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Louis XVII of France

Louis XVII of France (March 27, 1785 - June 8, 1795) also known as Louis-Charles, Duke of Normandy (1785-1789), Louis-Charles, Dauphin of Viennois (1789-1791), and Louis-Charles, Prince Royal of France (1791-1793), was the son of King Louis XVI of France and Marie Antoinette, who never actually reigned as king of France.

Photo of a portrait painted of
the young dauphin in 1789
by Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun

During the French Revolution, Prince Louis was imprisoned with his parents. As the eldest living son of King Louis XVI, he was proclaimed king of France on January 28, 1793 by the declaration of his uncle, "Monsieur" (Louis-Stanislas-Xavier, the Comte de Provence) issued in exile in the city of Hamm, near Dortmund, Westphalia, a territory of the Archbishop of Cologne. The declaration at the time was without authority, since France was a republic; however, when the nation and the European powers accepted Louis-Stanislas-Xavier as Louis XVIII of France in 1815, the numbering tacitly recognized Louis XVII's rights.

Taken from his mother in 1792, the innocent child was held at the forbidding prison of the Temple , to prevent any monarchist bid to free him. He stayed imprisoned at the prison for his remaining three years of life. He was ironically called a "Capet," the family name that the revolutionaries applied to the French royals, Hugh Capet being the non-royal founder of the ruling dynasty's antecedents. The little boy was set to hard work as a cobbler's assistant and was taught to curse his parents. He was officially reported to have died in the prison from what is today recognized to have been tuberculosis. Reportedly, his body was ravaged by tumors and scabies. An autopsy was carried out on the child's frail body at the prison. Following a tradition of preserving royal hearts, his heart was removed by the physician, Philippe-Jean Pelletan, smuggled out in a handkerchief and finally preserved in alcohol. His body was buried in a mass grave.

"Lost Dauphin" claimants

Reports, however, quickly spread that the body was not that of Louis XVII and that he had been spirited away alive, the "Lost Dauphin," by sympathizers with another child's body left in his place. When the Bourbon monarchy was restored in 1814, hundreds of claimants came forward. Would-be royal heirs continued to pop up across Europe for decades, and some of their descendants still have small but loyal retinues of followers today. Popular candidates for the Lost Dauphin included John James Audubon, the naturalist; Eleazer Williams, a missionary from Wisconsin of Mohawk Native American descent; and Karl Wilhelm Naundorff, a German clockmaker. Mark Twain satirized the host of claimants in the characters of the Duke and the Dauphin, the con men of Huckleberry Finn.

The heart changed hands many times. First stolen by one of Pelletan's students, who confessed on his deathbed, asking his wife to return it to Pelletan. The student's wife sent it to the Archbishop of Paris , where it stayed until the Revolution of 1830. It also spent some time in Spain. In 1975, it was being kept in a crystal vase at the royal crypt in the Saint Denis Basilica outside Paris, burial place of his parents and many other members of France's royal families. Philippe Delorme , the contemporary authority on the subject, arranged for DNA testing of the heart. A Belgian genetics professor, Jean-Jacques Cassiman, and Ernst Brinkmann of Germany's Muenster University conducted the two independent tests. After DNA comparison with that reclaimed from the hair of Marie Antoinette proved the identity of the heart in the year 2000, the remains were finally buried in the Basilica on June 8, 2004.

The story of the "Lost Dauphin" was recently staged in Northern Ireland in the student-produced play "All Those Who Suffered". The playwright explains his motivations at the Monarchist Website: -

Preceded by:
Louis XVI
King of France Succeeded by:
Louis XVIII (nominally)
Napoleon I (effectively)

External link

Last updated: 11-08-2004 11:21:20