Louis XVII of France: Wikis


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Louis XVII
King of France and of Navarre
Louis in 1792, portrait by Alexander Kucharsky
Reign 21 January 1793 – 8 June 1795 (claimant)
Predecessor Louis XVI
Successor Napoleon I
De facto successor as Emperor of the French in 1804. De jure successor was Louis XVIII as the next Bourbon king of France.
Full name
Louis Charles de France
Father Louis XVI of France
Mother Marie Antoinette
Born 27 March 1785(1785-03-27)
Palace of Versailles, France
Died 8 June 1795 (aged 10)
Paris Temple

Louis XVII of France, also Louis VI of Navarre (Versailles 27 March 1785 – Paris 8 June 1795), from birth to 1789 known as Louis-Charles, Duke of Normandy; then from 1789 to 1791 as Louis-Charles, Dauphin of Viennois; and from 1791 to 1793 as Louis-Charles, Prince Royal of France, was the son of King Louis XVI of France and Queen Marie Antoinette. As the son of the king, he was a Fils de France (Son of France).

At the death of his father on 21 January 1793, and in keeping with dynastic order, he became King of France and Navarre although, imprisoned during the French Revolution from August 1792 until his death in 1795, he never ruled.



Louis Charles de France was born at the Palace of Versailles, the second son and third child of his parents. Gabrielle de Polastron, duchesse de Polignac, was appointed Governess to the Royal Children, including the future Louis XVII and Princess Marie-Thérèse.

Agathe de Rambaud was chosen by the queen to be the Berceuse des Enfants de France[1] of the Duke of Normandy, who became the Dauphin (the heir to the throne) at the death of his elder brother Louis-Joseph, Dauphin of France. Alain Decaux wrote: "Madame de Rambaud[2] was officially in charge of the care of the Dauphin from the day of his birth until 10 August 1792, in other words, for seven years. During these seven years, she never left him, she cradled him, took care of him, dressed him, comforted him, scolded him. Ten times, a hundred times, more than Marie Antoinette, she was a true mother for him"[3].

The queen's friend, Louise-Elisabeth, Marquise de Tourzel, was the last governess to the children of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

On the night of 3 July 1793, commissioners arrived at the Temple prison and went to the royal family's apartment with instructions to separate Marie Antoinette's son from the rest of his family. He had been proclaimed Louis XVII by exiled royalists after his father's death. The republican government had therefore decided to imprison the eight-year-old child in solitary confinement. Louis flung himself into his mother's arms crying hysterically, and Marie Antoinette shielded him with her body, refusing to give him up. When the commissioners threatened to kill her if she did not hand the child over, she still refused to move. It was only when they threatened to kill her daughter, Marie Thérèse, and then her, that she came to realise how hopeless the situation was. Two hours after the commissioners had entered her room, the former Queen relinquished her son to them. Louis was carried away screaming and crying, while begging his mother to save him.

This was done to dissuade any monarchist or royalist bids to free him and re-establish the French monarchy. He remained imprisoned alone, a floor below his sister Marie-Thérèse, until his death in June 1795 at the age of ten. His captors referred to him by the family name "Capet," after Hugh Capet, the original founder of the royal dynasty. This use of a surname was a deliberate insult, since royalty do not normally use surnames. Similarly, when his father King Louis XVI was executed, he was referred to as "Louis Capet".

As a part of his republican re-education, Louis-Charles was set to work as an assistant to a drunkard cobbler, Antoine Simon, within the Temple prison. Between severe beatings and torture, Simon forced him to drink large quantities of alcohol, with which Louis Charles eventually grew accustomed. He was made to sing "La Marseillaise" while wearing the bonnet of a sansculotte. Simon taught him to curse his parents and the aristocracy and also to blaspheme.[citation needed] The young Louis XVII was repeatedly threatened with the guillotine, which caused him to faint[4][5]. He had been told that he had fallen from favor with his parents, who still lived but no longer wanted him. After Simon's departure in 1794, he was isolated for 6 months in a secret prison cell, without any human contact or sanitation facilities. Overall, he was treated cruelly and was officially reported to have died in the prison from consumption (tuberculosis). Reportedly, his body was ravaged by tumors and scabies. He was reported to have been extremely thin and bony from malnutrition when examined after his death. An autopsy was carried out at the prison and, following a tradition of preserving royal hearts, his heart was smuggled out and preserved by the examining physician, Philippe-Jean Pelletan. Louis-Charles's body was buried in a mass grave. Dr. Pelletan was also shocked at all the scars from abuses of the child, such as whipping, all over the front and back of his torso as well as on his arms, legs, and feet.


