1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Louis XVII. of France
LOUIS XVII. (1785–1795?), titular king of France, second son of Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette, was born at Versailles on the 27th of March 1785, was christened the same day Louis Charles, and given the title of duke of Normandy. Louis Charles became dauphin on the death of his elder brother on the 4th of June 1789. It is only with his incarceration in the Temple on the 13th of August 1792, that his history, apart from that of his parents, becomes of interest. The royal party included, beside the king and queen, their daughter Marie Thérèse Charlotte (Madame Royale), the king’s sister Madame Élisabeth, the valet Cléry and others. The prisoners were lodged at first in the smaller Tower, but were removed to the larger Tower on the 27th of October. Louis Charles was then separated from his mother and aunt to be put in his father’s charge, except for a few hours daily, but was restored to the women when Louis was isolated from his family at the beginning of his trial in December.
On the 21st of January 1793 Louis became, for the royalists, king of France, and a week later the comte de Provence arrogated to himself the title of regent. From that moment began new plots for the escape of the prisoners from the Temple, the chief of which were engineered by the Chevalier de Jarjayes, the baron de Batz, and the faithful Lady Atkyns. On the 3rd of July the little dauphin was again separated from his mother, this time to be given into the keeping of the cobbler Antoine Simon who had been named his guardian by the Committee of General Security. The tales told by the royalist writers of the barbarous cruelty inflicted by Simon and his wife on the child are not proven. Marie Jeanne, in fact, took great care of the child’s person, and there is documentary evidence to prove that he had air and food. But the Simons were obviously grotesquely unfit guardians for a prince, and they doubtless caused much suffering to the impressionable child, who was made on occasion to eat and drink to excess, and learnt the language of the gutter. But the scenes related by A. de Beauchesne of the physical martyrdom of the child are not supported by any other testimony, though he was at this time seen by a great number of people. On the 6th of October Pache, Chaumette, Hébert and others visited him and secured from him admissions of infamous accusations against his mother, with his signature to a list of her alleged crimes since her entry in the Temple, and next day he was confronted with his sister Marie Thérèse for the last time.
Simon’s wife now fell ill, and on the 19th of January 1794 the Simons left the Temple, after securing a receipt for the safe transfer of their prisoner, who was declared to be in good health. A large part of the Temple records from that time onwards were destroyed under the Restoration, so that exact knowledge of the facts is practically impossible. Two days after the departure of the Simons the prisoner is said by the Restoration historians to have been put in a dark room which was barricaded like the cage of a wild animal. The story runs that food was passed through the bars to the child, who survived in spite of the accumulated filth of his surroundings. Robespierre visited Marie Thérèse on the 11th of May, but no one, according to the legend, entered the dauphin’s room for six months until Barras visited the prison after the 9th Thermidor (July 27, 1794). Barras’s account of the visit describes the child as suffering from extreme neglect, but conveys no idea of the alleged walling in. It is nevertheless certain that during the first half of 1794 he was very strictly secluded; he had no special guardian, but was under the charge of guards changed from day to day. The child made no complaint to Barras of his treatment, probably because he feared to do so. He was then cleansed and re-clothed, his room cleaned, and during the day he was visited by his new attendant, a creole and a compatriot of Joséphine de Beauharnais, named Jean Jacques Christophe Laurent (1770–1807), who had from the 8th of November onwards assistance for his charge from a man named Gomin. The child was now taken out to walk on the roof of the Tower. From about the time of Gomin’s entrance the prisoner was inspected, not by delegates of the Commune, but by representatives of the civil committee of the 48 sections of Paris. The rare recurrence of the same inspectors would obviously facilitate fraud, if any such were intended. From the end of October onwards the child maintained an obstinate silence, explained by Laurent as a determination taken on the day he made his deposition against his mother. On the 19th of December 1794 he was visited by three commissioners from the Committee of General Security—J. B. Harmand de la Meuse, J. B. C. Mathieu and J. Reverchon—who extracted no word from him. On Laurent’s retirement Étienne Lasne was appointed on the 31st of March 1795 to be the child’s guardian. In May 1795 the prisoner was seriously ill, and a doctor, P. J. Desault, well acquainted with the dauphin, having visited him seven months earlier, was summoned. Desault died suddenly, not without suspicion of poison, on the 1st of June, and it was some days before doctors Pelletan and Dumangin were called. Then it was announced that on the 8th Louis Charles died. Next day an autopsy was held at which it was stated that a child apparently about ten years of age, “which the commissioners told us was the late Louis Capet’s son,” had died of a scrofulous affection of long standing. He was buried on the 10th in the cemetery of Ste Marguerite, but no stone was erected to mark the spot.
