French forensics reveal royal lover's toxic end

4th April 2005, Comments 0 comments

LOCHES, France, April 4 (AFP) - More than five centuries after her death, forensic tests on the remains of France's first officially recognised royal mistress have determined that she was killed by mercury poisoning.

LOCHES, France, April 4 (AFP) - More than five centuries after her death, forensic tests on the remains of France's first officially recognised royal mistress have determined that she was killed by mercury poisoning.

However scientists who examined fragments of Agnes Sorel's skull, jaw and hair were unable to confirm suspicions that the consort of Charles VII was murdered. The toxin could also have been taken as a treatment for worms.

A famous beauty who bore three children by the king, Sorel died of a "flux of the stomach" in Normandy in 1450, but rumours abounded at the time that she had been killed - possibly by Charles' son the future Louis XI.

Last September her marble tomb in the mediaeval royal lodge at Loches in central France was opened prior to its removal to a nearby building, and archaeologists were authorised to remove the body parts from a funerary urn inside.

"Agnes Sorel was clearly the victims of an acute intoxication by mercury, which finished her off in less than 72 hours," said forensic archaeologist Philippe Charlier, who led the investigation.

The massive amount of mercury found in an armpit hair - 10,000 times the normal medical dose - would appear to confirm the murder theory, Charlier said, especially as the prescription of mercury for worms was a well-established practice in the Middle Ages.

"It is quite clearly an overdose administered by accident or deliberately. But which - we cannot say," said Charlier.

Charles VII - the king who was earlier galvanised into action against the English by Joan of Arc - was smitten by Sorel when she entered his court in 1444, and he showered her with favours. He legitimised their three daughters, whose descendants were later to be found in many European royal families.

She in turn was credited with carrying on Joan of Arc's work and stirring the king to further reconquests of crown territory.

Sorel was renowned for her daring fashion sense - the most famous portrait shows her with left breast bared - but church leaders condemned her morals and Louis resented the way she replaced his mother Marie d'Anjou in the affections of the king.

Pregnant with a fourth child, she left Loches to be with Charles VII on campaign against the English but she died at Jumieges near Rouen.

Rumours of poisoning centred not just on Louis XI, but also on Jacques Coeur - the king's renowned financier.

The tests allowed historians to confirm certain details of Sorel's life. She was born between 1422 and 1426, had blonde hair, and had in addition to her three daughters a fourth child who was still-born. A three-dimensional computer image of her face has also been reconstructed from the bones.

Sorel's tomb has been removed because of lack of space in the royal lodge to the collegiate church of Saint-Ours in Loches, which is where it was originally placed.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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