Friday, 27 November 2020

Bébé - in images

Paintings and Drawings 

Although there are a number of different  depictions of Bébé, the only definite portrait from life is this oil by Jean Girardet, Stanislas's Court painter.  Sadly, the picture was destroyed in the 2003 fire at Lunéville and is now known only from postcards.  There are also several copies, including one at Lunéville by Girardet's pupil Dominique Pergaut, which survived the fire though it sustained some damage.  The Musée Lorrain has a pastel version by Stanislas himself, which shows Bébé in a light blue coat.

The portrait clearly shows Nicolas Ferry's characteristic long nose and small mouth.

Here is a nice copy, with clothes in the original colours, which recently appeared at auction:

Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Nicolas Ferry, the dwarf Bébé

Among the more disturbing items in the collection of the Musée de l'Homme in Paris is this sad little skeleton, the mortal remains of  "Bébé", the famous dwarf of Stanislas, duke of Lorraine.  Dwarfs had once been a familiar fixture of court life throughout Europe, but by the early 18th-century they had all but disappeared from Western Europe; in France the official position of "court dwarf" was suppressed  in 1642 after the death of Anne of Austria's dwarf Balthazar Pinson.   Bébé,  at Lunéville, the glitttering intellectual hub created by Stanislas, thus excited unprecedent interest.  His life illustrates the transition from a Renaissance world of courtiers and curiosities into the bright new era of Enlightenment science.

Thursday, 19 November 2020

Bonnet on the afterlife


Juel Jens, Portrait of Charles Bonnet  Oil. 1777
Bibliothèque de Genève

In the 18th-century, perhaps for the first time in human history, thinking men confronted the prospect of death and personal annihilation without illusion.  In this striking portrait of 1777 by the Danish artist Juel Jens  the naturalist Charles Bonnet is captured in just such a moment of solemn reflection;  Bonnet  reports that Jens depicted him "mediating on the future restoration and perfection of living beings". The Bible before him is open at  First Corinthians 15:36: "That which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die - O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?". The inscription reads "CHARLES BONNET, born in Geneva, 13th March 1720. FUTURI SPES VIRTUTEM ALIT ("The hope of the future sustains virtue")

Saturday, 31 October 2020

Vampires and Freethinkers

But I require unprejudiced witnesses, free from terror and disinterested, quite calm, who can affirm upon serious reflection, that they have seen, heard, and interrogated these vampires, and who have been the witnesses of their operations; and I am persuaded that no such witness will be found.
Dom Calmet  

"Either these vampires go out to suck or they do not"
Marquis d'Argens 

What! is it in our eighteenth century that vampires exist? Is it after the reigns of Locke, Shaftesbury, Trenchard, and Collins? Is it under those of d’Alembert, Diderot, St. Lambert, and Duclos that we believe in vampires,and that the reverend father Dom Calmet, Benedictine priest of the congregation of St. Vannes, and St. Hidulphe, abbé of Senon—an abbey of a hundred thousand livres a year, in the neighbourhood of two other abbeys of the same revenue—has printed and reprinted the history of vampires, with the approbation of the Sorbonne?

A Natural Explanation?

Protestants and Freethinkers 

In the 1730s debate on vampires took place predominantly in Germany; centred mainly on the Plogojowitz and Medwegya cases. Protestant commentators, hostile to the miraculous,  readily  sought a rational explanation.  Their conclusions were relayed by uncensored French language periodical press in Holland, which tended to present them with a provocatively anti-Christian (or at least anti-Catholic) gloss. Thus in March 1732  Le Glaneur invites  physicians, who  have already furnished explanations for the Jansenist convulsionaries in Paris, to communicate their reflections. An essay from a correspondent duly appeared in No ix for 23rd April 1732.  In 1738 the marquis d'Argens, inveterate sceptic and freethinker, weighed in the Lettres Juives. This was an altogether more widely distributed publication.

Friday, 30 October 2020

Dom Calmet's Vampires

Here is a suitable book for Halloween - the famous compendium on Apparitions and Vampires by the learned Benedictine scholar Dom Augustin Calmet.   If not quite a bestseller, this volume featured in  many a well-appointed eighteenth-century library.  The first edition, published in 1746, was rapidly sold out and a second edition, with considerable additions and corrections, appeared in 1749.  In 1751 de Bure produced a definitive third edition.  There was also a further fourth edition, and translations into German,  Italian and English.  The work brought to the men of the Enlightenment, for the first time in accessible format, details of the weird and wonderful world of the vampire.

Sunday, 27 September 2020

A Radical deputy - Thyrus de Pautrizel

Here are a few biographical notes concerning one of the lesser known of David's prison companions, the deputy Jean-Baptiste Gabriel-Louis Thyrus de Pautrizel (1754-1836) who came from Guadeloupe.  It feels a bit random to write about one Revolutionary among so many, but David's portrait brings this man suddenly closer.  Like most of the radicals, his record proves deeply ambivalent.

What follows is mostly taken from a well-researched article by Pierre Bardin posted on the website Généalogie et Histoire de la Caraïbe.  The colonial background adds an extra dimension to Pautrizel's story.   

Sunday, 20 September 2020

David's fellow prisoners

Here, collected from different websites, are images of David's medallion portraits depicting the former Montagnard deputies who were imprisoned with him in the Collège des Quatre-Nations after the insurrection of Prairial  (28th May 1795.) 

According to Louis-Antoine Prat there are now nine known portraits, five in public galleries, four in private collections.  Clearly they are intended as part of a series: they are uniform in format: circular, of similar size (c.18-19 cm) and executed in  pen and ink with wash. 

