J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Blood of a Blue-Eyed King?

I read about this study in Chemical and Engineering News, but here I’m quoting from the Wired Science blog:

French revolutionists condemned Louis XVI to the guillotine on the morning of January 21, 1793. After a short but defiant speech and a menacing drum roll, one of the last kings of France lost his head as a crowd rushed the scaffold to dip handkerchiefs into his blood as mementos.

Or so the story goes.

Lending new life to the demise of Louis XVI, scientists performed a battery of DNA tests on dried blood inside a decorative gunpowder gourd that purportedly contained one such handkerchief. The results, described Oct. 12 in the journal Forensic Science International: Genetics, show the blood belongs to a blue-eyed male from that time period: a possible dead-ringer for the executed king.

“The next step is find a descendant either of the king or his mother,” said Davide Pettener, a population geneticist at the University of Bologna in Italy who helped with the analysis. “Otherwise we’ll have to try to get a sample of the dried heart of Louis XVI’s son.”
Scientific investigation? Blood? The dried heart of a dead child? Why, it can only be a brief return of CSI: Colonial Boston, in time for the modern Hallowe’en holiday!

TOMORROW: Another dead king.


Mr Punch said...

What proportion of French people were blue-eyed? A lot of people have blue eyes; in 1900, I believe, most Americans (or at least most white Americans) did. The French members of my own family have blue eyes, and they're Jewish.

J. L. Bell said...

The C. & E. News report on this study said that the genetic haplotype was rare—more than just blue eyes, though that was a physical trait that matched.

It also appears there was some surprise the sample included human blood at all.