In an earlier blog entry, I wrote about the ill-fated Louis XVI, the French king who was famously beheaded along with his wife, Marie-Antoinette, during the French Revolution in 1793. Witnesses to the execution dipped handkerchiefs in the king’s blood and kept them as souvenirs of the common people’s rebellion. In 2010, scientists published the presumptive DNA profile of the king, obtained from one of these bloody handkerchiefs (1). Shortly after this profile was published, doubters surfaced, arguing that scientists could not say with certainty that the blood was that of Louis XVI. Clearly, more work was needed to identify the source of the blood. Recently, additional work was published (2,3). The most recent data (3) were presented at the International Symposium on Human Identification; these newest data cast doubt on the identification of the remains of not one king, but two.
A bloody handkerchief stored in an ornately decorated gourd seems like a gruesome keepsake, but that is exactly what scientists are using to obtain the presumptive genetic profile of King Louis XVI of France.
“Who would want such an odd souvenir?” you might ask. Well, apparently a bloody handkerchief was a perfectly acceptable memento from the French Revolution. It represented the power of the common person in the new republic of France.
Let me explain: In 1774, Louis XVI inherited the French throne and, with it, enormous responsibilities: The government was deeply in debt, and French citizens were impoverished and heavily taxed. Louis XVI and his financial ministers made a series of poor decisions, and by 1788, France was nearly bankrupt and Louis was very unpopular with his subjects. Continue reading “The Blood of Louis XVI”