relevant to the decision making when it comes to weighing up your justification for the excavation and the arguments for public benefit. The issue of Christian burial and theology also needs to be considered for proposals that involve disturbance to Christian burial grounds. The ecclesiastical law of the Church of England is protective and encompasses a principle that remains should lie undisturbed unless authority is granted for a good and proper reason in response to special circumstances (Historic England 2005, paragraph 105). Human remains are therefore under the protection of the consistory court of the diocese, which means that no disturbance of human remains may take place without a good and proper reason. Even if Clare priory is not with the diocese, the principle of the finality of Christian burial should be respected even though it may not be absolutely maintained in all cases.

It is stated in the Historic England guidance document ‘Science and the Dead’ (Historic England, 2013) that targeting the remains of ‘historic personages’ may raise additional concerns: and that the results may be of a sensitive nature that could offend or embarrass living descendants, and that these cases can raise complex social or political sensitivities. Permission should therefore be sought from the surviving family members if known (Historic England 2013, Section 2.2: page 5). When considering destructive sampling on human remains, such as sampling for aDNA, it is important to determine if the research questions are likely to be successful, or can be answered using non-destructive approaches (Historic England 2005, paragraph 189). Where destructive analysis of human remains is proposed, analysis should take place within a planned research programme and should have a realistic prospect of producing useful knowledge and should be carried out by a competent and experienced team of researchers (Historic England 2005, paragraphs 190-191; Historic England 2013, Section 2.2).

Our 2005 guidance goes on to state that ‘The desirability of a research excavation at a burial site should be considered within the general framework of weighing the need to preserve the ancient remains undisturbed against the benefits in terms of the accrual of knowledge, which would result from the archaeological work’ (Historic England 2005, paragraph 43).There is therefore a presumption against disturbance of burials without proper justification or without sufficient public benefit, with weight being given to schemes that advocate avoidance of archaeological deposits once they have been identified.

To conclude, Clare Priory is designated as a scheduled monument and has a high significance, for which preservation and conservation in-situ is preferred. We consider that the works you propose are within the realms of a research project, and that the core objective is the search for, and the excavation of human remains. The works including the re-excavation of the antiquarian trenches would therefore in our view result in harm to the significance of the Scheduled Monument. The site is not at risk or threatened in any meaningful way, and it is well cared for and respectfully managed by the current incumbents. The justification for any work here would therefore need to be considerable, and you would need to demonstrate that there is a high degree of public benefit, also, that the work cannot be carried out without the harm or elsewhere to better effect. As we discussed, there are a number of issues involved within the project, such as whether any remains can be confidently identified as those of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, and the accuracy of the scientific process used. We are therefore not satisfied that the research questions are likely to be successful. More detailed comments are provided on these aspects in the appendix.

For these reasons, we would not be minded to support an application for Scheduled Monument Consent and we deem that there is sufficient doubt against the exhumation of Lionel Duke of Clarence to consider that exhumation would not be justified in this case.

I have provided further advice below including the references of our guidance, as well as further information in relation to dating, osteology and ancient DNA. In collating Historic England’s collective view on these matters (as the Inspector of Ancient Monuments for Suffolk) I have been assisted by comments made by our specialists in these particular kinds of archaeology and archaeological science.

Addition Comments on the proposals

· DCMS 2013. Scheduled Monuments & nationally important but non-scheduled monuments.
· DCLG 2012. National Planning and Policy Framework
· Historic England/Church of England 2005. Guidance for the Best Practice for Treatment of Human Remains Excavated from Christian Burial Grounds in England.
· Historic England 2013. Science and the Dead: a guideline for the destructive sampling of archaeological human remains for scientific analysis. Historic England/Advisory Panel on the Archaeology of Burials in England.

Radiocarbon dating

There are concerns about the ability of radiocarbon to date remains from the mid-14th century precisely enough to enable the remains to be clearly identified to a known individual. The radiocarbon calibration curve converts the radiocarbon concentration in dated samples into calendar years. The portion of the calibration curve of interest in this case is problematic as it suffers from a significant ‘wiggle’ in the mid-14th century that restricts the precision of calibrated dates and causes them to be bi-modal.

