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Murdered French King Henri IV's head found

The embalmed head of France's King Henri IV, who was assassinated in 1610, has been identified by a team of scientists, and is now to be reburied near Paris. The remains had been presumed lost in the French Revolution.

A portrait of Henri IV by Frans Pourbus

The findings match portraits of Henri IV

A team of scientists on Thursday identified an embalmed head as that of King Henri IV of France, who was assassinated in 1610. The remains had been presumed lost in the chaos of the French Revolution.

The head was apparently lost after a mob of revolutionaries desecrated the graves of French kings in the royal chapel of Saint-Denis near Paris in 1793.

Few remains of those bodies have ever been found since.

But now experts say they have positively identified the head, passed down over the centuries by secretive private collectors.

Close match

The team, led by forensic pathologist Philippe Charlier, announced the discovery in the British Medical Journal.

The storming of the Bastille 1789

French revolutionaries desecrated royal graves

Charlier said features consistent with those of the king's face were found including "a dark mushroom-like lesion" near the right nostril, a healed facial stab wound and a pierced right earlobe.

The color of the hair, and remains of a moustache and beard on the mummified head fit with the known appearance of the king at the time of his death. Many features matched those in portraits of the king.

Charlier said three "cutting wounds" were also visible, corresponding to the separation of the head from the body by a revolutionary in 1793.

Good King Henry

Radiocarbon dating also gave a date of between 1450 and 1650, "nicely bracketing the year of his death", the report said. The popular king, known as "le bon roi Henri" (good King Henry) was murdered in 1610 at the age of 57 by Catholic fanatic Francois Ravaillac. Henri IV was slashed twice in the throat during a procession.

In addition, a digital facial reconstruction of the skull was fully consistent with all known representations of the king and the plaster mould of his face made just after his death.

Henri IV was also known as "the green gallant" because of his appeal to women.

In 1598, nine years after ascending the throne, he enacted the Edict of Nantes which guaranteed religious liberties to Protestants and brought to a close over 30 years of fighting between French Protestants and Catholics. He is therefore remembered as having promoted religious tolerance.

Jacques Perot, director of the Societe Henri IV in France, said the head will be reburied next year in Saint-Denis.

Author: Joanna Impey (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Rob Turner

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