October 10, 2013
Mummified Head Doesn’t Belong To King Henry IV, Say Forensics Experts
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
A mummified head purportedly belonging to French king Henry IV recently surfaced on the collectors' market in France, but a report from forensic experts has shown that the relic is not royalty at all.
Spanish and French researchers claimed to have found positive DNA matches for the mummified head of king Henry IV, as well as a handkerchief that allegedly belong to King Louis XVI. Several historians expressed doubt about the findings, so forensic identification specialist Professor Jean-Jacques Cassiman and his team decided to investigate the claims.
King Henry IV was a beloved king of France, but he was assassinated on May 14, 1610 by François Ravaillac, a radical Catholic fanatic. Ravaillac stabbed King Henry IV to death when his coach was stopped by traffic congestion caused by the Queen's coronation ceremony.
During the French revolution, royal tombs at Saint Denis near Paris were dug up and some accounts claim Henry IV's head had been chopped off and stolen. However, some scientists believe that his head was actually never stolen, and that the beloved king still remains buried to this day.
Cassiman and colleagues compared the published DNA results from the head and the blood in the handkerchief with DNA samples obtained from three surviving descendants of the house of Bourbon. The relationship between these three Bourbons is fixed on the basis of research carried out on the Y-chromosome - the sex chromosome that is passed down from fathers to their sons.
The DNA comparison found that there was no relationship between the Bourbon dynasty and the blood on the handkerchief, nor the mummified head. Two breaks in the biological line on the paternal side would have had to occur in order for the head and the blood to have belonged to the two French kings.
Researchers also found no evidence of a relationship on the maternal side, based on mitochondrial DNA testing. The mother of Henry IV, Jeanne Ill d'Albret, is related via Ann of Hapsburg in an unbroken material line to the Hapsburg dynasty, including Louis XVII. The team said that there would have to have been at least one break in the maternal line for the head to belong to King Henry IV.
The forensic specialists said that the probability that one of the women in King Henry IV lineage was not the real mother of her daughter is virtually non-existent. They added that DNA tests of the blood on the handkerchief shows with 84.2 percent certainty that the blood belonged to a person who did not have blue eyes.
Cassiman and his colleagues said they were unable to confirm the conclusions of the Spanish and French counterparts, given the available data. The blood on the handkerchief almost certainly does not belong to Louis XVI, and the traces of DNA found on the mummified head were too minuscule to confirm or deny that the head belonged to Henry IV, but, they added, historical data shows that the mummified head is unlikely to belong to the late king.
A reliable genetic identification of historic remains requires DNA profiles from living paternal and maternal descendants of the "donor" to whom the remains purportedly belonged.