Dr. John Ashdown-Hill talks about his research regarding King Richard III

Dr. John Ashdown-Hill

Dr. John Ashdown-Hill


Today we have a special guest to present to you,


Dr. John Ashdown-Hill,


historian and member of the Royal Historical Society, the Society of Genealogists, the Richard III Society and the Centre Européen d’Etudes Bourguignonnes. He has  kindly agreed to let us interview him for the “King Richard III-Week”.

Dr. Ashdown-Hill has done extensive research over the years and has published his results in diverse essential articles and books about the Ricardian era. It is an honour for us, with our newly established KingRichardArmitage website, to have Dr. Ashdown-Hill telling us about his work and research efforts regarding King Richard III.


Latest Publications:

The Last Days of Richard III
Eleanor, the Secret Queen
Richard III’s ‘Beloved Cousyn’
(Click on the links to find more details about the books.)


Dr. Ashdown-Hill has kindly agreed to answer some questions about his research work:


What in your opinion is the key aspect of King Richard III’s reign and his legitimacy as king of England?

To my mind the first key area to be investigated is Edward IV’s marriage – because Richard III’s right to the throne depends upon the claim that Edward IV was married to Eleanor Talbot, not Elizabeth Woodville. I remember deciding to read up on Eleanor at an early stage of my interest in Richard III – some 15 years ago. I was totally amazed to find that nothing substantial had been written about her and that no real research had then been done on her. This was the reason for my work on her, which lead to a number of Ricardian articles and to my book, Eleanor, the Secret Queen. I see no reason to doubt that Eleanor was the victim of Edward IV’s libido, or that he contracted a secret marriage with her for his own selfish ends. Thus to my mind Richard III’s claim to the throne was entirely genuine, and probably took Richard himself completely by surprise. I am still researching Eleanor Talbot and hope to publish new evidence of her relationship with Edward IV in my forthcoming planned study of that king and his love-life. I also still hope to clarify further the identity of the human remains from the Whitefriars in Norwich which may well be Eleanor’s.

What did previous researchers overlook or do wrong in their approach to King Richard III?

I am amazed at how repetitive the writing about Richard III has been and is. My latest book was a deliberate reaction against this. I think it is a waste of time to keep writing about ‘who murdered the Princes in the Tower’. They weren’t ‘Princes’ anyway (so I will not use this term except in inverted commas), and no proof exists that they were murdered at all, so why should we be so preoccupied with ‘who did it’? Better to try for a balanced account of Richard himself. Thus The Last Days of Richard III is kinder to Henry VII than are the writings of most Ricardian authors, but also tries to focus on exactly WHAT RICHARD DID rather than on WAS RICHARD GOOD OR BAD. As a result we discover that during the last six months of his life Richard III was actively planning for the future. He expected to defeat Henry Tudor and to go on being king!

What is your unique approach to research on King Richard III and his time?

One of my most important and original contributions has been my work on Richard III’s DNA. This arose out of the need to identify some remains in Belgium which were thought to be those of Richard’s sister, Margaret of York. As a historian and a writer I try always to be clear about what the evidence shows, and about what we know or don’t know. When we DON’T KNOW, but have to draw our own conclusions I try to tell my readers that this is what I am doing, and to explain where I am coming from. Too many historians, past and present, have misleadingly pretended to KNOW things which are really only their personal opinion, and to my mind this is not honest.

For example, some earlier writers claimed (wrongly) that Eleanor Talbot was not the daughter of the first earl of Shrewsbury. Also many writers have dismissed out of hand the notion of Eleanor Talbot’s marriage to Edward IV – though the nineteenth-century historian Gairdner, who was not a particular friend of Richard III, stated very clearly that there was no reason to doubt the Talbot marriage.

We must keep a balance here. Because the mistakes have not all been made by Richard III’s enemies! Richard’s friends have also sometimes presented as FACTS ideas which are really nothing more than speculation. For example the story that Richard III attended his last mass at Sutton Cheney has no historical basis whatever, and is almost certainly untrue.

I think that all historians bear a great responsibility. First, they should try to get at the facts; second they should say frankly when they are speculating, and third, they should be honest about their own prejudices.

Thank you, Dr. Ashdown-Hill, for such deep insights into your work.
It was a real pleasure to have such a knowledgeable researcher about the time and life of King Richard III to interview.


I hope you have enjoyed the background information about the central question of King Richard III’s reign and legitimacy.




24 Responses to Dr. John Ashdown-Hill talks about his research regarding King Richard III

  • Wonderful! Thanks so much for this.

  • Thank you, Suzanne Bailey! Glad you enjoy the King Richard Week.

  • LolyA says:

    I was at the Battle of Bosworth re-enactment on Saturday. It was really moving to be actually looking at the place where Richard fought and died. The tour we had of the site was packed full of cliches and things passed off as fact (such as that last mass in Sutton Cheney) that even though it was not exactly anti-Richard, I was disappointed that myths are being perpetuated when there is concrete scholarship being conducted.
    The re-enactment itself was good fun, and ‘Richard’ died well (although the re-enactor playing him didn’t half look like Lord Farquart from Shrek!)

