One of the coolest things about being a history buff is to come into contact with artifacts and documents from the past. I remember the first time I saw the signature of British General Thomas Gage on a document created in Boston on the eve of the American Revolution. Then there was the time I got to examine a newly discovered and extremely rare complete set of accoutrements from a soldier who’d deserted the Crown in 1775. These are things that suddenly remind you that these relics once belonged to a very real person. Just like you and me.
Well, here’s something you don’t see every day. A relic connected to one the grisliest episodes of history, the campaign of terror unleashed by the revolutionary government of France in the 1790s. The ancient Royal Family of France, the Bourbons, was overthrown, and a republic established, proclaiming the rights of man. But when the republic came under attack from internal and external enemies, the revolutionaries attempted to exterminate the symbolic heads of the opposition, the Royal Family.
“When King Louis XVI went to the guillotine after the French Revolution, Parisians jostled to acquire a gruesome relic of regicide by dipping garments in his blood.
For years, researchers have been trying to establish whether a genuine memento of this momentous execution in the Place de la Revolution survives today. A new DNA analysis has solved a mystery that has lasted for almost 220 years, finding that an ornate gourd almost certainly carries the bloodstains of the fallen king.
On Jan 21 1793, a Parisian called Maximilien Bourdaloue witnessed Louis’s public decapitation as the postrevolutionary “Terreur” took hold. Afterwards, he joined many others in dipping a handkerchief in the pool of blood left at the foot of the guillotine.
Bourdaloue then secreted this garment inside a calabash, now in the possession of an Italian family. The rag itself has long since decomposed, but the container still carries crimson stains and an inscription recording how the souvenir was collected after the king’s “decapitation”.
But there was no conclusive proof that the blood really belonged to Louis. A DNA sample could not solve the riddle unless it was compared with another drawn from a relative of the king.”
You can find out how the match has now been made here at the Daily Telegraph.
Killing Louis XVI and his famous Queen, Marie Antoinette, was not enough to satiate the paranoia of the Revolutionary French government. Thousands more perished under the guillotine, including many innocents. The Revolutionaries seemed so convinced of their righteousness, that anyone disagreeing them had to be jailed or killed. A lesson for all politicians, perhaps, with too righteous a cause?