Louis-Charles de France was born at the Palace of Versailles, the second son and third child of his parents, Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. He was named after his father and his mother's favourite sister Maria Carolina, Queen of Naples and Sicily, who was known as Charlotte in the family, Charles being the masculine version of her name. His younger sister, Sophie, was born a little over a year later. He became the Dauphin on the death of his elder brother, Louis-Joseph, on 4 June 1789.
As customary in royal families, Louis-Charles was cared for by multiple people. Queen Marie Antoinette appointed governesses to look after all three of her children. Louis-Charles' original governess was Yolande de Polastron, duchesse de Polignac, who left France on the night of 16–17 July 1789, at the outbreak of the Revolution, at the urging of Louis XVI. She was replaced by the marquise Louise Élisabeth de Tourzel. Additionally, the queen selected Agathe de Rambaud to be the official nurse of Louis-Charles. Alain Decaux wrote:
"Madame de Rambaud was officially in charge of the care of the Dauphin from the day of his birth until 10 August 1792; in other words, for seven years. During these seven years, she never left him, she cradled him, took care of him, dressed him, comforted him, and scolded him. Many times, more than Marie Antoinette, she was a true mother for him".
Some have suggested that Axel von Fersen, who was romantically linked with Marie Antoinette, was the father of her son. The fact that Louis Charles was born exactly nine months after he returned to court was noted, but this theory was debunked by most scholars, who reject it, observing that the time of his conception corresponded perfectly in the time that Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette had spent a lot of time together. Marie Antoinette, who gained massive weight because of her pregnancies, including this one (she was described as "very fat" by the king of Sweden), retained her charisma with an imposing figure in her court, where she had lot of admirers, but she remained a faithful, strong-willed wife and a stern but loving mother.
On 6 October 1789, the royal family was forced by a Parisian mob mostly composed of women to move from Versailles to the Tuileries Palace in Paris, where they spent the next three years as prisoners under the daily surveillance of the national guards who did not spare any humiliation to the royal family; at that time Marie Antoinette was always surrounded by guards, even in her bedroom at night and these guards were present when the Queen was allowed to see her children.
The family lived a secluded life, and Marie Antoinette dedicated most of her time to her two children under the daily surveillance of the national guards who kept her hands behind her back and searched everybody from the Queen to the children to see if any letters were smuggled to the royal prisoner. On 21 June 1791, the family tried to escape in what is known as the Flight to Varennes, but the attempt failed. After the family was recognized, they were brought back to Paris. When the Tuileries Palace was stormed by an armed mob on 10 August 1792, the royal family sought refuge at the Legislative Assembly.
On 13 August, the royal family was imprisoned in the tower of the Temple. At first, their conditions were not extremely harsh, but they were prisoners and were re-styled as "Capets" by the newborn Republic. On 11 December, at the beginning of his trial, Louis XVI was separated from his family.
At his birth, Louis-Charles, a Fils de France ("Son of France"), was given the title of Duke of Normandy, and, on 4 June 1789, when Louis Joseph, Dauphin of France, his elder brother, died, the four-year-old became Dauphin of France, title he held until September 1791, when France became a constitutional monarchy. Under the new constitution, the heir-apparent to the throne of France, formerly "Dauphin", was restyled Prince Royal. Louis-Charles held that title until the fall of the monarchy on 21 September 1792. At the death of his father on 21 January 1793, royalists and foreign powers intent on restoring the monarchy held him to be the new king of France, with the title of Louis XVII. From his exile in Hamm, in today's North Rhine-Westphalia, his uncle, the Count of Provence and future Louis XVIII, who had emigrated on 21 June 1791, appointed himself Regent for the young imprisoned king.
Prison and rumours of escape
1793: In care of Antoine Simon
Immediately following Louis XVI's execution, plots were hatched for the escape of the prisoners from the Temple, the chief of which were engineered by the
Chevalier de JarjayesBaron de Batz, and Lady Atkyns. All came to nothing.
On 3 July, Louis-Charles was separated from his mother and put in the care of Antoine Simon, a cobbler who had been named his guardian by the Committee of Public Safety and tasked to transform the former young prince into a staunch republican citizen.
The tales told by royalist writers of the cruelty inflicted by Simon and his wife on the child are not proven. Louis Charles' sister, Marie Therese, wrote in her memoires about the "monster Simon", as did Alcide Beauchesne. Antoine Simon's wife Marie-Jeanne, in fact, took great care of the child's person. Stories survive narrating how he was encouraged to eat and drink to excess and learned the language of the gutter. The foreign secretaries of England and Spain also heard accounts from their spies that the boy was raped by prostitutes in order to infect him with venereal diseases to supply the Commune with manufactured "evidence" against the Queen. However, the scenes related by
Alcide de Beauchesne of the physical martyrdom of the child are not supported by any testimony, though he was at this time seen by a great number of people.
