According to the chronicles belonging to the time of the French Revolution, many were the men who dipped their handkerchiefs in the blood of the King Louis XVI (1754-1793) when he was publicly beheaded after being tried for a crime of treason. The citizens took a small sample of their blood to be able to preserve a memory of that historical moment, and thanks to that act, it was only a few days ago that it was revealed that the French monarch was consanguineously linked to King Henry IV of France (1589-1610), a finding that refutes the widespread belief that Louis XIV (known as "The Sun King") was not actually son of Louis XIII, but the influential Cardinal Mazarin.
And we owe all this great discovery to a pumpkin.
For more than a century, a Bolognese family has treasured a long-lived dried bottle-shaped gourd. During the French Revolution It was decorated with elaborate motifs and various portraits of some of the protagonists of the French Revolution, such as George Danton, Maximilien Robespierre, Camilla Desmoulins, Louis-Sébastien Mercier, Jean Paul Marat, and the executed monarchs Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and her son Charles-Louis de Bourbon.
Around the circular base of the gourd, three inscriptions of special interest were written in French with the technique of pyrography.
“The most interesting is possibly the text written next to the portraits, in which the story of one of the witnesses to the execution is explained”, Says Carles Lalueza-Fox, from Barcelona and PhD in biology, who works at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology, a joint center of the CSIC and the Pompeu Fabra University.
The texts read like this: «Maximilien Bourdaloue on January 21 this year soaked his handkerchief in the blood of Louis XVI after his beheading. When the blood had coagulated, he placed the handkerchief on the gourd and handed it to me for two ten-franc bills. T. Pes c.f. L.er. F. Aegnauld«.
And finally, in the third inscription you can read: «I was in charge of having it decorated - A decoration that was handed over to the Parisian artist Jean Roux, who finished the work on September 18, 1793- to be able to give a gift to the Eagle herself, who will bring me five hundred francs«.
Regarding the latter, Lalueza-Fox clarifies that Bourdaloue's intention was to sell the pumpkin for 500 francs at “The Eagle”, Nickname that could refer to a young man Napoleon bonaparte, since as it is known, that bird would become his imperial symbol.
The family that owns this pumpkin valued at 2 million euros, was curious to know if their little heirloom had really ever carried the handkerchief impregnated with the arterial blood of the guillotined Louis XVI. The handkerchief had been missing for many years, however, dark residues could still be seen on the gourd that could well be traces of dried blood.
Upon contacting the scientists at the University of Bologna, they at first thought it was a strange joke. But shortly afterwards they found that the family had a letter from a French museum that confirmed the authenticity of the pumpkin.
Finally, scientists recovered mitochondrial DNA and the Y chromosome of the individual from whom the blood came. They proved with this, that it was a European male and that his genetic data came from lineages difficult to find in the databases that are currently managed. "Mitochondrial DNA corresponds to a rare N1b lineage, present in only two Europeans out of a total of almost 21,000 studied. The Y corresponds to an undescribed G2a lineage among 21,800 Europeans analyzed”, Lalueza-Fox pointed out.
In addition, the researchers confirmed that the subject had the mutation that determines that the color of the eyes is blue, which is located in the HERC2 gene, and thanks to different portraits of the time, among which those painted by Antoine-François Callet in 1786 and Joseph-Siffred Duplessis in 1777 stand out, it was found that King Louis XVI had eyes that same color.
In the beginning, the only way they contemplated to prove definitively that it is Louis XVI It was by comparing the Y chromosome with the genetic profile of the mummified heart attributed to his son Louis XVII (whose secular name was Louis-Charles de Bourbon), who died in prison in 1795 at the age of ten, supposedly from tuberculosis, and who today day is preserved in the Basilica of Saint Denis, in Paris (traditional burial point of the kings of France).
“We tried to certify the authenticity of the sample by looking for possible living relatives of the king, but none were located”Added Lalueza-Fox.
However, the mitochondrial DNA results that identified Louis-Charles as son of Marie Antoinette, they did not serve to demonstrate that the blood of the pumpkin really belonged to Luis XVI, for that reason the investigators had to look for other forms of verification. It then occurred to them to resort to the mummified head of Henry IV, which had been identified in 2010.
Enrique IV died on May 14, 1610 after being the victim of a cruel murder. He was also buried in the crypt of the Saint Denis basilica, but during the revolution the body was desecrated, by separating the body from the head. Nothing was known about it until the late nineteenth century, when appeared in the collection of a German count, which was acquired by a French antiquities specialist in 1919.
Later, it was resold to a retired couple, who gave it to Luis de Borbón (the current head of the French Bourbons). Since then, it has been duly stored in a bank safe, although its authenticity has not been confirmed until now.
Philippe Charlier, the director of the forensic team at the Raymond Poincaré de Garches hospital (Paris) stressed that “the head of Henry IV thanks to its mummification is in a very good state of conservation”, With the bones of the skull, and also remains of skin, muscles and hair.
After recovering several mitochondrial DNA sequences and a partial chromosome profile, they discovered multiple alleles of a haplotype (combination of alleles from different loci on a chromosome) extremely rare, found in traces of blood inside the pumpkin. The tests therefore, show that Henry IV and Louis XVI "have the same genetic heritage that passes through the parents," said the coroner.
«There are certain sequences of the Y chromosome (those transmitted by the parents) that share the analyzed remains of these two historical figures who are separated by seven generations"Added Charlier who assures with forcefulness that between"they have a direct relationship through their parents. So you could say that there is absolutely no question about the kinship”.
On the other hand, Lalueza-Fox is more cautious, although ratifies what his colleague says, «It is about 250 times more likely that both monarchs are related than they are not (…) and it would be "very surprising" if the remains did not belong to the two murdered monarchs.”, He added.