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 in Nancy has a pastel version by Stanislas himself, which shows Bébé in a light blue coat.

The portrait clearly shows the dwarf'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 among 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 and 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".

A facial reconstruction:  The Naundorff family still pursues the chimera of physical resemblance. Charles-Louis de Bourbon reports that he enlisted the help Dr Johann Silvassy, the Austrian forensic anthropologist who famously "authenticated" the skull of Mozart.  Silvassy compared different facial features from Naundorff/Louis XVII with those of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette and gave verdicts ranged from "probable" to "very probable" and even "highest degree probable" that he was their relative. This would be sufficient for a criminal court.  A second "super-projection" apparently confirmed the initial finding.  So far, so good - but Silvassy  presumably used portraits of Naundorff, most of which deliberately highlight his resemblance to the royal family.  Personally I find it hard to imagine that the slight, tubercular prince could ever have morphed into so square and robust an individual.

4. Evidence from witnesses 

Roche has an exhaustive 230 pages of statements by "witnesses" who claimed to recognise Naundorff as Louis XVII.  Blanrue choses the four most important:

Madame de Rambaud,  berceuse to Louis-Charles,  had known the young prince intimately. She had followed him to the Tuileries where she only narrowly escaped the attack of 10th August 1792.  At the Restoration she was awarded a pension of 1000 francs in recognition of her service to the royal family. Her meeting with Naundorff  took place on 17th August 1833 at the home of the Cahors magistrate François Albouys  in Paris.  She was totally convinced he was Louis XVII, even though she had not seen her former charge for 41 years. She subsequently journeyed to Prague in a vain attempt to persuade the duchesse d'Angoulême, who refused to see her, and persisted in her belief until her death in 1853.

A careful reading of the lawyer Geoffrey's account of the meeting goes some way towards explaining Naundorff's success. Madame de Rambaud readily explained who she was and doubtless Naundorff would have been well briefed by his supporters. When he was unable to answer her questions, he simply replied that he did not remember.  Much of his persuasive power came from his emotional performance (he cried over a portrait of Marie-Antoinette)  Madame de Rambaud was deeply moved and probably developed a certain will to believe.

There remains the famous "test" of the little blue coat  which Naundorff successfully recognised as having been worn by Louis-Charles at Versailles rather than in the Tuileries. Sceptics have not quite explained a this feat away, but Madame de Rambaud was inconsistent; she later told Geoffrey that  Louis-Charles had worn the coat when he was "five or six years old", clearly impossible since he was only four when the royal family left Versailles.

This is the coat, sold with certification, at the Bancel sale in 2003:
Lot 208 Half of a blue silk jacket worn by the dauphin in Versailles at age seven. Precious relic given to Naundorff by Madame Rambaud.  Divided into two by Charles Naundorff, who sent one half to the duchesse d'Angoulême.

In general, Madame de Rambaud, is not a reliable witness when it comes to small details - she claimed, for instance, to have seen Naundorff's innoculation scar on his right arm when it was on his left. 

Emile Marco de Saint-Hilaire and his wife 
were former courtiers in the service of Madame Victoire. They were, says Blanrue, "dupes ripe for the taking" and were swayed by the testimony of Mme de Rambaud.  Mme de Saint-Hilaire admitted that she had believed with "religious conviction" since 1795 in the survival of the dauphin.  Their son wrote a history of France in 1851, in which he stated without qualification that the son of Louis XVI died in the Temple prison.

Etienne-Louis-Hector de Joly, was Louis XVI's Minister of Justice in 1792 until ousted by Danton. He is known to have met Naundorff only once, in 1835 when he was 79 years old. His support was only really canvassed after his death in 1837. There are copies of letters, but nothing in his own hand. 

Jean-Baptiste-Jérôme Brémond, was Louis XVI's former personal secretary.  During the Revolution he had fled to Switzerland, become naturalised in Geneva and lived in solitude in Semsale for 40 years.
  This was a man obsessed with re-finding Louis XVII:  according to one witness in 1836: "his sole preoccupation in his isolation was the unshakeable persuasion that the son of Louis XVI was still alive and would reappear in glory one day.  This persuasion was an idée fixe who led him to spend thousands of francs on research... Every rumour, every newspaper article concerning the son of the king revived his determined zeal". 

Brémond became a fervent supporter of Naundorff, even before he met him. He swallowed every element of the Naundorff's story. In 1837 he gave a deposition to the commission of inquiry in Vevey concerning Naundorff's knowledge of the cachette in the Tuilleries (clearly the document shown to Franck Ferrand by Hugues de Bourbon in Tours).  According to Blanrue this was information readily available at the time, easily gleaned from the testimony of the earlier pretender Mathurin Bruneau.

Documentary proofs

1. Letters by Jean-Jacques Christophe Laurent.  In the course of the legal proceedings of 1835 Naundorff and his supporters produced three letters written by Louis-Charles's warder Laurent containing supposed details of the evasion plans.  The use of the Gregorian calendar and peculiarities in spelling strongly suggest that these are forgeries.  
They were the only documents produced by the lawyer Jules Favre in defence of Naundorff's claims in 1874.

2. Deposition of Dr Jeanroy.   Dr Jeanroy, one of the doctors present at the autopsy of the child in the Temple, is reported to have left a secret report to be opened on the centenary of his death in 1914. According to the summary made by his grand-nephew, Jeanroy claimed that the child was not Louis XVII and had none of his distinguishing features (inoculation scar, rabbit bite, birthmark).  This coupled with the report of the legitimist doctors in Delft was said to provide proof of the physical conformity of Naundorff and Louis XVII. Unfortunately the dossier was destroyed in the bombardment of Lille during the First World War.