Lionel, Duke of Clarence died in AD 1368, and so a series of radiocarbon dates were simulated from that calendar date. This allows the precision likely to be obtained for a sample of this date to be investigated. A total of 20 simulations were carried out, all focused on AD 1368 with an associated error of ±25 BP; multiple simulations were produced to take into account the probabilistic process of radiocarbon measurement and to ensure that a realistic assessment of the likely precision was obtained. All of the simulated age ranges spanned 120 years, ranging from the late 13th century cal AD to the early 15th century cal AD (Figure 2). Whether this resolution would be enough to aid the identification of any remains as belonging to Lionel, Duke of Clarence should be considered: the best that radiocarbon could do is confirm that any remains were definitely not Lionel, Duke of Clarence rather than confirm that they were.

In addition to the issues of resolution within the calibration curve, issues of diet also need to be considered. It has been noted that individuals that include marine or freshwater foodstuffs in their diet return anomalously early radiocarbon dates when compared with contemporary organisms whose diet was composed entirely of terrestrial food. These issues are known as reservoir effects, and need to be corrected for once identified following isotopic assessment of an individuals’ diet. However, it is important to note that the correction procedures add additional levels of uncertainty to the resulting calibrated radiocarbon dates due to the complexities involved in assessing diet and the resulting composition of bone collagen (Craig et al. 2013; Fernandes 2016). This is likely to be an issue when sampling individuals of high status for radiocarbon dating from the medieval period, such as the Duke of Clarence.

Identifying the remains as the Duke of Clarence using Osteological information
Physical Characteristic

It is not known if the remains of the Duke of Clarence would have any unusual physical attributes that could be used to clearly identify the remains. It has been stated in the proposal that Lionel was buried with his first wife, Elizabeth de Burgh, and so the presence of a male and a female in a grave together could be used to suggest that the remains belong to the Duke. However, this is circumstantial evidence.

It was also suggested that it would be possible to determine the high status of the individual from the human remains themselves. It is not clear what information would be used to achieve this, and how objective this information would be. Aspects such as diet and trauma may provide some information to indicate differential access to resources and lifestyle respectively, but it is important to note that recent studies of known individuals (manual labourers and factory workers) have not managed to identify physical markers that can be used to conclusively identify their work histories.


Osteological aging provides information about the biological rather than chronological age of an individual. Up to the age of 20-25 years old, age determination is based on the eruption of teeth and the maturation of bone, which is known with some level of confidence. After the age of 20-25 years old, an age determination is based on the degeneration of the dental and skeletal elements, which is much more subjective and offers less precision. Lionel, Duke of Clarence was 30 years old when he died and so there is a real concern that osteological methods will not be able to clearly identify the individual as being of the ‘right’ age because the methods may only be able to suggest that the individual was between the ages of 3-50 years old at death. In addition, as the remains were initially buried in Italy before being exhumed, transported and reburied back to Clare Priory, it is not clear if a full skeleton will be available for analysis. Aging and sexing the remains may be problematic if the skull and pelvis are not well preserved.

Analysis of ancient DNA

Analysis of ancient DNA frequently fails to produce useful information in over 50% of studies. Even if DNA amplification in remains from Clare were to prove viable there are a number of other problems. A Y chromosomal DNA study for the purposes of shedding light on whether there are breaks in the paternal line to Richard III would only be useful if there were independent, reliable evidence to identify a particular set of human remains from the Priory as Lionel Duke of Clarence. Given the nature of the site this is highly unlikely to be forthcoming. This obviously poses problems in terms of choosing a suitable bone to analyse. In any event, any DNA results would be inconclusive: if the Y chromosome haplotype did not match Richard III then this could be because the bone that was analysed from the Priory did not belong to the Duke of Clarence. If there was a match, then it could be that the bone came from someone else who happened to share that haplotype (we know nothing about Y chromosome haplotype frequencies in Mediaeval Suffolk). No useful light could have been shed on the false paternity question using the analyses proposed.

This reply acknowledges that I have only proposed ‘re-excavation of antiquarian trenches [which] can represent a low-level of harm’. But it remains opposed to such a very limited re-exploration of the site.

It cites earlier statements on the exhumation of human remains as expressed by the Church of England, but takes no account of the views in this respect which were much more recently expressed by the (Roman Catholic) Augustinian community at Clare Priory.

It offers a negative response in respect of carbon dating, which it is said could only ‘confirm that any remains were definitely not Lionel, Duke of Clarence rather than confirm that they were’. This seems to be contradicted by the fact that carbon dating is now being used in respect of the Norwich CF2 bones, in an attempt to confirm whether or not they could belong to Eleanor Talbot (the lady legally recognised as Edward IV’s wife in 1483/4).

It ignores my point that the remains of Lionel were transported from Italy and would therefore be likely to be an ossuary reburial, not a normal gravesite. It also ignores the new documentary evidence which I have found, showing that Lionel was definitely not buried beside his first wife.

It suggests that a non-destructive scientific examination of bones is unlikely to be able to specify the approximate age of death. Again, this statement is contradicted by the work which was done for me by William J. White in 1996 – and more recently by Dr Joyce Filer – on the CF2 bones in Norwich.

As for the views expressed over a possible match (or mismatch) of Y chromosome haplotype should male remains at Clare Priory be found and examined, apparently Historic England assumes that research should only be looking for a positive answer! But in actuality, every kind of serious historical research simply seeks information.

Moreover, even permission for a second GPR survey has not been given. As for my subsequent attempted telephone calls to Will Fletcher, they have received no responses.

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  1.   For the fullest published accounts of this discovery and its context, see J. Ashdown-Hill, ‘Margaret of York’s Dance of Death — the DNA evidence’, Handelingen van de Koninklijke Kring voor Oudheidkunde, Letteren an Kunst van Mechelen, 111, 2007, 193-207, & ‘Alive and Well in Canada – the Mitochondrial DNA of Richard III’, Ricardian 16, 2006, 1-14.
  2.   TNA, C1/206/69 recto, lines 4 and 5. References to this document had been published earlier, but the MS is very faded and hard to read, and the specific sentence I identified and published had never previously been cited.
  3. This would have made his right shoulder slightly higher than his left, as reported by Richard III’s contemporary, John Rous.
  4.  Notably, at the talk I gave that year for the Richard III Society, and in subsequent discussion with HRH, The Duke of Gloucester.
  5.  For the text of this correspondence, see J. Ashdown-Hill, The Mythology of Richard III, Stroud 2015, appendix 2.
  6.  G.L. Harriss, ‘Richard of Conisbrough, Earl of Cambridge’, ODNB.
  7.   Granddaughter and heiress of Elizabeth of Clare (1295-1360) – who is also sometimes referred to as ‘Elizabeth de Burgh’ because her first husband (the Duchess of Clarence’s grandfather) was John de Burgh, Earl of Ulster.
  8.  But see above the story of the possible illegitimacy of Richard, Earl of Cambridge.
  9.  Sic. The will does not appear to specify that location (see below).
  10.  K.W. Barnardiston, Some Notes on the History of Clare Priory, [unpublished version
  11. J. Weever, Antient Funeral Monuments, London 1767, p. 476.
  12. Weever, Antient Funeral Monuments, p. 473.
  13.  Synonyms of the English word ‘midst’ include bosom, depths, heart, hub and interior as well as centre.
  14.   J.C. Ward, English Noblewomen in the Later Middle Ages, London 1992, p. 161. I have now inspected The National Archives document cited by Ward, and it definitely confirms her statement.
  15.  ‘Third son of Edward III born 1338, and died the 17th day of October 1368, at Alba Pompeia in the Marquisate of Monferret, in Piedmont ‘poisoned as some thought’. Dugdale, vol. ii p. 167’.
  16.   ‘Violenta, daughter of Galras Prince of Milan, whom he married about five months before his death’.
  17.   ‘Vide Note 4, p. 60’ [- which states ‘Breviary, a portable book of prayers’, citing Nares’s Glossary
  18.   ‘Edward the Black Prince, Prince of Wales’.
  19.   ‘William Wittlesey’.
  20.   ‘June 8th’.
  21.  ‘Royal Wills, p. 88’.
  22.   C. Harper-Bill, ed., The Cartulary of Augustinian Friars of Clare, Woodbridge 1991, 120.
  23.  F.C.Hingeston, ed., J. Capgrave, The Book of The Illustrious Henries, London 1858, p. 105.
  24.   H. Jarvis, ‘Clare Priory’, Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and Natural History, vol. 6, 1888, pp. 73- 84, (p. 82), citing Harleian MS. Deeds, fol. 24b.
  25.   VCH, Suffolk, vol. 2; Harl. MS. 4835. ‘It is a quarto of paper in a 15th-century hand, entitled “Registrum Chartarum Monasterii Heremitarum S. Augustini de Clare.” Among the Jermyn MSS. (Add. MS. 8188, fol. 5584), is a full transcript of this chartulary. The cited charter is number 120 in the transcript.
  26.  See above: Weever, Antient Funeral Monuments, pp. 473; 476.