Bloody Gourd May Contain Beheaded King’s DNA

By Dave Mosher

Louis XVI execution gourd inscription

Sick of taxes, a lack of rights and living in poverty, French revolutionists condemned Louis XVI to the guillotine on the morning of January 21, 1793. After a short but defiant speech and a menacing drum roll, the last king of France lost his head as a crowd rushed the scaffold to dip handkerchiefs into his blood as mementos.

Or so the story goes.

Lending new life to the demise of Louis XVI, scientists performed a battery of DNA tests on dried blood inside a decorative gunpowder gourd that purportedly contained one such handkerchief. The results, described Oct. 12 in the journal Forensic Science International: Genetics, show the blood belongs to a blue-eyed male from that time period: a possible dead-ringer for the executed king.

“The next step is find a descendant either of the king or his mother,” said Davide Pettener, a population geneticist at the University of Bologna in Italy who helped with the analysis. “Otherwise we’ll have to try to get a sample of the dried heart of Louis XVI’s son.”

The son was Louis-Charles, known as the Dauphin (heir to the French throne) or Louis XVII, and he died from illness or poisoning at age 10 more than two years after his father was executed. His heart is kept in a crystal vase in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Denis on the outskirts of Paris.

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