Prison and rumors of escape

On the 21st of January 1793 Louis became, for the royalists, king of France, and a week later the comte de Provence arrogated to himself the title of regent. From that moment began new plots for the escape of the prisoners from the Temple, the chief of which were engineered by the Chevalier de Jarjayes, the baron de Batz, and the faithful Lady Atkyns. On the 3rd of July the little dauphin was again separated from his mother, this time to be given into the keeping of the cobbler Antoine Simon who had been named his guardian by the Committee of General Security.

The tales told by the royalist writers of the barbarous cruelty inflicted by Simon and his wife on the child are not proven. Marie Jeanne, in fact, took great care of the child's person, and there is documentary evidence to prove that he had air and food. But the Simons were obviously grotesquely unfit guardians for a prince, and they doubtless caused much suffering to the impressionable child, who was made on occasion to eat and drink to excess, and learned the language of the gutter.

But the scenes related by A. de Beauchesne of the physical martyrdom of the child are not supported by any other testimony, though he was at this time seen by a great number of people. On the 6th of October Pache, Chaumette, Hébert and others visited him and secured from him admissions of infamous accusations against his mother, with his signature to a list of her alleged crimes since her entry in the Temple, and next day he was confronted with his sister Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte for the last time.

Simon's wife now fell ill, and on the 19th of January 1794 the Simons left the Temple, after securing a receipt for the safe transfer of their prisoner, who was declared to be in good health. A large part of the Temple records from that time onwards were destroyed under the Bourbon Restoration, so that exact knowledge of the facts is practically impossible. Two days after the departure of the Simons the prisoner is said by the Restoration historians to have been put in a dark room which was barricaded like the cage of a wild animal. The story runs that food was passed through the bars to the child, who survived in spite of the accumulated filth of his surroundings.

Robespierre visited Marie-Thérèse on the 11th of May, but no one, according to the legend, entered the dauphin's room for six months until Barras visited the prison after the 9th Thermidor (27 July 1794). Barras's account of the visit describes the child as suffering from extreme neglect, but conveys no idea of the alleged walling in. It is nevertheless certain that during the first half of 1794 he was very strictly secluded; he had no special guardian, but was under the charge of guards changed from day to day.

The child made no complaint to Barras of his treatment, probably because he feared to do so. He was then cleaned and re-clothed. His room was cleaned, and during the day he was visited by his new attendant, a creole and a compatriot of Joséphine de Beauharnais, named Jean Jacques Christophe Laurent (1770-1807). From the 8th of November onwards, Laurent had assistance from a man named Gomin.

Louis Charles by Madame Vigée-Lebrun

The child was now taken out to walk on the roof of the Tower. From about the time of Gomin's entrance the prisoner was inspected, not by delegates of the Commune, but by representatives of the civil committee of the 48 sections of Paris. The rare recurrence of the same inspectors would obviously facilitate fraud, if any such were intended. From the end of October onwards the child maintained an obstinate silence, explained by Laurent as a determination taken on the day he made his deposition against his mother. On the 19th of December 1794 he was visited by three commissioners from the Committee of General Security — J. B. Harmand de la Meuse, J. B. C. Mathieu and J. Reverchon — who extracted no word from him.

On Laurent's retirement, Étienne Lasne was appointed on the 31st of March 1795 to be the child's guardian. In May 1795 the prisoner was seriously ill, and a doctor, P. J. Desault, well acquainted with the dauphin, having visited him seven months earlier, was summoned. Desault died suddenly, not without suspicion of poison, on the 1st of June, and it was some days before doctors Pelietan and Dumangin were called.

