The boy king who died for his father’s sins
On this date in 1795, France’s little-remembered Louis XVII is said to have died in a midievel fortress in Paris, a victim of the French Revolution that had earlier claimed his more famous parents, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
Born in March 1785, the young Louis was orphaned with the execution of his mother in October 1793, at the age of 8. His father, the King of France, had been guillotined nine months earlier.
Following his father’s death, the young Louis became the uncrowned King of France and Navarre in the eyes of the royalists. However, he was imprisoned from August 1792 until his death and was never officially crowned king.
His title is one bestowed by French Legitimists and by the fact that Louis XVIII, who ruled from 1814-1826, adopted the title Louis XVIII rather than Louis XVII.
The young Louis was the second-born son of Louis XVI but became heir-apparent when his older brother died in 1789, about the time the French Revolution erupted amid rising food prices food shortages, crushing national debt and a perceived indifference among the Royal Court to the welfare of the masses.
As conditions worsened, the royal family attempted to flee the turmoil.
In June 1791, a bid to escape failed and they were brought back to Paris. Two months later they were imprisoned in the tower of the Temple, a 13th century fortress.
At this point, Louis XVI was separated from the rest of his family. He was tried by the National Convention in December, found guilty of high treason and executed on Jan. 21, 1793.
It is unclear exactly what kind of conditions the young Louis was kept in while in lockup, but given the disdain with which proponents of the Revolution held the monarchy, they were likely not good.
So-called “Restoration historians” have said that Louis was put in a dark room which was barricaded like the cage of a wild animal. Food was supposedly passed through the bars to the child, who survived in spite of the accumulated filth of his surroundings.
He may have gone as a long as six months without a visitor by the middle of 1794 and there are accounts of him suffering from extreme neglect.
It is said that he was abused, beaten, often woken up in the night to deprive him of sleep and given alcohol to force him to accuse his mother and aunt of incest.
After the fall of Robespierre, the French people started to become concerned again with the fate of the young king and his sister, Marie Thérèse, who was kept in a separate room, according to the blog History and Other Thoughts.
By the middle of that year, conditions appear to have improved, but by May 1795, the child was seriously ill and doctors were summoned. He likely died sometime in early June 1795, at the age of 10.
His death was announced on June 8, 1795. An autopsy determined Louis died of a “scrofulous” infection – what we now know as tuberculosis.
He was buried two days later in the cemetery of Ste. Marguerite, but no stone was erected to mark the spot, likely to keep anti-Royalists from disinterring the body.
As is often the case with royalty who die in obscure circumstances, rumors arose quickly that Louis had eluded the grim reaper and been spirited away by sympathizers.
When the Bourbon monarchy was restored in following Napoleon’s initial abdication in 1814, hundreds of claimants came forward, and purported royal heirs continued to appear across Europe for decades afterward.
The matter was only officially put to rest a little more than a decade ago when in 2000 DNA testing of the heart believed to have belonged to the child who died in captivity was conducted.
Those tests proved that the heart was that of the young Louis. French Legitimists organized its burial in June 2004 in Paris’ Basilica of St. Denis, next to the remains of Louis’s parents, according to Reuters.
(Above: Louis XVII, left, with his mother Marie Antoinette and sister Marie Thérèse in prison.)