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Blood of guillotined French king 'authentic'

3 min

Scientists have established the authenticity of a piece of cloth dipped in the blood Louis XVI (pictured), the last French King to be executed.


Scientists have authenticated that a rag believed to have been dipped in the blood of France’s monarch Louis XVI is the genuine article.

The discovery also proves the authenticity of a mummified head which was believed to be that of 16th century French king Henri IV – which was used to make the DNA comparison.

Louis XVI was executed by guillotine on January 21, 1793, the first victim of the “Reign of Terror” that followed France’s infamous revolutionary uprising.

As was the habit at the executions of French aristocrats, spectators dipped their handkerchiefs in the gore of the decapitated victim as a morbid keepsake.

One such rag found its way into a calabash – a form of squash that is dried and used as a bottle – on which was inscribed: “On January 21, Maximilien Bourdaloue dipped his handkerchief in the blood of Louis XVI after his decapitation.”

The artefact has been owned by an Italian family for more than a century – but the absolute authenticity has not been proved until now.

In 2010 DNA samples taken from the rag showed a good match between someone of Louis’ description, including his blue eyes.

'No doubt'

But analysts were unable to prove the blood’s authenticity beyond doubt because there was no DNA from any of his relatives - until they examined the supposed head of 16th century king Henri IV which had been stolen from the royal chapel at Saint Denis near Paris by revolutionaries.

Henri IV, one of France’s most popular monarchs who was able briefly to reconcile the country’s Protestant and Catholic communities, was assassinated by a Catholic fanatic in 1610 at the age of 57.

After the mummified head was stolen during the revolution, it changed hands several times, was sold at auction and kept in private collections.

In 2010 Henri’s DNA was tested and, as in Louis’ case, scientists said they believed it was authentic because the genetic material was consistent with descriptions of the 16th century king.

But in the latest study, conducted by French and Italian experts, both sets of remains were authenticated after the team found a rare genetic signature shared by the two men, despite being separated by seven generations.

"This study shows that [the remains] share a genetic heritage passed on through the paternal line,” forensic pathologist Philippe Charlier told AFP. “They have a direct link to one another through their fathers. One could say that there is absolutely no doubt any more.”

“It is about 250 times more likely that [Henri’s] head and [Louis’] blood are paternally related, than unrelated," co-author Carles Lalueza-Fox of the Institut de Biologia Evolutiva in Barcelona told the agency.

It would be "extremely surprising" if the remains did not belong to the two assassinated monarchs, he added.

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