The tragic fate of King Louis XVII (Part one)

King Louis XVII
On his mother's lap (public domain)

In 1784, Marie Antoinette was once again pregnant. She had given birth to a daughter – Marie Thérèse – in 1778 and a son – Louis Joseph – in 1781. She had also suffered a miscarriage in late 1783. Louis Joseph was proving to be a sickly child, and a second son would be beneficial for the succession.

For some time, there were rumours about an affair between Count Axel von Fersen and Marie Antoinette, and he had just returned to court after a three-year absence in June 1783. Although it is likely that Marie Antoinette and Axel had sexual intercourse, at the time, there was very little evidence for this. Could he be the biological father of this child? Possibly, though, we’ll never know for sure. Marie Antoinette’s husband certainly never doubted that he was the child’s father.

On Easter Sunday, 27 March 1785, Marie Antoinette gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Just 30 minutes after birth, the boy was baptised as Louis Charles, and he was created Duke of Normandy. His elder brother Louis Charles was still the Dauphin. Marie Antoinette’s sister Maria Carolina, Queen of Naples, was to be his godmother and the name Charles paid tribute to her. The infant was given into the hands of Yolande de Polastron, Duchess of Polignac, who was the Governess to the Children of France and a great favourite of Marie Antoinette.

The young boy was immediately showered in luxury. He had a wet nurse, a cradle rocker, a personal rocker, valets, two room boys, four ushers, a porter, a silver cleaner, a laundress, a hairdresser, two first chamber women, eight ordinary women and other minor staff. 1 He turned out to be the picture of health, and Marie Antoinette wrote that he was “a real peasant boy, big, rosy and plump.”2 His elder brother, who was prone to infections, was moved to his own suite on the ground floor of Versailles. His elder sister was eventually moved out of the nursery into her own apartment near their mother. Louis Charles was taken on carriage trips around the park, and he visited the farm at the Trianon. On 9 July 1786, Marie Antoinette gave birth to her fourth child, a daughter named Sophie. Tragically, the little girl lived for just 11 months.

Louis Charles remained in the care of the Duchess of Polignac until July 1789, when she was asked to leave by his father at the outbreak of the revolution. By then, he had been Dauphin of France for a month as his elder brother had died in June. The following October, Louis Charles was with his family when they were forced to move from Versailles to the Tuileries Palace in Paris. As their carriage led them to house arrest, young Louis Charles shouted out of the window, “Spare my mother, spare my mother!”3 For the next three years, they were to live under surveillance at the Tuileries.

Marie Antoinette asked the Marquise de Tourzel, who had replaced the Duchess of Polignac, to watch over Louis Charles at night. The young boy was terrified by the noises from the crowds outside. The palace was surrounded by the National Guard, who answered to the Assembly. Their every move was monitored, and Marie Antoinette told him to treat everyone politely. He soon made friends with the sons of the Guards and had a pretend “Royal Dauphin Regiment”, of which he was the colonel. He kept his own pet rabbits and tended to a small garden. The family spent a lot of time together.

On 21 June 1791, the family tried to escape from the Tuileries Palace, which is now known as the Flight to Varennes. Louis Charles was annoyed that he was being dressed as a girl, and he hid under the Marquise de Tourzel’s gown in the carriage. Initially, the escape went well, and they managed to get to Varennes, just 30 miles from the border. Unfortunately, there were no fresh horses waiting for them, and eventually, they were surrounded by the pursuing soldiers. They were detained in the mayor’s house, and the Assembly demanded their return to Paris. It took four days for them to return to Paris, and Louis Charles became very ill. Once back in Paris, the King was provisionally suspended from his royal duties, and any support he had left was quickly dwindling. Finally, in September 1791, he reluctantly signed the new constitution, and the King was now a mere figurehead.

The Tuileries 20 June 1792 (public domain)

The following year, an angry mob stormed the Tuileries, demanding Marie Antoinette’s head. The King’s sister, Madame Élisabeth, had stood next to her brother and was mistaken for her. She told the others, “Don’t disillusion them. If they take me for the Queen, there may be time to save her.”4 Meanwhile, Marie Antoinette, Louis Charles and Marie Thérèse fled from the Dauphin’s room and took refuge in the Council Chamber, where they were protected by just a few guards. For hours, they endured the taunts of the crowd. The mayor of Paris finally managed to disperse the crowds.

On 10 August 1792, a revolutionary government was established, and soon 20,000 armed citizens were on the streets of Paris. After a terrifying night, the family fled to the Legislative Assembly, where they feared for their lives. Louis Charles clung to his mother as the Legislative Assembly deliberated over what to do with the family. They were eventually taken to a former medieval fortress, known as the Temple. They were settled into sparse rooms with folding beds. Louis Charles had one room with the Marquise de Tourzel, and Marie Antoinette slept in the next room with Marie Thérèse. The Princess of Lamballe slept in the antechamber while the King and his valet were in a room on the third floor. Finally, Madame Élisabeth and several waiting women slept in the kitchen.

Before the exhausted Marie Antoinette finally went to bed, she checked on Louis Charles as he slept.

Read part two here.

  1. The lost King of France by Deborah Cadbury p.25
  2. The lost King of France by Deborah Cadbury p.26
  3. The lost King of France by Deborah Cadbury p.47
  4. The lost King of France by Deborah Cadbury p.65

About Moniek Bloks 2740 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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