Louis XVII of France

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Louis XVII
(Nominal) King of France and Navarre, Dauphin of France
Louis Charles of France6.jpg
Louis-Charles, Prince Royal at seven years
(by Alexander Kucharsky, 1792)
Born (1785-03-27)27 March 1785
Palace of Versailles, France
Died 8 June 1795(1795-06-08) (aged 10)
Paris Temple, France
Burial Saint Denis Basilica, France (His heart only)
Full name
Louis Charles of France
House Bourbon
Father Louis XVI of France
Mother Marie Antoinette
Religion Roman Catholic

Louis XVII (27 March 1785 in Versailles – 8 June 1795 in Paris), from birth to 1789 known as Louis-Charles, Duke of Normandy; then from 1789 to 1791 as Louis-Charles, Dauphin of France; and from 1791 to 1792 as Louis-Charles, Prince Royal of France, was the younger 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). His older brother, Louis Joseph, died in June 1789, just a few weeks before the start of the French Revolution.

When his father was executed on 21 January 1793, during the middle-period of the French Revolution, he became (nominally) King of France and Navarre in the eyes of the royalists. However, since France was by then a republic, and Louis XVII had been imprisoned from August 1792 until his death from illness in 1795 at the age of 10, he was never officially king, nor did he rule. His title was bestowed by his royalist supporters and acknowledged implicitly by his uncle's later adoption of the regnal name Louis XVIII rather than Louis XVII, upon the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in 1814.


Louis-Charles de France was born at the Palace of Versailles, the second son and third child of his parents, Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette.[1] He became the Dauphin at the death of his elder brother, Louis-Joseph.

As customary in royal families, Louis-Charles was cared for by multiple people. Queen Marie Antoinette appointed governesses to look after all three of her children. Louis-Charles' original governess was Yolande de Polastron, duchesse de Polignac, who left France at the beginning of the revolution, on the night of 16–17 July 1789.[2] She was replaced by marquise Louise Élisabeth de Tourzel. Additionally, the queen selected Agathe de Rambaud to be the official nurse of Louis-Charles. Alain Decaux wrote: "Madame de Rambaud 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. Many times, more than Marie Antoinette, she was a true mother for him".[3] Some Historians have suggested that Fersen , who was romantically linked with Marie Antoinette without being her lover in the physical sense, was the father of her son but this theory was debunked by DNA evidence and most scholars reject it. Marie Antoinette who gained massive weight because of her pregnancies including this (she was described as "very fat" by the king of Sweden) retained her charisma with an imposing figure which make her tower in her high heels over any person in her court were she has lot of favorites and admirers; but she remained a faithful strongwilled wife and a loving mother .[4]

On 6 October 1789, the royal family was forced by a Parisian mob mostly composed of women to move from Versailles to the Tuileries Palace in Paris, where they spent the next three years as prisoners under the daily surveillance of the national guards who did not spare any humiliation to the royal family ; at a time Marie Antoinette will always be surrounded by guards even in her bedroom at night and these guards will be present when the Queen was allowed to see her children. The family lived a secluded life, and Marie Antoinette dedicated most of her time to her two children under the daily surveillance of the national guards who will keep her hands behind her back and search everybody from the Queen to the children to see if any lettres were smuggled to the royals prisoner.[5] On 21 June 1791, the family tried to escape in what is known as the Flight to Varennes, but the attempt failed. After the family was recognized, they were brought back to Paris. When the Tuileries Palace was stormed by an armed mob on 10 August 1792, the royal family sought refuge at the Legislative Assembly.

On 13 August, the royal family was imprisoned in the tower of the Temple. At first, their conditions were not extremely harsh, but they were prisoners and were re-styled as "Capets" by the newborn Republic. On 11 December, at the beginning of his trial, Louis XVI, was separated from his family.


At his birth, Louis-Charles, a Fils de France ("Son of France"), was given the title of Duke of Normandy, and, on 4 June 1789, when Louis Joseph, Dauphin of France, his elder brother, died, the four-year-old became Dauphin of France, title he held until September 1791, when France became a constitutional monarchy. Under the new constitution, the heir to the throne of France, formerly "Dauphin", was restyled Prince Royal. Louis-Charles held that title until the fall of the monarchy on 21 September 1792. At the death of his father on 21 January 1793, royalists and foreign powers intent on restoring the monarchy held him to be the new king of France, with the title of Louis XVII. From his exile in Hamm, in today's North Rhine-Westphalia, his uncle, the Count of Provence and future Louis XVIII, who had emigrated on 21 June 1791, appointed himself Regent for the young imprisoned king.

