I knew, as most people do, that during the French Revolution Louis and Marie Antoinette were imprisoned and eventually guillotined by the revolutionaries. What I didn’t know, was that after the king and queen were executed, their children were kept in prison. Marie-Therese would survive her imprisonment and would be released in 1795. Eight-year-old Louis-Charles was not so lucky.HERE.
As heir to the throne, he was seen as a threat by the revolutionaries. It was rumored that powerful people were plotting to free the child and rule in his name. To prevent this, Robespierre and his crew essentially had Louis Charles walled up alive. He was kept in a small dark cold cell. Alone. Without enough food or a fire. He became sick. And he went mad. And eventually he died. At the age of ten.
Needless to say, this article really upset me. I couldn’t stop wondering how the idealism of the revolution devolved into such cruelty. I went to bed thinking about it and woke up thinking about it. I recognized the feeling – it’s how I feel when a book is starting inside me. But I couldn’t act on that feeling because I had other books due at the time. Nonetheless, the story stayed with me. Time moved on. I finished the other books. And I had a child. Which changed my life in many wonderful ways.
In one not so wonderful way, I somehow lost my protective shell. The one that enables us to hear a horrible story on the news and still go on with our lives. When my daughter came along, suddenly every news story about an abused child destroyed me. As a new mother, I knew what a child was in a way that I had not before. I knew how fragile and innocent children are. And that someone could hurt them, that they could starve in a famine, or be injured by a bomb….well, I could not understand that and I couldn’t bear it and I wondered, as I never had before, what kind of world is this that allows it? And how do we live in it?
These questions were haunting me and I had to find answers. So I set about trying to do that the only way I know how, by writing a story. I remembered that article I’d cut out of the Times. That small heart in its glass urn took on a new and symbolic meaning for me. What happened to Louis Charles was unspeakable, and yet, I felt that if I could face it and grapple with it, it might help me find my answers.