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400 Year Old Head Of French King Identified

December 15, 2010

A series of unique wounds and facial features have helped identify the 400-year-old, mummified head of French King Henri IV, a team of medical examiners reported in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) on Tuesday.

Philippe Charlier, a forensic examiner with Poincare University Hospital in Garches, France, and colleagues spent nine months conducting tests of the head, which had been missing since an attack on graves at the Royal Basilica during the French Revolution in 1793.

In their investigation, Charlier and his team found “features often seen in the king’s portraits,” reports Ian Sparks of the UK periodical the Daily Mail. Among those features were “a dark wound above his right nostril”¦ a healed bone fracture above his upper left jaw, which matched a stab wound the king suffered during an assassination attempt in 1594 and a pierced ear.”

“After a multidisciplinary analysis, we confirmed that an embalmed head reputed to be that of the French king Henri IV and conserved in successive private collections did indeed belong to that monarch,” Charlier and his colleagues wrote in the BMJ.

In addition to the “dark mushroom-like lesion” above the nostril, the “central hole in the right ear lobe,” and the “healed bone lesion was present on the upper left maxilla” that corresponded to a stab would the king suffered during a murder attempt in December 1594, they discovered head, moustache and beard hair samples that “fits with the known characteristics of the King’s hair at the time of his death.”

“The head also showed evidence of baldness–no hair was present on the pate,” they added. “Dental health was poor, with considerable antemortem tooth loss; this corresponds with testimonies from contemporaneous witnesses about the king. Lastly, three postmortem inferior cervical cutting wounds were visible, corresponding to the separation of the head from the body by a revolutionary in 1793, in the context of deliberate mutilation.”

Henri IV had been known as “Good King Henry” due to his popularity amongst the French people. According to BBC News, he was “one of France’s favorite monarchs” and was also dubbed the “green gallant” because of his dashing good looks. In spite of his popularity, though, Henri IV was assassinated by Catholic fundamentalists in May 1610. He was 57 at the time of his death.

A funeral mass will be held for the king sometime next year, and afterwards the head will be laid to rest at the Basilica of Saint Denis. In a statement, the researchers said that they hoped that “similar methods could be used to identify all the other kings’ and queens’ skeletons lying in the mass grave of the basilica, so that they can be returned to their original tombs.”

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