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LESS THAN ROYAL: Mummified head long believed to be King Henry IV but not be related at all

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 10th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

It comes as a major disappointment for a rather ghastly historical relic . The mummified head long believed to be that of French King Henry IV three years ago may not belong to him, after all!

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - King Henry IV was king of the Pyrenees kingdom of Navarre in 1589, when an assassin killed his predecessor Henry III. A Protestant, his ascension to the throne of Catholic France was highly complicated. The king eventually converted to Catholicism, allegedly saying, "Paris is well worth a Mass."

History would repeat itself when an assassin took Henry IV's life in 1610. Buried in the Basilica of Saint Denis in Paris, his rest was said to have been disturbed.

Henry IV's grave was reportedly among those ransacked in 1793, when French revolutionaries took to mutilating dead monarchs as a statement against royal rule. The disrupted graves were sealed up again in the early 1800s. There was really no way to verify whether Henry IV's body was beheaded at this time or left alone.

A forensic examination of the mummified head in 2010 said that the purported head was indeed that of Henry IV's. Osteo-archaeologist Philippe Charlier of University Hospital R Poincaré in Garches, France and his colleagues pointed to the evidence. The mummy head has an irregular mole on the nostril and a pierced right ear, both features seen on contemporary portraits of Henry IV.

Researchers then used digital facial reconstruction on the head, which had been in the hands of private collectors, to identify it as the "good King Henry," who ruled France from 1589 to 1610.

However - a new DNA study throws the original identification into controversy. A team led by Jean-Jacques Cassiman of the University of Leuven in Belgium found that DNA recovered from the head does not match that from the House of Bourbon, Henry's lineage.

"In order to realize an accurate genetic identification of historical remains, DNA typing of living persons, who are paternally or maternally related with the presumed donor of the samples, is required," Cassiman says.

It must be noted that testing old DNA is tricky and far too little DNA was recovered from the mummified head to entirely rule it out as Henry's, according to Cassiman.

Using markers on the male, or Y, chromosome, Cassiman and his colleagues found that there was no match between the head's DNA and that of three living descendants of the king.

Maternal DNA evidence also suggested the head might not be Henry IV's. At least one of the women in the king's lineage would have to have not actually been biologically related to her child for the head to be Henry's, the results suggest.

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