At one level these are very immediate works.   In his first period of imprisonment David had felt himself isolated but this time he was thrown together with his companions. At Quatre-Nations the deputies were segregated from other prisoner and detained in makeshift cells around the third, innermost courtyard of the building. They shared a kitchen, and were allowed to gather and talk in the courtyard, also to receive visitors. Much of their time was spent in writing personal defences for publication. The inscription on the portrait of Jeanbon Saint-André notes that it was "a gift of friendship", drawn "in chains", implying that  David sketched it there and then in prison .The Jeanbon Saint-André, the Bernard de Saintes, and the "Zurich" portrait have exact dates, 8th 24th and 16th July respectively (David was released on 3rd August).   Other portraits have have a background of bricks which suggest a prison wall.

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

David's gaoler

? David, Portrait of an unknown man, presumed to be his gaoler, c.1794
1794 Oil on canvas. 
55.5cm x 46cm 

This striking portrait attributed to David is to be found in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rouen.

A modern label on the back states that it was painted by David in prison and that the subject was "his gaoler". According to this note, the picture was the possession of  the gaoler's son, a retired military officer living in Compiègne, who gave it as a token to gratitude to his doctor, a certain Josset (sometime given as Gosset).  The  museum acquired the painting  in 1931 when it was sold by one of the doctor's descendants.

Saturday, 12 September 2020

David - the final portrait

Jérôme-Martin Langlois, Portrait of David, 88cm x 74.5cm Louvre
This reproduction:

I am posting this portrait of David by Langlois for no better reason than that it is the last image from life of one of the world's great artists -  but also simply because it is such a beautiful painting.   I have known old people whose skin becomes perfect and fragile-looking in just this way; and whose shrunken bodies seem too small for their enveloping clothes as does David's in his favourite frockcoat.

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Early portraits of David

Antoine Gros, portrait of David, c.1790, Oil on canvas 63cm x 52cm, Pushkin Museum Moscow.,_Pushkin_museum).jpg

This portrait in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow represents one of the earliest images of David.  It has been reproduced on the internet for quite a while, but was only uploaded to Wikimedia in this bright high-quality version in 2014.  I love the wig and the dusty coat with its dishevelled collar. It seems that, even by 1790, the Revolution had not yet blown away conventional habits of dress in the artist's studio. 


Thursday, 30 July 2020

The "hideous wen" of Jacques-Louis David

Here is another famous medical affliction, the growth which disfigured the face of the painter Jacques-Louis David. 

Maquette of a posthumous bust of David by François Rude, 22.5 cm.
 High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchased in 2013

As a student, probably in 1773-4, David was involved in a fencing accident.  His opponent's foil pieced his left cheek which began gradually to swell:  as a result his face became asymmetrical, his mouth was pulled out of shape and  his speech, which was already affected by a speech impediment, became embarrassingly distorted. 

Sunday, 26 July 2020

The blood of Marat

I can't believe I managed to miss this story!!! 

Here is yet another quest in historical anthropology from "France's most famous forensic sleuth", Philippe Charlier. This time the object of his attention was the blood-soaked pages of the journal annotated by Marat on 17th July 1793 at the moment when Charlotte Corday plunged her fatal knife into his heart.  The aim was to isolate Marat's DNA from the stains and, potentially, to throw light on his medical condition

As with the gourd containing the blood of Louis XVI, the work was carried out in conjunction with the Spanish paleo-geneticist Carles Lalueza-Fox in Barcelona.  The final report was published in January this year. The investigation claimed a couple of firsts: "the oldest successful retrieval of genetic material from cellulose paper.", and, more portentiously, "the first retrospective medical diagnosis to include the genetic analysis of a historical figure".

Monday, 20 July 2020

The head of Charlotte Corday

The skull of Charlotte Corday is arguably the most resonant relics of the French Revolution.  In recent times it has inspired both the creative writer Leslie Dick ["The Skull of Charlotte Corday,1997]  and the artist Marlene Dumas [The Skull, 2005]. Its authenticity however, remains one of those irreducible - if ultimately trivial - historical mysteries.

The skull revealed

The  supposed skull of Charlotte Corday first surfaced  at  the Universal Exhibition of 1889.  Lenotre describes how he was at the pavilion of Liberal Arts, in the anthropology section, when he found himself confronted by a curious glass display case. It contained bones found during the construction of the Eiffel Tower, plus several skulls, one of which bore the label "the skull of Charlotte Corday.  Belonging to the prince Roland Bonaparte" (See Lenotre, p.182)

"The skull of French Revolutionist Charlotte Corday, murderess of revolutionary leader Marat, exhibited in the Geographical Society, Paris." (Photo by Henry Guttmann Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)."

6 photos of the skull of Charlotte Corday from the collection of prince Roland Bonaparte

Prince Roland Bonaparte, great-nephew of Napoleon, President of the Geographical Society in Paris, was a great enthusiast for  the fashionable pseudo-science of "craniology"; he had photographed and measured both Norwegian Sami and Australian aboriginals.  Various experts - Topinard, Lombroso, Benedikt -  pronounced sententiously on the supposed "skull of Charlotte Corday" in his possession  and published their conclusions in learned journals.  Predictably, the results proved contentious.  Bonaparte himself later remarked that he had shown the skull to five eminent specialists, two of whom  declared that it could not possibly have belonged to a criminal whilst the other three declared the opposite. (Lombroso claimed to have found no less than thirty-three "criminal anomalies" in the skull's dimensions!)

