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Feature Christmas 2010: History

Multidisciplinary medical identification of a French king’s head (Henri IV)

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 15 December 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6805
  1. Philippe Charlier, forensic medical examiner and osteo-archaeologist12,
  2. Isabelle Huynh-Charlier, radiologist3,
  3. Joël Poupon, biological toxicologist4,
  4. Christine Keyser, specialist in forensic genetics5,
  5. Eloïse Lancelot, elemental toxicologist6,
  6. Dominique Favier, organic molecular analyst7,
  7. Jean-Noël Vignal, doctor in anthropology8,
  8. Philippe Sorel, arts historian9,
  9. Pierre F Chaillot, resident1,
  10. Rosa Boano, anthropologist10,
  11. Renato Grilletto, professor of anthropology10,
  12. Sylvaine Delacourte, perfumer11,
  13. Jean-Michel Duriez, perfumer12,
  14. Yves Loublier, palynologist13,
  15. Paola Campos, specialist in paleogenetics14,
  16. Eske Willerslev, professor in paleogenetics14,
  17. M T P Gilbert, specialist in paleogenetics14,
  18. Leslie Eisenberg, forensic anthropologist15,
  19. Bertrand Ludes, professor of legal medicine5,
  20. Geoffroy Lorin de la Grandmaison, professor of legal medicine1
  1. 1Department of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, University Hospital R Poincaré (AP-HP, UVSQ), 92380 Garches, France
  2. 2Department of Medical Ethics, Faculty of Medicine Paris 5, Paris, France
  3. 3Department of Radiology, University Hospital Pitié-Salpêtrière (AP-HP), Paris, France
  4. 4Department of Biological Toxicology, University Lariboisière Hospital (AP-HP), Paris, France
  5. 5Medico-Legal Institute, Faculty of Medicine, Strasbourg, France
  6. 6Applications Laboratory, Horiba Jobin Yvon, Villeneuve d’Ascq, France
  7. 7International Flavours and Fragrancies (IFF), Neuilly sur Seine, France
  8. 8IRCGN, Forensic Anthropology, Rosny-sous-Bois, France
  9. 9Carnavalet Museum, Paris, France
  10. 10Department of Animal and Human Biology, University of Turin, Italy
  11. 11Guerlain, Perfumes Development, Paris, France
  12. 12Jean Patou/Rochas, Perfumes Development, Paris, France
  13. 13CNRS, Gif-sur-Yvette, France
  14. 14Centre for GeoGenetics, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
  15. 15Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison, WI, USA
  1. Correspondence to: P Charlier ph_charlier{at}
  • Accepted 19 November 2010

Philippe Charlier and a multidisciplinary team explain how they confirmed an embalmed head to be that of the French king Henry IV using a combination of anthropological, paleopathological, radiological, forensic, and genetic techniques

The team examined the inside of the head with an endoscope. Here you can see the trachea, with the cartilage rings and vocal cords still preserved.
CT scanning enabled the team to image the skull, and from this build up a facial reconstruction to compare to portraits.

Since the desecration of the French kings’ graves in the basilica of Saint-Denis by the revolutionaries in 1793, few remains of these mummified bodies have been preserved and identified. After a multidisciplinary analysis, we confirmed that an embalmed head reputed to be that of the French king Henri IV and conserved in successive private collections did indeed belong to that monarch.

Death of “the green gallant”

Henri IV was probably the most popular French king. He was known as “the good King Henry” or, because of his attractiveness to women, “the green gallant.” Despite being admired by his people, he was assassinated in Paris at the age of 57 years on 14 May 1610 by François Ravaillac, a fanatical Catholic.

Identifying the remains of the French king

The human head had a light brown colour, open mouth, and partially closed eyes (fig 1). The preservation was excellent, with all soft tissues and internal organs well conserved. Two features often seen in portraits of the monarch (fig 2) were present: a dark mushroom-like lesion, 11 mm in length, just above the right nostril (fig 3A),1 and a 4.5 mm central hole in the right ear lobe with a patina that was indicative of long term use of an earring (fig 3B). We know that Henri IV wore an earring in his right earlobe, as did others from the Valois court.2 A 5 mm healed bone lesion was present on the upper left maxilla (fig 3C), which corresponds to the trauma (stab wound) inflicted by Jean Châtel during a murder attempt on 27 December 1594.2 Many head hairs and remnants of a moustache and …

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