Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Head of Henri IV

Well-loved King Henri IV of France (1553-1610) narrowly escaped the death suffered by thousands of Protestants who had gathered for his wedding to his 1st wife, Marguerite of Valois (1553-1615) in 1572. The king (1st image) was on his way to the coronation ceremony of his 2nd wife Marie de' Medici (1575-1642) in 1610 when he was killed by an assassin (2nd image). Henri was laid to rest in the Basilica of Saint Denis (3rd image), but during the French Revolution in 1793, the royal graves were desecrated. Revolutionaries chopped off Henri's head before dumping his body in a mass grave with the other kings and queens. His embalmed head was snatched and has remained in private hands ever since. It is now mummified (photos here), with soft tissues and internal structures intact. Although the DNA from the few hairs remaining on his chin was too degraded to analyze, 19 researchers in France have announced that they have identified the head through other means:
  • Radiocarbon testing confirms that the head dates from the 17th c.
  • A healed bone fracture above the upper left jaw matches a stab wound the king suffered during a 1594 assassination attempt.
  • The lobe of the left ear is pierced and he is depicted wearing an earring.
  • A dark lesion observed above the right nostril is seen in many of the king's portraits.
  • Perfumers on the team used their professionally trained noses to identify specific embalming substances noted in an autopsy report written by the king's surgeon.
  • A digital facial reconstruction from all known portraits of Henry IV and his death mask matches CT scans of the skull.
Next year, France will hold a national funeral for Henry IV, after which his head will be replaced in his tomb in Saint Denis.

1 comment:

  1. Henri was very handsome. It seems fundamentalists have always erred -- same old stuff, different century.


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