Scientists claim to have put to bed one of the most controversial mysteries of the past century, after confirming that bloodstains found at a rocky crevice in the Ardennes did indeed belong to King Albert I of Belgium.
Revered for his brave resistance to the invading German forces during World War I, Albert died in a climbing accident at Marche-les-Dames in 1934 – or at least, that’s the official version of events. Yet since his demise, numerous conspiracy theories have been floated, claiming that he was murdered by his enemies and that his body was later placed at the site of his supposed fall, or even that his corpse was never there at all.
Following the king’s death, some of his supporters began visiting Marche-les-Dames to pay their respects, with many coming away with plants and rocks stained with his blood. Until recently, no one had bothered to analyze this blood to check whether it was genuine, which did nothing to stop the spread of rumors of a cover-up.
Yet writing in the journal Forensic Science International: Genetics, researchers have now confirmed that the blood found at the spot where Albert I is said to have died is in fact his. To prove this, they acquired several blood-spattered leaves that had been sold at an auction in 2013, and compared the DNA in this sample to that of two living relatives of the former king.
However, before beginning their research, the study authors had to wrestle with a number of moral and legal issues surrounding their work, explaining that “publication of genetic data would immediately lead to privacy concerns for living descendants and relatives of the King, including the Belgian and British royal families, even after more than 80 years.”
Bloodstained leaves found at Marche-les-Dames turned out to be genuine. KU Leuven - Maarten Larmuseau
In their search for the truth, they obtained mitochondrial DNA from Anna Maria, Freifrau von Haxthausen, a German baroness related to King Albert via matrilineal descent, as well as the Y-chromosome genome of King Simeon II of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, who is related to Albert via paternal lineage.
After confirming that the blood is indeed royal, the study authors then checked historical and archival records from the judicial case files regarding the king’s death, concluding that “the molecular and historical elements provide – separately and combined – strong evidence for the authenticity of the relic.”
In a statement, the researchers claim that the “authenticity of the trails of blood confirms the official account of the death of Albert I. The story that the dead body of the king has never been in Marche-les-Dames or was only placed there at night has now become very improbable.”