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

The problems of the Picpus Cemetery

Strange how it is possible to normalise the most extreme and macabre situations!  Here is a translation of two forgotten documents from a 19th-century collection edited by Louis Lazare, which give a glimpse into the world of minor officials and gravediggers at the height of the Terror.  They concern the little Picpus Cemetery which, in the short time between 14th June and 18th July 1794, received the bodies of over 1,300 individuals guillotined on the nearby place du Trône-Renversé (place de la Nation).

Friday, 10 July 2020

The Cimetière des Errancis

To replace the Madeleine Cemetery the Commune of Paris chose a more discreet location, at the far end of the district of Petite-Pologne.  The chosen site was near the Wall of the  Farmers-General at  Monceau, where the rue des Errancis met the  rue de Valois.  The large rectangular space had originally belonged to the chapel serving a miraculous Calvary which stood nearby (demolished at the beginning of 1794). It was now used as a market garden.  Down one side ran the parc de Monceaux.

The trees on the site were removed and, in order to provide an convenient entrance, a section of the Wall was demolished opposite the Customs House. At some point a sign was erected over the gateway: « Dormir, enfin ».

Plaque at 97 rue de Monceau, all that now marks the location

The cemetery was to be known as the Cimetière des Errancis or Cimetière de Monceau (more familiarly "Mousseaux".)  The gates opened on 5th March 1794.  At first it received ordinary burials, but on 25th March the order was given to transfer the bodies of those executed; the Madeleine cemetery was closed definitively.  For a time, there was some mystification over the new location and bodies were first taken to the Madeleine, then discreetly removed to Monceau several days later.

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

The Exhumation of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette

The Cemetery prior to the Exhumation

The Madeleine Cemetery was formally closed on 24th March 1794.

Two years later, on 25th June 1796, the site was sold as a bien national to a carpenter ("marchand-ébéniste") called Isaac Jacob; neighbours complained that he carried out a great deal of excavation in defiance of the ten year moratorium. Subsequently, on 3rd June 1802 the land was bought from Jacob's creditors by the lawyer Pierre-Louis-Olivier Descloseaux (1732-1816), who since 1769 had owned the property immediately adjacent at no.48 rue d'Anjou.

Descloseaux took upon himself the role of custodian of the royal remains, and was to be a pivotal figure in the establishment of the Madeleine as a focus of Royalist fervour. He has sometimes been accused of being a charlatan and profiteer, but his motivation was almost certainly genuine.  Louis Hastier characterises him as one of those men for whom the Revolution had gone too far. A former avocat of the Parlement de Paris, he had been active in local politics in the early part of the Revolution, indeed had been a member of the Society of the Friends of the Constitution, but had withdrawn from public life after the abolition of the monarchy.  He had managed to live quietly through the Terror, without being troubled.

With the encouragement of the new proprietor, the Cemetery rapidly became a place of pilgrimage. As early as 1803 two illustrious visitors were authorised  - the duchesse de la Trémouille and the comtesse de Béarne (Pauline de Tourzel). The German writer Kotzebue, in Paris in 1804, learned that the royal graves were already marked by lilies, although access had been prudently restricted for the moment due to the number of visitors.

Monday, 29 June 2020

A visit to the Madeleine Cemetery in 1793

On 18th February 1793, barely three weeks after Louis XVI's execution, an intrepid young woman set out in her carriage for the Madeleine Cemetery to see the King's grave for herself.  She left an extraordinary first-hand account was first published by Louis Hastier in the Revue des Deux Mondes for 1951.

 The woman in question was Angélique-Catherine Charton, née Chauchat (1759-1849), wife of Jean Charton, a member of a prominent family of Lyon silk designers.  Her husband served  as a Commander of the National Guard and then colonel in a Regiment of the Line, but in June 1796 he too was to fall victim to Revolutionary justice,  guillotined on the place du Trône-Renversé, and consigned to a communal grave in the Picpus cemetery.  Angélique-Catherine herself  lived a long active life, dying in 1849 at the age of ninety.  She was one of the founder members of the committee which acquired the Picpus Cemetery as a place of memorial and, in the last decade of her life, acted as president of the Picpus Society.

Portrait from "Les guillotinés de la Révolution Française" website

Here is an English translation. 

The Dead of the Madeleine

This week the newspapers are full of stories about the discovery of "the remains of 500 guillotine victims" found stashed behind false walls in the Chapelle expiatoire.  It was formerly thought that in 1815, when the bodies of the King and Queen were transferred to Saint-Denis, the remains from the Madeleine Cemetery had been removed to a communal grave in Cimetière des Errancis  and subsequently consigned to the Catacombs.  But in 2018 small medical cameras lowered into the cavities behind the walls of the chapel glimpsed human bones and leather-covered wooden chests containing further bone fragments.  Investigations have been delayed by the demonstrations of the Gilets jaunes, but now a formal request has been made to the Direction régionale des affaires culturelles (DRAC) for an archaeological survey to be carried out.  This is scheduled to take place in 2021.

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Louis XVII - "Last Words" from Philippe Delorme

I think we are bestowing justice on this child.
 Until now, his death was stolen, it was not admitted that he died in such a horrible way
Philippe Delorme, quoted in the Independent in 2000.

2015/16 "La biographie"

At the end of 2015 Philippe Delorme's biography of Louis XVII was published:

Philippe told Action Française that he felt there was now nothing was left to add on "the enigma of Louis XVII" . Rigorous research by Alcide de Beauchesne and others in the 19th century had long ago established that the son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette  died in the Temple, a sad victim of imprisonment and cruel treatment.  Professor Cassiman's genetic analysis of the heart preserved by Dr Pelletin, carried out on Delorme's own initiative in 2000, should have put a final end to debate.

