Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Louis XVI and Tuberculosis

Louis-Auguste, Duc de Berry, the future Louis XVI, was born on August 23, 1754. August 25, the feast of St. Louis of France, was his name-day, and kept with special festivity after he became king in 1774. The other day on Catherine Delors' blog many interesting points were brought up in the comment box about the childhood traumas of Louis-Auguste and how those later affected his reactions to the events of the Revolution.

Louis contracted tuberculosis when he was six by being made to sit at the bedside of his dying older brother, the Duc de Bourgogne. It was a traumatic experience in many ways for a small boy, especially since he himself became quite ill. Louis-Auguste was generally regarded as unhealthy and not likely to live to adulthood. Several members of the French royal family, including Louis' parents and brother, had already died of consumption. Louis managed to survive with the proper care. Nevertheless, tuberculosis is a disease which can remain inactive for many years but can later recur. It can have many side effects, including depression.

The tuberculosis would come back to haunt him, infecting his baby daughter Sophie and his oldest son. I think seeing Louis-Joseph die just as he had watched his older brother die long ago revived a lot of the childhood trauma. Death from tuberculosis is not pretty to watch. I am of the opinion that since the death of his oldest son, which coincided with the beginning of the Revolution in 1789, Louis XVI was suffering from clinical depression. In the past, he had acted with much more energy and decision. This is one of the reasons Marie-Antoinette had to become more involved in the political arena during the Revolution.

I think Louis struggled with "melancholy" at various times throughout his life, perhaps due to the childhood infection with tuberculosis. Louis was a man accustomed to strenuous exercise, especially hunting and riding, not to mention his labors as a locksmith. It is my belief that he needed the fresh air and the exertion for both his mental and physical health. With the regimen of exercise and his strictly adhered to routine he was able to keep melancholy from overwhelming him. He was deprived of much of his riding after October 1789 and it had a devastating effect upon his health and state of mind. Losing two of his children, his authority, his home, seeing his people and family suffer, and being deprived of the exercise and fresh air vital to his health, left him in a very bad condition.

If we consider the courage with which Louis XVI faced the worst moments of crisis, including his death, then he is to be admired, especially in the light of everything else. The Queen is to be admired as well, for she could have slipped out of the country with her surviving children and left Louis to his doom (there were many plans for her escape) but she refused to budge from Louis' side. She would not leave him to face the disasters alone.

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10 comments:

Matterhorn said...

I never knew about his tuberculosis until reading the discussion on Mme. Delors' blog. How many crosses he had to bear.

Dorit said...

I haven't thought of the connection between his children's tuberculosis and the childhood trauma. It makes a lot of sense. I would point out it was not the only terrible disease at the time, and wonder if the tuberculosis trauma had anything to do with his decision to be innoculated against.. small pox, or measles?
Dorit.

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, Matterhorn, indeed.

That is an excellent point, Dorit! Louis was fascinated by science and advances in medicine, and was willing to try the small pox inoculation, especially since that disease killed so many.

Catherine Delors said...

Great post, Elena!

I cannot thank you enough for your insightful comments on my blog. I believe it was the best discussion so far on any of my posts.

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, Catherine, for creating an atmosphere conducive to intelligent and cordial discussion!

M Buvat de Virginy said...

Wonderful post ! Thank you for the opportunity to share our ideas and learn more about topics we all know and love. History doesn't have to be boring. Looking past the facade, Louis XVI et all had their own personalities, hopes, dreams and fears; they were people like us today. Not to wax poetic, but it's wonderful to have discussions with people who realise this as well. Louis XVI is an historical character who has been eclipsed by his wife and others, defamed, neglected, and stereotyped. I honestly believe he was a complex figure who now is beginning to become better-known.

elena maria vidal said...

That is an excellent assessment, Monsieur, and thanks to the internet we can circulate a bit of the truth to counteract the many falsehoods.

lara77 said...

Thank you Elena Marie, I did not know about King Louis XVI's traumatic early upbringing; especially watching his brother die of tuberculosis. I was always puzzled why such an intelligent caring monarch showed lapses in judgment at the time of the revolution. Your comments make so much sense and shed more light on the king's personality. How refreshing to read more about King Louis XVI and not the rehashed propaganda of the republic's history books.

Zsófia said...

Really touching... This is one of the best post I've read about Louis. He was a fantastic man, and I'd like to believe that he had happy times in his life among these tragedies, too. His coronation, his marriage, his family... Maybe.
Rest in Peace, our King...

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

Maybe that is why Ste Thérèse died in Tuberculosis and why a few healings in Lourdes are from Tubercular Peritonitis. That is even less pretty, I think, for those who die in it. I had to look it up for the chapter Speaking to Dr Watson in my

Chronicle of Susan Pevensie
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