Roman DNA and the royal houses of Plantagenet,
Stuart and Habsburg.
This article primarily concerns the Plantagenets, but the remote ancestry of the other two houses shares features in common with them. The Plantagenet DNA became global news in 2014 when Dr Turi King and her co-workers published the haplogroup of King Richard III after the monarch’s skeleton was discovered under a car park in Leicester. [i] Not only did King’s group find the haplotype of the Plantagenet House of York to be G2a, they also determined that is was at variance with that of the living descendants of the Plantagenet House of Lancaster, the Beauforts, who are R1b U152. One of these two lines must have been subject to an extramarital liaison, and as yet it has not been possible to determine which of these two haplotypes was that of the original Plantagenet line. What it interesting is that both options have a deep Roman history.
The Habsburgs (also R1b U152), the Stuarts (R1b L21) and the Plantagenets can all be genetically traced back to horse warriors of the Steppe who migrated into western Europe during the Bronze Age, reaching central Europe and the Alpine region by 2,500BC, and the western fringes of Europe by 2000 BC. The most important lineage within this group was the haplogroup R1b, which now predominates in western Europe. L21 originated as a subclade of R1b in central Europe during the migratory period, and accounts for half or more of ancestral lineages in the Celtic fringe of the British Isles in the north and west, and in Ireland. The highest prevalence of all, exceeding 60% of the population, is an ancient Armorica, to which the high ranking Romano-Britons fled following the Anglo-Saxon adventus. The ancestors of the House of Stuart came to Britain from Brittany in the eleventh century, and before that possibly from the Mayenne, which was part of Armorica. Their haplogroup, combined with their known antecedents, make it overwhelmingly probable that the remote ancestors of Stuart were Romano-British. [ii] If not Romano-British, they were Gallo-Roman.
[i] Turi E.King et al, ‘Identification of the remains of King Richard III’, Nature Communications 5 (2014) 5631.
[ii] The more detailed subtyping of the Stuarts is R1b-L21-DF13-Z39589.
There was a lot of interest ten years ago in R1b-U152 as an Italian marker which might have come to the British Isles with the Roman legions. Since then a considerable amount of new information has been published in the specialist literature. Its origins in Europe can be found in the many burials associated with the Bell Beaker culture radio-carbon dating between 2500 BC and 1946 BC. Geographically these are spread from Poland and Hungary in the east to Iberia in the west, with find spots in Provence and the Alpine region. [i]The Bell Beaker culture spread to the British Isles and presumably accounts for a U152 skeleton dating 1892-1699 BC found on the Isle of Thanet in Kent.[ii] The warriors from the Steppe adopted the distinctive beakers through intermarriage with the populations that they found on their travels. The contribution made by Bronze Age arrivals to the U152 gene pool in the British Isles was relatively small.
The bearers of U152 settled in greatest numbers in the Alpine regions that are today Switzerland, the Austrian Tyrol and Bavaria, areas which were later the heartlands of Celtic culture. A common culture with the inhabitants of northern Italy from 2000 BC brought the Alpine settlers into Italy where they prospered. In Europe today the hot spots for U152 are northern Italy (including Rome), Provence and the headwaters of the Rhine in Switzerland and Bavaria, accounting for 30-40% of R1b in these areas, even exceeding 50% in some parts of Italy. These were all within the western Roman Empire. From Italy the two earliest samples of U152 found to date are both from the region of Rome, ancient Latium, dating 800-500 BC and 600-200 BC. [iii] The marker although predominating in the north is now common throughout Italy. The Roman Empire likely helped the marker to disseminate widely in France.
[i] Olalde et al, ‘The Bell Beaker phenomenon and the genomic transformation of north west Europe’, Nature no. 555 (2018) pp.190-6.
[ii] Olalde et al, op cit.
[iii] Margaret L. Antonio et al , ‘Ancient Rome: A genetic crossroads of Europe and the Mediterranean’, Science vol.366 no.6466 ( 08 Nov 2019) pp. 708-714, table S4.
The prevalence of U152 also known as S28. Source, eupedia.com
The Plantagenet ancestry as Counts of Anjou goes back to the ninth century, and if they bore the U152 marker they were certainly of Gallo-Roman descent. Sub-clade analysis will increasingly help to determine point of origin. Tibor Fehér has shown that the relative proportions of the different U152 subtypes in Britain is a pretty close match to that in France, pointing towards France as the point of origin for most of the British descendants. [i] For the pattern to be so similar the haplogroup must have arrived in Britain with many different individuals from the Roman period onwards. The marker has been found from York in a 3rd or 4th century AD Roman gladiator who based on isotope analysis was born in Britain. [ii]The British Isles have seen sizeable influxes of French emigres in both the medieval and the post medieval periods, especially following the Norman Conquest, and with the arrival of the Hugenots.
The pattern of subtypes in Italy is significantly different from that in England and France. For instance, in England 69% of those with U152 have L2, 24% have Z49, 12% have Z56 and 9% have Z36. In France these occur very similarly in 71%, 26%, 14% and 9% respectively, whereas in Italy the corresponding figures are 40%, 6.5%, 27% and 26%. [iii]The haplotype of the House of Lancaster was tested for sub-markers and all were negative, which is something of a curiosity, and does not help to localise, excepting that to be negative for L2 is a feature shared with 60% of Italians, but with only 29% of Frenchmen. [iv]
If the correct Plantagenet haplogroup is G2a then a Gallo-Roman descent is similarly expected and an Italo-Roman descent is possible. Already ancient by the time of the Romans, G2a found its way to the Alpine regions and then into Italy in the Neolithic period, it being the haplotype of the Tyrolean iceman Ötzi (3500-3100 BC). [v] In other words it arrived in the peninsula long before U152. It is found today in up to 20% of Italians, and is strongest in the south, where U152 is at its lowest. G2a was dispersed throughout the Roman Empire, including France, but with only a slight presence in Britain. A sub-clade analysis might help to determine more precisely whether Richard III’s haplotype originated in France or Italy. This will hopefully be made public once his whole genome analysis has been completed. U152 is far more prevalent in England than G2a, occurring in about 10% of the population. This might be an indication that U152 is the correct Plantagenet haplogroup, given the large number of known illegitimate offspring of the Plantagenet kings, even though only 10% of those with the haplotype in England are negative for L2, Z56 and Z36.
The haplogroup of the Habsburgs is R1b-U152 with subclade L2. [vi] The house traces its ancestors back to Switzerland in the thirteenth century. U152 is the predominant haplotype in Switzerland [vii], with a subtype pattern quite distinct from that in France and Italy, and in this case a male line descent from Italo-Romans seems less likely, although their remote ancestors can be said to have lived in a Roman province. The Habsburg marker Z41150 has a strong signal in the modern Swiss population.
[ii] Rui Martiniano et al, ‘Genomic signals of migration and continuity in Britain before the Anglo-Saxons’, Nature Communications 7:10326 (2016).
[iii] Viola Grugni et al, ‘Reconstructing the genetic history of Italians: new insights from a male (Y chromosome) Perspective’, Annals of Human Biology (Jan 2018).
[iv] I have confirmed the haplotype analysis with Prof Turi King, and the findings were no clear in her paper, cited above.
[v] Antonio et al 2019.
[vi] R1b-U152 - L2 - Z41150 - DF90 - FGC59564.
[vii] Martin Zieger and Silvia Utz, ‘The Y-chromosomal haplotype and haplogroup distribution of modern
Switzerland still reflects the alpine divide as a geographical barrier for human migration’, Forensic Science International:Genetics 48 (2020) 102345.