Tuscan church reveals answer to mystery of 1587 deaths of Medici couple

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Picking through centuries-old rubbish, masonry and discarded body parts beneath an abandoned Tuscan church, an Italian historian believes she has solved one of history's great crime mysteries.

For more than four centuries, researchers have puzzled over the fact that Francesco I Medici, the son of the first Grand Duke, Cosimo, died within hours of his wife in October 1587. Legend had it they were poisoned by his brother and successor, a cardinal.

Modern historians have tended to settle for the more down-to-earth explanation that they died of malaria. But Donatella Lippi, an associate professor at the University of Florence, told the Guardian yesterday that she and other researchers had established beyond doubt that Francesco was poisoned and that evidence from "mountains of debris" underneath the deconsecrated church strongly suggested his wife was too.

Prof Lippi said that when she came across the remains that were to yield the vital clues "I very nearly had a heart attack".

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