Then it was announced that on the 8th Louis Charles died. Next day an autopsy was held at which it was stated that a child apparently about ten years of age, "which the commissioners told us was the late Louis Capet's son", had died of a scrofulous affection of long standing. He was buried on the 10th in the cemetery of Ste. Marguerite, but no stone was erected to mark the spot.

The weak parts of this story are the sudden and unexplained departure of the Simons; the subsequent useless cruelty of treating the child like a wild beast and keeping him in a dark room practically out of sight (unless any doubt of his identity was possible), while his sister was in comparative comfort; the cause of death, declared to be of long standing, but in fact developed with such rapidity; the insufficient excuse provided for the child's muteness under Gomin's regime (he had answered Barras) and the irregularities in the formalities in attending the death and the funeral, when a simple identification of the body by Marie Thérèse would have prevented any question of resuscitated dauphins.

Immediately on the announcement of the dauphin's death a rumor arose that he had escaped. Simien-Despréaux, one of Louis XVIII's authors, stated in 1814 that Louis XVII was living and someone possessed proof of this; and Eckard, one of the mainstays of the official account, left among his unpublished papers a statement that many members of "an assembly of our wise men" obstinately named Louis XVII as the prince whom their wishes demanded.

Unfortunately the removal of the child suited the plans of the comte de Provence, now Louis XVIII, as well as it suited those of the revolutionary government. The royal family made no serious attempt to ascertain the truth, though they paid no tributes to the memory of the deceased king which might reasonably have been expected, had they been convinced of his death. Even his sister wore no mourning for him until she arrived at Vienna and saw that this was expected of her. In spite of the mass of literature which has accumulated on the subject, neither his death in the Temple nor his escape therefrom has been definitely established, though a very strong presumption is established in favor of the latter.

Lost Dauphin claimants

As rumours quickly spread that the body buried was not that of Louis-Charles and that he had been spirited away alive by sympathizers, the legend of the "Lost Dauphin" was born. When the Bourbon monarchy was restored in 1814, hundreds of claimants came forward. Would-be royal heirs continued to appear across Europe for decades afterward and some of their descendants still have small but loyal retinues of followers today. Popular candidates for the Lost Dauphin included John James Audubon, the naturalist; Eleazer Williams, a missionary from Wisconsin of Mohawk Native American descent; and Karl Wilhelm Naundorff, a German clockmaker. DNA testing conducted in 1993 proved however, that Naundorff was not the Dauphin. [6]

Some forty candidates for his honors were forthcoming under the Restoration. The most important of these pretenders were Naundorff and the comte de Richemont. Naundorff's story rested on a series of complicated intrigues. According to him, Barras determined to save the dauphin in order to please Joséphine de Beauharnais, the future empress, having conceived the idea of using the dauphin's existence as a means of dominating the comte de Provence in the event of a restoration. The dauphin was concealed in the fourth storey of the Tower, a wooden figure being substituted for him. Laurent, to protect himself from the consequences of the substitution, replaced the wooden figure with a deaf mute, who was presently exchanged for the scrofulous child of the death certificate. The deaf mute was also concealed in the Temple. It was not the dead child, but the dauphin who left the prison in the coffin, from where he was extracted by his friends on the way to the cemetery.

Richemont's tale that the woman Simon, who was genuinely attached to him, smuggled him out in a basket, is simple and more credible, and does not necessarily invalidate the story of the subsequent operations with the deaf mute and the scrofulous patient, Laurent in that case being deceived from the beginning, but it renders them extremely unlikely.

Richemont (Henri Ethelbert Louis Victor Hébert) was in prison in Milan for seven years and began to put forward his claims in Paris in 1828. In 1833 he was again arrested, was brought to trial in the following year and condemned to twelve years' imprisonment. He escaped after a few months and left the country, to return in 1840. He died at Gleize on the 10th of August 1853, the name of Louis Charles de France being inscribed on his tomb until the government ordered its removal.

