Louis-Charles Capet de Bourbon, Born March 27, 1785, Duke of Normandy, titular King of France and Navarre from January 21, 1793 until his death on June 8, 1795.

One of the many innocent victims of the Reign of Terror which devoured the ideals of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité that the French Revolution might have once stood for. The Revolution is many different things to many different people: the ending of an unjust system, a bloodbath posing as justice, national myth, cautionary tale, the beginning of decades of war. People get so caught up in the sweep of history, they forget that at the center of the maelstrom there was a small, miserable child.

Louis-Charles was the second son of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette but became Dauphin when his brother died on June 4, 1788 from scoliosis.

As wretched state of the sans-cullottes (the impoverished majority of the French population) blossomed into revolution, the King and Queen were a very visible focus for the people's very real and very justified anger.  The monarchs' dissolute lifestyles didn't help matters much, but the mob had plenty of anger to spare for their two surviving children, Louis-Charles and Marie-Therese-Charlotte.

After the storming of the Bastille, Jacobin party politicians were only too happy to point to the monarchs as the cause of everything that was wrong.

When a Paris food riot turned into a mob storming Versailles in November of that year, Louis XVI decided to ride the tiger. The only real popular hero left in the country, Lafayette, mollified the crowd, and helped the royal family flee to the Tuileries palace in Paris.  Although this political move might have seemed a good idea at the time, it put Louis's family in greater peril.

Eventually, another food riot overwhelmed the Tuileries, and the Royal family was locked into Paris' Temple Prison. When the king was tried and beheaded in early 1793, seven year old Louis-Charles was proclaimed the rightful king by royalist factions (especially his cousin, the Duc du Provence, a onetime Jacobin, who would later be Louis XVIII), and his restoration was made the pretext for several European powers' attempt to conquer France.

Louis-Charles' mother soon met her own fate, and the Dauphin was left to his jailer, Antoine Simon.

The July 1794 overthrow of the Jacobins may have ended the Terror, but the Dauphin and his sister were kept locked in the Temple prison. The boy died of tuberculosis and malnourishment in 1795, having spent his entire reign, and one-fourth his short life, in prison.

Sadly, more space is dedicated to promoting and debunking "Lost Dauphin" theories than to poor Louis-Charles' life.   There have been any number of impostors claiming to be Dauphin, among them

During the 19th and 20th centuries, other rumors circulated about a living Dauphin:
  • the Dauphin was Louis-Pierre Louvel, 1820 assassin of the Duc du Berry.
  • the Dauphin fled to Haiti, presumably murdered by Jean-Jacques Dessalines' bloody 1804 campaign.
  • the Dauphin fled to Auvergne where he worked as a laborer until he died in 1873.
The end to speculation came from an ironic source: After the child died in the Temple prison, an autopsy was perfomed on the body.  The doctor who performed the autopsy helped himself to the boy's heart, preserving it for posterity.   This grisly souvenir bounced around with the doctor's family and several organizations until it wound up in the Paris Medical College.

In 2000, DNA from the heart was compared with DNA from a lock of Marie Antoinette's hair, proving it had come from her son.  There may have been some question as to the provenance of the heart, as it was found lying in a Paris gutter after an attempted theft, but the DNA test made such an argument pointless.

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