The Sad Life of Louis-Charles

Born March 27, 1785 to King Louis XVI of France and Queen Marie Antoinette, Louis-Charles should have had a charmed life.  He was the second son and named the Duke of Normandy until the death of his older brother, upon which he became the Dauphin or heir to the throne.  Madame de Rambaud was his governess and she cared for him as if he were her own.  Although he had a governess, Louis-Charles was still close to his mother.  He was described as a bright, good looking child, “…his blue eyes, aquiline nose, elevated nostrils, well-defined mouth, pouting lips, chestnut hair parted in the middle and falling in thick curls on his shoulders, resembled his mother before her years of tears and torture. All the beauty of his race, by both descents, seemed to reappear in him.”  His life was set fair.  Then the revolution came.

The royal family was kept prisoner in the Tuileries Palace in Paris under close guard for three years.  His mother devoted her time to her children, but it was difficult.  For example, the guards insisted she keep her hands behind her back to make sure no letters were smuggled in or out to the prisoners.  They family tried to escape, but the attempt failed and a year later the Tuileries Palace was stormed by an armed mob.  The family fled for their lives and sought sanctuary at the Legislative Assembly.  They were then transferred to the tower of the Square du Temple, and Louis XVI was removed from the family for his trial and subsequent execution on September 21, 1792.

The rest of Europe hailed Louis-Charles as Louis XVII, and this did not make the revolutionaries happy.  After another failed escape attempt, they took young Louis away from his mother and put him in the care of a cobbler who had been named as his guardian by the Committee of Public Safety.  Antoine Simon was charged with turning young Louis into a productive citizen of the Republic.  His methods were nothing short of monstrous.  In fact, Louis’ sister, Marie Therese, called this man “monster Simon” in her memoirs.  Louis was only eight years old.

According to later reports, Louis was subject to cruel treatment by both Simon and his wife.  He was beaten and abused in countless ways.  The couple tried to induce him to deny the existence of God, and when he refused beat him brutally.  The taught him obscene songs and how to swear and forced him to do so on command.  There were also reports that he was shown pornography and raped by prostitutes to give him venereal diseases.  The eight year old child.  This breaks my heart both as a parent and a decent human being.  The couple then used the boy’s knowledge of all of this to fashion an accusation that Marie Antoinette had been molesting her son.  The boy signed, but it is little wonder.  Through it all, Louis is reported to have tried to have been a good child.  Simon wouldn’t even give him his own name, referring to him only as “Capet” one of his long dead ancestors.  This exchange was recorded after a regular beating.  “On one of these occasions, when the child had fallen half stunned upon his own miserable couch, and lay there groaning and faint with pain, Simon roared out with a laugh, “Suppose you were king, Capet, what would you do to me?” The child thought of his father’s dying words, and said, “I would forgive you.””   Item:  I am not that nice.  Not long after signing the declaration against his mother, the Simons blessedly left, but child was put in a dark room like an animal where food was pushed through the bars to him.

After six months of darkness, Louis was given some freedom.  They had ordered Louis to have a new attendant and be let out of the dark room.  He was still in prison, but was allowed to walk outside and a clean room and clothes.  A Dr. Desault came to treat Louis and found he no longer spoke.  Jean Jacques Christophe Laurent was put in charge of young Louis with the help of a man named Gomin.  Gomin attempted to be kind to Louis, but there was only so much he could do.  Eventually Louis began speaking to Gomin, and it was clear he was very ill.  A doctor was summoned and diagnosed tuberculosis as well as a severe case of scabies.  There was no way the weakened boy was going to survive.  Gomin stayed with his sad charge until the end.  He reported Louis heard voices, including his mother’s, comforting him until he died.  He states, “At a quarter past two he died …The poor little royal corpse was carried from the room … where he had suffered so long, – where for two years he had never ceased to suffer. From this apartment the father had gone to the scaffold, and thence the son must pass to the burial-ground.”

An autopsy was performed by Dr. Pelletan, head surgeon of the Grand Hospice de l’Humanite and he found his little body ridden with scars from his treatment at Temple prison.  He was buried in Sainte Marguerite cemetery, but minus his heart.  It was French tradition that the heart of the king be removed after death.  Dr. Pelletan secreted Louis’ heart away in a handkerchief and kept it a bottle of distilled wine.  The heart was passed around through the years, and was finally buried next to the remains of Louis’ parents in June 2004.  Hopefully, the little lad found peace.

ER