Thursday, February 8, 2007

The Murder of the Duc de Berry and the Miracle Child

On February 13, 1820, Charles-Ferdinand, Duc de Berry, was murdered on the steps of the Paris Opera while helping his pregnant wife into a carriage. Berry was the nephew of Louis XVI and the son of the Comte d'Artois. His older brother was the Duc d'Angouleme and his cousin and sister-in-law was Marie-Therese-Charlotte, Duchesse d'Angouleme. The particulars of the assassination are told in my novel Madame Royale.

Berry was the black sheep of the family, always in trouble. While in exile in England he married a young lady named Amy Brown and they had several children. Later, after returning to France, the marriage with Amy was declared null and void and in 1816 Berry married the lively Italian princess, Caroline of Naples. He was in his late thirties and she was seventeen. He had already installed Amy and her children in a house in Paris where she continued to live as his mistress.

Meanwhile, his wife Caroline lost her first two babies at birth, then in 1819 she had a daughter, Louise d'Artois. An heir to the throne was desperately needed and Berry was the only one of the Bourbon princes of the senior branch of the family capable of begetting children. (The portrait to the right is of Caroline of Naples by Madame Vigee-Lebrun.)

On Quinquagesima Sunday in 1820, at the height of Carnival, Berry was knifed by a madman. Caroline had only just discovered she was with child again. Berry died in her arms in the opera box, after receiving the last rites and asking forgiveness for the public scandal he had given. Caroline shaved her head and went into deep mourning. On September 29, 1820, she gave birth to a son, who was called Henri, Duc de Bordeaux, later known as the Comte de Chambord (Henri V). According to the Bourbon tradition his mouth was moistened with wine at birth. He was presented to the people of France in the arms of Louis XVIII and called "The Miracle Child." Share


Anonymous said...

Hello! Thanks for your so interesting pieces on the French Royal members. In regards to this murder, I read some time ago an infamous tale: That the murderer, a young man Louvel - who got the death penalty and died under the guillotine blade - was reputed by some like the "evaded" Louis XVII.-Fortunately, we've got French historian Philippe Delorme who could get the young King heart DNA-tested and it could be proved that our beloved Martyr Petit Roi is the one that died in prison in the Temple. I just could not stand the fact that the lovely prince would have become a murderer!!!In fact, some historians say that the Duc de Berri or Berry accused Louis XVIII to have let the Boy King in oblivion. And I join the duc in his appreciation only that I accuse the whole family!!! To me they did not do the least effort to clear up this painful matter.- It was not convenient for Louis XVIII nor Charles X.- Thanks again Elena Maria for this delicious blog!

elena maria vidal said...

Hi, Maru! Thanks to you for offering your great insights!! Yes, there were rumors that Louvel was Louis XVII and, as I put in my book, every other mysterious young man was rumored to be Louis XVII. Yes, Louis XVIII was himself sending out boys as decoys; he was terrified that the dauphin may have survived and, in case the boy had lived, he wanted to make it difficult.

Berry was one of the only members of the royal family who was helping Marie-Therese in her discreet inquiries about her brother. Also he was politically at odds with Louis XVIII over other things. Some people, including Caroline, thought that Louis XVIII's minister Decazes had put Louvel up to murdering the prince.

As for the heart, according to Deborah Cadbury's book THE LOST KING OF FRANCE, in which the author and scholar M. Delorme is mentioned as well, the DNA tests showed that the heart belonged to a "child of a Habsburg princess" which offers a 99% certainty that it belonged to Louis XVII.

Marie-Therese was still making inquiries about her brother as late as 1827, when she confronted Nicole Hervagault (mother of one of the claimants)in an effort to find out his fate. Thee were many rumors, and the deathbed testimony of Widow Simon, Simon the cobbler's wife, who claimed that Charles had been taken from the Temple. Then the Petitval massacre which followed. One cannot blame Madame Royale for wondering if her brother may have escaped.....She was not certain and would not receive the heart from the former revolutionary Dr Pelletan, who had performed the autopsy on her brother. (She had been right upstairs but not allowed to view her brother's corpse.) All this is in my book but taken from the works of Joseph Turquan, Meade Minnergerode, and Lenotre.