Removing the Dauphin From His Mother (Marie Antoinette)

Louis-Charles by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun in 1789
Louis-Charles at Age 4 Painted by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun in 1789. Public Domain.

After the royal family was imprisoned in the Temple, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette worried about their fate and worried that the Dauphin (Louis-Charles) might be taken from them. Louis-Charles was born 27 March 1785 at Versailles and was the second son of the King and Queen, but he became the Dauphin after his older brother died of tuberculosis. Louis-Charles was described by one historian as having large blue eyes, a mouth “like his mother’s, and … her bright colour of hair and skin.” He was said to be delicate in frame and excitable in temperament. He was 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.”

To ensure that Louis-Charles would not be taken, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette refused to let him be separated from them or go outdoors, even for a walk. Thus, his days at the Temple became routine and involved his father teaching him writing, history, mathematics, geography, and spelling until the Commune one day declared that the Dauphin could no longer study mathematics. It seems they thought that “this was a hieroglyphic language which might be used for correspondence in cipher.”

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

Another common routine for the Dauphin occurred in the evening and was reported by one nineteenth century historian:

“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.”

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.”

Soon after the removal of paper, pens, and ink, the royal family enjoyed their last meal as a family because on 21 January 1793, the Louis XVI was executed by guillotine.

The Dauphin, now called Louis XVII by royalists or “the son of Capet” by revolutionaries, became ill in early May of 1793 supposedly from want of exercise and from a lack of fresh air. 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 because they considered it “offensive to the equality [of other prisoners] to send any other to him.” Fortunately, the Dauphin seemed to recover, but from this point forward his health steadily declined.

During this time, persistent rumors swirled that the prisoners at the Temple were to be rescued. This was worrisome for revolutionaries because the believed that Royalists might use Louis XVII to help them regain control and reinstate the monarchy. The Committee of Public Safety believed the rumors, and finally decreed:

“[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.'”

The Dauphin Taken, Courtesy of Courtesy of Bibliothèque
The Dauphin Removed From His Mother. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

On the 3rd of July 1793, the Convention came to separate the Dauphin from his mother and carry out their decree. They had also ordered that the Dauphin 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 and ordered to hand over her child, she adamantly refused to do so. The dauphin was also distressed that he should be taken from his mother. 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.”

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 the Queen’s tenderness for her children “forced her to the sacrifice.”

What played out next was a sad, heart-wrenching scene. The Dauphin’s aunt and his sister prepared him for his departure as his mother could not. When he was ready to leave, his sister provided a description of the event writing:

“[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.”

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 he was in good health, 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 Dauphin occurred and, the Dauphin was reported to be seriously ill in May of 1795. Then on 8 June 1795, he died from a serious scrofulous infection.

References:

  • Bishop, Maria Catherine, The Prison Life of Marie Antoinette and Her Children, the Dauphin and the and the Duchesse d’Angouleme, 1893
  • de la Rocheterie, Maxime, The Life of Marie Antoinette, Volume 2, 1893
  • Tschudi, Clara, Marie Antoinette, 1902

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