Royal skull goes back to family after 2oo years

PARIS: A 400-year-old skull that researchers say belonged to King Henri IV has been donated to a descendant and will be reinterred after a national Mass and a funeral next year.

The case caps the mysterious journey of the mummified skull. It was pillaged from a grave near Paris during the French Revolution that ousted the monarchy, and most recently spent decades in the attic of the tax collector who gave it back to the family.

A team of 19 scientists revealed on Tuesday in the British medical journal BMJ that nine months of tests on the skull led them to believe it was that of Henri IV.

He was an influential ruler credited with brokering peace between Catholics and Protestants at a time of religious upheaval, and building Parisian landmarks including the Pont Neuf and Place des Vosges.

On Thursday researchers showed a video of his alleged skull to the media.

The scientists said they had found in the skull features often seen in the king's portraits, including a dark lesion above his right nostril, and a healed bone fracture above his upper left jaw that matched a stab wound the king suffered during an assassination attempt in 1594.

They said they do not have genetic proof, but the other evidence appeared definitive.

''We don't have any DNA, but we can manage without it. We have so much proof supporting the identification, at least 30 factors, and none of it goes against the identification,'' he said. ''This head is Henri IV's head.''

Stephane Gabet, a TV production company journalist, said he and a colleague had followed leads to track down the mummified skull in the attic of a retired tax collector, Jacques Bellanger, 84, in January. On Thursday Mr Bellanger donated the head to Prince Louis de Bourbon, the Duke of Anjou.

''The moment is very emotional … to have a head of my ancestor, so close to me physically, is something,'' the prince said. ''Now, I have a responsibility - familial responsibility and moral responsibility - to bury this head in the best place for him.''

He said he hoped to return it to the Basilica of Saint-Denis, north of Paris, where numerous kings lie buried.

Revolutionaries ransacked Henri IV's grave about 200 years ago, and took his head. The trail went cold for another century.

A couple bought the head at a Paris auction house, Drouot, in the early 1900s and Mr Bellanger bought it from the wife in 1955.

Associated Press