The life and death Louis Joseph, Dauphin of France

dauphin louis joseph
(public domain)

In February 1781, Marie Antoinette realised she might be pregnant again.

In the middle of March, she wrote to Madame de Mackau, “I am going to cause further bother because I am enceinte. I assure you that in spite of my joy, I regret the increase in your trouble.”1 She had given birth to Marie-Thérèse, Madame Royale, in 1778, but she could not inherit the French throne. By May, the pregnancy was public knowledge.

On the morning of 22 October 1781, Marie Antoinette went into labour. The people allowed into the room were limited as the Queen had fainted during her first labour. Her husband later wrote in his diary, “At exactly a quarter past one by my watch, she was successfully delivered of a boy.”2 Marie Antoinette was unaware of the sex of the child and initially assumed that it was another girl because everyone was quiet. King Louis eventually told her, “Madame, you have fulfilled our wishes and those of France, you are the mother of a Dauphin.”3 Holding the child, he told her, “Monsieur le Dauphin asks to come in.”4

The little boy was named Louis Joseph Xavier François, and he was baptised that same afternoon. His immediate care was in the hands of the Governess of the Children of France, the Princess of Guéméné. A Madame “Poitrine” was his wetnurse as there was no question of Marie Antoinette nursing him herself. The Princess of Guéméné resigned a year later due to enormous debt, and she was replaced by the Queen’s favourite, the Duchess of Polignac.

By the age of three, it was clear that the Dauphin had several health problems. After a bout of a severe illness at the age of two, his health remained a constant worry. One of his shoulders grew higher than the other, and he was frail and unable to play games with his sister. As his health deteriorated, Marie Antoinette gave birth to a second son – Louis Charles and a daughter, Sophie, who lived for just 11 months. Louis Joseph developed a hunched back, and he often had trouble breathing. He was moved to Meudon, where the air was better. However, by 1788, it was generally accepted that the boy would probably not live for very long.

Marie Antoinette wrote in February 1788, “My elder son has given me a great deal of anxiety. His body is twisted with one shoulder higher than the other and a back, whose vertebrae are slightly out of line and protruding. For some time, he has had constant fevers and, as a result, is very thin and weak.”5 She was describing tuberculosis of the spine. As tensions rose in the run-up to the French Revolution, Marie Antoinette and King Louis were in their own kind of hell with their son. In May 1789, Marie Antoinette wrote, “You will not find me very cheerful; I have a great deal on my heart.”6 By then, he could no longer walk, and he was emaciated. A wheelchair had been fashioned in green velvet with white wool cushions.

Marie Antoinette was visiting her son at Meudon when the end came on 4 June. King Louis had visited him the previous day, but he had returned home. The Dauphin died at one in the morning. When a delegation of the Assembly, demanded an audience that same day, King Louis cried, “Are there no fathers in the Assembly of the Third Estate?”7

Louis Joseph lay in state at Meudon, and his heart was removed to be taken to the Benedictine convent of Val-de-Grâce. He was given a simple funeral, considering the circumstances, as the proper rites would have cost up to 350,000 livres. The coffin was covered with a silver cloth, a crown, a sword and the Orders of the Dauphin of France on top. He was buried in the Basilica of St. Denis.

Marie Antoinette later wrote, “At the death of my poor little Dauphin, the nation hardly seemed to notice.”8 The title of Dauphin now passed to Louis Charles.

  1. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser p.220
  2. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser p.222
  3. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser p.222
  4. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser p.222
  5. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser p.309
  6. Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser p.326
  7. In the Shadow of the Empress by Nancy Goldstone p.367
  8. In the Shadow of the Empress by Nancy Goldstone p.330

About Moniek Bloks 2744 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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