Mummified head is skull of Henri IV, say historians
Published 15/12/2010 | 09:56
A mummified head dug up after the French Revolution, lost for a century and unearthed by an antiques dealer belongs to Henri IV, the revered French king who died 400 years ago, leading historians and scientists have revealed.
A gash above the lip, a beauty spot and a pierced ear were among key features that helped identify the well-preserved head as that of the "Gallant Green" king, stabbed to death by a Catholic fundamentalist in 1610.
Jean-Pierre Babelon, France's leading Henri IV scholar told The Daily Telegraph he and the other experts were "99 per cent sure" of their findings.
He will be alongside the 19-man team of international experts when it details its historic discovery in Paris' Grand Palais after two years of painstaking research.
The experts, led by the renowned pathologist Philippe Charlier, used a "whole range of methods" to cross check their discovery.
These included matching the head's precise measurements with that of Henri IV's death masks, dating the skull and conducting "deep research" into the embalming techniques used at the time.
Mr Babelon said that while the king's face still sported "a few hairs from his beard", they were too damaged to provide conclusive DNA proof linking him to his descendants.
The "killer evidence", he said, came from still-visible telltale facial details, notably a knife gash above the upper lip inflicted in a well-documented assassination attempt on the king – who converted to Catholicism to end the war of religions, declaring "Paris is worth a Mass".
How the head ended up in expert hands remains a partial mystery.
After his death on May 14, 1610, Henri IV was buried alongside France's other kings in the Basilica of Saint Denis, outside Paris. French revolutionaries dug up his body in 1793, along with his fellow monarchs but a mystery admirer of "good king Henri" managed to make off with his head.
Historians lost sight of it in the 1800s, but it resurfaced in 1919, when Joseph-Emile Bourdais, an antiques dealer bought it for three francs at Drouot's auction house.
Mr Bourdais, also a photographer, kept the head in a glass case in his gallery in Montmartre, charging visitors a small fee to peek at it.
"He was convinced it belonged to Henri IV and became a man possessed, gathering a huge number of photos and engravings to prove the likeness," said Mr Babelon. When the Louvre museum declined to accept the head as a gift, it was sold to a private collector who kept it for the past 60 years.
Mr Babelon tracked down the elderly owner, who wishes to remain anonymous.
The research was led by Mr Charlier, already famous in France for proving that remains said to belong to Joan of Arc in the chateau de Chinon were fakes, and that Agnès Sorel, Charles VII's favourite mistress, died of mercury poisoning.