Louis XVII of France, also Louis VI of Navarre (Versailles March 27 1785 – Paris June 8 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 Marie Antoinette of Austria. 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 reigned.
Agathe de Rambaud was chosen by the queen to be the Berceuse des Enfants de France 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 was officially in charge of the care of the Dauphin from the day of his birth until August 10, 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.
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. He also made Louis-Charles sleep with prostitutes, from whom he caught venereal diseases. The young Louis XVII was repeatedly threatened with the guillotine, which caused him to faint. 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. 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.
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 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 (July 27, 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 cleansed and re-clothed, his room 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), who had from the 8th of November onwards assistance for his charge from a man named Gomin. 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. Both Barras and Harmand de la Meuse are said to have given leave for the brother and sister to see each other, but the meeting was never permitted. The argument from the sudden disappearance of persons in a position to know something of the truth is of a less convincing character. It may be noted that the more famous of the persons alleged by partisans of subsequent pretenders to have been hustled out of the world for their connection with the secret are the empress Josephine, the duc d'Enghien and the duc de Berri.
Immediately on the announcement of the dauphin's death there arose a rumor that he had escaped. Simien-Despréaux, one of Louis XVIII's own authors, stated at a later period (1814) that Louis XVII was living and that among the signatories of the treaty of April 13th were some who possessed proofs of his existence; 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 for the émigrés) as well as it suited the revolutionary government, and no serious attempt was made by the royal family to ascertain the truth, though they paid none of the tributes to the memory of the dead 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.
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. Some forty candidates for his honors were forthcoming under the Restoration. The most important of these pretenders were Karl Wilhelm Naundorff and the comte de Richemont. Karl Wilhelm 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 by 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. Of all the pretenders Naundorff has the best case. He was certainly not the Jew of Prussian Poland which his enemies declared him to be, and he has to this day a circle of devoted adherents. Since he was sincerely convinced of his own rights, it is surprising that he put forward no claim in 1814.
If the Dauphin did escape, it seems probable that he perished shortly afterwards 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. The wildness of this tale refutes itself.
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.
Although the legend of Louis Poiret of the Seychelles may hold the best evidence yet that the young dauphin survived.
Louis-Charles's heart changed hands many times. Pelletan tried to return the heart to Louis XVIII and his brother Charles X, both of whom could not bring themselves to believe the heart to be genuinely that of their long-dead nephew. It is not known if Pelletan tried to approach Marie-Thérèse, Duchess of Angoulême (daughter of Louis XVI) with her brother's heart. Its saga was only beginning. First it was stolen by one of Pelletan's students, who confessed to the theft on his deathbed and asked his wife to return the heart 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' parents and of many other members of France's royal families.
In the 1990s, Philippe Delorme, the contemporary authority on the subject, arranged for DNA testing of the heart. Ernst Brinkmann of Germany's Münster University and a Belgian genetics professor, Jean-Jacques Cassiman of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, conducted two independent tests. In 2000, comparison with DNA from the hair of Marie-Antoinette confirmed the heart was from a close relative of hers, and it was finally buried in the Basilica on June 8 2004.
It should be noted, however, that the DNA tested was mitochondrial DNA. This DNA is inherited only from the mother and allows tracing of a direct maternal genetic line. Assuming there was no tampering with the tests' samples, therefore, the comparison only proved that the two samples shared the same maternal ancestry. It does not prove that the heart belonged to a particular individual. Since there was a tradition of removing royal hearts after death, it is possible that the heart may have been that of another young royal, for instance that of Louis XVI's first son, Louis-Joseph-Xavier-François, who died in 1789. However, the heart of Louis-Joseph would have been removed and embalmed as was customary for all princes of France. The heart tested as part of the DNA experiment had not been embalmed, only preserved in alcohol. This is consistent with Pelletan's story of having left the heart in a jar of alcohol after removing it in 1795 from the body that was claimed to be that of Louis XVII.
The rescue and subsequent attempt to return Louis XVII to the throne is told in the 1937 novel
The Lost King by Rafael Sabatini
Revolution francaise et "vandalism revolutionnaire:" Actes du colloque international de Clermont-Ferrand 15-17 decembre 1988.
Dec 01, 1992; The term "vandalisme revolutionnaire" was first employed by the deputy Abbe Gregoire in his Rapport sur les inscriptions des...