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Oct 11, 2013 10:36 AM EDT

Mummified Head of King Henry IV Has No Royal Lineage At All, Belgium Study

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A centuries-old mummified head does not belong to King Henry IV, according to scientists at the University of Leuven in Belgium after conducting tests for three years.

The team, led by Jean-Jacques Cassiman of the University of Leuven in Belgium, used markers on the male, or Y, chromosome and found that there was no genetic match between the head's DNA and three living descendants of the King. It did not match the House of Bourbon, Henry's lineage.

Even though Cassiman could not determine the head's rightful owner, he said that it is 'impossible' for the head to belong to the old French king.

Prior to this discovery, in 2010, French scientists claimed that the head belonged to the 17th century King based on digital facial reconstruction.

King Henry IV was a  Protestant king of the Pyrenees kingdom of Navarre from 1572 to May 1610, when an assassin killed his predecessor Henry III. He then assumed the crown of France and was king from 1589 to 1610; the first French monarch of the House of Bourbon and grandfather of King Louis XIV.

According to NY Daily News, Henry IV converted to Catholicism in order to take the French crown, famously saying, Paris vaut bien une messe (Paris is well worth a Mass).

He was responsible for bringing religious peace to France and building Parisian landmarks such as the Pont Neuf Bridge. Henry IV was assassinated by a Catholic extremist in 1610 and buried in the Basilica of Saint Denis in Paris.

Cassiman stated that testing old DNA is complicated and only little DNA was recovered from the mummified head, which is not sufficient for full identification.

Maternal DNA also has proved inconclusive. 

"In order to realize an accurate genetic identification of historical remains, DNA typing of living persons, who are paternally or maternally related with the presumed donor of the samples, is required," Cassiman, a Belgian researcher and professor of human genetics, told Catholic Daily.

The finding has been published Wednesday in the European Journal of Human Genetics.

During the French revolution in 1793, the royal tombs at Saint Denis near Paris were dug up and some reports claimed that Henry IV's head was chopped and stolen. The disrupted graves of French royalty were sealed more than 10 years later, in the early 1800s.

As a result, the historians including Cassiman and his co-authors aren't exactly sure if the king was actually beheaded. The Cassiman's team believe the king to be still buried in Saint Denis.

'That is impossible to verify,' Michael Rowe, a senior lecturer in European history at King's College London, who was not part of the study told Daily Mail UK.

Rowe feels that as the king was considered to be one of France's best rulers; it might have saved his body from decapitation.

"If the revolutionaries were going to spare any of the kings, it would have been Henry IV," Rowe said.

Osteo-archaeologist Philippe Charlier of University Hospital R Poincaré in Garches, France, conducted a forensic examination of the mummified head in 2010 and said that the alleged head indeed belonged to Henry IV's. Charlier said that the mummy head featured an irregular mole on its nostril and a pierced right ear, both of which were observed on portraits of Henry IV.

Defending his research, Charlier said that often royal lineages include illegitimate offsprings, which mess up the gene pool. He also said that to extract reliable DNA samples from human remains that are centuries old, is very complicated and difficult.

"It is hopeless to try to match a family tree and a series of genetic links (over) such a long period," Charlier told NY Daily Times.

While scientists are unaware of the old mummified head's origins, the skull currently placed in a Parisian bank vault might be reburied.

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