Sample of Louis XVI’s Blood Authenticated

Posted in the 18th century in the news by Editor on January 9, 2013

As reported by the Agence France-Presse (AFP)


Embellished gourd, 1792-93, inscription reads: “Maximilien Bourdaloue le 21 janvier de cette année imbiba son mouchoir dans le sang de Louis XVI après sa décollation” (Photo: Davide Pettener)

Two centuries after the French people beheaded Louis XVI and dipped their handkerchiefs in his blood, scientists believe they have authenticated the remains of one such rag kept as a revolutionary souvenir. Researchers have been trying for years to verify a claim imprinted on an ornately decorated calabash that it contains a sample of the blood of the French king guillotined in Paris on January 21, 1793. The dried, hollowed squash is adorned with portraits of revolutionary heroes and the text: “On January 21, Maximilien Bourdaloue dipped his handkerchief in the blood of Louis XVI after his decapitation.” He is then believed to have placed the fabric in the gourd, and had it embellished. The sinister souvenir has been in the private hands of an Italian family for more than a century, said the team of experts from Spain and France which published its findings in the journal Forensic Science International. . . .

The full AFP article is available at ArtDaily here»

Coverage in Le Figaro»

Additional images (from a 2010 story) are available at Wired.com»

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From Forensic Science International:

“Genetic Comparison of the Head of Henri IV and the Presumptive Blood from Louis XVI (Both Kings of France),” Forensic Science International (2 January 2013)

Authors: Philippe Charlier, Iñigo Olalde, Neus Solé, Oscar Ramírez, Jean-Pierre Babelon, Bruno Galland, Francesc Calafell, Carles Lalueza-Fox

Abstract: A mummified head was identified in 2010 as belonging to Henri IV, King of France. A putative blood sample from the King Louis XVI preserved into a pyrographically decorated gourd was analyzed in 2011. Both kings are in a direct male-line descent, separated by seven generations. We have retrieved the hypervariable region 1 of the mitochondrial DNA as well as a partial Y-chromosome profile from Henri IV. Five STR loci match the alleles found in Louis XVI, while another locus shows an allele that is just one mutation step apart. Taking into consideration that the partial Y-chromosome profile is extremely rare in modern human databases, we concluded that both males could be paternally related. The likelihood ratio of the two samples belonging to males separated by seven generations (as opposed to unrelated males) was estimated as 246.3, with a 95% confidence interval between 44.2 and 9729. Historically speaking, this forensic DNA data would confirm the identity of the previous Louis XVI sample, and give another positive argument for the authenticity of the head of Henri IV.

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Update (added 5 April 2013) — In the case of another artifact (as reported by the AFP at Art Daily) . . .

A bloodstained cloth allegedly belonging to Louis XVI, the French king who was beheaded after the 1789 revolution, on Wednesday [3 April 2013] fetched a staggering 19,000 euros ($24,400) at a Paris auction. Kept in a miniature coffin, the cloth was estimated to go under the hammer for between 4,000 and 6,000 euros. . . .

Update (added 10 October 2013) — The saga continues (as reported by the AFP at Art Daily) . . .

Scientists revealed genetic data Wednesday they said disproved the authenticity of macabre relics attributed to two French kings: a rag dipped in Louis XVI’s blood and Henri IV’s mummified head. A DNA analysis of three living relatives of the Bourbon kings found no link with genetic traces from the grisly souvenirs, according to a study in the European Journal of Human Genetics.

“It is not the blood of Louis XVI,” co-author Jean-Jacques Cassiman, a Belgian geneticist, told AFP of the handkerchief allegedly dipped in the blood of the king guillotined by revolutionaries in Paris on January 21, 1793, and kept in an ornately-decorated calabash since then. . .

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