• France edition
 
Blood on cloth didn't belong to King Louis XVI
A gourd said to hold the blood of France's last king, Louis XVI, in fact doesn't. Photo: File

Blood on cloth didn't belong to King Louis XVI

Published: 24 Apr 2014 16:33 GMT+02:00
Updated: 24 Apr 2014 16:33 GMT+02:00

Two centuries after the French people beheaded King Louis XVI and dipped their handkerchiefs in his blood, DNA analysis has thrown new doubt on the authenticity of one such rag kept as a morbid souvenir.

The contents of an ornately-decorated gourd alleged to hold traces of the king's dried blood has long been the subject of scientific disagreement, with tests throwing up contradictory results.

On Thursday, a team from Europe and the United States said they had sequenced the full genome of the DNA in the squash, and found it was unlikely to be from someone tall or blue-eyed -- both features ascribed to the 18th century monarch.

"The results of these analyses do not support the royal identity of the sequenced genome," the authors concluded in a study in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

Researchers have been trying for years to verify a claim imprinted on the calabash that: "On January 21, Maximilien Bourdaloue dipped his handkerchief in the blood of Louis XVI after his decapitation" in Paris in 1793.

He is then said to have placed the fabric in the dried, hollow gourd and had it embellished with portraits of revolutionary heroes.

In 2010, a study said DNA analysis of blood traces found inside the ornate vegetable revealed a match for someone of Louis' description, including his blue eyes.

One of the authors of that paper, Carles Lalueza-Fox of the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Barcelona, also participated in the latest study, which contradicts the blue-eyed finding.

He told AFP the latest DNA analysis was much more complete: "we have now the whole genome of the person (in) the gourd."

(Screengrab/NBC News)

It's in the eyes

Lalueza-Fox said about 76 percent of the DNA in the calabash belonged to a single person whose genetic signature, from northern Italy, was not "compatible" with Louis' known, more central-European ancestry.

The individual likely had brown eyes and was of average height -- contrary to the king's description as the tallest person in the royal court.

In 2012, Lalueza-Fox had co-authored yet another paper concluding the blood in the gourd was indeed from Louis -- based on DNA shared with a mummified head said to belong to the king's predecessor, Henri IV.

By drawing a paternal genetic link between the remains of two men separated by over seven generations, Lalueza-Fox and French expert Philippe Charlier said at the time they had authenticated both royal relics -- a finding now seemingly thrown into doubt.

Royal connection? 

Several other studies have found evidence for the head belonging to Henri-- physical features matching portraits of the king, as well as data from radiocarbon dating, 3D scanning and X-rays.

But research led by Belgian geneticist Jean-Jacques Cassiman last year found no genetic link between the DNA of living relatives of the Bourbon kings and the remains in the gourd or the mummified head.

Henri was assassinated by a fanatic Catholic in 1610, and his head is believed to have been saved from the ransacking of the royal chapel at Saint-Denis, north of Paris, during the French Revolution.

Charlier told AFP the link he and Lalueza-Fox had found between the two specimens "may have been coincidental".

"It does not place into doubt the authenticity of the head of Henri IV," he insisted.

Lalueza-Fox said the remaining 24 percent of DNA found in the gourd belonged to at least three other people who had touched the handkerchief -- but none had any Bourbon DNA markers either.

"It could still be possible, although implausible, that the gourd's blood could be that of the French king," the study concluded.

Hank Greely, a genetics ethics expert at Stanford University, said he doubted this was the end of the blood saga.

"Fundamentally, though, this is how science works. People do studies, they agree or disagree... they get followed up with more and better to see why and how there were differences -- and who, if anyone, was right."

Don't miss stories about France, join us on Facebook and Twitter

The Local/AFP (joshua.melvin@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Le Pen: France needs to take control of borders
Front National president Marine Le Pen speaks to the press during a visit in the city of Calais, northern France. Photo: Philippe Huguen/AFP

Le Pen: France needs to take control of borders

National Front leader Marine Le Pen visited the northern port city of Calais on Friday where tensions are high as authorities under increasing pressure to control the influx of illegal migrants trying to get to Britain. READ  

Burglar in the buff snared by French police
A burglar in the buff was snared red handed and bare-bottomed by French police this week. Photo: Shutterstock

Burglar in the buff snared by French police

French police were called out to a bizarre incident this week when they received calls from scared residents in villages in central France alerting them to the presence of a burglar who was targeting homes in the buff. READ  

France to bring in Ebola checks 'on all transport'
A passenger arriving at Charles de Gaulle airport is checked for Ebola. Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP

France to bring in Ebola checks 'on all transport'

French president François Hollande said on Friday that measures to counter the risk of Ebola reaching France will be increased with tests to be carried out on people arriving in France on “all forms of transport”, meaning boats as well as planes. READ  

French military chief: 'It's safe to say we hurt Isis'
France and its allies "hurt" Isis forces in Iraq, French military chief has said. Photo: AFP

French military chief: 'It's safe to say we hurt Isis'

