Ask The History Doc: Louis XVII
Dear History Doctor:
I look on my list of French monarchs, I find Louis XVI and Louis XVIII,
but not Louis XVII. Don’t the French know how to count?
-----Not Mathematically Challenged
as one who definitely IS mathematically challenged, I believe I should
begin by congratulating you on your numerical abilities. To answer your
question directly, however, I must point out that yes, of course the
French know how to count, and that even in French 17 comes after 16.
turns out, though, that in terms of monarchs, numerical sequencing may
be partially a matter of one’s political viewpoint. In addition, "Louis
XVII" was the son of Louis XVI, and what really happened to him is
something of a mystery.
the story, you may recall that Louis XVI, along with his wife Marie
Antoinette, lost both throne and head in the French Revolution. Today
you may visit the Conciergerie and see the exact chamber where the
Queen was incarcerated before they forced her to face Mme Guillotine.
Louis XVI had already been executed by that time.
what happened to the children? There were two surviving offspring, a
girl ("Madame Royale") and a boy, young Louis, who was 8 at the time of
his father’s execution. It was, of course, not in the best interest of
the revolutionaries to allow them to survive. The fate of Madame Royale
is largely unknown. The young Dauphin, like his sister, seems to have
been passed around, rather from pillar to post, consigned to the unkind
care of various revolutionary figures from the time of his father’s
death. Cruelly, the children were not allowed any contact with each
Not surprisingly, the
Dauphin’s health deteriorated and he probably contracted tuberculosis.
As far as we know, he died suddenly in June 1795. This quick demise
provoked contrary rumors. One school of thought insisted he had been
poisoned and buried in the cemetery of Sainte-Marguerite. On the other
hand, rumors quickly began circulating to the effect that another
child’s body had been substituted for that of the Dauphin, and that
somehow Royalists had managed to smuggle him out of the country or to a
safe place inside France. Eventually some 30 young men emerged,
claiming to be the Dauphin. Even today, there are "sightings" of his
"descendants" in New Orleans!
he never actually assumed the throne, "Louis XVII" is usually not
counted in the list of rulers. Supporters of the concept of a French
Republic object to the idea that the Dauphin is entitled to a number.
Royalists, however, maintain that he automatically became king when his
father was executed. Skipping the number XVII appears to serve as a
compromise, although I will admit that it does seem confusing.
XVIII, who became ruler of France in 1814 after the defeat of Napoleon,
was the brother of Louis XVI. He survived by fleeing the ravages of the
Revolution and going into temporary exile in England.
fate of the young Dauphin was clarified in 2000, when DNA analysis did
seem to verify that the body in the cemetery was that of Louis XVI’s
heir. As Thirza Vallois points out in her book Romantic Paris, you may
visit the grave in the garden of the Church of Sainte-Marguerite.
Thirza Vallois, Romantic Paris, Interlink Books, 2003 (Try this for all sorts of interesting details about Paris.)
Church of Sainte-Marguerite, rue St. Bernard
Metro: Ledru Rollin. From the Metro, go east on Faubourg St. Antoine, turn left onto rue St. Bernard, continue north to church.
England Freeland is a now-retired professor of history presently living
on a real farm raising real fruit and veggies. After struggling to
learn French for four years, she has at last reached the point where,
whenever she visits Paris and actually speaks the
language, the natives no longer flee screaming. She considers this one of the major accomplishments of her life.