Mummified Head May Not Belong to King Henry IV
DNA recovered from an embalmed head does not appear to match that from the House of Bourbon, the French king's lineage.
Sept. 16, 2012 --
The remains of Richard III, the monarch immortalized as a villainous hunchback by William Shakespeare and the last English king to die in battle, might have been discovered in a parking lot in Leicester. DNA analysis is still needed to confirm the findings, and that could take up to 12 weeks, according to researchers at the University of Leicester. While we wait, let's look at other royals known to have vanished from history.
NEWS: Medieval Church Discovered Beneath Parking Lot
Edward V and Richard, Duke of York Before Richard III assumed the throne, there was only one person standing in his way: his nephew, Edward V. Only a boy at 12 years old, Edward V was unprepared for the responsibilities of the crown left to him by his father, Edward IV, who entrusted Richard as Protector until the boy came of age. The future king Richard III in short order imprisoned Edward V in the Tower of London, along with his younger brother, Richard, Duke of York. The uncle then declared Edward IV's marriage invalid, and therefore his heirs were illegitimate. Richard III assumed the throne and the two boys disappeared from history shortly thereafter. Although remains belonging to two children were discovered in the 17th century by workers renovating a section of the Tower, the bones were never conclusively identified as belonging to the two boys.
Harold II Even though Harold II might have had one of the most famous deaths of any monarch in English history, his final resting place is unknown. Harold II assumed the throne in 1066. That same year, William the Conqueror led an army of Norman invaders into England. The armies of William and Harold met at the Battle of Hastings in October. After hours of fighting, with victory within his grasp, Harold was, according to legend, either shot in the eye or stabbed with a sword. His body was then mutilated and dismembered. Although the site of Harold's death is known, what followed after is a matter of some speculation. According to popular accounts, William had Harold's body buried in secret, even though Harold's mother offered a sum to claim the body.
Henry I When Henry VIII was engaged in his campaign against Catholicism, he seized church lands and raided monasteries. In the process, his men disturbed and even destroyed the final resting places of the monarchs who came before him. In fact, Henry VIII even likely caused the destruction of the tomb of his namesake: Henry I. Henry I was the son of William the Conqueror, and reigned for nearly 30 years from 1106 to 1135. Although he crowned himself king in 1100, his reign was disputed by his older brother, Robert, who had been away fighting in the Crusades. Henry initially was able to buy Robert off, but the two later came into conflict again, which was only resolved in 1106 with Henry's army capturing Robert in battle and imprisoning him for life. Henry spent much of his time away from England, often frequenting Normandy. In order to rule in his absence, he created a bureaucracy that would efficiently govern and run the affairs of state, the most important duty of which was to collect taxes. Following the death of his son, Henry was left with only one legitimate heir, his daughter. When Henry died in 1135, his daughter's rule was rejected by the English nobility and civil war ensued.
Pharaoh Userkare If famous kings who died within the last 1,000 years are difficult to find, then an obscure pharaoh that lived some 4,300 years ago must be close to impossible. The reign of Userkare, the second pharaoh of the Sixth Dynasty, has been shrouded in mystery, partly due to the fact that his tomb had not been discovered. In 2010, Giulio Magli, professor of archaeoastronomy at Milan's Polytechnic University, suggested a possible final resting place for the pharaoh. as reported by Discovery News' Rossella Lorenzi. The search, however, is still ongoing.
WATCH VIDEO: Find out what it's like hunting down ancient Egyptian treasures.
Queen Nefertiti Obscure royals are bound to escape history's notice. But when the ones who really left their mark manage to elude discovery, that's another story entirely. Ancient Egypt's Queen Nefertiti might be the most sought-after royal yet undiscovered. She died over 3,300 years ago, but was made famous in the modern era following the discovery of the 19-inch limestone, painted bust of her, seen here. Nefertiti was, in the words of Discovery News' Rossella Lorenzi, "the royal wife of the 'heretic' pharaoh Akhenaton, who initiated a new monotheistic religion that involved the worship the sun god Aton." Despite pursuits to find her tomb, including one such expedition funded by the Discovery Channel, no archaeologist has yet found where Nefertiti is buried.