The weak parts of this story are the sudden and unexplained departure of the Simons; the subsequent useless cruelty of treating the child like a wild beast and keeping him in a dark room practically out of sight (unless any doubt of his identity was possible), while his sister was in comparative comfort; the cause of death, declared to be of long standing, but in fact developed with such rapidity; the insufficient excuse provided for the child’s muteness under Gomin’s régime (he had answered Barras) and the irregularities in the formalities in attending the death and the funeral, when a simple identification of the body by Marie Thérèse would have prevented any question of resuscitated dauphins. Both Barras and Harmand de la Meuse are said to have given leave for the brother and sister to see each other, but the meeting was never permitted. The argument from the sudden disappearance of persons in a position to know something of the truth is of a less convincing character. It may be noted that the more famous of the persons alleged by partisans of subsequent pretenders to have been hustled out of the world for their connexion with the secret are the empress Joséphine, the duc d’Enghien and the duc de Berri.
Immediately on the announcement of the dauphin’s death there arose a rumour that he had escaped. Simien-Despréaux, one of Louis XVIII.’s own authors, stated at a later period (1814) that Louis XVII. was living and that among the signatories of the treaty of April 13th were some who possessed proofs of his existence; and Eckard, one of the mainstays of the official account, left among his unpublished papers a statement that many members of “an assembly of our wise men” obstinately named Louis XVII. as the prince whom their wishes demanded. Unfortunately the removal of the child suited the plans of the comte de Provence (now Louis XVIII. for the émigrés) as well as it suited the revolutionary government, and no serious attempt was made by the royal family to ascertain the truth, though they paid none of the tributes to the memory of the dead king which might reasonably have been expected, had they been convinced of his death. Even his sister wore no mourning for him until she arrived at Vienna and saw that this was expected of her. In spite of the massive literature which has accumulated on the subject, neither his death in the Temple nor his escape therefrom has been definitely established, though a very strong presumption is established in favour of the latter.
Some forty candidates for his honours were forthcoming under the Restoration. The most important of these pretenders were Karl Wilhelm Naundorff and the comte de Richemont. Naundorff’s story rested on a series of complicated intrigues. According to him Barras determined to save the dauphin in order to please Joséphine Beauharnais, the future empress, having conceived the idea of using the dauphin’s existence as a means of dominating the comte de Provence in the event of a restoration. The dauphin was concealed in the fourth storey of the Tower, a wooden figure being substituted for him. Laurent, to protect himself from the consequences of the substitution, replaced the wooden figure by a deaf mute, who was presently exchanged for the scrofulous child of the death certificate. The deaf mute was also concealed in the Temple. It was not the dead child, but the dauphin who left the prison in the coffin, whence he was extracted by his friends on the way to the cemetery. Richemont’s tale that the woman Simon, who was genuinely attached to him, smuggled him out in a basket, is simple and more credible, and does not necessarily invalidate the story of the subsequent operations with the deaf mute and the scrofulous patient, Laurent in that case being deceived from the beginning, but it renders them extremely unlikely. A third pretender, Eleazar Williams, did not affect to know anything of his escape. He possessed, he said, no consciousness of his early years, only emerging from idiocy at the age of thirteen, when he was living with an Indian family in New York State. He was a missionary to the Indians when the prince de Joinville, son of Louis Philippe, met him, and after some conversation asked him to sign a document abdicating his rights in favour of Louis Philippe, in return for which he, the dauphin (alias Eleazar Williams), was to receive the private inheritance which was his. This Eleazar refused to do. The wildness of this tale refutes itself.
Richemont (Henri Ethelbert Louis Victor Hébert) was in prison in Milan for seven years and began to put forward his claims in Paris in 1828. In 1833 he was again arrested, was brought to trial in the following year and was condemned to twelve years’ imprisonment. He escaped after a few months and left the country, to return in 1840. He died at Gleize on the 10th of August 1853, the name of Louis Charles de France being inscribed on his tomb until the government ordered its removal.
