Artifacts Revealed in Tomb of King Henry VII: Photos

A medieval treasure trove is revealed, as researchers dig for clues into the emperor’s physical features and cause of death.

Resting in Pisa Cathedral, the bones of Henry VII of Luxembourg (1275-1313), the German king and Holy Roman emperor, were exhumed last fall with the aim of getting more insights into the emperor’s physical features and cause of death. Henry is best remembered for his failed struggle to reestablish imperial control over the city-states of 14th-­century Italy.

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Henry died prematurely at Buonconvento, near Siena, on Aug. 24, 1313, just a year after he was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in Rome. Rumors of him being poisoned began to spread. The emperor’s body was hastily buried. Not having enough time to treat the corpse for transportation, the emperor’s followers burned his body, detached the head and boiled it. His bones were kept in wine to better preserve them.

Henry’s coffin was opened last fall for the third time since his death in 1313. Previous investigations were conducted in 1727 and in 1921. The research is still ongoing, but the opening of the sarcophagus has already revealed a medieval treasure trove.

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The emperor’s bones were wrapped in a silk cloth on which lay a crown, a scepter and an orb, all made in gilded silver.

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The crown, the scepter and the orb were commonly associated with Henry VII.

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The reconstructed skeleton has allowed the researchers to establish that the subject was a male 5 feet 5 inches tall who died at about 40. Analysis has so far revealed a high concentration of arsenic in the bones, which could support the poisoning theory, although many drugs at that time were arsenic based.

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The most unexpected find was a large, magnificent silk cloth.

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Once unwrapped, the cloth turned to be quite large -- more than 10 feet long and 4 feet wide. The exquisitely woven cloth features horizontal bands of around 4 inches showing alternating colors, a reddish nut-brown (originally red) and blue.

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“The lions, the most characteristic emblem of sovereignty, as well as other decorations symbolizing power, indicate a clear link to the emperor. What makes this cloth unique is its size, the very high level of craftsmanship and its amazing preservation,” Moira Brunori, at the Center for Textile Restoration in Pisa, told Discovery News.

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“We do not know if the cloth belonged to Henry .... or was specially made for the burial in Pisa Cathedral two years after the emperor’s death. Perhaps the inscription, once decoded, will provide some clues,” Brunori said.

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Henry’s head was boiled after his death to better preserve it. The skull will now allow researchers to reconstruct the facial features of the emperor.

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