It’s a hard life (and death) being a French king. Even if you’re popular, you’re assassinated. Revolutionaries disinter your body long after your death and make off with your mummified head. And then finally, 400 years after your death, your head supposedly turns up in the garage of a collector.
This week a team led by Philippe Charlier reports to have identified the head of the monarch in this story, France’s King Henri IV. The researchers report their find in the Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal, which is known for its tradition of bizarre topics and occasional spoof articles, but Charlier and company appear to be on the level about identifying the remains of the first Bourbon king.
Known as “the green gallant” in his time, Henri’s extraordinary popularity didn’t prevent him from being whacked in 1610—then having his remains ransacked by revolutionaries nearly 200 years later. Reports of his head passing between private hands have surfaced over the centuries, most recently after one collector bought it for three francs in 1919, then tried—and failed—to have it authenticated for display in French museums. It came into possession of an 84 year-old man who has kept it stashed in his garage since 1955. [TIME]
Charlier and colleagues say they could not recover uncontaminated samples of mitochondrial DNA, which would have allowed for genetic testing. So, as an alternative, they found several ways to compare what was left of the embalmed head to what historians know about Henri IV (not to be confused with Henry IV of England, subject of two Shakespeare plays).
We just won’t let Tycho Brahe be.
A colorful character and a father of modern astronomy, Brahe died in 1601 and was buried at Tyn Church near Prague’s Old Town Square. But the popular explanation for his expiration—a bladder infection—just doesn’t satisfy modern scientists seeking the truth about Tycho. So this week, Danish and Czech scientists (Brahe was Danish but died in Prague) got permission to exhume the long-dead stargazer to find evidence of his true cause of death.
His body has been exhumed before, in 1901. Tests on a sample of hair from his moustache, taken at that time, have been conducted as recently as the 1990s and indicated unusually high levels of mercury. Brahe was also an alchemist and some have suggested that he would have handled mercury and may have administered it to himself as medicine. Others have suggested he was poisoned. [BBC News]