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Can DNA science solve 500 year mystery of who killed England's Princes in Tower

LONDON, July 11 (Xinhua) -- DNA evidence could finally reveal whether English king Richard III was guilty or innocent of murdering the two children of his predecessor, Edward IV, the Independent newspaper in London reported Wednesday.

The disappearance of the two brothers, aged 12 and 9, the so-called Princes in the Tower, remains one of Britain's most controversial historical mysteries.

Geneticists have succeeded in obtaining a sample of DNA that could ultimately solve the mystery, more than 500 years of years after the two princes disappeared, never to be heard of again.

Historians assumed they were murdered around 1483, with one theory they were killed by Richard to secure his hold on the throne of England. The two princes had been taken to the Tower of London, supposedly to prepare the older prince for his coronation as King of England.

The Independent reports that the discovery of the crucial modern DNA is revealed in a new book, The Mythology of the "Princes in the Tower", being published this week.

The newspaper's archaeology correspondent David Keys said new DNA evidence, obtained from a recently identified direct descendant of the Princes in the Towers' maternal grandmother, could ultimately prove Richard's guilt or innocence.

The remains of Richard III were discovered six years ago beneath a car park in Leicester, with his identity was confirmed through DNA testing. He was reburied in Leicester Cathedral.

The newspaper reported that an urn containing bones in London's Westminster Abbey, are traditionally believed to be those of the two allegedly "murdered" princes.

"If a DNA test on that skeletal material were to match the modern 'control' sample from the descendant, then the chances of Richard being guilty (either of murdering them or of incarcerating them until they died) would be substantially increased," said the Independent.

The last time the bones, which has been found in the Tower of London in the 17th century, were examined scientifically was almost 90 years ago, long before DNA testing and radiocarbon dating techniques existed.

Researchers had for many years been unable to find any relevant living descendants of the princes' family, but last year fresh research was therefore carried out and succeeded in identifying a direct female line descendant of the princes' maternal grandmother.

The descendant, an English opera singer by the name of Elizabeth Roberts, provided a DNA sample and scientists were then able to isolate her female line mitochondrial DNA.

Keys wrote: "Uncovering the truth would shed important new light on a crucial era of England's story. The critical dynastic and other political changes that occurred towards the end of the Wars of the Roses helped shape subsequent English, British and world history."

He said the dynastic wars not only led to the birth of the Tudor dynasty but also to the Reformation, the English Civil War, the birth of Empire and the character of early modern and modern Britain.

"The politics surrounding the Wars of the Roses, the two princes and the early attempts to topple the Tudors were ultimately crucial in helping to shape the country we live in today," said the Independent.

The discovery of a descendant, and her decision to supply a sample of her DNA, have opened up significant avenues of investigation, the report added.

Philippa Langley, the historical researcher who was responsible for successfully discovering the long lost grave of Richard III said: "The traditional narrative surrounding the so-called 'Princes in the Tower' is deeply problematic, but this new DNA brings solving a number of key questions that much closer."

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