Louis-Joseph Xavier, Duke of Burgundy (duc de Bourgogne), 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 why he was the favorite of his parents.
A fateful event happened in 1759 when the Duke or “Burgundy” as he was called, 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 it came to 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-joint. Another story is that he was pushed off his wooden horse by a playmate, and because Burgundy was a kind boy, he did not tell anyone he was hurt.
Despite which story is true, physicians were called to examined Burgundy. 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.” 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 at the left).
As Burgundy’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 Burgundy’s problem. Eventually, however, doctors reached a consensus and determined surgery was necessary. Fearing that Burgundy might die, he was baptized on 29 November 1760.
The family doctor named Dr. Barbier performed the operation while the young boy was conscious. Unfortunately, the operation was not successful, and, by 1761, Burgundy was bedridden, unable to move his legs, and diagnosed with extra pulmonary tuberculosis of the bone.
Burgundy died that same year on the 21st of March after having been diagnosed with extra pulmonary tuberculosis of the bone. His parents had been particularly attached to him, and his death was something that they — his father died in 1765 of consumption and his mother died in 1767 of tuberculosis — never got over. In fact, their attachment to Burgundy and their lack of attention towards their second son, Louis-Auguste, affected Louis-Auguste’s confidence and his ability to rule as Louis XVI.
- “Cabinet with Mechanism,” on Louvre website
- Hawkins, Laetitia Matilda, Memoirs, Anecdotes, Facts, and Opinions, Volume 2, 1824
- “Louis, Duke of Burgundy (1751-1761),” in Project Gutenberg
- Meves, Augustus, and William Meves, The Authentic Historical Memories of Louis Charles, Prince-royal, Dauphin of France, 1868
- Shakibi, Zhand, Revolutions and the Collapse of the Monarchy, 2007