More than two thousand works have been published on the affair, usually to "prove" that the little prince escaped his executioners. Each year more appear, written by the so-called "descendants" of Louis XVII!  From time to time the results of the DNA analysis are questioned.  For this reason  Delorme felt it necessary to  put together this "definitive" work of nearly five hundred pages: Vingt fois sur le métier, remettez votre ouvrage... It is the sum of a quarter of a century's research and covers not only the tragic life of Louis XVII, but also the era of the "faux dauphins" and the odyssey of the heart.

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Louis XVII - Franck Ferrand on a anniversary

This month the popular magazine Historia has published an article by Franck Ferrand on Louis XVII and the pretenders. The occasion is the twentieth anniversary of the press conference of 19th April 2000 which announced the result of the DNA analysis of Louis XVII's heart. This, Franck writes, should have resolved any doubts and marked an end to the speculations of the survivalists. Yet the supposed descendants of the child in the Temple continue to make themselves heard....

Monday, 23 March 2020

Louis XVII - a Dijon portrait

Here is another image of Louis-Charles, which I disregarded from my original selection as the subject seems too plump and round-faced to possibly be the little prince.  However, I have since found this portrait cited as evidence for Louis-Charles's characteristic dimpled chin and malformed ear. It too has recently come under the hammer - it was auctioned by Sadde of Dijon in November 2015.

Friday, 20 March 2020

Louis XVII - "la piste argentine"?

Franck Ferrand has remarked that "the most convincing" case for the survival of Louis XVII in recent years has comes from Argentina. The so-called "piste argentine" was set out in a book of 2011 by Jacques Soppelsa, a much respected career diplomat, honorary president of the Sorbonne and a left-wing militant.  He was a guest on Franck's radio programme Au coeur de l'Histoire in 2013 and greatly impressed the presenter by his sincerity and conviction. The book itself is a first person narrative, in novelised form, but with appendices containing documentation. The conclusions have, of course, been criticised, notably by Christian Crépin, who presented his own researches to the Cercle d'Études Historiques sur la Question Louis XVII in 2011.

According to the Jacques Soppelsa's account of events, Louis XVII, having been smuggled out of the Temple, assumed the identity of a certain Pierre Benoît, born in Calais in 1994.  After a career in the Imperial Navy, Benoît emigrated in 1818 to Buenos Aires where he moved in the highest social circles and pursued successful career as an explorer and architect.  He was said to have been deeply affected by the death of Madame-Royale in 1851 and he himself died in mysterious circumstances in 1852.  

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Naundorff: Lies, Damned Lies and DNA

Here is a little more on the recent efforts by the Naundorff family and its supporters to support their claims from scientific evidence.

The Story to 2004

The Exhumation of Naundorff in 1950
The 1950 exhumation of Naundorff's body in Delft was carried out on the initiative of  Charles-Louis de Bourbon's father with the support of Carl Begeer, wealthy owner of the Royal Begeer Silver Factory.

C-L recalls the cold damp day and the forensic specialist Dr Hulst, a diminutive figure, incongruous in a white rubber apron.  It was established that the remains were those of a man in his sixties,  with possible stab marks on his back (from assassination attempts).   This excluded a  current theory that the body was not Naundorff  but a soldier called Berg, a much younger man who shared the same boarding house. The individual was also too short to have been to a soldier.

More on Naundorff

A "refutation" of Naundorff is probably a little superfluous, though having read the reviews of Charles-Louis Bourbon's book on Amazon, I am not so sure!

The following is based on a post by Paul-Éric Blanrue, on his forum Le Cercle Zététique, mostly a reprise of his 1996 book Le mystère du Temple: la vérité sur la mort de Louis XVII.  Blanrue is given on Wikipedia "a historian who specialises in demystification" (His main field is Holocaust denial.)

What is curious about Naundorff -"cet hurluberlu"-  Blanrue remarks, is that, unlike other pretenders, he continues to command support today.  Even prominent popular historians like Alain Decaux and André Castelot have credited his claims;  they have since retracted their view, but it is doubtful that their readership has grasped the change of opinion.

The case against Naundorff rests on two main points:
  1. Despite occasion feats of clairvoyance, his presentation is littered with minor inaccuracies.  He even called himself Charles-Louis rather than Louis-Charles, a mistake perhaps traceable to the Almanach de Versailles for 1786.  Blanrue suggests that minor errors of this sort actually worked in Naundorff's favour by focusing debate on trivial points which assumed an inflated importance.
  2. There is almost no written evidence:  Naundorff never actually produced any of his "authentic documents" and "convincing proofs".

Alleged proofs:

Blanrue's refers to the work by Xavier de Roche, Louis XVII:  des documents, des faits, des certitudes. (Paris:  Editions de Paris, 1986), 923 pp.

1. Death certificate 

According to Roche, Naundorff's death certificate, issued in Delft in August 1845, which recognised him as Charles-Louis de Bourbon, duc de Normandie, is a "legal proof".  This is problematic since the register entry of 12th June 1795 which identifies the child in the Temple as Louis XVII, has also been judged to be valid.

