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The mysterious death of Francesco I de' Medici and Bianca Cappello

Accepted 17 June 2006Modern analytical techniques have allowed re evaluation of the cause of death of Francesco I de' Medici and his wife, Bianca Cappello. It now seems that the grand ducal couple died of acute arsenic poisoning and not malaria as previously believedSoon after the sudden and simultaneous deaths of Francesco I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and his wife, Bianca Cappello, in October 1587, rumours spread that the two had been murdered by Francesco's brother, Cardinal Ferdinando.12 Apparently, Ferdinando had a very good motive to kill his brother and the woman that Francesco had loved and then married after the death of his first wife the Grand Duchess Giovanna of Austria. Ferdinando was at risk of being excluded from the succession if Francesco's illegitimate son Don Antonio was to inherit the title of Grand Duke or, even worse, if Bianca, who was no longer able to have children, was to falsify the birth of an heir.Deaths of Francesco and BiancaA couple of weeks after Ferdinando came to the villa at Poggio a Caiano, in the surroundings of Florence, where Francesco and Bianca lived, the couple suddenly fell ill; they died 11 days later, a few hours apart. The behaviour of Ferdinando during Francesco's final days, and after his death as well, raised more than a suspicion about his involvement in his brother's illness. He took charge of the entire matter, drawing up all the medical bulletins and minimising the gravity of his brother's state of health in the dispatches sent to the Holy See. He stressed that his brother's illness had to be attributed solely to his imprudent eating habits and that Bianca's illness was caused by the grief she felt for her husband's condition. He ordered immediate autopsies on the two bodies (which was habitual at that time for princes and rulers but not for a grand duchess) as if he wanted to have flawless documentation on the "non toxic" cause of death in order to protect himself from future accusations. He arranged a solemn funeral for his brother but reserved a very different treatment for Bianca, whose body was taken to Florence by a small group of courtiers and, as a legend says, immediately buried in a common grave in San Lorenzo.According to the Florentine diarist Domenico Martinelli,3 however, Bianca Cappello was buried not in San Lorenzo but in Santa Maria a Bonistallo, a church close to the villa in Poggio a Caiano. Actually, four terracotta jars containing the viscera extracted from the autopsied bodies of Francesco and Bianca were buried in the crypt of this church. This has been recently confirmed by an exceptionally interesting document discovered in the Episcopal Diocesan Archive of Pistoia, the copy bvlgari mens earrings Book of Marriages and Deaths, Year 1587, kept by Monsignor Bernardo Baldovinetti: "The day of October 19, 1587: between 4 and 5 am died His Serene Highness Francesco, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and on day 20 of the same month and year died Her Serene Highness Grand Duchess Bianca his wife and their viscera were brought to Santa Maria a Buonistallo in four jars. She died on Tuesday at 3 pm the interval between their deaths being about 12 hours. May God give them rest." [". add XIX di Ottobre 1587: tra le 4 e le 5 hora di notte mor il Serenissimo Francesco Granduca di Toscana et add 20 detto mese e anno mor la Serenissima Gran Duchessa Bianca sua moglie et le loro intestine furono (po)rtate a santa Maria a Buonistallo in quattro mezzine (lei?) mor in marted mattina a'hora circa 15 fu intervallo tra l'uno e l'altra circa 12 hore (Di)o li dia requie."]More than two and bvlgari hoop earrings fake half centuries later, in 1857, the Grand Duke of Lorena, Leopold II, ordered the Medici family tomb to be opened for identification of the bodies and for final burial in the basement of the Medici Chapel, in San Lorenzo. After reading the reports of Francesco's exhumation, referring to a "fairly well preserved" body, and after examining the portraits drawn by two artists present for the recognition of the body, Fynes hypothesised that Francesco's death could be due to arsenic poisoning.4 Fynes was well aware that arsenic may slow down the putrefaction processes as a result of both the direct action of the poison and the considerable loss of liquids from prolonged vomiting and diarrhoea before death so that bodies exhumed after a long time are often found in a state of mummification.In 1945, the graves of Francesco I and the other members of the Medici family were opened again on request of the anthropologist Gaetano Pieraccini. His project was to study the bones,5 in an attempt to correlate anthropometrical data with behavioural attitudes and lifestyle, under the influence of Lombroso's theories. According to the reports, the remains were exhumed, recomposed, and then replaced in the graves.Possibility of arsenic poisoningTwo