Let's be clear: someone repeating gossip is not compelling evidence of anyone other than Louis XVI being the father of Louis-Charles. There is no other way to say this. There is a reason that historians are taught to develop a critical eye not only when gathering evidence, but interpreting it as well. You can find published works claiming Marie Antoinette poisoned her son Louis-Joseph--but when you use critical interpretation, you realize that you can't use those published works as evidence for a claim that Marie Antoinette deliberately made her son ill.It should also be remembered that Monsieur Crauford's mistress Eleonore Sullivan was having an affair with Fersen, and to deflect the gossip Crauford wanted to link Fersen romantically with the Queen, so as not to be seen as a cuckold. The Comte de Saint-Priest did the same thing when Fersen slept with his wife. Yes, Fersen was quite the ladies' man. That is what makes it so sad. If Marie-Antoinette did love Fersen in the secret depths of her heart then she did so while trying to be faithful to her husband, even if it meant her death. If the Queen did write the words "je vous aime à la folie", which they are now claiming she wrote under the scribbled out portions in one of the few extant letters in her own hand, then perhaps she did not know that Fersen had many lovers and was at the time carrying on with Eleonore. Let us hope that if she did love him, that she never knew. Share
Farr is further quoted in The Daily Mail as saying "It [the claim about parentage] is not something you would write lightly," which reads as an attempt to strengthen the letter as key evidence in her claim.
Yet gossip about royalty, even scandalous gossip such a claim of illegitimate parentage, has never been off-limits, even when writing to someone in a position of political power. The letters written by comte de Mercy-Argenteau to Empress Maria Theresa are scattered with political and court gossip; after the birth of her first son Louis-Joseph, a Spanish diplomat passed along the rumors that the new dauphin was fathered by someone other than the king and copied down some malicious couplets (containing the quip 'Who the devil produced him?') which had made the rounds in Paris.
Craufurd, along with his lover Eleanore Sullivan, worked with Fersen on the plan to spirit the royal family out of Paris. There are many reasons why Craufurd might have chosen to include this bit of gossip in his letter, which would require more context to fully explore. Was Craufurd attempting to get British support for another escape attempt, with Fersen once again involved? His description of Fersen is not just glowingly positive, but asserts that Fersen has intimate ties with the royal family--not only does he have the complete trust of the queen as her favorite, he may be the dauphin's father. What better recommendation of Fersen's willingness to do anything it takes than that! But again, that is just one speculation without context. Another part of critical interpretation is asking yourself why the person wrote what they did and even how they did.
Yet even without context, it can't overstated: repeating rumors is not compelling evidence of anything, other than proving people in the 18th century gossiped as readily as we do today. (Read more.)