BBC News have today reported that scientists have identified an embalmed head in a private collection as being that of Henri IV of France, the Bourbon King who was assassinated by a Catholic fanatic in 1610.
Henri IV, also known as Henri le Grand, Le Bon Roi Henri, the Green Gallant and Henry of Navarre, reigned from 1589 to 1610 and was a popular king, known for ending the French Wars of Religon by coverting to Catholicism and re-enacting the Edict of Nantes which gave the Huguenots amnesty and civil rights. He was stabbed to death on 14th May 1610 in Paris, on the way to the Queen’s coronation ceremony, by François Ravaillac, a Catholic zealot. Ravaillac claimed that he had had a vision telling him to persuade the King to convert the Huguenots to Catholicism and he killed the King after hearing that Henri IV had decided to invade the Spanish Netherlands, a move which Ravaillac interpreted as war against the Pope. Henri was laid to rest in the Saint Denis Basilica in Paris, an abbey known as the “royal necropolis of France” because it was the traditional burial site of French monarchs from the 10th to the 18th century.
In 1793, revolutionaries ransacked the Royal Chapel at Saint Denis and it was at this point that Henri IV’s head went missing. A head thought to have been Henri’s has passed between private collectors since that date but it is only now that it has been confirmed that the head is that of Henri. In a report published by The British Medical Journal, scientists have explained how they used the very latest forensic techniques to compare the head’s features with those of Henri in his portraits and sculptures, as it was not possible to use DNA. Portraits showed that Henri IV had a facial scar, a lesion near his nose and a pierced right ear lobe, and so did the head. Philippe Charlier, the forensic patholigist in charge of the team, described the head as having light brown hair, an open mouth and partially closed eyes. He also commented that it was incredibly well preserved, so much so that all of the internal organs and soft tissues were “well conserved”.
Henri’s headwill be re-united with his body next year in a special Mass and funeral at the Saint Denis Basilica.
The full report by the forensic team can be read at the British Medical Journal website –click here. It’s a fascinating report because it has photos of the mummified head, details of Henri’s features shown in portraits and on a sculpture compared to those on the head, full details of the evidence and an explanation of how the head was preserved. An incredibly interesting read!
Notes and Sources
- “Tests show head of France’s King Henri IV ‘genuine'”, BBC News Report, 15th December 2010
- British Medical Journal Report, BMJ 2010;341:c6805, “Multidisciplinary medical identification of a French king’s head (Henri IV)”, Christmas 2010 – see http://www.bmj.com/content/341/bmj.c6805.full.