In the court case of 1954 the Paris Court of Appeal judged that an existing registration of death could not be contradicted without undeniable evidence.  Naundorff's certificate had been drawn up a Delft official solely on the basis of a declaration by Naundorff's oldest son Charles-Édouard and a follower, the lawyer  Modeste Gruau.   It is often supposed that the Dutch authorities chose to recognise Naundorff  for political reasons, since relations with France were antagonistic at this time following the annexation of Anvers by Belgium with French support in 1832.  But in all probability the registration was carried out without reference to royal authority.  As to the tombstone, wording on a memorial is normally "a matter between the relatives and the mason" (Naundorff's tombstone was bought by the advocate Van Buren).

2. The name Bourbon

Two courts, in Bois-le-duc (12th March 1888) and  Maëstricht (20th May 1891), upheld the Naundorff family's right to use the surname "de Bourbon".  In France the Tribunal of the Seine ratified this decision on 26th November 1913. However, French law always respects legitimate civil acts passed outside France.  The courts in Holland based their ruling on an legal deposition drawn up at Bréda for Adelbert Naundorff; they did not enter into "historical discussion on the subject of his father" but simply allowed him to "progress through the ranks of the Dutch army" (Adelbert Naundorff had asked in 1863 to be naturalised as a Dutch citizen.)

These arguments resemble the sort of subterfuge which Naundorff himself used in his lifetime.  His passport at the time of his departure for Holland was obtained in equally dubious circumstances. The consul who issued it warned the Dutch police, who confiscated it on his arrival in the country.  On three separate occasions (1851, 1874 and 1954) the French courts refused to challenge the death certificate of Louis XVII.  Thus the name "de Bourbon" in itself, though held legally, does not reveal  royal origins.

3. Physical resemblance to Louis XVII 

Blanrue comments that this argument is the last resort of the desperate.  However, visual evidence has always played an important part in claims to the identity of Louis XVII (see the article by  Richard Taws, "The Dauphin and his doubles", The Art Bulletin, March 2016).  It was specifically requested by Van Buren, Naundorff's lawyer, that any scars or marks on his corpse be noted during the autopsy. 

Roche cited an array of physical characteristics, some general, some more specific, which were common to Louis XVII and Naundorff;  he even produced a splendid mathematical equation to demonstrate how improbable it was that such an overlap of features could occur by chance.

[Charles-Louis de Bourbon in his 2017 book picks out the following four markers:

- A scar on the upper lip, where Louis-Charles had been bitten by his pet rabbit
 - An inoculation scar on the left arm.
- The birthmark in the middle of the left thigh, recognised by both Madame de Rambaud and Dr Jeanroy.
- Louis XVII's protruding "rabbit teeth".
"Beyond that there was the blond hair, the blue eyes, the way of walking, and the short wrinkled neck that Madame de Rambaud mentioned."]

It would seem, as always, the truth is in the detail; Blanrue declines to go through each feature, but notes the following:

  1. The inoculation scars did not match.  Naundorff had three inoculations scars forming a triangle on his left arm.  Louis-Charles received inoculation "on two arms", following "the pricking method".
  2. Neither Madame de Tourzel nor Mme de Rambaud had seen the famous birthmark  (Mme de Rambaud  only remarked generally that Naundorff possessed all Louis-Charles's "scars and marks").
See also the comments by Bruno Roy-Henri:  Naundorff himself largely created the debate over the birthmark by putting about the rumour that the queens of France marked their sons with the "sign of the Holy Spirit".

Sunday, 15 March 2020

"Louis XVII Survived" by Charles-Louis de Bourbon

The current "reigning" Naundorff pretender is Charles-Louis Bourbon / Naundorff ["Charles XIII"].  He was born on 2nd November 1933, so is now 85 years of age.  In 2017 he published a new book entitled Louis XVII survived the Temple Prison: the DNA proof.  I was curious to find out if it contained any further information on the latest DNA tests. The book didn't quite deliver - it is largely a reissue of an earlier set of memoirs published in 2005.  However, it is strangely fascinating - and perhaps a little sad - to enter into the world of this very sincere and rather likeable old gentleman.

Friday, 13 March 2020

The tomb of the Baron de Richemont

It is still possible to visit the baron de Richemont's last refuge, the Château de Vaurenard, which is in Gleizé, a commune in the department of the Rhône, about 40 minutes north of Lyon.  The room where he lived is still shown, though naturally it is the Beaujolais from the estate  - cuvée Baron de Richemont -  which is the main attraction.

The château has belonged to the Corteille family since the 17th century.  In 1800 the châtelaine was Catherine Corteille, comtesse d'Apchier, a widow living alone.  The comtesse had once been in the service of the duchesse d'Angoulême.  In 1833 she was informed that the son of Louis XVI was alive and living in Paris;  when they met, she recognised him immediately.   He confided in her. He even had a birth certificate stating that he had been born on 27th March 1785,  the son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. From 1833 to 1853 he lived at Vaurenard at the comtesse's expense.

Thursday, 12 March 2020

Louis XVII - Royalists and Survivalists

The  controversy over the survival of Louis XVII (and especially its representation on the web) often seems to have more to do with French Royalist aspirations than historical truth.  For an English person, especially one  who is not that interested in contemporary French politics, this is arcane territory.  I did a little research into the different viewpoints and the various websites  which represent them.

French Royalists fall into several distinct camps. As far as Louis XVII is concerned, they  divide broadly between the Legitimists and Orléanists who accept the official view of Louis XVII's death, and the various "survivalists".


