The University of Leicester has studied the DNA of Richard III and found that there could be a break in the royal bloodline.

Richard III Portrait
© The Society of Antiquities.
The portrait of Richard from The Society of Antiquities
When the body of Richard III was discovered in a car park in Leicester in 2012 archaeologists knew it was a momentous find.

But little did they realise that it might expose the skeletons in the cupboard of the British aristocracy, and even call into question the bloodline of the Royal family.

In order to prove that the skeleton really was Richard III, scientists needed to take a DNA sample and match it to his descendants.

Genetic testing through his maternal DNA proved conclusively that the body was the King. However, when they checked the male line they discovered something odd. The DNA did not match showing that at some point in history an adulterous affair had broken the paternal chain.

Although it is impossible to say when the affair happened, if it occurred around the time of Edward III (1312- 1377) it could call into question whether kings like Henry VI, Henry VII and Henry VIII had royal blood, and therefore the right to rule.

Without his claim to royalty, Henry VII is unlikely to have been able to raise an army for the Battle of Bosworth Field, in which Richard III was killed, and the history of England could have been very different.

And it has implications for our own Royal Family who also share a direct bloodline to the Tudors.

Kevin Schurer, Professor of English Local History, at the University of Leicester said: "The first thing we need to get out of the way is that we are not indicating that Her Majesty should not be on the throne.

"There are 19 links where the chain could have been broken so it is statistically more probable that it happened at a time where it didn't matter. However there are parts of the chain which if broken could hypothetically affect royalty."

Because Richard III was childless, scientists looked at the descendants of Edward III, his great great grandfather.

Genetically, fathers pass on a copy of their Y chromosome to their sons, so Richard and Edward should carry the same DNA. Likewise, any descendent of Edward's would share the same Y chromosome as Richard, and a match would prove his royal descent.

However scientists were intrigued to find that the DNA did not match, suggesting a 'non-paternity event' somewhere between Edward III and his descendants. In other words, someone was unknowingly illegitimate.

If the illegitimate baby was Edward's son John of Gaunt (1340 - 1399) or his son Henry IV (1366 - 1413) then the royal blood line would be lost.

Prof Schurer added: "If there is one particular link that has more significance than any other it has to be the link between Edward III and his son John of Gaunt.

"John of Gaunt was the father of Henry IV, so if John of Gaunt was not actually the child of Edward III, arguably Henry IV had no legitimate right to the throne and therefore neither did Henry V, Henry VI and indirectly, the Tudors.

"Likewise if the break is in the part of Richard III this would also ask questions about legitimacy of the claims of Richard and his brother Edward.

"However you are never going to get an answer without exhuming a dead person."

Richard III DNA Trail
© The Telegraph, UK
Richard III DNA Trail
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Henry VII (1457 - 1509) claimed a right to the throne through his wife Elizabeth of York, who was the daughter of Edward IV (1422 - 1483). Her royal line also came through Edward III, via Edmund, Duke of York, the brother of John of Gaunt.

Henry also had a royal bloodline through Margaret Beaufort, his mother, who was the great great great great granddaughter of Edward I (1239 - 1307), but the Beauforts were banned by statute from ruling by Henry IV.

Tudor historian and author Elizabeth Norton said the research could have wide implications for British history.

"This is a very interesting finding. There are huge arguments about whether Elizabeth of York was legitimate," said Ms Norton, "This might suggest that she did not have a royal blood line and if so then the Tudors did not either."

However she believes that the break is unlike to have happened with John of Gaunt.

"John of Gaunt and his wife are really a love story," she said, "He married her and legitimised the children he had with her. So it's unlikely that the link was broken there."

The DNA results also revealed new details about the appearance of Richard III. It proves he is likely to have had blue eyes and blond hair, which may have darkened over time.

Experts say a portrait of Richard (see image above) which hangs in the Society of Antiquities in London is the closest representation of the former King.

Dr Turi King, of the department of genetics at the University of Leicester added: "There are no contemporary portraits of Richard. They all post-date his death by about 25-30 years onwards.

"So what I was interested in doing was looking at what the DNA evidence could tell us about what his hard an eye colour was predicted to be and see which portrait that most closely matches.

"The DNA evidence indicates that he has a high probability of having blue eye colour and blond hair. That would be a childhood hair colour, and hair can darken with age."

Dr King is currently attempting to sequence the entire genome of Richard III to look for diseases and health issues that the King might have suffered.

The Royal Household said it did not wish to comment on the research, which is published in the journal Nature Communications and funded by the Wellcome Trust.