The leader of France's armed forces said his country's military "hurt" Isis forces in a recent raid led by the international coalition battling the extremists in Iraq. READ  

What's on in France
What's on in France: 11 things to do in November
The annual cider festival in Le Sap Normandy, just one of the many things to do in France in November. Photo: JCMayzaud

What's on in France: 11 things to do in November

If you're short of ideas for what to do in France in November, we've gathered together a list of 11 events that are well worth checking out, especially if you're into art, wine, music or just can't wait to get in the Christmas spirit. READ  

Paris: Saudi robbed of €15k cash while dining
Relations between France and Saudi Arabia could soon be strained if Paris thieves are not stopped. Photo: Dominic Faget/AFP

Paris: Saudi robbed of €15k cash while dining

A man working for the Saudi Arabian embassy in Paris had a whopping €15,000 in cash stolen while dining out in the city on Tuesday afternoon. He’s just the latest Saudi national to be targeted by thieves in France. READ  

Budget row: EU asks France for more details
Hollande and his PM Manuel Valls will have to convince Brussels their 2015 budget is in order. Photo: AFP

Budget row: EU asks France for more details

French President Francois Hollande said his country had received an EU Commission letter asking for clarifications over its 2015 budget, which forecasts that France will miss the deficit targets laid by Brussels by a wide margin. READ  

Vigilantes held as clown panic spreads in France
It's no joke. Clown panic is spreading across France. Photo: Shutterstock

Vigilantes held as clown panic spreads in France

Police arrested five armed youths in a town in eastern France this week who were hunting for “aggressive clowns” who were reportedly threatening locals. It’s just the latest incident in France where reports of armed clowns has spread panic. READ  

Mother has four limbs removed after abortion
A French mum had to have four limbs amputated due to complications following an abortion. Photo: Shutterstock

Mother has four limbs removed after abortion

A woman who had an abortion in Bordeaux is suing the medical team that performed the procedure after she ended up having to have partial amputations to both arms and legs. READ  

France and the EU
France to get €1b EU rebate as UK to pay more
France is owed €1 billion by the EU, in contrast to the UK, which has been told to pay €2.1 billion more. Photo: Luc Legay/Flickr

France to get €1b EU rebate as UK to pay more

Struggling France is owed a €1billion rebate from Brussels, it was revealed this week. It hasn’t gone down well on the other side of the English Channel where the UK has been told to hand over an extra €2.1billion. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Nowhere combines sex and art quite like France
National
Why you should never turn down an invitation to a French wedding
Sport
Discover the route of the 2015 Tour de France. There are a few surprises
Gallery
Ten changes that would make learning French so much easier
Culture
IN PICTURES: 'Glass ship' Vuitton ready to set sail in Paris
International
How a giant 'sex toy' earned an American artist a slap in Paris
National
'Unlike in the US the French don't put the blame on the poor'
Gallery
Cover up and don't be too Latin: French travel warnings for the US
Society
Macholand: The online uprising against sexism in France
Gallery
In pictures: The daily life of the 2,000 migrants in Calais
Culture
Erotic promo video earns the Musée d'Orsay our "Only in France" award
International
'I love the UK, but I could die getting there': Struggles of Calais migrants
National
Seven reasons why everyone should work in a bar in France
National
The cost of expat home comforts: How France compares to Europe
International
Why don't Calais migrants stay in France? The Local went to find out
National
What are the pros and cons of working as an au pair in France?
Society
Is France's generous welfare state about to get a little stingier?
Gallery
Extraordinary images of ordinary life in the poor Paris suburbs
Gallery
10 things expats love and loathe about life in France
National
So why don't many women in France breastfeed?
National
'Stop bashing La Belle France' - French PM tells UK press
International
UK warns Brits of 'high threat' from terrorism' in France
National
VIDEO: 'The Kama Sutra is not a dirty little text'
National
What Rome could teach Paris and vice versa
Gallery
What do foreign countries warn their citizens about when visiting France?
Gallery
IN IMAGES: Eiffel Tower opens new glass floor above Paris
Society
Is it really better to grow old in the UK and the US rather than France?
Gallery
It's that time if the year again: French sportsmen reveal (almost) all
Gallery
So what do the French find really weird about Anglos?
Travel
Paris museums to open seven days a week but unions are not happy
Culture
Caption contest: What happened when Jay Z met Sark O?
International
This explains why the French never seem to get a sense of déjà vu?
National
VIDEO: Here's a view from the Eiffel Tower you haven't seen before
Travel
Do Paris's iconic rooftops deserve Unesco World Heritage status?
Opinion
'France cannot reform, the pilots' strike showed us this'
National
'We just don’t work hard enough in France.' Is that true?
International
France has moved to beef up security in various public places
National
Hiking naked in France does not come risk-free
Culture
10 French customs that confuse Anglos
National
IN PICTURES: A look inside France's 'most notorious' prison
International
Isis urges killing of 'spiteful, dirty' French
National
Paris installs new device to stop 'love lock' craze
National
Paris cabby dies in vicious high-heel attack
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se