Monday, June 11, 2012

The Dauphin Louis-Joseph: His Birth and Death

Gio at History and Other Thoughts quotes from the diary of Louis XVI on the day his oldest son was born:
The queen passed a very comfortable night the 21st of October. She felt some slight pain on awakening, but this did not prevent her from bathing; the pain continued, but to no great extent. Until noon I gave no order for the shooting I was to do at Sacle. Between twelve and half-past the pain became greater; the queen went to bed, and just one hour and a quarter later, by my watch, she gave birth to a boy. There were present only Madame de Lamballe, the Comte d'Artois, my aunts, Madame de Chimay, Madame de Mailly, Madame d'Ossun, Madame de Tavannes, and Madame de Guemenee, who went alternately into the Salon de la Paix, which had been left empty. In the large cabinet was my household, that of the queen and the grand entries, and the under-governesses, who entered at the critical moment and who remained at the rear of the chamber so as not to cut off the air.

Of all the princes to whom Madame de Lamballe sent at noon to announce the news. Monsieur le Due d' Orleans alone arrived before the critical moment (he was hunting at Fausse Repose). He remained in the chamber or in the Salon de la Paix. Monsieur de Conde, Monsieur de Penthievre, Monsieur le Due de Chartres, Madame la Duchesse de Chartres, Madame la Princesse de Conty, and Mademoiselle de Conde arrived also; Monsieur le Due de Bourbon in the evening, and Monsieur le Prince de Conty the next day. The following day the queen saw all these in turn. My son was carried into the large cabinet, where I went to see him dressed, and I laid him in the hands of Madame de Guemenee, the governess. After the queen had been delivered I told her that it was a boy, and he was brought to her bedside. (Read entire post.)

I think that few people understand the profound impact the death this beautiful and intelligent little boy had on Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. For one thing, death from tuberculosis is not pretty to watch. I think that Louis' emotional equilibrium was shredded by Louis-Joseph's agonizing demise. Seeing Louis-Joseph die just as he had watched his older brother die long ago revived a lot of the childhood trauma. The loss of a child is brutal to experience no matter what, but to lose one while all you have worked to build is being demolished before your eyes is enough to make anyone go over the edge. Louis XVI may have been suffering from clinical depression which is why Marie-Antoinette had to become more involved in the political arena during the Revolution. However, Louis and Antoinette turned to each other in their grief and their bond was strengthened.
I hate seeing the Grim Reaper hovering over Louis-Joseph. There should be an angel.
Vive la Reine has a quote from Antonia Fraser:

The boy whose birth had been saluted by his father to his mother with these triumphant words: “Madame, you have fulfilled my wishes and those of France,” was dead, “a decayed old man,” covered in sores, at the age of seven and a half.

-Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser
Image: Detail of ‘An Allegory of the death of the dauphin’
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5 comments:

Heinz Rainer said...

great post - love to read more

Venus on the half shell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lara77 said...

That last drawing with the Grim Reaper was so upsetting. I forget how high infant mortality was back in the 18th century; even a King's son was not immune. It is too heartbreaking to see that drawing.

Matterhorn said...

This reminded me of a kind lady I once met. She had multiple sclerosis herself, and had also lost five of her nine children to cystic fibrosis- and another in a car accident. It must have been such agony over and over again, but she was consoled by the fact that they had been good children.

I trust that Louis and Antoinette also drew some comfort from the goodness of this little prince, and from the knowledge that he was at least safe with God and beyond the reach of human wickedness and cruelty. Perhaps, like his sister Sophie, he could help his family and country better from the next world.

Gio said...

That last drawing is so sad. Poor
child! His death was tragic, but at least he was spared the horrors of the Revolution.

Thanks for the link love.