Prison and rumours of escape[edit]

1793: Separation from his mother, put in care of Antoine Simon[edit]

Immediately following Louis XVI's execution, plots were hatched for the escape of the prisoners from the Temple, the chief of which were engineered by the Chevalier de Jarjayes (fr), the Baron de Batz, and Lady Atkyns. All came to nothing.

On 3 July, Louis-Charles was separated from his mother, and put in the care of Antoine Simon, a cobbler, who had been named his guardian by the Committee of Public Safety and tasked to transform the former young prince into a staunch republican citizen.

The tales told by royalist writers of the cruelty inflicted by Simon and his wife on the child are not proven. Louis Charles' sister, Marie Therese, wrote in her memoires, about the "monster Simon", as did Alcide Beauchesne. Marie-Jeanne, in fact, took great care of the child's person. Stories survive narrating how he was encouraged to eat and drink to excess, and learned the language of the gutter. The foreign secretaries of England and Spain also heard accounts from their spies that the boy was raped by prostitutes in order to infect him with venereal diseases to supply the Commune with manufactured "evidence" against the Queen.[6] However, the scenes related by Alcide de Beauchesne (fr) of the physical martyrdom of the child are not supported by any testimony, though he was at this time seen by a great number of people.

On 6 October, Pache, Chaumette, Jacques Hébert and others visited him and secured his signature to charges of sexual molestation against his mother and his aunt.[6] The next day he was confronted with his elder sister Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte for the last time.

1794: Illness[edit]

On 19 January 1794, the Simons left the Temple, after securing a receipt for the safe transfer of their ward, who was declared to be in good health. A large part of the Temple records from that time onward disappeared under the Bourbon Restoration,[citation needed] making knowledge of the facts impossible. Two days after the departure of the Simons, Louis-Charles 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 boy, who survived despite the accumulated filth of his surroundings.

Robespierre visited Marie-Thérèse on 11 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 Louis-Charles was very strictly secluded; he had no special guardian, but was under the charge of guards who changed from day to day.

The boy made no complaint to Barras of any ill treatment. He was then cleaned and re-clothed. His room was cleaned, and during the day he was visited by his new attendant, Jean Jacques Christophe Laurent (1770–1807), a creole from Martinique. From 8 November onward, Laurent had assistance from a man named Gomin.

Louis Charles by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun

Louis-Charles was then taken out for fresh air and walks on the roof of the Tower. From about the time of Gomin's arrival, he 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 was intended. From the end of October onward, the child maintained an obstinate silence, explained by Laurent as a determination taken on the day he made his deposition against his mother. On 19 December 1794 he was visited by three commissioners from the Committee of Public Safety — J. B. Harmand de la Meuse, J. B. C. Mathieu and J. Reverchon — who extracted no word from him.

1795: Death[edit]

Louis XVII

On 31 March 1795, Étienne Lasne was appointed to be the child's guardian in replacement of Laurent. In May 1795, the boy was seriously ill, and a doctor, P. J. Desault, who had visited him seven months earlier, was summoned. However, on 1 June, Desault died suddenly, not without suspicion of poison, and it was some days before doctors Philippe-Jean Pelletan and Dumangin were called.

Louis-Charles died on 8 June 1795. Next day an autopsy was conducted by Pelletan, 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 infection of long standing. "Scrofula"[7] as it was previously known, is nowadays called Tuberculous cervical lymphadenitis referring to a lymphadenitis (chronic lymph node swelling or infection) of the neck (cervical lymph nodes) lymph nodes associated with tuberculosis.[8][citation needed]

During the autopsy, the physician Dr. Pelletan was shocked to see the countless scars which covered the body of Louis-Charles. The scars were the result of the physical abuse the child suffered while imprisoned in the Temple.[9]

Louis-Charles was buried on the 10th of June in the Sainte Marguerite cemetery, but no stone was erected to mark the spot.

The Heart of Louis-Charles[edit]

Following a tradition of preserving royal hearts, Louis-Charles's heart was removed and smuggled out during the autopsy by the overseeing physician, Phillipe-Jean Pelletan. Thus, the heart of Louis-Charles was not interred with the rest of the body. Dr. Pelletan stored the smuggled heart in distilled wine in order to preserve the heart. However after 8 to 10 years the distilled wine had evaporated, and the heart was further kept dry.[9]

After the Restoration in 1815, Dr. Pelletan attempted to give the heart to Louis-Charles's uncle, Louis XVIII, however he refused because he could not bring himself to believe that was the heart of his nephew. Dr. Pelletan then donated the heart to the Archbishop of Paris, Hyacinthe-Louis de Quélen.