Other considerations

Narratives of the evasion

Naundorff produced two narratives of his escape from the Temple, both of which are highly implausible. The first was published by his supporters in 1834 on the basis of the so-called "Récit de Crossen", written in German in 1831 or 1832, and also of
 his letter to the duchesse d'Angoulême dated 13th February 1834. The text focuseson the period from January 1794 to the "evasion" and then on the tribulations of the Dauphin at liberty.  

Following his release from solitary confinement, the prince resigns himself to the care of the "good and virtuous" (and totally non-existent) female guardian evoked by Regnault-Warin. One day a man accompanied by a "municipal" arrives and has a mysterious conversation with the governess.  The prince is given a potion.  One of the visitors brings out a large wicker basket which was hidden under the bed, and takes out a sleeping child which is swapped for him. He is then smuggled out in a toy wooden horse. The subsequent narrative is an equally vague romantic tale of travels through Germany, France, America, imprisonments, rescues etc.  Finally the fugitive dauphin is given a passport in the name of Naundorff and installs himself as a clockmaker in Berlin.  There no real exterior elements to allow the possibility of verification.

Abrégé de l'histoire des infortunes du Dauphin

Naundorff's second narrative was published in 1836.  This account is no clearer, but by this time he had more details about the Temple which he tries to incorporate.
 He still keeps the fictitious gouvernante. 
The escape now has several different stages. Initially it was not a live child but a dummy that was substituted, while the real prince was smuggled to the fourth floor of the tower. The dummy was then itself replaced,  first by a deaf-mute, then by a child who  was disabled by rickets.  A certain "J.P." carried off the mute boy mistaking him for the real Louis-Charles.  Josephine, who had furnish Barras with the mute, found out what had happened.  A second substitute was provided and speeded to his death.  After the autopsy the corpse was taken to the fourth floor, and the doped-up Louis-Charles placed in the coffin.  On the way to the cemetery he was secreted in a compartment concealed in the funeral car, whilst the coffin was filled with paper to make up the weight. "Friends" then accompanied him in Paris, where he was given into the charge of a Swiss woman.  Charette suddenly pops up with "two friends" and there is the same convoluted saga of  prisons and dungeons.  Blanrue notes that Naundorff had the nerve to write to Auguste de la Rochejacquelin that his account of his escape furnished "incontestable proofs" of his identity.

The mysticism of Naundorff

This element came to the fore during Naundorff's time in England.  At first he merely passed himself off as a "voyant", very much in the tone of the epoch.  In 1833, for instance, he predicted to Caroline Albouys that Louis-Philippe was to be assassinated in the following July, but that he himself would prevent this from happening: convenient...but his followers seems to have been taken in.

Matters became more serious after 28th September 1833 when Naundorff met the visionary Thomas Martin.  The latter was very much the "fashionable oracle" of the day, "a sort of Nostradamus of the salons"; he had began unpromisingly with his visions of the Archangel Raphael (in top hat and white frockcoat) but now the public hung on his every word.  The discussion between the two men lasted an hour, and was a turning point in Naundorff's career. The Mystic from Beauce confirmed immediately that he had conversed with the dauphin.

Martin in the company of the Archangel Raphael

Naundorff now himself began to have conversations with angels.  His first "mystic encounter" took place three months after the meeting with Martin.  Seven others followed, all faithfully written down by the devoted abbé Appert.  When Martin died in 1834 the way was left open for his protegé.  In enforced isolation in England, Naundorff went straight for the direct route - he made contact with Jesus Christ himself.  On 2nd January 1837 Naundorff wrote to the abbé Laprade, one of his fervent admirers: "I have seen the Lord and his angel, I have seen our Saviour Jesus-Christ on two occasions;  despite the general disbelief, I speak the truth.  Happy are those who believe!"  

Jesus confided in him an insipid prayer and a "cross of grace" which would ensure the peace of the world.  The Pope was threatened with cosmic disaster if he did not join the new crusade.  In October 1838 Naundorff crossed the line by declaring his intention to found his own Church.  A month later he was victim of an assassination attempt.  In 1839 he published his "Doctrine céleste" in which he condemned the Catholic Church as an impostor; his own sect "Église catholique évangélique".  On 8th November 1843 he was condemned by Gregory XVI as a usurper. Probably Naundorff himself began to be believe his own illusions.  Certainly, he alienated a lot of his followers, including Laprade who, with five others, published a stinging disavowal.

 Naundorff's true identity?

This has never been established with any certainly, but Blanrue rehearses the plausible theory first put forward by  Georges de Manteyer in 1926, 
that Naundorff was a Prussian deserter called Karl-Benjamin Werg, a former soldier of the regiment of Anhalt-Bergbourg,  garrisoned in Halle.  Christiana Hassert, who in 1810 was passed herself off as Naundorff's wife, had previously lived with Berg in Halle.   Moreover, the couple's son Karl-Christian was still living with Naundorff  in Spandau in 1819 at the time of his second marriage.  Berg may have assumed the identity of a certain Johann-Wilhelm Naundorff, a child born in Halle in January 1775, who had died in August 1781.


 Paul-Éric Blanrue, "Affaire Louis XVII" on Le Cercle Zététique

Objections to Blanrue from the Institut Louis XVII

....And Blanrue's response

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.

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