Removing the Dauphin From His Mother (Marie Antoinette)

After the royal family was imprisoned in the Temple, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette worried about their fate. They also worried worried that Louis-Charles might be taken from them. That was because although he was the second son of the King and Queen he became the Dauphin after his older brother Louis-Joseph died of tuberculosis. Louis-Charles had been born 27 March 1785 at Versailles and was described by one historian as having large blue eyes, a mouth “like his mother’s, and … her bright colour of hair and skin.”[1] He was reportedly delicate in frame and excitable in temperament and also described in the following way:

“[Louis-Charles was] courteous and affectionate, but impatient of control. His mother’s intelligent devotion earned from him, baby as he was, a love and respect which never failed to influence him.”[2]

Louis-Charles by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun in 1789

Louis-Charles at age 4 painted by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun in 1789. Public domain.

To ensure that the Dauphin would not be taken, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette refused to let him be separated from them. He could not even go outdoors for a walk. Thus, his days at the Temple became routine and predictable.

Each day his father taught him writing, history, geography, and spelling. He was also taught mathematics until one day it was declared that he could no longer study the subject because it seems the Commune thought that “this was a hieroglyphic language which might be used for correspondence in cipher.”[3] Another common routine occurred in the evening:

“At eight o’clock, the dauphin ate his supper and went to bed; it was always his mother who heard him say his prayers. The child never failed to add special petitions [one for his governess and the other for the Princesse de Lamballe] … and when the municipal guards were there, he said these two prayers in a low voice.”[4]

Louis-Charles in Prayer, Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France

Louis-Charles in prayer. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Things continued to worsen for those imprisoned at the Temple, until at last the Commune issued the following decree:

“[A]ll paper, ink, pens, pencils, and even written papers be taken from the person and from the rooms of the prisoners, and also from the valet de chambre and others in service at the towers.”[5]

Soon after the removal of paper, pens, and ink, the royal family enjoyed their last meal as a family because in December Louis XVI was removed and then guillotined on 21 January 1793. The Dauphin, now called Louis XVII by royalists and “the son of Capet” by revolutionaries, became ill in early May of 1793. His poor health was attributed to a lack of fresh air and  “want of exercise.” In addition, he complained of pain in his side and displayed a fever and headache.

The Queen requested a doctor, but the Commune decided that the physician of prisoners, Marc-Antoine Thierry de Ville-d’Avray, should see him. That was because they considered it “offensive to the equality [of other prisoners] to send any other [doctor].”[6] Fortunately, the Dauphin seemed to recover, but from this point forward his health steadily declined.

Persistent rumors also began swirl about this same time that the prisoners at the Temple were to be rescued. This was worrisome for revolutionaries because they believed if the Royal Family was freed Royalists might use Louis XVII to help them regain control and reinstate the monarchy. This resulted in the Committee of Public Safety finally decreeing:

“[T]he young Louis, son of Capet, ‘should be separated from his mother, and placed in another apartment, the best guarded of all in the temple,’ and also ‘that the son of Capet, when separated from his mother, should be put in charge of a tutor to be chosen by the General Council of the Commune.'”[7]

On the 3rd of July 1793, the Convention gave their orders, which meant removing the Dauphin from his mother. They had also ordered that the boy was to be placed in the apartment considered to be the most secure in the Tower. However, when Marie Antoinette was informed of their decision she adamantly refused to hand him over. The dauphin was so distressed he cried, he kicked, he screamed. Then, according to his sister:

“[He then] threw himself into my mother’s arms, and with violent cries entreated not to be parted from her. My mother would not let her son go and she actually defended against the efforts of the officers.”[8]

The guards were insistent that the Dauphin must leave. They repeated their orders but as Marie Antoinette would not willingly comply, they finally threatened violence. The Queen declared that they would have to kill her before she would obey. So, the guards then threatened to kill them all, and it was reported that the Queen’s tenderness for her children “forced her to the sacrifice.”[9]

The Dauphin Taken, Courtesy of Courtesy of Bibliothèque

The dauphin removed from his mother. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

What played out next was a sad, heart-wrenching scene. Marie Antoinette was so distraught she could not prepare him for his departure and so his aunt, Madame Élisabeth, and his sister did so. When he was ready to leave, his sister provided a description of the sad event:

“[My mother] took him up in her arms and delivered him herself to the officers, bathing him with her tears, foreseeing that she was never to behold him again. The poor little fellow embraced us all tenderly, and was carried away in a flood of tears. My mother’s horror was extreme.”[10]

The Dauphin was cared for by a guardian appointed by the Committee of Public safety. He was a cobbler named Antoine Simon. Royalists alleged Simon treated the boy horribly. There were also stories of abuse and claims that the Dauphin was purposely infected with a venereal disease.

In early January of 1794, physicians reported the Dauphin was good health, but if it was true it did not last long. Reputedly, around this same time, the Dauphin was imprisoned in a dark room like a wild animal and his food was passed through bars. Little interaction with the boy occurred thereafter and he was reportedly to be seriously ill in May of 1795. Less than a month later on 8 June 1795, he died from a serious scrofulous infection. To learn more about his short life, click here.

References:

  • [1] Bishop, Maria Catherine, The Prison Life of Marie Antoinette and Her Children, the Dauphin and the and the Duchesse d’Angouleme, 1893, p. 127.
  • [2] Ibid., p. 127.
  • [3] de la Rocheterie, Maxime, The Life of Marie Antoinette, Volume 2, 1893, p. 290.
  • [4] Ibid., p. 288-289.
  • [5] Ibid., p. 295.
  • [6] Bishop, Maria Catherine, p. 138.
  • [7] de la Rocheterie, Maxime, p. 333.
  • [8] Campan, Jeanne-Louise-Henriette, Madame, The Private Life of Marie Antoinette, 1883 p. 327.
  • [9] Ibid.
  • [10] Ibid.

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