Blood Found in a Dried Squash Belongs to Louis XVI


Image courtesy of The History Blog.

The dried, hollowed out squash is ornately decorated, emblazoned with the portraits of French revolutionary heroes and intriguing passages of text: “On January 21, Maximilien Bourdaloue dipped his handkerchief in the blood of Louis XVI after his decapitation. Once congealed, he put it in this gourd and gave it to me for two banknotes of ten Francs. T. Pes c.f. F. Aegnauld.” The squash held no hanky. But there was dried blood inside.

The claim on the Cuburbita moschata squash, which was purchased by an Italian family more than a century ago, is supported by history: The French people did dip their handkerchiefs in the former king’s blood after he was beheaded to keep as macabre souveniers. But did the blood inside the squash actually come from Louis XVI?

Two years ago, DNA analysis performed on the two-century-old residue revealed that it was, in fact, blood, and that it likely belonged to someone matching Louis’ description. But a conclusive authentication wasn’t possible, because there was no other royal DNA to compare the sample with. After Louis' execution, French revolutionaries had desecrated the royal tombs at the Basilica of Saint-Denis, removing the royals’ remains, decapitating them, and dumping the bodies in mass graves.

Image courtesy of The History Blog.

Then, in 2010, a mummified head belonging to Louis’ 16th century predecessor, Henri IV—who was assassinated in 1610—was identified. The gruesome relic was rescued from the chaos of the desecration of the royal tombs and had changed hands through auctions several times over two centuries; scientists identified it based on radiocarbon dating, 3D scanning, x-rays and portraits of the king painted at the time. According to the History Blog, the scientists sent a fiberscope through Henri’s trachea to collect a tissue sample from inside the mummified head. What they found confirmed that the blood traces inside the squash did belong to Louis XVI:

“They were able to retrieve mitochondrial DNA sequences and a partial profile of the Y-chromosome. The latter contained multiple alleles from the extremely rare haplotype that was found in the blood residue in the gourd. This is strong evidence that the two men were related in the paternal line and provides a DNA boost to the authenticity both of the mummified head and of the blood.”

That rare genetic signature links the two men, who were separated by seven generations. According to forensic pathologist Philippe Charlier, "This study shows that [the remains] share a genetic heritage passed on through the paternal line. They have a direct link to one another through their fathers. One could say that there is absolutely no doubt any more.”