On 6 October, Pache, Chaumette, Jacques Hébert and others visited him and secured his signature to charges of sexual molestation against his mother and his aunt. The next day he met with his elder sister Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte for the last time.
On 19 January 1794, the Simons left the Temple, after securing a receipt for the safe transfer of their ward, who was declared to be in good health. A large part of the Temple records from that time onward disappeared under the Bourbon Restoration, making knowledge of the facts impossible. Two days after the departure of the Simons, Louis-Charles 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 boy, who survived despite the accumulated filth of his surroundings.
Robespierre visited Marie-Thérèse on 11 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 (27 July 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 Louis-Charles was very strictly secluded; he had no special guardian, but was under the charge of guards who changed from day to day.
The boy made no complaint to Barras of any ill treatment. He was then cleaned and re-clothed. His room was cleaned, and during the day he was visited by his new attendant,
Jean Jacques Christophe Laurent (1770–1807), a creole from Martinique. From 8 November onward, Laurent had assistance from a man named Gomin.
Louis Charles by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun
Louis-Charles was then taken out for fresh air and walks on the roof of the Tower. From about the time of Gomin's arrival, he 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 was intended. From the end of October onward, the child maintained an obstinate silence, explained by Laurent as a determination taken on the day he made his deposition against his mother. On 19 December 1794 he was visited by three commissioners from the Committee of Public Safety —
J. B. Harmand de la Meuse, J. B. C. Mathieu and
J. Reverchon — who extracted no word from him.
On 31 March 1795,
Étienne Lasne was appointed to be the child's guardian in replacement of Laurent. In May 1795, the boy was seriously ill, and a doctor, P. J. Desault, who had visited him seven months earlier, was summoned. However, on 1 June, Desault died suddenly, not without suspicion of poison, and it was some days before doctors Philippe-Jean Pelletan and
Dumangin were called.
Louis-Charles died on 8 June 1795. The next day an autopsy was conducted by Pelletan, 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 infection of long standing. "Scrofula" as it was previously known, is nowadays called Tuberculous cervical lymphadenitis referring to a lymphadenitis (chronic lymph node swelling or infection) of the neck (cervical lymph nodes) lymph nodes associated with tuberculosis.
During the autopsy, the physician Dr. Pelletan was shocked to see the countless scars which covered the body of Louis-Charles. The scars were the result of the physical abuse the child suffered while imprisoned in the Temple.
Louis-Charles was buried on 10 June in the Sainte Marguerite cemetery, but no stone was erected to mark the spot. A skull was found there in 1846 and identified as his, though later re-examination in 1893 showed it to be from a teenager and therefore unlikely to be his.
Heart of Louis-Charles
Heart of Louis-Charles inside the crystal urn.
Following a tradition of preserving royal hearts, Louis-Charles's heart was removed and smuggled out during the autopsy by the overseeing physician, Philippe-Jean Pelletan. Thus, the heart of Louis-Charles was not interred with the rest of the body. Dr. Pelletan stored the smuggled heart in distilled wine in order to preserve it. However, after 8 to 10 years the distilled wine had evaporated, and the heart was further kept dry.
After the Restoration in 1815, Dr. Pelletan attempted to give the heart to Louis-Charles's uncle, Louis XVIII, however he refused because he could not bring himself to believe that was the heart of his nephew. Dr. Pelletan then donated the heart to the Archbishop of Paris, Hyacinthe-Louis de Quélen.
Following the Revolution of 1830, and the plundering of the palace, the son of Pelletan found the relic in the remnants of the palace and placed it in the crystal urn, in which it still resides today. After his death in 1879, Eduard Dumont received the heart.
In 1895, the nephew of the Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria-Este, Don Carlos de Bourbon, a pretender to the throne of Spain accepted the relic from a friend of Eduart Dumont, Paul Cottin. The relic was held near Vienna, Austria at the castle of Frohsdorf. The son of Carlos, Jaime, Duke of Madrid, in 1909 inherited the heart, and gave it to his sister, Beatriz.
Finally two granddaughters of Don Carlos offered the heart to the president of the Memorial of Saint-Denis in Paris, Duc de Bauffremont, where he put the heart and its crystal urn in the necropolis of the Kings of France, the burial place of Louis-Charles's parents and other members of the French royal family.
In December 1999, public notaries witnessed a section of the heart muscle of the aorta removed from the rest of the heart, and the transfer of the samples into a sealed envelope, and then the opening of the sealed envelope in the laboratory to be tested. Scientists using DNA samples from Queen Anne of Romania, and her brother Andre de Bourbon-Parme, maternal relatives of Louis XVII, thus proved the young royal's identity.
French Legitimists organized the heart's burial in the Basilica on 8 June 2004, next to the remains of Louis's parents. For the first time in over a century a royal ceremony took place in France, complete with the fleur-de-lis standard and a royal crown.