Just a few days after his mother’s death, Louis Charles was bullied into admitting that his aunt Elisabeth was the one “who carried out the plots best.” This information was duly brought to the council by Antoine Simon. 1 Eventually, it was argued that Elisabeth should also be tried by the Revolutionary Tribunal, but this did not happen immediately. Instead, in January 1794, Antoine Simon was relieved from his post as “tutor” to Louis Charles. He now fell into the power of Pierre Gaspard Chaumette and Jacques Hébert, and his re-education stopped altogether.
Chaumette and Hébert’s main objective was to keep the boy incarcerated. Following Antoine Simon’s departure, Louis Charles was moved into solitary confinement in one of the rooms on the second floor of the great tower. This was probably the dining room where he had last seen his father. The door was double-locked and strengthened with iron bars. The room had basically no natural light, and the window was almost entirely boarded up. The only other light came from a lantern, which was not allowed at night. He also had no books or toys. No one was allowed to enter the cell, not even to give him clean clothes. He was given two bowls of soup daily with a chunk of bread and maybe some boiled meat. He only saw the hands of those delivering the meals. In the evening, one of the commissioners shouted into the cell for him to get up and show himself.
Marie-Thérèse heard of her brother’s treatment and was outraged. “They had the cruelty to leave my brother alone; unheard of barbarity which has surely no other example! That of abandoning a poor child, only eight years old, already ill, and keeping him locked and bolted in, with no succour but a bill, which he did not ring, so afraid was he of the persons it would; he preferred to want for all, rather than ask anything of his persecutors.”2 No provisions were made for sanitation, which quickly turned the room into an unhygienic mess. As time passed, Louis Charles became too withdrawn to care for himself or the room. Fleas came into his bed and caused sores all over his body. He spent hours curled up on the infested bed. His room became infested with rats and mics, and he sometimes left his meals out so the vermin would leave him alone.
On 9 May 1794, in the room above, Princess Elisabeth was taken from the Temple to the Conciergerie. She turned to Marie-Thérèse and told her “to have courage, to practise the good principles of religion given [her] by [her] parents, and to hope in God.”3 Marie-Thérèse was now totally alone as well, and she was devastated. Elisabeth was executed the following day. Marie-Thérèse was not told of the execution, and she remained oblivious to her mother’s death as well.
It was not until Paul Barras’s visit in July 1794 that Louis Charles’s room was finally cleaned, and he ordered a doctor for Louis Charles, though it is not certain if one actually came. However, within weeks, the room was back to the same filthy state as it had been before. A man named Jean-Jacques Laurent was appointed as his guardian. Marie-Thérèse was struck by his polite manner and was much relieved to see him appointed as her brother’s guardian. Laurent was horrified by Louis Charles’s condition. He was “an emaciated boy in great pain, his head and neck fretted with sores, his shoulders stooped, his limbs unusually long and thin, and blue and yellow tumours on his wrists and knees.”4 Nevertheless, it took until the end of August before something was finally done. Laurent himself bathed the boy carefully.
Laurent was still only allowed to enter the cell during mealtimes, so Louis Charles was still largely in solitary confinement, and he remained highly suspicious of his improved treatment. He also became almost entirely silent. By the end of the year, he was allowed to move around the prison, and he once left flowers in front of his mother’s former rooms. However, he was not allowed any contact with his sister. In May, Laurent was replaced by Étienne Lasne.
In May 1795, a doctor visited Louis Charles, and he recorded the shocking sight. He had “encountered a child who is mad, dying, a victim of the most abject misery and of the greatest abandonment, a being who has been brutalised by the cruellest of treatments and whom it is impossible for me to bring back to life… What a crime!”5 He continued to visit Louis Charles until his own death on 1 June. Louis Charles, terminally ill and distressed at the doctor’s death, was without medical care for almost another week. On 6 June, he was visited by surgeon-in-chief Philippe-Jean Pelletan, who tried to treat him as best he could. Louis Charles was taken to the keeper’s lodge, which overlooked the garden, for fresh air. Pelletan later reported, “Unfortunately, all assistance was too late… no hope was to be entertained.”6
In the evening of 7 June, Louis Charles’s condition suddenly deteriorated, and Pelletan found him very weak the following day. He wrote, “We found Capet’s son with a weak pulse and an abdomen distended and painful. During the night and again in the morning, he had several green and bilious evacuations. His condition appearing to us to be very serious, we have decided to see the child again this evening… It is essential to have an intelligent female nurse by his side.”7 That evening, he found Louis Charles in tears, desperately wanting to see his mother. In the afternoon of 8 June, Louis Charles slipped into unconsciousness. He began to have difficulty breathing, and Lasne tried to lift him up to help with his breathing. In the arms of Lasne, he breathed his last breath and went limp. King Louis XVII was no more – he was just ten years old.
His heart was removed during the autopsy, and he was buried in the Sainte Marguerite cemetery. His remains were not recovered after the revolution. The urn with his heart now rests near the tomb of his parents.
- The lost King of France by Deborah Cadbury p.134
- The lost King of France by Deborah Cadbury p.139
- The lost King of France by Deborah Cadbury p.143
- The lost King of France by Deborah Cadbury p.153
- The lost King of France by Deborah Cadbury p.160
- The lost King of France by Deborah Cadbury p.162
- The lost King of France by Deborah Cadbury p.163
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