Daisies sprout in King Richard I's heart: Study



Paris: King Richard I, the 12th-century warrior whose bravery during the Third Crusade gained him the moniker Lionheart, ended up with a heart full of daisies, as well as myrtle, mint and frankincense.

Those were among the findings of a French study, announced on Thursday, which analysed the embalmed heart of the English king more than 810 years after he died.

The biomedical analysis also uncovered elements like creosote, mercury and perhaps lime in the heart, which has been in the French city of Rouen since his death in 1199.

Despite the embalming ingredients, the heart turned to powder long ago, doubtless because the lead box cradling wasn't airtight. It's so unsightly now that it's kept from public view.

The study's leader, Philippe Charlier, suggests the flowers and spices were to give the king the "odour of sanctity".

Richard the Lionheart, leader of the Third Crusade, was ceremoniously laid to rest in three places.

His entrails were interred in the central French town of Chalus, where he died in a skirmish with a rebellious baron; his body reposes at the Fontevraud Abbey and his heart, wrapped in linen, pickled for posterity and placed in a lead box, was sent on to the Cathedral of Rouen.

In 1838, the heart, already turned to powder, was rediscovered, transferred to a glass box and placed in Rouen's Departmental Museum of Antiquities.

Charlier, a forensic medical examiner, and his 11-member team used the latest biomedical techniques to decipher the composition of The Lionheart's heart. Charlier claims it is the oldest embalmed heart ever studied.

The study was published in Scientific Reports, part of the Nature Publishing Group.

While the team used barely two grams of the brownish white powder that the heart had become, they found an array of flowers and spices used to embalm it, aimed at both conserving the heart and, Charlier theorises, giving it a fragrant smell.

The aim of the study was to figure out "how to embalm a heart in the 12th century", Charlier said in an interview.

The mix of spices and sweets also reflects what is known of the first embalmers in the West they were cooks. The presence of incense in the potpourri was the most striking because, Charlier said, it had not been found in previous embalmings.

Charlier speculates that the incense, among the gifts offered to the infant Jesus by the three kings and reportedly used on the outside of his body at death, was meant to give The Lionheart a direct line to God.

PTI