Saturday, March 29, 2014

Joan Beaufort & Her Many Descendants

In articles printed this past week, Michael Hicks stated that the remains of the body found under a parking lot in Leicester might not be those of King Richard III, on the basis that his maternal grandmother had many children, & so her mitochondrial DNA wasn't so rare as we have been led to believe. Hicks stated that the skeleton could be that of one of Richard III's many cousins, or even that of an unrelated person who happened to die of similar injuries.

I happened to have some spare time & so I decided to run the numbers myself. Hicks' statement certainly sounds alarming. Joan Beaufort did have a passel of children, many of whom had children who survived to adulthood. It's possible.

Michael Hicks' Position: That the skeleton found in Leicester could not be that of Richard III because too many other people at the time had the same mitochondrial DNA as Joan Beaufort.

Here are the givens in this little logic puzzle:

Given: Joan Beaufort's mtDNA was Haplogroup J. Specifically J1c2c.

Given: mtDNA is passed from mother to child, so all of Joan Beaufort's children will be part of the same haplogroup.

Given: Only daughters will pass along mtDNA to their children, so the only grandchildren of Joan Beaufort who will share her mtDNA haplogroup will be those born to her daughters.

Given: The Wars of the Roses lasted from 1455 to 1487, fought in sporadic battles.
Given: Many of the combatants in the Wars of the Roses were members of the Plantagenet family, belonging or loyal to the York branch or the Lancaster branch.
Given: The remains are those of a male who died in his late 20's to early 30's.
Given: The radiocarbon dating results show they can be dated to approximately 1475-1530
Given: Richard III died at the age of 32, at the Battle of Bosworth & is recorded as being buried in Leicester.

Data: Joan Beaufort had 16 children, 10 sons & 6 daughters.

Looking at the sons, 4 died prior to 1455. Only 1 died in battle: Richard Neville, at Wakefield in 1460. All of her sons died before 1485. None of her sons are documented as being buried in Leicester.

Out of 10 sons, none were buried in Leicester.
Total number of sons who could be the one whose remains were found in Leicester: 0

Data: Joan's Daughters-- Joan's daughters had 26 sons (& numerous daughters; I'll get to them next). Out of those 26, 10 died prior to 1455. Only 1 grandson survived the War of the Roses, Ralph de Greystoke, who died in 1487.* Five others (not including Richard) died in various battles of the Wars of the Roses: 1st Battle of St. Albans, Wakefield, Towton, Hedgeley Moor. Of those remaining, not including Richard, they died prior to 1485 & none were buried in Leicester.

Of this group, only TWO were at the Battle of Bosworth. One survived (Ralph de Greystoke) & one died (Richard III). Ralph de Greystoke was in his 70's or 80's. Richard III was 32. Ralph was buried at Kirkham. Richard III is recorded as being buried in Leicester.

Out of 26 grandsons born to Joan's daughters, the total number who could be the one whose remains were found in Leicester: 1

Data: Joan's Daughters' Daughters--There were 22 great-grandsons born who fit the criteria for having Joan's mtDNA AND were old enough to participate in the Wars of the Roses AND be old enough to have been in their late 20's-early 30's when they died.

Of this number, 13 died before 1485. 2 died at Towton. The remaining 9 died after 1485. Please note: There were more great-grandsons than 22; however, they were too young to have been at Bosworth, or if they had, they were too young to have been the remains found in Leicester. Furthermore, none were recorded as having been buried in Leicester.

On edit: It appears that at least 1 of Joan's great-grandsons was at Bosworth: John de la Pole, 1st Earl of Lincoln. However, he died in 1487 at the Battle of East Stoke.  

Total number of great-grandsons who could be the one whose remains were found in Leicester: 0

Conclusion: Out of 58 descendants of Joan Beaufort who could fit the criteria of having her mtDNA, only 2 3 are recorded as being present at the Battle of Bosworth. Only one of those two  three died at Bosworth & is recorded as being buried in Leicester, & that one is Richard III. 

Well, it was worth a shot, I suppose. Of course, you could move the goal posts & start yammering about Joan Beaufort's mother or grandmother, but only someone losing an argument does that.

On a side note, it was rather sobering to look at the destruction this family did to itself. Was it worth it? I can't answer that. I was really surprised to see that despite the large number of possible descendants, only 2 were at Bosworth. I myself started this little exercise thinking there were many more, maybe 10. But 2 3, with 1 surviving the Battle?

*Ralph de Greystoke is my many-times great-grandfather. This means I am a 1st cousin, 18 times removed, of Richard III.


  1. As an update, I followed up by checking out Katherine Swynford. She had 2 other daughters, Dorothy & Blanche, neither of whom appear to have had children. She had several sons, but they would not have passed her mtDNA on to their children.

  2. Margaret Beaufort (mother of Henry VII) is also a descendant of Katherine Swynford. However, she is descended from Katherine's son, John Beaufort & thus did not inherit Katherine's mtDNA. It is unknown what the mtDNA of Margaret's mother, Margaret Holland had.

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  4. Thank you very much for the great research. I was hoping someone would do this. Michael Hicks' statement about 'mysterious cousins' was very far fetched at best, but to get the geneology down was a brilliant move. It is just so sad that the press jump on stories like this recent one about Richard's remains without seeking to verify the content. The waters have been needlessly muddied because of it, and you know how so many like to believe in a good ole conspiracy theory!

  5. Have you been hacked? Your fine article is now covered with a dark blue filter that makes it unreadable.

  6. I had made some changes which apparently worked on my computer, but didn't work so well if you were looking at my blog from a cell phone. Hope it looks better now.

  7. It was brought to my attention that I overlooked a descendant who was at the Battle of Bosworth & have included that information in the blog post. The corrections are in red. However, the end conclusion is the same: only 1 of these descendants died at Bosworth, & that was Richard III.

  8. While I fully agree with you that it is almost certain that the remains are Richard's (100% certainty is a red herring in science and history...), I don't agree that it's moving the goalposts for sceptics to ask to go back more generations. After all, the premise of the DNA evidence for this being Richard is that mt-DNA 'travels well' over 500 years, so that works going backwards as well.
    It's definitely legitimate to look for - and rule out - all the mt-DNA descendants of Katherine Swynford: or more to the point, her mother, who was presumably from Guienne/Flanders rather than England and so represents the starting point for the haplogroup in the English upper classes. This only adds a few more candidates to rule out, I would think. I don't have a full genealogy for this period to hand, but the others to rule out would include the female-line descendants of Geoffrey Chaucer and Katherine Swynford's daughters by her marriage to Hugh Swynford.

  9. I did look at the descendants of Chaucer's wife, but didn't find anything, or what I found didn't matter. Can't recall now. I'm not saying that's not a legitimate inquiry, just that it's a sign that you're losing an argument if you start off with Joan Beaufort & then try to fall back on Katherine Swynford when the pins get knocked out from under you.