READ MORE: Tracking Nefertiti: Egypt Guide
Emperor Jianwen When you're emperor of a nation as large as China, you'd think someone would notice your disappearance. Emperor Jianwen (1377-1402) was the second emperor of the Ming Dynasty, and nearly led it to ruin. Failed efforts to gain greater control over territory within his empire, which was governed by his uncles, led to the outbreak of civil war. When troops belonging to one of Jianwen's uncles attacked Nanjing, then the capital under the Ming Dynasty, the imperial palace caught fire, supposedly killing Jianwen and his concubines. However, an alternate version of events suggests Jianwen secretly escaped in the midst of the battle and took refuge in a monastery, where he lived out the rest of his days.
Anastasia Nikolaevna Although no longer missing, the final resting place of Anastasia Nikolaevna, daughter of tsar Nicholas II, the last monarch of Russia, was a nearly century-long mystery that ended in 2009. Along the way, false reports, witnesses and impostors claiming to be the deceased grand duchess turned up. The idea that somehow Nikolaevna had escaped execution gripped popular imagination, including an animated film in 1997. In 1991, speculation that Nikolaevna survived the massacre that claimed her family was bolstered by the discovery of a mass grave. Buried there were the remains of the tsar, his wife and three of their daughters. Traces of the two remaining children, a son and another daughter, were not at the site. In 2007, a grave in Yekaterinburg, Russia, proved to be the final resting place of the two remaining children. Two years later, researchers announced that DNA analysis confirmed that the remains were of the two young royals.
A mummified head identified as that of the French king Henry IV three years ago may not belong to the monarch after all.
In 2010, researchers used digital facial reconstruction on the head, which had been in the hands of private collectors, to identify it as the "good King Henry," who ruled France from 1589 to 1610. The king, according to historical legend, was exhumed and posthumously beheaded in 1793 during the French Revolution.
A new DNA study throws the original identification into controversy, however. A team led by Jean-Jacques Cassiman of the University of Leuven in Belgium found that DNA recovered from the head does not match that from the House of Bourbon, Henry's lineage.
"In order to realize an accurate genetic identification of historical remains, DNA typing of living persons, who are paternally or maternally related with the presumed donor of the samples, is required," Cassiman and his colleagues wrote Wednesday (Oct. 9) in the European Journal of Human Genetics. (History's 10 Most Overlooked Mysteries)
Testing old DNA is tricky, however, and too little DNA was recovered from the mummified head to entirely rule it out as Henry's, according to Cassiman and his colleagues.
King Henry's Head?
King Henry IV was king of the Pyrenees kingdom of Navarre in 1589, when an assassin killed his predecessor, Henry III. As a Protestant, Henry IV's ascension to the throne of Catholic France was complicated; he eventually converted to Catholicism, allegedly saying, "Paris is well worth a Mass."
In 1610, an assassin took Henry IV’s life as well. He was buried in the Basilica of Saint Denis in Paris, but his rest may not have been so eternal. According to some accounts, Henry IV’s grave was among those ransacked in 1793, when French revolutionaries took to mutilating dead monarchs as a statement against royal rule. As the disrupted graves were re-closed in the early 1800s, there’s no way to verify whether Henry IV’s body was beheaded at this time or left alone.
In 2010, osteo-archaeologist Philippe Charlier of University Hospital R Poincaré in Garches, France, and his colleagues reported that a forensic examination of a mummified head said to be Henry IV's was indeed the king's. Among the evidence: The mummy head has an irregular mole on the nostril and a pierced right ear, both features seen on contemporary portraits of Henry IV.
Cassiman's new analysis failed to confirm Charlier's findings. Using markers on the male, or Y, chromosome, Cassiman and his colleagues found that there was no match between the head's DNA and that of three living descendants of the king. The DNA would have needed to include two "breaks" in the paternal biological line — meaning offspring whose fathers were not actually Bourbons — for the head to belong to Henry IV, the researchers found.
Maternal DNA evidence also suggested the head might not be Henry IV's, the researchers reported. At least one of the women in the king's lineage would have to have not actually been biologically related to her child for the head to be Henry's, the results suggest.
Charlier, the researcher who identified the head as Henry's, is not convinced, arguing that illegitimacy in the family line makes DNA identification difficult.
"It is hopeless to try to match a family tree and a series of genetic links (over) such a long period," he wrote in an email to the news site PhysOrg.
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