It is one of the most enduring images of the French Revolution: Parisians dipping handkerchiefs and other bits of cloth into the pooled blood of Louis XVI moments after the monarch had been guillotined on Jan. 21, 1793.
Some wanted a relic of the fallen king; others proof that the Bourbon sovereign was indeed dead.
After years of searching for a vestige of this historic event, which shook Europe, researchers have hit pay dirt, according to The Telegraph.
“A new DNA analysis has solved a mystery that has lasted for almost 220 years, finding that an ornate gourd almost certainly carries the bloodstains of the fallen king,” according to the British publication.
Parisian Maximilien Bourdaloue not only witnessed Louis’s public execution, he joined many others in dipping a handkerchief in the dead monarch’s blood left at the foot of the guillotine at an area today called Place de la Revolution.
Bourdaloue then secreted this garment inside a gourd called a calabash. The rag itself has long since decomposed, but the calabash still carries crimson stains and an inscription recording how the souvenir was collected after the king’s “decapitation,” according to The Telegraph.
However, there was no conclusive proof that the blood really belonged to the star-crossed Bourbon king, whose wife Marie Antoinette would be executed later eight months later. In order for a DNA sample to be useful, the blood in the calabash would have to be compared to that drawn from a relative of the king.
“A new study in the current issue of “Forensic Science International” has filled in the missing link,” The Telegraph reports. “The breakthrough came when scientists took a DNA sample from the mummified head of one of Louis’s most illustrious ancestors: King Henri IV, who ruled France from 1589 until 1610.”
The results of the analysis demonstrate that Henri possessed a rare partial “Y” chromosome. Louis was one of his direct male-line descendants, albeit separated by seven generations. The bloodstains on the container also contained the “Y” chromosome, along with other matches, leading experts to conclude that the container almost certainly holds the blood of the guillotined monarch.
“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,” read the study. “Historically speaking, this forensic DNA data would confirm the identity of the previous Louis XVI sample.”
The study found “with 95 per cent confidence” that it was 246 times more likely that the owner of the mummified head and the provider of the bloodstain were related than unrelated. Both Henri and Louis came to a violent end at the hands of their subjects – and relics of both survive to this day, according to The Telegraph.
(Above: The execution of Louis XVI in the Place de la Révolution on Jan. 21, 1793.)