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Louis XVII of France

Category: Business and political leaders

Louis XVII (27 March 1785 – 8 June 1795), born Louis-Charles, was the younger son of King Louis XVI of France and Queen Marie Antoinette.  He died from tuberculosis aged 10 and our observation is of the experience he had as he was dying.


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.  At his birth, Louis-Charles, a Fils de France ("Son of France"), was given the title of Duke of Normandy.  He was largely cared for by a nurse until he was seven -  Agathe de Rambaud

Alain Decaux:

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

He became the Dauphin on the death of his elder brother, Louis-Joseph, on 4 June 1789 a little over a month before the start of the French Revolution, he was 4 years old.  

On his brother's death he became the heir-apparent to the throne, a title he would hold 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.

On 6 October 1789, the royal family was forced by a Parisian mob 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’. 

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, they were imprisoned in the tower of the Temple and were re-styled as "Capets" by the newborn Republic. On 11 December, at the beginning of his trial, Louis-Charles’s father Louis XVI was separated from his family.

When his father was executed on 21 January 1793, Louis-Charles was 8.  He became "King of France" in the eyes of the royalists. However, since France was by then a republic, and Louis XVII was imprisoned from August 1792 until his death from illness in 1795 at the age of 10, he never actually governed.

Immediately following Louis XVI's execution, plots were hatched for the escape of the prisoners from the Temple. All came to nothing.

On 3 July, Louis-Charles was separated from his family 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”.


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 19 January 1794, the Simons left their ward, after securing a receipt for his safe transfer to the Temple. 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.

No one, according to 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.  He was 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.

On 31 March 1795, Étienne Lasne was appointed to be the child's guardian replacing 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 then known, is nowadays called Tuberculous cervical lymphadenitis referring to chronic lymph node infection.

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.


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