Cassiman et al, the authors of study published online Wednesday in the European Journal of Human Genetics, tested the DNA of a centuries old mummified head reportedly belonging to French King Henri IV and a blood sample belonging to King Louis XVI, and found neither had any royal ties.
King Henri IV (1553-1610) became separated from his head during the French Revolution (1787-1799), when the royal tombs at Saint Denis near Paris were dug up, and the grave robbers removed his head and stole it from the grave. The authors tested the DNA taken from the mummified head against DNA from 3 known living heirs of the beloved French monarch, and did not find a match. Cassiman and his co-authors believe the king remained buried in Saint Denis after the tombs were resealed, and dispute the fact that Henri’s head was stolen. Henri IV was a dearly loved French king, so this may have saved his grave from desecration.
The same study authored by Cassiman et al, tested a blood sample previously attributed to King Louis XVI (1754-1793), one of Henri’s descendants, and they found that it too lacked any royal lineage. Louis XVI died on the guillotine during the French Revolution and the spectators at the king’s execution reportedly soaked their handkerchiefs in his blood. The authors claim that the remaining traces of powdered blood on the handkerchief do not match Bourbon family DNA.
This recent article contradicts a study published in 2010, where Philippe Charlier claims he identified the head as Henri IV using facial reconstruction and by matching the injuries on the skull to that of the monarch. Here is a link to the 2010 article in the DailyMail that summarized this study and its findings. He dismissed the new research, and said that he and his colleagues recently compared the head to Henri IV’s death mask and found a match, and this work will be published soon in a forensic journal.
How can he argue with the DNA evidence? Charlier said there are numerous doubts about the paternity of various kings in the Bourbon line, which would explain why there was no DNA match of modern-day descendants and the ancient head. In support of this, Huffington Post reports that Frank Ruehli, of the University of Zurich and the Swiss Mummy project, agreed there could be questions about paternity in the Bourbon line and also raised concerns about the authenticity of the centuries old DNA samples, as he because it’s very difficult to get good data from such old samples.
If Cassiman believes that King Henri IV’s head is still attached to his body in the St. Denis tomb, can’t they just open it and solve this mystery. If the head is missing from Henri IV’s body, they could test the DNA from the body to the head and see if the two match.
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