Louis-Joseph Xavier, Duc de Bourgogne

Louis-Joseph Xavier, duc de Bourgogne (Duke of Burgundy), was born on 13 September 1751 at the Palace of Versailles. His grandfather was Louis XV and his parents were the Dauphin Louis and Maria Josepha of Saxony. The Duke was also the older brother to three future kings: Louis XVI, Louis XVIII, and Charles X and was therefore the oldest in line to inherit the throne, which was probably one reason why he was the favorite of his parents.

duc de Bourgogne

Duc de Bourgogne by Jean-Marc Nattier in 1754. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Of the duc de Bourgogne, or as he was called “Burgundy,” author Shakibi Zhand wrote in his 2007 book titled Revolutions and the Collapse of Monarchy:

“The Duc de Bourgogne … in the eyes of many … was intelligent and strong-willed. Many believed he would an effective monarch. He was also arrogant and pretentious. Bourgogne kept a list of his more timid and quiet younger brother’s faults. He frequently read them to [duc de Berry, the future Louis XVI] who, with tears in his eyes, ‘Please, that fault I think I have corrected it.'”[1]

duc de Bourgogne - his brother, the future Louis XVI.

Oil on glass of the Duc de Berry attributed to Pierre Jouffroy. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

A fateful event happened in 1759 when the duc de Bourgogne injured his leg. There are at least two stories as to how the injury happened. One story is that he was of fiery and impetuous temperament when riding his wooden horse, a horse that traveled under the power of his attendants. One day when Burgundy was urging excessive speed by his “horse,” he was thrown pell-mell from the horse and flew against an open door that damaged his hip. A description of this accident stated:

“He had a wooden horse on wheels … in turning a corner in the apartments he went against a door which stood open, and the prince was so hurt in the hip-joint, that it was supposed luxation had been produced.”[2]

In the second version the duc de Bourgogne was pushed off his wooden horse by a playmate, and because he was a kind boy, he did not tell anyone he was hurt.

Regardless of which story is true, physicians were called to examine the duc de Bourgogne. From that point forward his health began to deteriorate rapidly until he was disabled. Because of his disability, Louis XV’s royal cabinetmaker, Jean-François Oeben, designed several pieces to make the boy’s life easier, and the pieces he designed gained the name of “Burgundy-style” after the boy who inspired them.

One Burgundy-style piece created by Oeben was a mechanized armchair, and another piece was a table with “geometric design influenced by classical Greek motifs.”[3] When the table was closed it looked like an ordinary chest with five drawers but it could be easily converted into a bookcase, prie-dieu (prayer stool), writing desk, or night table just by using cranks or adjusting the drawers, as shown in the picture below.

Burgundy-style Table, by Jean-François Oeben, Courtesy of © Musée du Louvre/Studio Sébert

As the duc de Bourgogne’s health worsened, doctors discussed what to do, but their discussions erupted into violent disagreements as each doctor had a different idea about how to best cure the boy’s problem. Later Laetitia Matilda Hawkins reported that one of the doctors tried to establish the exact problem and the following occurred:

“‘Gentlemen, I shall understand you better, if you speak one at a time, and divide yourselves; you who say the joint is dislocated pass on this side: you who think the contrary, take the other.’ When the limb was examined, those who held one opinion raised it towards the joint, and the prince felt no pain; but their opponents, in their turn, stretched the leg, and the sufferer cried out.”[4]

The doctors eventually reached a consensus and determined surgery was necessary. Fearing that the boy might die, he was baptized on 29 November 1760 just before the family doctor, Dr. Barbier, performed the operation while the Duke was awake and conscious. Unfortunately, the operation was not successful.

duc de Bourgogne

Duc de Bourgogne in 1760 by Jean-Martial Frédou. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

By 1761, the duc de Bourgogne was bedridden. He could not move his legs and was then diagnosed with extra pulmonary tuberculosis of the bone, a disease referred to today as Pott’s disease and results from haematogenous spread of tuberculosis from other sites, often the lungs. The Duke died that same year on the 21st of March, the same year that Jane Austen‘s cousin, Eliza de Feuillide, was born. 

duc de Bourgogne by Jean-Martial Frédou in 1761, Courtesy of the Palace of Versailles

Painting of the duc de Bourgogne by Jean-Martial Frédou in 1761. Courtesy of the Palace of Versailles.

The duc de Bourgogne’s parents had been particularly attached to him, and after his death they never got over the fact they had lost him. His death also meant that his younger borther, the duc de Berry, assumed his role as dauphin. Furthmore, the attachment by the duc de Bourgogne’s parents to him and their lack of attention towards the duc de Berry affected the future Louis XVI’s ability to rule.* Other reasons why the duc de Berry may have lacked confidence even after he became king can also be linked to his childhood as indicated:

“Unlike his other brothers Berry had inherited his father’s physique; he was chubby, lacked grace … and majesty … [He even] exhibited his infamous silence which would drive his ministers mad. … People openly said that whilst Artois [future Charles X) and Provence (future Louis XVIII] were gregarious and well spoken, Berry preferred to sit and listen. Unfortunately, for the boy, people, including his parents, took this silence as a sign of stupidity. His own father concluded that his son and heir was slow for his age. After a meeting with the dauphin’s family a contemporary wrote: ‘We noticed that of the three children of France, (Berry, Provence, and Artois) it is only Provence who showed spirit and a resolute style. M. de Berry was the eldest and the only one who appeared to be somewhat shy or embarrassed.”‘[5]

brothers to the Duc de Bourgogne

The young duc de Berry (right) with his younger brother, the comte de Provence. Portrait by François-Hubert Drouais, 1757. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

After the duc de Bourgogne died, news of his death was broadcast everywhere, including being reported in London. The Lord Chamberlains office then issued on 28 April that they should go into mourning on the 3rd of May for the dead Duke with “Ladies to wear Black Silk or Velvet, Coloured Ribbons, Fans and Tippets. The men to wear black full-trimmed, coloured Swords and Buckles.[6]

*Dauphin Louis died in 1765 of consumption and his wife died in 1767 of tuberculosis leaving the future Louis XVI an orphan.


  • [1] Shakibi, Zhand, Revolutions and the Collapse of the Monarchy, 2007, p. 58.
  • [2] Hawkins, Laetitia Matilda, Memoirs, Anecdotes, Facts, and Opinions, Volume 2, 1824. p. 182.
  • [3] “Cabinet with Mechanism,” on Louvre website
  • [4] Hawkins, Laetitia Matilda, p. 183.
  • [5] Shakibi, Zhand, p. 58-59.
  • [6] “Wednesday’s Post,” in The Ipswich Journal, 2 May 1761, p. 2.

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  1. Jane Darcy on September 11, 2016 at 6:22 am

    Any idea what his medical problems actually was and what killed him?

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