On this day: Adieu ma chère mère
|Louis-Charles, son of |
Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette
Take a steadying sip of your tea, mon ami.
Situate yourself comfortably, and let us begin...
Our unfortunate story opens in the Temple Prison on this day, the third of July, 1793. Dusk has fallen, wrapping the medieval fortress in a velvet blanket of darkness, and the fractured royal family (By this time, Louis XVI has already been executed), is about to begin their evening ritual of prayers and reading.
She does not take the news calmly. She stands at the foot of her son's bed, arms splayed, loudly, vehemently refusing to let anyone near the frightened boy. In this moment, she is not Marie Antoinete, former Queen of France and Navarre, but Marie Antoinette, the mother. A primal instinct to protect her threatened offspring is greater than any desire to appear dignified. The stand-off lasted nearly an hour.
Finally, one of the municipal officers threatens violence if she does not peacefully yield to the parting.
Can you see her in that moment? Perhaps she let her arms fall heavily to her sides. Maybe her shoulders slumped and her chin dropped to her chest in a posture of defeat. Her sense of hopeless must have hung thick and heavy in the air. It would have taken a hard-hearted individual to stand idly by and witness such an emotionally-charged scene.
Little Louis-Charles clung to his mother's neck and had to be pried free. They exchanged a tearful embrace and then...he was gone.
Marie Antoinette's son was taken to a room just below hers. For days, she could hear him weeping. Sometimes he would cry out for her. What must this have done to her psyche? What sort of wounds did this inflict to her tender heart?
Marie Antoinette had more than her son's physical safety to worry over. Louis-Charles was a sickly child, already showing signs that he suffered from a disease that had plagued the Bourbon Family for generations: tuberculosis. In fact, tuberculosis had already claimed the life of Marie Antoinette's first son, Louis-Joseph.
Will he be properly fed? Are his rooms sufficiently warm? Who will rock him and smooth his furrowed brow when those wretched coughs wrack his little body?
Louis-Charles was made a ward of the Republic and placed in the care of an illiterate shoemaker named Antoine Simon.
Once Marie Antoinette discovered that Simon took his young charge on daily walks around the prison yard, she climbed to the top of the tower just to catch a glimpse of him. Can you picture her atop the battlement, straining to make-out the expression on her son's face, to assure herself that he was as well as could be expected.
Shortly before her death, the queen heard a startling rumor that her son was being brain-washed to believe the Revolutionary doctrine.
After Marie Antoinette's execution, Louis-Charles would be kept in a squalid cell. Just before his death in 1795, the little prince was discovered in a semi-conscious state, lying on rancid mattress, covered in his own feces and filth.
Royalists charged that Simon and his wife abused and neglected Louis-Charles, whipping and torturing the child. Although there is no proof that Simon committed such atrocious acts, I believe Louis-Charles suffered greatly while in his care.
|Engraving of Antoine Simon whipping Louis-Charles. |
Madame Simon stands in the doorway, observing.
Did you know...
- Antoine Simon (Louis-Charles' keeper) raised the alarm on the night of the Royal Family's escape attempt - the ill-fated Flight to Varennes?
- Karma acted fairly in dealing with Antoine Simon. The illiterate shoemaker and ardent revolutionary was executed on July 28, 1794.
- Many believed that a band of royalists rescued Louis-Charles from prison. Rumors of daring escape attempts circulated through Europe for years. Several men stepped forward, claiming to be Louis-Charles, son of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. These claims caused Marie Antoinette's surviving daughter great pain.
- The question of Louis-Charles's fate was finally answered in 2000 when Philippe Delorme arranged for DNA testing on a heart believed to have been taken from the body of the boy who died in the Tower. The tests confirmed that Louis-Charles had died in prison. His heart and bones were interred in the Basilica on June 8, 2004.
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