The exhumation of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI’s bodies

Photo by Moniek Bloks

“On the 18th of January 1815, the commissioners appointed by the king (Louis XVIII) to search for the sacred remains of their late majesties Louis XVI and the Queen Marie Antoinette, arrived, at eight o’clock in the morning, at the ancient cemetery of the Madeleine on the rue d’Anjou”1

Following King Louis XVI’s execution on 21 January 1793 and Queen Marie Antoinette’s execution on 16 October 1793, both bodies were taken to the Madeleine cemetery, where they were unceremoniously buried.

After Marie Antoinette’s execution, the gravediggers had just started their lunch, and her body and head were left unattended on the grass. Two weeks after her burial, the bill came – six livres for the coffin and 15 livres and 35 sous for the grave and the gravediggers.2

Upon her return to France, Marie Antoinette’s daughter Marie Thérèse was escorted to the cemetery by Pauline de Tourzel. It was just 7 o’clock in the morning, and she wore a simple dress with a veil over her hat. They were accompanied by Pierre Louis Desclozeaux, who had tended to the two graves ever since. He had made a garden there and planted two weeping willows. Marie Thérèse fell to her knees upon seeing the site and prayed for the happiness of France. 

When the exhumation began, Marie Antoinette’s body was found first – deteriorated into a heap of bones. Reportedly her skull was intact, and a member of the exhumation party recognised it by the unique shape of her mouth. Some of her hair was also still present, as were the two elastic garters that she had worn to her execution. The following morning, the remains of King Louis XVI were also uncovered.3

The remains briefly remained in a house near the cemetery before prayers were said, and they were sealed up in new coffins with appropriate inscriptions. On 21 January 1815, a procession brought the King and Queen to the Cathedral of Saint-Denis. Coincidentally, it was also the 21st anniversary of King Louis XVI’s execution. Nowadays, the couple is commemorated in the main church by a sculpture. Their remains are in the necropolis, marked by a black marble slab.

Photo by Moniek Bloks – Left from top to bottom: Louise of Lorraine (1553 – 1601), Marie Antoinette and the empty grave of Charles X (1757 – 1836).
Right Top to bottom: Louis VII (1120 – 1180), Louis XVI and Louis XVIII (1755 – 1824)

Their original burial place is now marked by a chapel. There is also a chapel at the  Conciergerie, where they had been held, with the names of the royal martyrs – King Louis XVI, his sister Élisabeth and Queen Marie Antoinette.

Photo by Moniek Bloks
  1. Marie Antoinette’s darkest days: prisoner no. 280 in the Conciergerie by Will Bashor p.275
  2. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser p. 527
  3. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser p. 534

About Moniek Bloks 2748 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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