Louis-Charles Capet de Bourbon
, Born March 27, 1785
, Duke of Normandy
from January 21, 1793
his death on June 8, 1795
One of the many innocent victims of the Reign of Terror which devoured
the ideals of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité that the French Revolution
might have once stood for. The Revolution is many different things to many different people: the ending of an unjust system, a bloodbath posing as justice, national myth, cautionary tale, the beginning of decades of war. People get so caught up in the sweep of history, they forget that at the center of the maelstrom there was a small, miserable child.
Louis-Charles was the second son of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette
but became Dauphin when his brother died on June 4, 1788 from scoliosis.
As wretched state of the sans-cullottes (the impoverished majority
of the French population) blossomed into revolution, the King and Queen
were a very visible focus for the people's very real and very justified
anger. The monarchs' dissolute lifestyles didn't help matters much,
but the mob had plenty of anger to spare for their two surviving children, Louis-Charles and Marie-Therese-Charlotte.
After the storming of the Bastille, Jacobin party politicians were
only too happy to point to the monarchs as the cause of everything that
When a Paris food riot turned into a mob storming Versailles in
November of that year, Louis XVI decided to ride the tiger. The only
real popular hero left in the country, Lafayette, mollified the crowd,
and helped the royal family flee to the Tuileries palace in Paris.
Although this political move might have seemed a good idea at the time,
it put Louis's family in greater peril.
Eventually, another food riot overwhelmed the Tuileries, and the Royal
family was locked into Paris' Temple Prison. When the king was tried
and beheaded in early 1793, seven year old Louis-Charles was proclaimed
the rightful king by royalist factions (especially his cousin, the Duc
du Provence, a onetime Jacobin, who would later be Louis XVIII), and
his restoration was made the pretext for several European powers' attempt
to conquer France.
Louis-Charles' mother soon met her own fate, and the Dauphin was left
to his jailer, Antoine Simon.
The July 1794 overthrow of the Jacobins may have ended the Terror,
but the Dauphin and his sister were kept locked in the Temple prison. The
boy died of tuberculosis and malnourishment in 1795, having spent
his entire reign, and one-fourth his short life, in prison.
Sadly, more space is dedicated to promoting and debunking "Lost Dauphin"
theories than to poor Louis-Charles' life. There have been
any number of impostors claiming to be Dauphin, among them
During the 19th
and 20th centuries
rumors circulated about a living Dauphin:
the Dauphin was Louis-Pierre Louvel, 1820 assassin of the Duc du Berry.
the Dauphin fled to Haiti, presumably murdered by Jean-Jacques Dessalines'
bloody 1804 campaign.
the Dauphin fled to Auvergne where he worked as a laborer until he died
The end to speculation came from an ironic source: After the child died
in the Temple prison, an autopsy
was perfomed on the body. The
doctor who performed the autopsy helped himself to the boy's heart, preserving
it for posterity. This grisly souvenir
bounced around with
the doctor's family and several organizations until it wound up in the
Paris Medical College.
In 2000, DNA from the heart was compared with DNA from a lock of Marie
Antoinette's hair, proving it had come from her son. There may have
been some question as to the provenance of the heart, as it was found lying
in a Paris gutter after an attempted theft, but the DNA test made such
an argument pointless.