The current Legitimist claimant to the French throne is Louis Alphonse de Bourbon, duc d'Anjou, who lives in Madrid. "Louis XX" is the senior descendant of Louis XIV's grandson Philip V of Spain (and, on his mother's side, the great grandson of Franco).  History -  and more particularly the DNA  testing - has found in his favour.   As far as the heart of Louis XVII is concerned, the Legitimists have the indubitable advantage of owning the grisly momento itself - it belongs to the Mémorial de France, a private organisation which  oversees the royal graves at Saint-Denis.  In 1999 it was the president of the Mémorial, the late duc de Bauffremont  who consented to the DNA testing.  Louis de Bourbon attended the press conference and presided over the dedication of the heart at Saint-Denis on 8th June 2004.   

The 2006 documentary "Louis XVII Querelles pour un trône" opens with footage of the splendid private ceremony, which was attended by members of various (mainly defunct) European royal families, "un vrai couverture du magazine People"; there is an interview with the elderly duc de Bauffremont, who was reduced to tears.  Louis is shown visiting his ancestral Château de Chambord and also Domrémy, the birthplace of Joan of Arc,  where he lays flowers on a memorial.  The would-be king distributes medals with the image of LXVII, become "the symbol of his legitimacy" [15:45-17:30]  Since 2005 the Mémorial de France has instigated a perpetual mass to the memory of Louis XVII, celebrated every year on the anniversary of his death.

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Louis XVII - Delorme on the false-dauphins

The following is summarised from a talk by Philippe Delorme's given on  27th January 2016,  as part of the series of "Wednesday" lectures organised by La Nouvelle Action Royaliste.  PD's subject is the 19th-century pretenders who claimed to be Louis XVII. Delorme pretty much stays with the detailed narrative style of his new biography but the main points of his analysis are clear: firstly, the survivalist phenomenon has its roots not in historical fact, but in the psychology of the time;  secondly, despite the vociferousness of his  modern defenders, there is nothing particularly special about Naundorff.

Monday, 2 March 2020

Louis XVII - "Pathographie"

This post translates/summarises a set of three reports published by the palaeopathologist Dr  Pierre Léon Thillaud in the context of the 1979 excavations:

In September 1979 a investigation carried out in the immediate area of the church of Sainte-Marguerite resulted in the exhumation of a  number of human bones.  A Commission, consisting of professors Huard and Grmek, and Dr Pierre Léon Thillaud was asked to examine them and give an expert osteo-archaeological opinion, with a view to perhaps identifying the remains of the child who died in the Temple in 1795.  These articles, originally published in the review Cahiers de la Rotonde in 1983, were written by DrThillaud in fulfilment of that protocol.

Dr Thillaud's first paper considers the autopsy findings of 1795 and the second evaluates the reports  from the 1846 and 1894 exhumations.  Since it seems unlikely that the remains themselves will be re-examined in the near future, Dr Thillard's literature reviews continue to represent the most impartial, expert assessment available.

Sunday, 1 March 2020

Louis XVII - Excavations at Sainte-Marguerite

The various exhumations and investigations at the Cimetière Sainte-Marguerite are worth considering in a bit more detail:

Possible burial sites

Already there is much uncertainty and contradiction.  The possible options are as follows:

1. In a fosse commune somewhere in the church yard.
This is the modern-day official position.

2.  In a separate grave near the West wall of the cemetery
Étienne Lasne, who had been present, insisted to Alcide de Beauchesne that the coffin had in fact been buried in a separate grave.  He identified a position eight or nine feet from the enclosure wall and the same distance from the little house, at one point a schoolroom,  which still stands today on the rue Saint-Bernard (Beauchesne, p.336-7)  His testimony  is confirmed by the procès-verbal signed by Dusser, Lasne and Bigot, reproduced in Lucien Lambeau's report of 1904, which states that the body had been buried "near the fosse commune, close to the wall" (p.83).  In the course of police investigations carried out in 1816,  Dusser  himself again attested that he had ordered the burial "in a separate grave and not in the common grave"  (p.88).  There would seem little reason to doubt that this was indeed the case.

Monday, 24 February 2020

Louis XVII - the burial of a prince

Here is the moving account of the burial of Louis-Charles's reconstructed from the recollections of those involved by the great 19th-century historian Alcide Beauchesne:

Funeral convoy of the Son of Capet, June 1794.  From a contemporary watercolour
[Illustration from Lenotre, Le roi Louis XVII et l'énigme du Temple]

On the 22nd Prairial (Wednesday, 10th June), at six o'clock in the evening, citizen Dusser, police commissary, accompanied by citizens Arnoult and Goddet, civic commissaries of the Temple section, presented himself at the tower of the Temple, in order, conformably with a decree issued by the Council of General Safety, to proceed to the official verification of the decease of the unfortunate little Capet, and the interment of his remains.

Sunday, 23 February 2020

The death of Louis XVII - Shadow of a doubt?

This post  summarises the second half of Franck Ferrand's very thorough 2014 TV documentary on "the son of Marie-Antoinette" in the Ombre d'un doute series. I am not sure there really is much "doubt" about the fate of Louis XVII, but Franck makes the most of a good mystery - partly because the "survivantistes"  are so vociferous, partly, no doubt,  because it makes for better television.

