DNA clues

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Y chromosome DNA testing tells us of a “non-paternity event” somewhere between Richard III (assuming not unreasonably that it is he) and what should have been his living agnates (your report, 3 December).

This discontinuity is unlikely to lie in any of the lines by which the Queen traces her descent from Edward III.

Effective legitimacy is in any case derived from relationship to the most recent well-established king or queen, who is undoubtedly Elizabeth II. This and the combined prestige of monarchs later than the possible break rule out any relevance for the contemporary succession.

But this is not to say that the mystery is without significance. Scientific testing of further medieval remains could tell us much that is of genuine interest, possibly even resolving some of the questions then violently disputed.

We know from the ethos of chivalry that those now dead wished (as many still do) for fame and lasting renown. It would be disingenuous to cite their “privacy” as an excuse to block investigations.

Many people who are ethnically British will be descended (by obscure paths) from great personalities of the Wars of the Roses and most have ancestors whose lives were taken by their quarrels. It would be churlish for those whose descent from them is recorded on velum or paper to claim exclusive ownership of them or deny information on the descent of others which is written in DNA.

The usual career “civil libertarians” raise objections to widespread DNA testing, including the risk that it may inadvertently reveal paternity. Other libertarians (including myself) would defend it on the same basis; that it upholds our right to know who we are.

John Riseley

Harcourt Drive

Harrogate, North Yorkshire

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