Thursday, 10 January 2013

Gruesome: Blood of Decapitated King Found in Gourd

People like trophies of their victories; of course, that depends on the context of the victory.  When the victory is the execution of a king, trophies of blood appear to be the order of the day -- at least, in 1793 in revolutionary France (or if your name happens to be Tamyris).

It's always been rumoured that the people present at the execution of Louis XVI dipped their handkerchiefs in the blood that spilled from the neck of the dead king.  Now, thanks to DNA analysis, that claim has been proven in a report published last month in the journal Forensic Science International.

One of these handkerchiefs was stored in a dried gourd, made for the purpose.  Over time, the handkerchief deteriorated, however, the blood remained dried on the inside of the gourd:

 Gourd containing the dried blood of the executed King Louis XVI of France.  The inscription reads "On January 21, Maximilien Bourdaloue dipped his handkerchief in the blood of Louis XVI after his decapitation."  Via Livescience.

The gourd has been held by a wealthy Italian family for a number of years and until now, there has been no real way of proving the inscription.  This is mostly because the French royal family had a bit of a hard time of it (to say the least) during the French Revolution, even the dead ones.  The royal family was so hated that revolutionaries actually went to the cemetery at Saint-Denis, took the long-dead bodies of the royals from their tombs, mutilated the corpses and tossed the remains into pits.  In 2010, however, a head from one of these mutilated corpses surfaced and was made available to the scientific community for DNA testing.  It was said to be the head of this man, Good King Henry:

 Before death and desecration:  Henry IV of France -- Good King Henry rose to the throne in 1589 when his cousin, Henry III of France, was assassinated by a fanatical Catholic monk.

Good King Henry was actually considered to be a pretty awesome ruler, as rulers go, trying to improve the lives of all his subjects and quoted as saying things like "If God keeps me, I will make sure that there is no sharecropper in my kingdom who does not have the means to have a chicken in the pot every Sunday!"  However, given the anger of the revolutionaries, and the fact that his reign ended in 1610 -- and that the revolution took place in the 1790s...  It's hardly surprising, really, that they revolutionaries desecrated the graves, even if it is really very grim.  And it is really very grim.  Check it out:

 After death and desecration:  The head of King Henry IV of France, found in the garage of a French pensioner in 2010.  You can actually see where his ear was pierced too.  Born in 1553, died 1610 when he was assassinated by a Catholic fanatic.  Who knew that death to religious fanatics could be hereditary across cousins?

The first genetic tests on the head were inconclusive, however, they later retested with materials taken from inside the head that had suffered less deterioration.  From this material they were able to actually perform a DNA analysis which could then be compared to the blood from the gourd.  They compared the Y chromosomes and were able to determine that yes, these two individuals were very much more than likely related -- 250 times more likely to be related than not.  Additionally, both samples showed characteristics exhibited by people in the Bourbon region of France, where they were from.

Now the blood has been confirmed, scientists intend to map the genome of King Louis XVI of France, which could be one of the first historical genomes to be mapped. 

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