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Louis-Charles: Portraits from the Temple

It is unlikely that there is any genuine portrait of Louis-Charles "from life" in the Temple prison. As Marguerite Jallut noted,  many artists later found it to their advantage to claim that that they had penetrated the Temple: "In reality no-one came, no-one was allowed to enter except the municipal commissioners, the administrators and those who accompanied them..."(p.261). The only securely documented exception is Kucharski, who is thought to have gained entry with visiting officials, in early 1793.  Shortly afterwards there was a tightening of security.  An order of the General Council of the Commune, dated 1st April 1793,  forbade all guards or "any others" from making drawings (no doubt in particular floorplans of the prison);  those caught in contravention of this order were to be subject to immediate arrest. Louis-Charles himself was increasingly isolated. On 3rd July 1793, he was removed from his mother and placed under the surveillance of Antoine Simon and his wife. After 16th October 1793 he was no longer allowed to exercise in the prison garden but confined to the tower.  Following Simon's removal in January 1794, he was almost literally walled up alive.  He was found by Barras on 10th Thermidor in a darkened room, surrounded by his own excrement. In the final year of his life, under the care of Laurent, Gomin, then Lasne, his treatment improved, but there were still no unauthorised visitors.  It is possible that the architect Bélanger, one of the commissaries of the Commune, made a brief sketch but, if so, this portrait has never been securely identified.

A portrait by Jean-Marie Vien le jeune

This striking portrait in the Carnavalet, by Jean-Marie Vien, is probably the  strongest candidate for an authentic image from life.  An inscription on the frame, clearly later in date, read(s): "Portrait of Louis XVII, painted in the Temple prison in 1793 on the order of the Convention by Vien (fils) 1735-1806". (Laurentie, Louis XVII, vol. 1, p.555).

Unfortunately there is no supporting evidence that any such commission was ever made.

Musée Carnavalet, 
Louis XVII in the Temple prison in 1793 
Joseph-Marie Vien, the younger (1760-1848)
Oil on canvas, 60cm x 48cm
Signed and dated "Vien fils, 1793"
Acquired by the Carnavalet in 1922, in a "public sale"

Laurentie situates the picture in the mid-1793:
It is without doubt at this date (Summer 1793) that one should place the famous portrait by Vien fils.  In truth, this portrait does not offer a very reliable likeness, but it can serves to bear witness.(Laurentie, Louis XVII, vol. 1, p.40).
From now on, the little boy, who was always threatened by lack of air and vulnerable to rickets, saw his limbs grow long and his chest congested.  At the time that he was taken from his mother (July 1793), Viens fils, the miniaturist, shows him well-dressed but already narrow-chested and stooping. (L'Iconographie, p 23)

There is little information about provenance, other than that the Carnavalet  acquired it in a "public sale" in 1922.  In 1910-11 the picture was temporarily in the possession of the journalist Henri Rochefort, who used it to try to discredit the pretender Naundorff: 
I have recently been brought a picture that I first saw almost a quarter of a century ago, when the proprietor asked a price which would have put off even the most ardent royalist.  It is a portrait of Louis XVII, painted in the Temple by order of the Committee of Public Safety, by Vien, signed and dated 1793.  
In Rochefort's view the picture contradicted the claim that Naundorff, with his supposed  "Bourbon nose", bore any resemblance to Louis XVII:
The portrait of the true Dauphin, executed in the Temple only two years before his death, shows an infant who is frail, bloodless, evidently anaemic.  His nose is not at all aquiline and does not resemble that of his father.  To judge by his complexion and hair-colour, he rather resembles the "Austrian type" of Marie-Antoinette.  The Committee of Public Safety, apprehensive about the health of the little prisoner, had exceptionally authorised the artist into the Temple, which was closed to all, in order to make a portrait and prove to the public that the child was still alive.

The sad little victim, aged almost eight-and-a-half...wears a tight grey costume.  His hair, blond to red, covers his forehead almost down to his eyebrows;  his pale lips and flickering eyes, reveal that the future inheritor of the throne is already touched by death....
Henri Rochefort, in La Patrie, 12 November 1910.

Laurentie doubted that there was ever a formal order for the painting from the Committees. In 1910 Rochefort had appealed for documentation, presumably without success:
Portrait of Louis XVII by Vien.
Can anyone provide information on the work containing the order by the Commune or the Committee of Public Safety, to the painter Vien fils to go to the Temple in 1793 and make a portrait of Louis XVII?  
Rochefort in L'Intermédiaire des chercheurs & curieux, 1910 (p.787).

Portraits which show Louis-Charles after July 1793(?)

Laurentie followed his discussion of the Vien canvas with notes on several pictures which purport to show Louis-Charles at a later point in his incarceration. He even attempted to establish a narrative sequence which illustrated the child's progressive deterioration in health. It  seems pretty unlikely that any of these portraits are in fact genuine or, at least, dated correctly.

Sketch "by David"

As the section on the Musée Louis XVII shows, there are a number of highly disparate images attributed to David.

It is know that the artist  was present on 8th October 1793 during the second day of Louis-Charles's interrogation before the trial of Marie-Antoinette. However, there is no evidence that he  made a portrait at this session, let alone that one can be securely identified.

The most interesting of the "David" pictures is this one, which belonged to Alcide Beauchesne.  [Laurentie, Louis XVII, plate 116].  It is one of several portraits which shows Louis-Charles with light coloured short hair.

Le peintre David, Musée Louis XVII
See also the comments of Laure de la Chapelle, Carnets Louis XVII, 2006. p.9

Anonymous pastel which shows Louis-Charles "ill and perhaps the worst for alcohol" 
Laurentie, Louis XVII, Plate .108. L'Iconographie, p.23: 
(44cm x 30cm). 
Blue eyes, reddish blond hair; brown jacket with blue buttons, white cuffs and colour.  Summer 1793(?)
The work belonged to Georges de Manteyer.

For Laurentie, Louis-Charles is particularly identified by his unusually shaped ear. Again he has a small, rounded head and short hair.