Naundorff, or Naündorff, who had arrived from nowhere in Berlin in 1810, with papers giving the name Karl Wilhelm Naundorff, in order to escape the persecutions of which he declared himself the object, settled at Spandau in 1812 as a clockmaker, and married in 1818 Johanna Einert. In 1822 he removed to Brandenburg, and in 1828 to Crossen, near Frankfurt. He was imprisoned from 1825 to 1828 for coining, though apparently on insufficient evidence, and in 1833 came to push his claims in Paris, where he was recognized as the dauphin by many persons formerly connected with the court of Louis XVI. Expelled from France in 1836, the day after bringing a suit against the duchess of Angoulême for the restitution of the dauphin's private property, he lived in exile until his death at Delft on the 10th of August 1845, and his tomb was inscribed "Louis XVII., roi de France et de Navarre (Charles Louis, duc de Normandie)". The Dutch authorities who had inscribed on his death certificate the name of Charles Louis de Bourbon, duc de Normandie (Louis XVII) permitted his son to bear the name de Bourbon, and when the family appealed in 1850-51, and again in 1874, for the restitution of their civil rights as heirs of Louis XVI, no less an advocate than Jules Favre pleaded their cause.

If the Dauphin did escape, it seems probable that he perished shortly afterward or lived in a safe obscurity. The account of the substitution in the Temple is well substantiated, even to the names of the substitutes. The curious imbroglio deceived royalists and republicans alike. Lady Atkyns was trying by every possible means to get the dauphin out of his prison when he was apparently already in safe hands, if not outside the Temple walls. A child was in fact delivered to her agents, but he was a deaf mute. That there was fraud, and complicated fraud, in the guardians of the dauphin may be taken as proved by a succession of writers from 1850 onwards, and more recently by Frédéric Barbey, who wisely attempts no ultimate solution. When the partisans of Richemont or Naundorff come to the post-Temple careers of their heroes, they become in most cases so uncritical as to be unconvincing.

A third pretender, Eleazar Williams, did not affect to know anything of his escape. He possessed, he said, no consciousness of his early years, only emerging from idiocy at the age of thirteen, when he was living with an Indian family in New York State. He was a missionary to the Indians when the prince de Joinville, son of Louis-Philippe, met him, and after some conversation asked him to sign a document abdicating his rights in favor of Louis-Philippe, in return for which he, the dauphin (alias Eleazar Williams), was to receive the private inheritance which was his. This Eleazar refused to do. Williams' story is generally regarded as false.

Ultimately, as many as 100 "false dauphins" appeared over the years. Whether there was any truth to any of their claims was uncertain, as there appeared to be no hard proof of the King's fate.

Testing the heart

The heart of Louis-Charles at Basilique Saint-Denis

Pelletan tried to return the heart to Louis XVIII and Charles X, both of whom could not bring themselves to believe the heart to be that of their nephew. It is not known if Pelletan tried to approach Marie-Thérèse, Duchess of Angoulême.

The heart was stolen by one of Pelletan's students, who confessed to the theft on his deathbed and asked his wife to return it to Pelletan. Instead, she sent it to the Archbishop of Paris, where it stayed until the Revolution of 1830. It also spent some time in Spain. By 1975, it was being kept in a crystal vase at the royal crypt in the Saint Denis Basilica outside Paris, the burial place of Louis-Charles's parents and other members of France's royal family.

Philippe Delorme arranged for DNA testing of the heart as well as bone samples from Karl Wilhelm Naundorff. Ernst Brinkmann of Münster University and Belgian genetics professor Jean-Jacques Cassiman of Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, conducted mitochondrial DNA tests in 2000 using samples from Marie-Antoinette, her sisters Maria Johanna Gabriela and Maria Josepha, their mother, Maria Theresa, and two living direct descendants of Maria Theresa, Queen Anne of Romania and her brother, Prince André de Bourbon Parme. The tests proved that Naundorff was not the dauphin, and the heart was that of Louis-Charles. It was buried in the Basilica on 8 June 2004.[7]

