'Brutal' Richard's I's 'lion' heart was soaked in holy balm to ease his passage into heaven

Autopsy of 12th-century monarchy reveals heart embalmed in purifying frankincense

Paris

Eight centuries after his death, the heart of Richard the Lionheart has revealed a sinful royal secret to forensic scientists.

When embalmed after his death in April 1199, the heart of King Richard I was soaked in frankincense – suggesting that the monarch feared that his many acts of treachery and brutality might exclude him from the kingdom of heaven.

Philippe Charlier, a celebrity French pathologist who specialises in the coldest of cold cases, led a team of scientists which studied a fragment of the mummified heart of King Richard preserved in Rouen, Normandy.

“We found many interesting things,” he said. “But the most interesting was the presence, in substantial quantities, of frankincense, which has never been found in any other embalming. It is unique. This suggests that Richard, and those around him, knew of episodes in his life which had a bad smell... Frankincense, linked to Christ’s story, may have been intended to make him smell like a saint and therefore to ease his passage to heaven.”

Although Richard has gone down in popular history as a good and noble king, his 41 years were stained with treacherous revolts against his father, King Henry II, and with massacres of Muslims during the Crusades and of English Jews. He is also believed by historians to have had a number of homosexual love affairs – something then regarded as unnatural.

Last year, Mr Charlier – who the French call the “Indiana Jones of the graveyards” – was allowed to remove two of the 60 grams of crumbled remains of King Richard’s heart which have been preserved in Rouen. His team’s findings were published in the American online journal, Scientific Reports.

Mr Charlier told a press briefing at the University de Versailles that there was “no shadow of doubt” that the powdered heart in Rouen belonged to Richard, who was king of England from 1189 to 1199. He said that there was documentary evidence authenticating the remains going back to the 12th century.

King Richard died of septicaemia or gangrene 10 days after he was shot in the shoulder with a crossbow while besieging the castle of Chalus-Chabrol in Limousin in April 1199. There has long been speculation that the arrow tip may have been poisoned or that the king may have been poisoned by his entourage. Mr Charlier said that his study had found “no evidence” whatsoever of poison. 

The studies showed that the heart had been preserved with an elaborate combination of products, including mercury, creosote and lime and stuffed with plants including myrtle, mint and daisies. But the real surprise, he said, was the presence of substantial traces of frankincense.

“We have no other example of frankincense being used in the preservation of a body, however noble or royal,” he told The Independent. “There is one possible explanation. In the 10 days of agony before he died, Richard and his companions had time to brood on the many dark episodes in his life. The frankincense was intended to give him a smell of sanctity.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Systems Analyst (Retail)

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Up to 20% bonus: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: An...

Technical BA - Banking - Bristol - £400pd

£400 per hour: Orgtel: Technical Business Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £400pd...

Head of Digital Marketing,London

To £58k Contract 12 months: Charter Selection: Major household name charity se...

Lead Hand - QC

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Lead Hand - QCProgressive are recruiting...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice