Friday, September 16, 2022

Louis XVII: The Pretenders

The Dauphin Louis-Charles (Louis XVII) and his sister Madame Royale.

Marie-Antoinette's younger son, her chou d'amour
The prince is probably three or four in this picture.

                                                     Dauphin Louis-Charles a couple of years later, at six or seven. 
                                                     Small boys wore pink in those days.

Louis XVII, the eight-year-old imprisoned monarch, was removed from his mother Marie-Antoinette in August 1792. He was abused and forced to testify against her. After his mother and aunt were killed, he was was ill and locked up. His sister, who was upstairs, was never allowed to see him, even when he was dying. She was not allowed to see his body, either, but kept locked in her room in the Temple Prison until his body was removed.  From Ancient Origins:

By the time Marie-Thérèse was released in December 1795, rumors had already begun about the fate of Louis XVII. In what has been dubbed “the fauxdauphinomanie of the early nineteenth century,” dozens of fraudsters attempted to adopt the identity of the lost dauphin over the coming decades. While some of their stories were ludicrous, the hounding she suffered must have been unbearable.

The most successful amongst them was Jean-Marie Hervagault, who, inspired by a book published in 1800 entitled Le Cimetière de la Madeleine , copied the plot and claimed to be the lost boy-king rescued from the Temple. Meanwhile, Karl Wilhelm Naundorff claimed to have been smuggled out in a basket. His tomb in Delft was inscribed Louis XVII, roi de France et de Navarre . There were even allegations that the young king had been rescued during a royalist plot and was living in the New World. To that end Reverend Eleazer Williams, a missionary of Native American descent in Wisconsin, somehow convinced several people that he was in fact the lost king. (Read more.)

When Louis XVII died in the Temple Prison, there was no public funeral and his body was not publicly displayed. Not even his sister, who was kept in the same prison, was allowed to see him. From History:

“There is no real and legal certainty that the son of Louis XVI is dead,” wrote the Austrian diplomat, Baron von Thugut. “His death, up to now, has no other proof than the announcement in the Moniteur, along with a report drawn up on the orders of the brigands of the Convention and by people whose deposition is based on the fact that they were presented with the body of a dead child who they were told was the son of Louis Capet.”

According to Cadbury, the mystery surrounding the “orphan of the tower” led to 500 books on the subject and an Edwardian-era monthly journal. The first book, a fictional account called The Cemetery of Madeline, about Louis-Charles’s supposed escape from the tower, came out only a few years after his death. Memoirs were also written by claimants themselves, including the Historical Account of the Life of Louis XVII, dictated by an illiterate, drunken vagabond named Charles de Navarre. Even Mark Twain got into the act, writing of a transient pretending to be “the little boy dolphin” in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

The first claimant appeared in Châlons-sur-Marne only three years after the Dauphin’s death. The charming, handsome teenager had been found wandering the countryside and put in the local prison. For months he refused to say who he was, and then said he was a member of a non-existent ducal house. Enamored villagers became convinced the seemingly aristocratic young man was Louis-Charles, and the teen did not disabuse them of this notion. (Read more.)


Portrait of Louis-Charles, Dauphin of France, later known as Louis XVII.  Several years ago, some scientists have found a DNA link between the little king and the descendants of the claimant Naundorff. We discussed it on the Tea at Trianon Forum, HERE. The historical background of the mystery is explored in the novel Madame Royale.
Louis XVII suffering in prison.

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