Back in 1988, the incredible discovery of Anne d’Alegre’s skeletal remains led to excitement, intrigue and a fair deal of confusion.
The confusion concerned how the skeletal remains – despite having been in the coffin for almost 400 years – had remarkably well-preserved teeth. This was completely at odds with the time she had spent in the coffin.
But research in 2023 was able to find more answers about this remarkable case, and finally explain how the teeth of d’Alegre were still going strong, all this time on.
The Life of Anne d’Alegre
Anne d’Alegre was a French aristocrat that was born in the 1500s. This coincided with a troubled spell in France – with the French Wars of Religion ongoing during this time.
d’Alegre became widowed at just the age of 21. When Catholic forces closed in on the Protestant region that she lived in with her son, they fled the area.
d’Alegre remarried, but had to deal with the sad news that her son, Guy XX de Laval, passed away in battle – aged just 20. To compound her misery, she became widowed for a second time.
After what was surely a very difficult life, d’Alegre passed away aged 54 due to an illness. She was laid to rest in 1619. Though she would not be forgotten.
Discovery of Anne d’Alegre
In 1988, archaeologists were undertaking an excavation at the Chateau de Laval in northwestern France. They discovered d’Alegre’s skeleton, which was embalmed in a lead coffin.
While the discovery itself was very exciting, an even more intriguing element was the fact that d’Alegre’s teeth were found to be remarkably well-preserved. This was highly unusual, given the length of time that the body had been lying in the coffin.
But owing to it being 1988, technology wasn’t advanced enough for scientists to learn too much about d’Alegre. What they did notice at the time was that she had a dental prosthetic.
How were Anne d’Alegre’s teeth so well-preserved?
Some 35 years later, a team of scientists and archaeologists have revisited the d’Alegre case, this time using advanced technology to find out more about the case.
To begin with, the team were able to identify that she had been suffering from an advanced form of Gum Disease – which was leading to her teeth becoming loose, and at risk of falling out.
The research team conducted a “cone beam” scan, which uses X-rays as a way of building 3D images. These scans showed that d’Alegre had used gold wire to hold her teeth together.
There was a big pressure on aristocratic women to look good, with strong teeth seen as a sign of wealth, value and rank in society – all important areas.
Because of the material involved, the teeth kept remarkably well-preserved. Despite all of the time that had elapsed between her death and being found, the material ensured the teeth remained intact.
But before anyone gets any ideas about using gold wire, the researchers pointed out that this is not a good apporach to take. Rozenn Colleter said that the wire “made the situation worse”. They would have needed repeated tightening over the years, which would have destabilised the neighboring teeth.
While d’Alegre may have gone through some pain, it appears that she would at least have appeared to have strong teeth – which hopefully aided her appearance, and made the pain worthwhile.
The mystery over the teeth of Anne d’Alegre perplexed many for a number of years. But answers have finally been provided! As one of the researchers said, d’Alegre’s teeth “shows that she went through a lot of stress”.
Yet they hope that this research “goes a little way towards rehabilitating her”. The hope is that she is resting in peace now, with many questions regarding d’Alegre finally being answered.