• 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)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
France weighs medicine sales at supermarkets
Could medicine soon be available in supermarkets in France? Photo: Charly Triballeau/AFP

France weighs medicine sales at supermarkets

France’s top financial watchdog says it’s time to end the monopoly pharmacies have on selling over-the-counter medicines like paracetamol as well as cold and flu remedies. The watchdog believes introducing competition will bring down prices. READ  

Air Algérie crash: pilots asked to 'turn back'
This photo shows debris of the Air Algerie Flight AH 5017 scattered at the crash site in Mali's Gossi region, west of Gao, on July 26, 2014. Photo: AFP

Air Algérie crash: pilots asked to 'turn back'

France was mourning on Monday as authorities revealed the pilots aboard the Air Algérie flight had asked permission to turn back just before the jet went down, killing 118 people. Bad weather has been increasingly blamed for the accident. READ  

Imperiled Iraqi Christians offered asylum in France
France has offered asylum to Iraqi Christians displaced by islamist militants. Photo: Karim Sahib/AFP

Imperiled Iraqi Christians offered asylum in France

France has offered asylum to thousands of Christians in Iraq displaced by threats and violence from the jihadists who have invaded portions of the country. The islamists have given Christians the ultimatum of convert or leave. READ  

Two Irish montaineers killed on Mont Blanc
Two climbers incuding one Irishman were killed in a fall on Mont Blanc on Sunday. Photo: Philippe Merle/AFP

Two Irish montaineers killed on Mont Blanc

Two Irishmen were killed in after slipping and falling in the Mont Blanc range on Sunday. It comes after an American businessman outraged French authorities for trying to scale the mountain with his young children. READ  

Tourists picnic with rats in Louvre gardens
Another Parisian rat. Photo: Jean-Jacques Boujot.

Tourists picnic with rats in Louvre gardens

VIDEO: The lawns of the Louvre, a favourite picnic haunt of tourists and Parisians, are offering visitors a real-life Ratatouille experience after being invaded by rodents. READ  

France's Muslims mark the end of 'holiest month'
France's Muslims will mark the end of holiest month on Monday. Photo: Boris Horvat/AFP

France's Muslims mark the end of 'holiest month'

France’s Muslim population, which is the largest in Europe, will end on Monday its holiest festival of the year: Ramadan. However, the date is not without controversy due to the unique way the annual rite’s duration is chosen. READ  

Lion wounds 16-month-old child at French circus
A lion injured a child at a French circus. Photo: Alexandre Imamura/Flickr

Lion wounds 16-month-old child at French circus

A lion reached out of its cage and scratched a 16-month-old girl at a circus in France on Sunday, injuring the child's head and back. The news came the same day as a not guilty verdict for the owner of a circus elephant that killed an elderly pétanque player. READ  

Marseille: Pro-Israel march held amid tension
Thousands march in support of Israel in Marseille. Photo: Boris Horvat/AFP

Marseille: Pro-Israel march held amid tension

Up to 6,000 demonstrators marched through the French city of Marseille on Sunday in support of Israel. The rally was held amid tight security as dozens of pro-Palestinian protesters tried to disrupt the demonstration. READ  

French nationals told to flee chaos in Libya
Libyan security services and civilians gather across the street after a car bomb attack on the French embassy in Tripoli, Libya on April 23rd, 2013. Photo: Mahmud Turkia/AF

French nationals told to flee chaos in Libya

France has warned its nationals to leave Libya due to the worsening security situation there and the threat of terror attacks. French warnings come amid similar calls for evacuation from other European nations and the United States. READ  

Italian Nibali wins 2014 Tour de France
Italy's Vincenzo Nibali (R) wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey toasts champagne with Astana teammates. Photo: Jean-Paul Pelissier/AFP

Italian Nibali wins 2014 Tour de France

Italian Vincenzo Nibali won the 2014 Tour de France on Sunday after the final stage that ended on the famous Champs-Elysees avenue. Frenchmen Jean-Christophe Peraud and Thibaut Pinot finished second and third. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
Why you should think twice about feeding stray cats in France
National
And the new redrawn map of France will look like...?
Politics
Is French President François Hollande about to tie the knot?
International
Want a long-term visa? You may soon have to take a French test
International
Votes for foreigners: 'France would be giving up its sovereignty'
National
VIDEO: Stuntman jumps onto a moving Paris metro... and survives
Gallery
Forget 'faire l'amour', here's 15 top French expressions for making love
National
Report - 'Anti-Semitic' riots in France: 'We may leave for Israel'
National
Paris Plages: Here's 10 reasons to head down to the city beach
International
'Mont Blanc is like Disneyland. It's time to end the free-for-all'
Travel
Fancy climbing Mont Blanc? Here's 10 reasons to think twice about it
Gallery
Looking for a weird museum in Paris? Here's 10 that are worth a visit
National
Clear your head: Eight tips for buying wine in a French supermarket
National
'Don't blame the labour market for France's unemployment woes!'
National
Job applicants in France: Be prepared to send in an anonymous CV
Sport
'Bouligans' to booze bans: Ten things you need to know about pétanque
Gallery
Driving in France: How to stay out of trouble on the roads
Travel
Ten essential free phone apps for a visit to Paris
Gallery
Like cycling? Love France? See the top ten best cycling routes in France
International
'They think beer is a vegetable': What the French really think of Germans
National
Sarkozy's dream of a 2017 comeback is not dead yet
Gallery
Ten reasons why France is better than Germany (we're not talking football)
Gallery
Paris in Summer: Ten things to do on a shoestring
Sponsored Article
CurrencyFair: Why it pays when making overseas transfers
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