Following the Revolution of 1830, and the plundering of the palace, the son of Pelletan found the relic in the remnants of the palace and placed it in the crystal urn, which it still resides in today. After his death in 1879, Eduard Dumont received the heart.[9]

In 1895, the nephew of the Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria-Este, Don Carlos de Bourbon, a pretender to the throne of Spain accepted the relic from a friend of Eduart Dumont, Paul Cottin. The relic was held near Vienna, Austria at the castle of Frohsdorf. The son of Carlos, Jaime, Duke of Madrid, in 1909 inherited the heart, and gave it to his sister, Beatriz.[1][2]

Finally two granddaughters of Don Carlos offered the heart the president of the Memorial of Saint-Denis in Paris, Duc de Bauffremont, where he put the heart and its crystal urn in the necropolis of the Kings of France, the burial place of Louis-Charles's parents and other members of the French royal family.[9]

In December 1999, public notaries witnessed a section of the heart muscle of the aorta removed from the rest of the heart, and the transfer of the samples into a sealed envelope, and then the opening of the sealed envelop in the laboratory to be tested. Scientists using DNA samples from Queen Anna of Romania, and her brother Andre de Bourbon-Parme maternal relatives of Louis XVII.

French Legitimists organized the heart's burial in the Basilica on 8 June 2004, next to the remains of Louis's parents. For the first time in over a century a royal ceremony took place in France, complete with the fleur-de-lis standard and a royal crown.[10][11][12]


The weak parts of this story have been identified as: the sudden and unexplained departure of the Simons; the subsequent cruel treatment of the child – keeping him in a dark room practically out of sight (unless any doubt of his identity was possible), while his sister Marie-Thérèse was in comparative comfort; the cause of death, declared to be of long standing, but in fact developing rapidly, and the fact that the disease is usually not fatal and is self-limiting; 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 doubt of his death.

Immediately on the announcement of the dauphin's death a rumour arose that he had escaped (which proved to be untrue). 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, along with 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 as might 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.

Lost Dauphin claimants[edit]

As rumors 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, some one hundred 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. However, DNA testing conducted in 1993 proved that Naundorff was not the Dauphin.[13]


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,[citation needed] 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, to be retrieved by friends before it reached the cemetery.

Naundorff arrived in Berlin in 1810, with papers giving the name Karl Wilhelm Naundorff. He said he was escaping persecution and settled at Spandau in 1812 as a clockmaker, marrying Johanna Einert in 1818. In 1822 he removed to Brandenburg an der Havel, and in 1828 to Crossen, near Frankfurt (Oder). 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 recognised 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 10 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 pled their cause.


Baron de Richemont's tale that Jeanne 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, alias Henri Éthelbert-Louis-Hector 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 Gleizé on 10 August 1853, the name of Louis Charles de France being inscribed on his tomb until the government ordered its removal.


Another pretender was Reverend Eleazar Williams, a Mohawk-born Protestant missionary, and an advocate for land rights of native Americans.While at the house Francis Vinton, William became shaking and trembling upon seeing a portrait of Antoine Simon, a member of the sans-culotte, claiming the portrait has "haunted me, day, and night, as long as I can remember." Simon was rumored to have physically abused the dauphine while he was imprisoned at the Temple.[14] Francis Vinton was convinced by Eleazar William's reaction, that Williams was Louis-Charles. Williams claims he has no recollection of how he escaped his imprisonment at the Temple, or his early years in France.[14]

He was a missionary to Native Americans 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 favour of Louis-Philippe, in return for which he, the dauphin (alias Eleazar Williams), was to receive the private inheritance which was his. This Eleazar Williams refused. Williams' story is generally regarded as false.

Burial of Louis XVII[edit]

Although Louis XVII's remains were not interred with ceremony, there was little fanfare of his burial reportedly on 10 June 1795. "At seven o'clock the police commissary ordered the body to be taken up, and that they should proceed to the cemetery. It was the season of the longest days, and therefore the interment did not take place in secrecy and at night, as some misinformed narrators have said or written; it took place in broad daylight, and attracted a great concourse of people before the gates of the Temple palace." Added, "The funeral entered the cemetery of Ste. Marguerite, not by the church, as some accounts assert, but by the old gate of the cemetery. The interment was made in the corner, on the left, at a distance of eight or nine feet from the enclosure wall, and at an equal distance from a small house, which subsequently served as a school. The grave was filled up,—no mound marked its place, and not even a trace remained of the interment! Not till then did the commissaries of police and the municipality withdraw, and enter the house opposite the church to draw up the declaration of interment." [15]


Strangely, 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 a 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.