Naundorff, or Naündorff, who had arrived from nowhere in Berlin in 1810, with papers giving the name Karl Wilhelm Naundorff, in order to escape the persecutions of which he declared himself the object, settled at Spandau in 1812 as a clockmaker, and married in 1818 Johanna Einert. In 1822 he removed to Brandenburg, and in 1828 to Crossen, near Frankfort. He was imprisoned from 1825 to 1828 for coining, though apparently on insufficient evidence, and in 1833 came to push his claims in Paris, where he was recognized as the dauphin by many persons formerly connected with the court of Louis XVI. Expelled from France in 1836, the day after bringing a suit against the duchess of Angoulême for the restitution of the dauphin’s private property, he lived in exile till his death at Delft on the 10th of August 1845, and his tomb was inscribed “Louis XVII., roi de France et de Navarre (Charles Louis, duc de Normandie).” The Dutch authorities who had inscribed on his death certificate the name of Charles Louis de Bourbon, duc de Normandie (Louis XVII.) permitted his son to bear the name de Bourbon, and when the family appealed in 1850–1851, and again in 1874, for the restitution of their civil rights as heirs of Louis XVI. no less an advocate than Jules Favre pleaded their cause. Of all the pretenders Naundorff has the best case. He was certainly not the Jew of Prussian Poland which his enemies declared him to be, and he has to this day a circle of devoted adherents. Since he was sincerely convinced of his own rights, it is surprising that he put forward no claim in 1814.
If the dauphin did escape, it seems probable that he perished shortly afterwards or lived in a safe obscurity. The account of the substitution in the Temple is well substantiated, even to the names of the substitutes. The curious imbroglio deceived royalists and republicans alike. Lady Atkyns was trying by every possible means to get the dauphin out of his prison when he was apparently already in safe hands, if not outside the Temple walls. A child was in fact delivered to her agents, but he was a deaf mute. That there was fraud, and complicated fraud, in the guardians of the dauphin may be taken as proved by a succession of writers from 1850 onwards, and more recently by Frédéric Barbey, who wisely attempts no ultimate solution. When the partisans of Richemont or Naundorff come to the post-Temple careers of their heroes, they become in most cases so uncritical as to be unconvincing.
dévoilées ou Louis XVII. ... (3 vols., Rotterdam, 1846–1848); O. Friedrichs, Correspondance intime et inédite de Louis XVII. (Naündorff) 1834–1838 (2 vols., 1904); Plaidoirie de Jules Favre devant la cour d’appel de Paris pour les héritiers de feu Charles-Guillaume Naündorff (1874); H. Provins, Le Dernier roi légitime de France (2 vols., the first of which consists of destructive criticism of Beauchesne and his followers, 1889); A. Lanne, “Louis XVII. et le secret de la Révolution,” Bulletin mensuel (1893 et seq.) of the Société des études sur la question Louis XVII., also La Légitimité (Bordeaux, Toulouse, 1883–1898). See further the article “Naündorff” in M. Tourneux, Bibl. de la ville de Paris pendant la Révolution, vol. iv. (1906).Williams.—J. H. Hanson, The Lost Prince: Facts tending to prove the Identity of Louis XVII. of France and the Rev. Eleazer Williams (London and New York, 1854).
- F. A. Regnier de Jarjayes (1745–1822). See P. Gaulot, Un Complot sous la Terreur.
- Jean, baron de Batz (1761–1822), attempted to carry off the dauphin in 1794. See G. Lenôtre, Un Conspirateur royaliste pendant la Terreur, le baron de Batz (1896).
- Charlotte Walpole (c. 1785–1836), an English actress who married in 1779 Sir Edward Atkyns, and spent most of her life in France. She expended large sums in trying to secure the escape of the prisoners of the Temple. See F. Barbey, A Friend of Marie Antoinette (Eng. ed. 1906).
- Antoine Simon (1736–1794) married Marie Jeanne Aladame, and belonged to the section of the Cordeliers. They owed their position to Anaxagoras Chaumette, procureur of the Commune, and to the fact that Simon had prevented one of the attempts of the baron de Batz. Simon was sent to the guillotine with Robespierre in 1794, and two years later Marie Jeanne entered a hospital for incurables in the rue de Sèvres, where she constantly affirmed the dauphin’s escape. She was secretly visited after the Restoration by the duchess of Angoulême. On the 16th of November 1816, she was interrogated by the police, who frightened her into silence about the supposed substitution of another child for the dauphin. She died in 1819. See G. Lenôtre, Vieilles maisons, vieux papiers (2nd series, 1903).
- In a bulletin dated May 17–24, Paris, and enclosed by Francis Drake (June 17, 1794) at Milan to Lord Grenville, it is stated (Hist. MSS. Comm. Fortescue Papers at Dropmore, vol. ii. 576-577) that Robespierre in the night of 23–24 May fetched the king (the dauphin) from the Temple and took him to Meudon. “The fact is certain, although only known to the Committee of Public Safety. It is said to be ascertained that he was brought back to the Temple the night of 24–25th, and that this was a test to assure the ease of seizing him.” This police report at least serves to show the kind of rumour then current.