What’s In Your Attic?

King Henry IV on a better day.
King Henry IV on a better day.

We all have a lot of fun things in our domiciles. Maybe you’ve got your great grandpa’s marbles, or your sweet aunt Mirabella’s collection of parasols. You might even be one of those fun people who collects doilies. I’m not, but you might be. But whatever it is we all know that it’s not uncommon for people to have a wide variety of mementos which mean something to them even if they don’t resonate with strangers. Items that bring back fond memories of a person or event in their lives. Catholic churches keep bits and pieces of saints and martyrs in a reliquary in each and every church in the world to sanctify them. The churches that is, not the saint’s body parts.

But how many of us keep a severed head in our living room?

Believe it or not there was, at least, one guy. As Reuters reports, someone finally turned over the head of King Henry IV to researchers in England.

A team of scientists say they have positively identified an embalmed head, presumed lost in the chaos of the French Revolution, as that of King Henri IV of France who was assassinated in 1610.

The head was apparently lost after revolutionaries desecrated the graves of French kings in the royal basilica of Saint-Denis near Paris in 1793.

Few remains of those bodies have ever been found and positively identified since.

But a team of experts using advanced scientific techniques say they have conclusively identified the head, passed down over the centuries by private collectors, as that of the monarch.

The multi-disciplinary team, led by forensic pathologist Philippe Charlier, announced the discovery in the British Medical Journal.

Charlier said features consistent with those of the king’s face were found including “a dark mushroom-like lesion” near the right nostril, a healed facial stab wound and a pierced right earlobe.

The king is known to have sported an earring, along with others from the Valois court.

Head hairs and remnants of a mustache and beard, colored red and white, on the mummified head fit with the known characteristics of the king’s hair at the time of his death. Many features matched those in portraits of the king, the team said.

Charlier said three “cutting wounds” were also visible, corresponding to the separation of the head from the body by a revolutionary in 1793.

Radiocarbon dating also gave a date of between 1450 and 1650, “nicely bracketing the year of his death,” the report said.

In addition, a digital facial reconstruction of the skull was fully consistent with all known representations of the king and the plaster mold of his face made just after his death.

Henri IV was one of the most popular French kings, known as “the good King Henry” and as “the green gallant,” because of his attractiveness to women.

In 1598, nine years after ascending the throne, he enacted the Edict of Nantes which guaranteed religious liberties to Protestants and brought to a close over 30 years of fighting between French Protestants and Catholics.

He was assassinated in Paris at the age of 57 by Catholic fanatic Francois Ravaillac.

Jacques Perot, director of the Societe Henri IV in France, said the head will be buried next year in the Basilica of Saint-Denis.

“It will be a beautiful ceremony,” he told Reuters.

I’m sure it will Jacques.

As evidenced by many acts, not just those few touched upon in the story, King Henry IV was one of the good guys. A forward thinker and the first ruler to truly say that there should be a chicken in every pot throughout the land.

I will gleefully grant all that.

What has me puzzled is why people would keep his head in a box and hand it down from generation to generation. I mean, seriously, is that something you pop out at parties and show your friends? Do you get to make jokes like “Hey! Who wants a little head?”

Whatever the motivation, as long as it eludes me I’ll feel better about myself.

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