By 1900, there were over 100 hundred pretenders who had presented themselves to be the "lost-dauphin". The popularity of the false-dauphins peaked in the wake of the 1830 Revolution, and waned over the course of the century. Unlike the deaths of his parents which were a national spectacle, the dauphin's death was a matter of administrative and medical record, consequently easier to repudiate.[14] The myth of the substition before the death of Louis-Charles was popularized and encouraged by Jean-Joseph Regnault Warin's immense popular novel Le Cimetie`re de la Madeleine in 1800. Pretenders increased in regularity after the accession of King Louis XVIII in the Bourbon Restoration. Following the Revolution of 1830 pretender claims were treated with heightened seriousness in France because of their ability to serve as critiques of the King Louis XVIII. The premise of a Bourbon claimant challenging the legitimacy of Louis-Phillppe's legitimacy, certainly served as the reason for the aggression of which the pretenders were pursued in the courts.[14]

To his mourners and his impersonators, Louis-Charles offered the opportunity of a transformative and mythical future, where rises above the problems of the present. For the royalists, they were able to reversed the child abuse claims which the revolution charged Marie-Antoinette with during her trial and directed them at the revolution itself, for harming Louis-Charles.[14]

In 2000, 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 in strict maternal line 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.

In fiction[edit]

  • Louis XVII is the subject of an advice column appearing in the satirical newspaper The Onion called "Ask the Dauphin", which portrays him as a spoiled brat.[16]
  • A 1966 episode of the Daniel Boone TV series, "When the King is a Pawn", depicts Louis XVII fleeing by ship to New Orleans, where he is kidnapped. Boone is hired as a guide to take the young boy and his kidnappers north, unaware that the boy's companions are not his guardians. When the kidnappers are killed, Boone takes Louis XVII north to a French settlement where the boy is raised as an American.





Titles, styles, honours and arms[edit]

Titles and styles[edit]

  • 27 March 1785 – 4 June 1789 His Royal Highness[17] the Duke of Normandy (Monseigneur le duc de Normandie)
  • 4 June 1789 – 1 October 1791 His Royal Highness the Dauphin of France (Monseigneur le Dauphin)
  • 21 January 1793 – 8 June 1795 His Majesty the King of France and Navarre [titular]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Louis XVII. of France". Encyclopædia Britannica. 17 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 45. 
  2. ^ a b Lever, Evelyne: Marie-Antoinette, Fayard, Paris, 1991, p. 480
  3. ^ Alain Decaux, Louis XVII retrouvé, 1947, p. 306."Gallica". BNF. 
  4. ^ Fraser & Marie Antoinette 2001, pp. 180–200,305–313
  5. ^ Template:Fraser
  6. ^ a b Nagel, Susan (2009). Marie-Thérèse: the fate of Marie Antoinette's daughter. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 137. ISBN 978-0-7475-9666-0. 
  7. ^ Tuberculous cervical lymphadenitis
  8. ^ "tuberculous cervical lymphadenitis" at Dorland's Medical Dictionary
  9. ^ a b c d "EBSCO Publishing Service Selection Page". web.b.ebscohost.com. Retrieved 2016-12-11. 
  10. ^ "The mtDNA and its role in Ancestry: Part XIV (Descendents of Maria-Theresa)" Genebase Retrieved 22 June 2009
  11. ^ Revue rétrospective, BNF
  12. ^ "French boy king's heart to be buried in crypt". Kingsport Daily News. Paris. Reuters. 7 June 2004. p. 1. 
  13. ^ Frasier, Antonia (2001), Marie Antoinette: The Journey
  14. ^ a b c d e "EBSCO Publishing Service Selection Page". web.b.ebscohost.com. Retrieved 2016-12-12. 
  15. ^ Memoirs of the Court of Marie Antoinette by Madame Campan, 1900, pg 294
  16. ^ "Ask The Dauphin". The Onion. 26 September 2002. 
  17. ^ http://www.heraldica.org/topics/france/frroyal.htm#sang Style of HRH

Further reading[edit]

  • 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
  • Alcide Beauchesne "Louis 17. Sa vie, martyr et agonie" 1852. Plon. Paris.

External links[edit]

Primary sources

Other material

Louis XVII of France
Cadet branch of the Capetian dynasty
Born: 27 March 1785 Died: 8 June 1795
French royalty
Preceded by
Dauphin of France
4 June 1789 – 1 October 1791
Succeeded by
Titles in pretence
Preceded by
Louis XVI
King of France and Navarre
21 January 1793 – 8 June 1795
Reason for succession failure:
Monarchy abolished in 1792
Succeeded by