of us (FM and EB) have recently readvanced the hypothesis of arsenic poisoning,1 on the basis of the following assumptions:Most of the symptoms reported by the doctors attending Francesco during his last days are typical of arsenic poisoning: nausea and violent vomiting as initial symptoms; cold sweats; repeated requests for cold drinks because of terrible dryness and constant gastric burning; the persistence of violent and convulsive vomiting; aggressive and delirious restlessness; apparent improvement four to five days after the onset of illness, followed by the sudden return of symptoms. Subsequently, on the initiative of DL, some samples were collected from the remains of the broken terracotta jars buried under the pavement of the crypt in the church of Santa Maria a Bonistallo. Two small crucifixes (figure) were found during the inspection of the broken terracotta jars, indicating that these originally contained the organs of two people.Two crucifixes found under the pavement of the crypt in the church of Santa Maria a BonistalloSamples collected in the church of Santa Maria a Bonistallo consisted of three different pieces of dry, thick, and crumbly material (samples A, B, and C) collected within the broken terracotta jars and of two other samples (samples D and E) collected as control samples of the material (mould) surrounding the broken jars. We submitted samples A, B, and C to histological analysis after inclusion in paraffin and haematoxylin eosin stain and identified them to be biological tissues with rather damaged cells, in which nuclei and cytoplasm were still clearly recognisable. We calculated the weight of the samples analysed by subtracting the weight of the solid residue removed by the washing (after centrifugation of the washing, removal of the supernatant, and drying of the solid residue at room temperature) from copy bvlgari rose gold earrings the dry weight before washing.We analysed washed samples by inductive coupled plasma atomic emission spectrometry with a Varian Liberty 150 AX Turbo instrument according to the procedure proposed by Coopman and colleagues.6 Sample preparation consisted of microwave digestion: to each sample (1 g) we added a mixture of hydrochloric and nitric acid, and, after 30 minutes' digestion, we transferred cooled samples into 50 ml calibrated flasks and made them up to volume with double distilled deionised water.We also determined the arsenic content of samples A, D, and E and the fragment of femur (F) and beard hair (G) of Francesco I by neutron activation analysis by using NBS 1632 coal as certified reference material (arsenic content: 5.8 mg/kg). We analysed samples without prior washing.To verify the origin of biological samples collected in the church of Santa Maria a Bonistallo, we submitted these samples and the skin fragment of Francesco I to DNA profiling by using the Applied Biosystems AmpF/Identifier Kit and the automatic sequencer ABI Prism 3100 Genetic Analyser. According to the X Y homologous gene amelogenin, samples A and C were both of male origin and sample B was of female origin. To estimate the arsenic concentrations in fake bvlgari jewelry soft biological tissues at the time of death, the arsenic concentrations measured in samples A, B, and C must be adjusted for the water loss resulting from ageing. Considering that fresh liver contains approximately 70 80% water, and assuming (as an extreme hypothesis) that the water loss in biological tissues after more than four centuries has been complete (which is consistent with the dry and crumbly consistence of the samples), the arsenic content of samples A, B, and C should be reduced to between one third and one fifth of the data reported in the table. According to these calculations, the arsenic content in fresh tissues would have been in the range 5.4 8.2 mg/kg for sample A, 4.2 6.2 mg/kg for sample B, and 6.6 10.0 mg/kg for sample C.The low arsenic concentrations in samples D and E allow us to exclude the possibility that the arsenic found in the biological tissues is a result of contamination from the material surrounding the broken terracotta jars.A great part of the difference in arsenic concentrations in sample A measured by inductive coupled plasma atomic emission spectrometry (27.27 mg/kg) and by neutron activation analysis (12.08 mg/kg) is likely to be due to the absence of washing in the second determination. In fact, the material removed from sample A by the washing accounted for more than 40% of the gross weight of the sample.Arsenic concentration in hair has been used as an indicator of arsenic poisoning. According to Hindmarsh, arsenic concentrations above 10 mg/kg in chronic poisonings and above 45 mg/kg in lethal poisonings are typically detected, whereas arsenic concentrations below 1 mg/kg should be considered normal.7 In a group of 50 non exposed people (trauma victims) the average arsenic concentration in hair was 0.307 mg/kg, with values in the range 0 1.92 mg/kg.

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