Using DNA to Identify the 80 Year Old Blood of a Monarch

An aged, bronze statue of King Albert I. The statue was built in 1951 and is home to Brussels, Belgium..

A statue of King Albert I. It was constructed in 1951 in Brussels, Belgium.
Image: Shutterstock

In 1934, King Albert I, the third King of the Belgians, fell from the rocks in Marche-led-Danes in Belgium. The fall killed him, or so the story goes, but he was a popular monarch, and a number of conspiracy theories sprung up following his death. Many of these conspiracy theories are still circulating: 80 years later. Some say he was killed elsewhere and his body merely dumped there. Others say he was never there to begin with.

But the various conspiracy theories, especially the idea that his body was never even in that area, have been laid to rest thanks to recent genetic research. Using samples taken from the scene of the crime (which was picked over by people looking for relics related to the king) and comparing them to the DNA of two known living relatives of the King, scientists have managed to prove that the blood did indeed belong to Albert I. This means that he did in fact fall from that area, or for those who remain unconvinced, it means that when his murderers dumped his body there, they managed to smear his blood all over the place.

The samples in question were taken from leaves splattered with the monarch’s blood. That might seem like a weird thing for somebody to seek out, then sell, and then later auction off to some journalist. But it’s a good thing that morbid curiosity existed, otherwise we wouldn’t have the sample or the test results. Those results, out of respect for living relatives who might not want their genetic information made common knowledge, has been destroyed, though the leaves still exist. The samples will be donated to a museum or scientific institution, where they can be found should anyone else feel the need to address this incredibly old case. It’s unlikely that the actual events will ever be found out for certain, but the fact that science can help illuminate the monarchs unfortunate death 80 years later is still pretty amazing.

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