The Strange Mystery Of The King’s Head: Henry IV of France (1553-1610)
By Xavier Riaud
Dental History Magazine, Vol. 8:2 (2014)
Introduction: On Sunday March 13th 2011, at half past eight in the evening, the French public national television channel, France 5, broadcast a controversial documentary on the investigation which had apparently succeeded in identifying a mummified head as that of King Henry IV of France. The project had been conducted by a team of scientists under the direction of the well known anthropologist and forensic medical examiner, Doctor Philippe Charlier, who provided the commentary for the programme. To some viewers however, the documentary may well have appeared to be too melodramatic and overconfident in tone. The team’s findings were presented as incontrovertible proof of a positive identification of the King’s remains but on reflection, from a purely scientific viewpoint, much of the evidence presented may be questionable. This paper reexamines the claims which were made in both the documentary and a subsequent book on the subject and, with respect, challenges the conclusions made by the investigators.
Although the first broadcast of the documentary was in 2011, the programme must have stimulated enough interest to be repeated in 2012 on the same channel. On the second occasion, it was presented, not by Dr Charlier as before, but by the journalist Stéphane Gabet. Charlier and Gabet co-authored the book on the subject which was published in February, 2013. Their methodology followed the same pattern as that in the documentary: arguments in favour of the head’s authenticity were presented to the reader followed by an examination of these claims along the lines of a police investigation. The text was written in popular, journalistic language, designed to attract a general audience. Again, the authors insisted that they had proved, beyond doubt, that the relic was indeed the head of King Henry IV.
Yet, considering the case under a more scientific optic and applying what is known from historical research about the circumstances of Henry IV’s burial, the arguments as they are presented in the book, still seem to be as lacking in substance as they were in the original documentary. Let us reconsider the evidence.