In Fiction

  • Louis XVII is one of many aristocrats rescued by the eponymous Scarlet Pimpernel in one of Baroness Emmuska Orczy novels.
  • The rescue and subsequent attempt to return Louis XVII to the throne is told in the 1937 novel The Lost King by Rafael Sabatini. The now out of print novel covers his supposed escape from the tower mixing fiction with factual names and events.
  • Mark Twain satirized the host of claimants in the characters of the Duke and the Dauphin, the con men in the novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In the novel, a con man claims to be the "Lost Dolphin" of France in order to gain sympathy and charity from the novel's eponymous character.
  • The apparent discovery of the adult Louis XVII is the central plot point of The Black Tower by Louis Bayard.
  • A highly-fictionalised Louis XVII appears in the 1991 film, Killer Tomatoes Eat France, portrayed by Steve Lundquist (credited as "Gerard Lundquist"). In the film, Louis is the modern-day descendant of the French royal family and is restored to the throne by the end of the film.
  • The 1957 British film Dangerous Exile presents the theory of Louis XVII having been exiled to Wales, by balloon.


Titles, styles, honours and arms

Titles and styles


  1. ^ Official nurse.
  2. ^ "Gallica". BNF. http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k73447w/f65.table. 
  3. ^ Alain Decaux, Louis XVII retrouvé, 1947, p. 306.
  4. ^ (Romanian) "The Reeducation of The Dauphin," by Mircea Platon, Convorbiri Literare, May 2004
  5. ^ "The Lost King of France: How DNA Solved the Mystery of the Murdered Son," by Deborah Cadbury, St. Martin's Press: 2003, p. 115
  6. ^ Frasier, Antonia (2001). Marie Antoinette: The Journey
  7. ^ "The mtDNA and its role in Ancestry: Part XIV (Descendents of Maria-Theresa)" Genebase Retrieved 22 June 2009
  8. ^ http://www.heraldica.org/topics/france/frroyal.htm#sang Style of HRH

Further reading

  • Cadbury, Deborah. The Lost King of France: Revolution, Revenge and the Search for Louis XVII. London: Fourth Estate, 2002 (ISBN 1-84115-588-8, hardcover), 2003 (ISBN 1-84115-589-6, paperback); New York: St. Martin's Press, 2002 (ISBN 0-312-28312-1, hardcover); New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2003 (ISBN 0-312-32029-9, paperback reprint). (Note that subtitles vary in different editions of the book.)
  • 'Live Free or Die' ( historical thriller novel) by Dominic Lagan ISBN 978-0-9561518-0-3, Editions Gigouzac 2009 paperback

External links

Primary sources

Other material


Simple English

Louis XVII
File:Louis Charles of
Louis in 1792, portrait by Alexander Kucharsky
King of France and of Navarre (Titular)
Reign 21 January 1793 – 8 June 1795 (claimant)
Predecessor Louis XVI
Successor Napoleon I de facto in 1804
Louis XVIII de jure in 1814
Full name
Louis Charles de France
Father Louis XVI of France
Mother Marie Antoinette
Born 27 March 1785(1785-03-27)
Palace of Versailles, France
Died June 8, 1795 (aged 10)
Paris Temple
Religion Roman Catholic

Louis XVII (27 March 1785 - 8 June 1795) of France and Navarre, son of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, was the King of France and Navarre from 1793 to 1795 although he never ruled. He is also known as Louis-Charles, Duke of Normandy and Fils de France or son of France

Louis Charles de France was born at the Palace of Versailles, the second son and third child of his parents. He became Dauphin of France after the death of his elder brother in 1789. After his father's death, he was proclaimed "King of France" while exiled with his mother. In 1795, he died of unknown causes during the dungeons of the French Revolution. An autopsy was carried out at the prison and, following a tradition of preserving royal hearts, his heart was smuggled out and preserved by the examining physician, Philippe-Jean Pelletan. Louis-Charles's body was buried in a mass grave. Dr. Pelletan was also shocked at all the scars from abuses of the child, such as whipping, all over the front and back of his torso as well as on his arms, legs, and feet.


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