A SCARF worn by the French king Louis XVI shortly before he was guillotined was sold at auction for 75,000 (£52,000) yesterday, 211 years to the day after he died.
The plain white triangular linen cloth, yellowed by time and perspiration, fetched 15 times its starting price when it went to an unnamed French-American family bidding by telephone.
The sale set a record for a historic item of clothing at auction, formerly held by a shirt belonging to the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte that fetched 41,000.
"It is an historic bid, a world record," said the auctioneer Philippe Rouillac.
The simple piece of fabric was worn by the ill-fated king as a kind of cravat in the infamous Temple prison in Paris. It is the only surviving item of his clothing from the period of his execution, and has long been venerated by French royalists.
Experts believe it had been lightly darned by his wife, Queen Marie-Antoinette. "It was worn as a jabot [frill], after being knotted several times around the neck, and could also be tied at the same time around the neck and the waist, with the material going up the back," Mr Rouillac said.
Louis XVI gave the scarf to a fellow prisoner, Monsieur Vincent, on 21 January, 1793, as he was leaving his cell to be led to the scaffold for execution in what is now the Place de la Concorde. Vincent, a Paris councillor and owner of a building company, met the same fate a month later after he was accused of hiding the royal relic.
"The king’s body, as well as the black clothes he was wearing on the scaffold, were burned after his execution and no trace of them remains," Mr Rouillac noted.
The scarf was found in the coffers of a family of landowners near the western city of Tours. It was supposed to have been auctioned last year but one member asked that it be withdrawn from the sale following a family dispute.
Yesterday’s auction, which attracted international attention, was held in the town hall of the small town of Loches, 20 miles south-east of Tours.
"We originally wanted to hold the sale at the chateau of Versailles but that was not possible," Mr Rouillac said. "Loches came forward as a candidate and it was chosen as it is a town close to the family from Tours who were are the owners of the scarf."
Considerable speculation arose before the sale that the scarf would be bought by the Spanish Bourbon family, descendants of the French king.
As the revolutionaries became increasingly powerful, Louis XVI tried to flee secretly from France to Germany on 21 June, 1791, but the members of the Royal Family were recognised at Varennes and captured.
The king was returned to Paris, where he remained as constitutional king until 1792. In August 1792 the National Assembly abolished the office of king.
Louis was arrested, tried and convicted of treason before the National Assembly. He was sentenced to death on 17 January, 1793, by 361 votes to 288, with 72 effective abstentions, and was guillotined four days later. Marie Antoinette followed him to the guillotine in October the same year.