    • CDoart says:

      Thank you, LolyA, for your report from the events in Bosworth. The re-enactment really sounds wonderful, even with the bitter ending.
      With Sutton Cheney it is really a shame, when historical evidence stands against it.
      It was so good to have Dr. Ashdown-Hill, to talk to about the historical background. I am just reading his work about “Eleanor, the Secret Queen” and he is right, everything about Richard III and the discussion about his legitimacy as King of England centers around her.

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  • Eileen says:

    I did not know RIchard had a sister called Anne as reported in today’s telegraph. Can you point me in the right direction


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  • kay says:

    if the bones found at the parking lot site do in fact belong to Richard III. would the DNA be usable in identifying the childrens bodies found in the tower – thus identifying them as the two Princes?

    • CDoart says:

      Thank you very much, Kay.
      I am not sure if the mtDNA, basis for the current research to determine King Richard III, would suffice here as a basis for this research, as the nephews would have the mtDNA of their mother, Elizabeth Woodville, and so would differ from King Richard III’s.
      Another family line would have to be used as reference, to determine their family relationship.
      I am looking forward to the laboratory results of the research, as revealed in today’s press conference (12th of September 2012). Leicester Press Conference Results with phenomenal new information about the discoveries and special signs of the human remains.

      • John Ashdown-Hill says:

        Well, the first thing that DNA work on the bones found in 1674 at the Tower could achieve would be to show whether the people the bones belonged to were male or female – because at present we don’t actually know their gender!
        Beyond that, the sons of Edward IV would not have the same mtDNA as Richard III – because their mtDNA would have come from Elizabeth Woodville. But in theory they should have the same Y-chromosome (assuming that Edward IV was legitimate!) And Richard III’s nuclear DNA should show some relationship to that of his nephews.

  • Carolyn Flint says:

    Did you encounter any instances in your tracing of the descendents of Margaret of York where there may have been the possibility of illegitimacy? How does one protect the research against this? I have found an instance in my family research where an infant “appears” in a family, with no real documentation of the birth, only the baptism, whereas the other children had both. Thank you in advance for entertaining this question.

    • John Ashdown-Hill says:

      I was not tracing Margaret’s descendants – because she had no children – I was tracing the descendants of her sisters and her aunts. I was following only female lines of descent, and they are usually reliable – but of course documentary evidence is never 100% reliable. For that reason when I published the DNA results of the testing of the putative Margaret of York bones in Belgium I warned that these results still needed to be confirmed from further sources. However, the mtDNA sequence I discovered via the Ibsen family has now been confirmed.

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  • Molly Lombard says:

    How do you find the descendants of someone ?

    I know how to find ancestors but have no,idea how you find descendants….

    Thank you.

    • CDoart says:

      The fastest way to find descendants is, if a kind of family bible or anything with family names can be found. Otherwise, the church registers with the notes for baptisms and family events like confirmation, etc. will be the main source.
      The more recent times have good digital registers, but that depends very much on the individual region where you search for data.

      • John Ashdown-Hill says:

        I found wills very helpful – they often reveal the married names of daughters – and sometimes the names of grandchildren or great grandchildren.

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  • Catharine Greene McRae says:

    I am a ‘possible’ descendant of Henry VII and Elizabeth, daughter of Edward IV. As you surely know, both Henry Carey and Catherine Carey, children of Mary Boleyn, are suspected to be the children of Henry VIII, although no DNA testing has been done on this line, to my knowledge. It might be an interesting project. My brother and I are also descendants of Edmund, Duke of Somerset, John Beaufort, and John of Gaunt and have the interesting Middle-Eastern DNA you mentioned. I imagine many others have the same descent, but if we could be of use, we would offer any help.
    I have really enjoyed your work on Richard III, your insights, your professional, scientific approach, and the fascinating television presentation on Richard III. Thank you for your work in clarifying history. I shall add your books to my library.
    Catharine Greene McRae

  • John Ashdown-Hill says:

    Unfortunately over a long time gap we can only use all female line DNA (mtDNA) or all male line DNA (the Y-chromosome). Therefore I’m afraid if your line of descent is mixed male / female (as most modern lines of Plantagenet descent are) your living DNA will not reveal anything about your royal ancestry.

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November 1, 2019

Richard III and the Battle of Bosworth – By Mike Ingram (HeritageDaily)

October 8, 2019

Painted as a villain – how the Tudors regarded Richard III (by Christina J. Faraday, APOLLO.The International Art Magazine)

August 22, 2019

10 things you need to know about the battle of Bosworth (by Chris Skidmore, BBC History Extra)

June 16, 2019

Philippa Langley on RIII – Podcast: BBC Interview of 6th January, 2015 (RadioPublic.com)

February 20, 2019

Richard III: Leicester Cathedral £11.3m plans approved (by BBC East Midlands, BBC News)

October 4, 2018

The battle for Bosworth field: Historians react to decision to build on battlefield where Richard III died (by Rachel Dinning, BBC History Extra)

May 23, 2018

Richard III find historian John Ashdown-Hill dies (BBC News)

April 9, 2018

The secret intimacies of Edward IV: multiple marriages and a same-sex affair? (by Dr. John Ashdown-Hill, History Extra)

October 24, 2017

EXCLUSIVE: “Sleepwalker” star Richard Armitage is Living the Dream (by Izumi Hasegawa, What’s Up Hollywood)

September 12, 2017

Was Richard III a loyal brother or murderous tyrant? 60 seconds with Chris Skidmore (by Rachel Dinning, History Extra)


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