There is actually quite a lot of information available about Louis-Charles's hair in the Temple.  Until January 1793 his personal grooming was in the care of the King's personal valet Cléry. Madame Simon is subsequently recorded as having cut his hair.  From September 1794 to January 1795 a perruquier called Danjout came to the Temple to administer to the child.  This seems the most likely period when Louis-Charles would be remembered as having neat short hair.

Drawing in charcoal by "LAVIT, soldier of the National Guard"  
Louis XVII, Plate no.112.
The picture belonged to the comtesse de Reiset.
According to Laurentie, the sketch shows Louis-Charles "drowning in grease and dirt" (Iconographie, p.23)

The artist is usually identified as Jean-Baptiste-Omer Lavit, (1771-1836), a pupil of David and later Professor of Perspective at the École des Beaux-Arts. 

This drawing still exists today in a private collection.  Laure de la Chapelle, of the Cercle Louis XVII, solicited an expert opinion.  The paper was found to be genuinely late 18th-century, though the verse shown in Laurentie's reproduction is a 19th-century addition. Speculatively (very!), the length of hair and absence of a fringe suggests a date when Louis-Charles was in the care of his mother after the departure of Cléry in January 1793.  

Before October 1793  child could theoretically have been glimpsed walking in the garden of the Temple by one of the guards;  however,there is no record of a "Lavit" among their number.

Sepia by Moriès
Louis XVII, Plate 118.
(25cm x 20cm)
The inscription reads "Portrait of Louis XVII, done in prison by Moriès, pupil of David."
This drawing too belonged to Georges de Manteyer.
Not a lot is known about Moriès (? possibly not even his full name)   He was a pupil of David in 1793/94 and died in Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1812.  According to Delécluze, "This likeable and excellent man has not left a single work to consecrate his memory".
There is nothing about this picture which really suggests it could be authentic - Laurentie, however, saw in it the Louis-Charles of 1794:  "A sepia by Moriez...shows the child of nine that Barras refound on 10 Thermidor....We see a hunted beast.  Louis XVII is bent, fleshless, with burning cheeks, great sunken eyes, wild, frightened, his hair stuck down with dirt and sores."(Iconographie p.25).  

The Portrait by Bellanger

The architect François-Joseph Bélanger (Bellanger) claimed to have met and sketched the child shortly before his death, on 31st May 1795. This picture can no longer be traced.  Bélanger's account, given long after the event, has not generally been considered reliable:

Simien-Despréaux an author of the Restoration, wrote down the so-called Bellanger declaration, and read it to the man.  But the latter did not sign it;  this happened in October 1817 when Bellanger was 73.  Although he was undoubtedly there, and attended the Dauphin's meal, his account is inaccurate in a number of respects.  Whereas the majority of witnesses referred to the prisoner as silent during the months that preceded his death, Bellanger recounts that the boy was the first to speak and greeted him as a visitor. To Simien-Despréaux who wrote his statement, he claimed to have recognised him well.  He declared that his "habits at Versailles" had given him many occasions to see him frequently.  The "sound of his voice....his beautiful eyes and the blond colour of his hair" were indeed those of the little boy that he had "often seen a few years before his imprisonment".
Henri G. Francq, The unsolved mystery: Louis XVII, Leyden, Brill 1970, p.80

Interestingly the pretender Eleazar Williams later echoed the story, claiming that he had been taken to America by an unknown priest and a "Jacobin" painter called "Bélenger".  He recounted that Bélenger had sketched him in the Temple and also knew about the bust by Beaumont based on the portrait.  See Taws, "The dauphin and his doubles", p.26.

Portraits by Greuze?

Like David, Greuze is a catch-all attribution; see the collection of images on the Musée Louis XVII site:

Laurentie's considered that this portrait, which was in his own collection, represented the final depiction of Louis-Charles.  It had apparently belonged to Madame de Tourzel. 
Louis XVII, Plate 128, Iconographie, p.25

It is difficult to believe that this image, showing Louis-Charles with side parting and braces, can possibly be accurate; it looks German. 

Here is another, more recent candidate, for a late portrait by Greuze:

This striking picture, hitherto uncatalogued, was auctioned in Paris on 11th October 1981. The sale notice reads:

Presumed portrait of the dauphin Louis XVII, attributed to Greuze.  An inscription glued to the back is clearly legible and gives the following details: "Portrait of the dauphin Louis XVII at the age of ten years old".  Oil on canvas, attributed to Greuze, not signed; with the arms of the royal family of France at the top and on the right.  Provenance: sale by Sotheby's at Mentmore Towers  (Buckinghamshire) in 1977 of the collection of Lord Rosberry; previously sold by the baron Mayer de Rothschild.[catalogue entitled"Chrysanthemum"] Labels on the back of the picture read "Tennant Heirlooms 1907"and "1945", whilst  a third gives the address of Sotheby's in New Bond Street.

Émile Mouray,"Louis xvii, le portrait oublié",  AgoraVox, article of 03.04.2007.

It must be said that this is a beautiful and disconcerting image but, once again, sadly there is no real means of verifying the authorship or date.


Musée Louis XVII Michel Jaboulay

 Laurentie,  L'iconographie de Louis XVII... (1913)

"Les portraits de Louis XVII, prisonnier au Temple", Forum de Marie-Antoinette

On later iconography:
 "Heurs et maleurs de Louis XVII, arrêt  sur images", exhibition at the Musée de la Révolution francaise, Vizille, 29 June-1st October 2018.

Richard Taws, "The Dauphin and his doubles: visualizing royal imposture after the French Revolution", The Art Bulletin, March 2016, vol.98(1), p.72-100 [on JStor]
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