Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte confronts Widow Simon

After returning to France in 1814, after twenty years of exile, Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte, the daughter of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, was contacted by the Sisters of Charity at the Hôpital des Incurables in Paris. One of their patients was Madame Simon, widow of the infamous Simon the cobbler who had brutalized the little Louis XVII in the Temple prison. Widow Simon claimed that the boy king had been smuggled out of the Temple in a basket of laundry, and that he had not died in 1795, but had been replaced by another boy who died in his place. The princess did not know what to make of such a wild story. In December of 1814 she went incognito to the hospital with two friends to personally interview the cobbler's widow. The following is a rendition of the confrontation from the novel Madame Royale:


....A frail old woman sat alone by the stove. She was in a wheelchair, a white linen cap on her head, a shawl around her shoulders and a blanket across her legs. She was tatting in the fading December light streaming through the window.

"Mère Simon, some people are here to see you, " said Sister Lucie. She withdrew without curtsying, as Thérèse had asked her. Lifting her veil, Thérèse approached the cobbler's widow. Her eyes met the steel grey ones in the withered face. It was a hard visage, as hard as she had ever remembered it to be, but not evil. She stared keenly at Thérèse for several seconds before looking down again at her tatting.

"Sit down, Madame," said Widow Simon, gesturing to a chair. Thérèse sat down; Pauline and Mathieu rema
ined standing by the door. "You have heard, I suppose, that I was once the governess of the Dauphin. People talk of nothing but the Dauphin nowadays. Everyone wants to know about him; I tell them everything I can recall."

"Yes, Madame Simon," said Thérèse, trying to soften her grating voice. "I would like to hear about the Dauphin. They say he was a handsome child."

"Handsome!" exclaimed
Mère Simon. "Ah, mon Dieu, he was like an angel with his golden curls and thick eyelashes! Both of my little Bourbons were beautiful children. Yes, his sister was a lovely girl, too." She furtively glanced at Thérèse. "A proud lass, but lovely. Oh, la la, but my Charles was a naughty rascal."

"You took care of him, did you not?"

"Indeed, yes, Madame." The old woman stopped tatting and closed her eyes. "I made certain he ate all the food on his plate. I swept his chamber everyday and mended his clothes. I changed his bed linen often. Those tales about lice-- well, not while
I, Jeanne Simon, resided at the Temple. My Charles loved me and I loved him. He wanted to come with us when we left."

"Your husband," asked
Thérèse, hesitantly, "did he love Charles?"

Madame Simon's eyebrows arched defiantly."I do not care what stories you m
ay have heard, but Simon did not hit Charles all that often. Why, he only hit him when he was drunk, and then he would hit me, too, for that matter. And Charles was a rascal-- all those princely airs and graces, those fine manners and book-learning, why, it just made Simon as mad as can be. He had to beat it all out of him, and knock some sense into his head. He would have done the same to a boy of our own. But he never hit him with an iron poker, knocking him half-dead. That's an evil lie. And he never broke his toys, or killed his pet birds. Not Simon. As for the guards--well, that's another story altogether. They would wake the little fellow up every few hours a night, when they let him sleep at all, to make certain he was still there. 'Capet, are you awake? Show yourself, you whelp!' they would call. It angered me, I must say. Simon did no such thing. He even bought Charles a dog, which was given to the boy's sister after he left."

" said Thérèse, remembering little Coco. "So I have heard. But tell me, did you take the Dauphin away with you?"

"We did, indeed. Simon smuggled him out in a hamper of dirty linen. Hiding the likes of Monsieur Charles was no easy task, let me tell you. Then Simon took him to some place called Vitry. Afterwards, Simon was killed. I did not see the Dauphin again for many years."

Thérèse suppressed a small gasp. "You saw him, Madame? When?"

The old woman's eyes brightened and her face glowed. "My Charles came to see me in 1802. He stood right here in this room."

Thérèse felt her pulses pounding, as she hid her emotion. "From the tower of the Temple until 1802 is a long time," she said lightly. "How were you able to recognize him?"

"By the scar on his upper lip, where the rabbit scratched him." The hard mouth softened into a sly smile
. "Madame, I recognize you quite well, notwithstanding your disguise, although I have not seen you for very much longer....You are Madame Marie-Thérèse!"

Thérèse stood up and almost bolted from the room....

from Madame Royale by Elena Maria Vidal, Chapter 14, "The Hospital," copyright 2000 by E. M. Vidal                              


Lucy said...

Thanks for this post, I think it has convinced me to read The Black Tower by Louis Bayard, next. It's all about MA's missing son- and it's supposed to be really good; a detective sort of story.

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, it is an excellent novel, very exciting and heartrending! I reviewed it on this blog last fall.

Passages to the Past said...

I recently read Marie-Therese, Child of Terror: The Fate of Marie Antoinette's Daughter by Susan Nagel and really enjoyed it. I just fell in love with Marie-Therese.

Your novel is definitely on my wishlist!

elena maria vidal said...

My novel and Susan's biography complement each other well. The Bayard book is a great follow up to both.

May said...

Thank you for making these heroic women, Marie-Antoinette and Marie-Therese, better known. I hope to read your novels soon. They sound wonderful. I also really enjoyed watching your interviews on EWTN. A very important part of history.

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, hummingbird, I am so glad you enjoyed the interview!

Anonymous said...

This is really fascinating. I think I need to read the book Lucy mentioned now :)

Thanks for the post!

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, Martina! I'd love for you to read it. I am looking forward to your review of TRIANON!