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]
They went up with the keepers to the second story of the tower.
A ray of sunshine gleamed through the window, and fell on the blood-stained sheet which covered the remains of the descendant of Louis XIV, now stretched on a wooden bedstead, without any mattress.
The sheet being removed, the victim was seen by the new commissaries, bearing the traces left by the professional men; the scalpel of science had mutilated that body, already disfigured by suffering, but it had respected the pale emaciated face, on which an expression of indescribable calmness and purity had succeeded to that of pain.
His lips, so far from being contracted by death, wore the appearance of mildness and serenity; his eyes, not closed by mortal hand, had closed of themselves; or rather, one might have said, that since the fatal couch had been deserted by man, an angel had breathed on that little head, which, youthful and delicate as it was, had yet borne the crown of thorns like the rest of his family.
The mortuary register was drawn up: this paper, which has been up to the present day so little known that its existence might have been denied, seems to us sufficiently interesting to be reproduced here:
After having signed this document in the next room, the commissioners again approached the fatal couch.
I know not what sentiments may have been awakened in their minds by a spectacle so extraordinarily mournful, but they looked on it for some time, mute and motionless.
At length, breaking this long silence: "Is not all ready?" asked one of them. "What is the man that was sent for about?" "I am waiting," replied a deep voice from the shadowed part of the room; it was that of the man employed in interments, who was standing near the door, with a coffin under his arm,
"Come nearer, and let us make haste."
And the undertaker put down his boards on the floor. He took the body of the royal orphan, and laid it naked in the bier, for he who had been cradled in purple had not a winding-sheet in which to be interred. "Stop, here's something to put under his head," said the youngest commissary, presenting his handkerchief; and his colleagues looked on him with a dubious glance, astonished at his weakness, perhaps at his boldness and reverence for the dead. This example gave encouragement to the good-natured Lasne, who hastened to bring a sheet to serve as a shroud—I would say, a royal mantle—for this last King of the monarchy; for it is only in this indigent and humiliating winding-sheet that his corpse will appear in history.
And the fir planks were fastened down with four nails, while the sound of the hammer on the coffin of the child shook the floor of the old room, and awoke the slumbering echoes in the feudal tower.
The bier was taken down into the first court, laid upon tressels, and covered with a black cloth. As they left the threshold of the deserted room, where so much unknown suffering had passed away, poor Gomin said to Gourlet, who was walking behind the others: "You have no need to shut the iron door now!" He was right, the prisoner was free—the prison was to remain mournful and silent—human depravity had done its work, and retired!
It was seven o'clock when the police commissary ordered the body to be taken up, and that they should proceed to the cemetery. It was the season of the longest days, and therefore the interment did not take place in secrecy and at night, as some misinformed narrators have said or written; it took place in broad daylight, and attracted a great concourse of people before the gates of the Temple palace. One of the municipals wished to have the coffin carried out secretly, by the door opening into the chapel enclosure; but M. Dusser, police commissary, who was specially entrusted with the arrangement of the ceremony—to the great satisfaction of Lasne and Gomin—opposed this indecorous measure, and the procession passed out through the great gate. The crowd that was pressing round was kept back, and compelled to keep a line by a tri-coloured ribbon, held at short distances by gendarmes. Compassion and sorrow were impressed on every countenance.
A small detachment of the troops of the line from the garrison of Paris, sent by the authorities, was in waiting for the procession, to serve as an escort. They departed. The bier, still covered with the pall, was carried on a litter, on the shoulders of four men, who relieved each other two at a time; it was preceded by six or eight men, headed by a Serjeant. Dusser walked behind, with Lasne and the civic commissary before-mentioned; Damont, who was on duty the day of the death, 20th Prairial; Darlot, on duty the 21st; Guérin. the 22nd; and Bigot, who was to have been so next day. With them were also Goddet, Biard, and Arnoult, whom the Temple section had appointed to assist Dusser in making the official report of the decease, and superintending the interment. Then came six or eight more men and a corporal. They proceeded along the streets of La Corderie, Bretagne, Pont-aux-Choux, Saint-Sébastien, Popincourt, and Basfroid, and entered the cemetery of Sainte Marguerite by the Rue Saint-Bernard.
The procession was accompanied a long way by the crowd, and a great number of persons followed it even to the cemetery. Those few soldiers round a little bier attracted the attention of the public, and called forth questions all along their way. In particular, there was a marked movement of interest in a numerous group that had formed at the corner of the Boulevard and the Rue Pont-aux-Choux, and which was mainly composed of women. The name of "Little Capet," and the more popular title of Dauphin, spread from lip to lip, with exclamations of pity and compassion. Further on, in the Rue Popincourt, a few children of the common people, in rags, took off their caps, in token of respect and sympathy, before this coffin, that contained a child who had died poorer than they themselves were to live.
The procession entered the cemetery of Sainte-Marguerite, not by the church, as some accounts assert, but by the old gate of the cemetery. The interment was made in the corner, on the left, at a distance of eight or nine feet from the enclosure wall, and at an equal distance from a small house, which subsequently served as a class-room for a Christian school. The grave was filled up—no mound marked its place—the soil was restored to its former level—and not even a trace remained of the interment! Not till then did the commissaries of police and the municipality withdraw. They departed by the same gate of the cemetery, and entered the house opposite the church, to draw up the declaration of interment. It was nearly nine o'clock, and still daylight. The air was clear, and the aureola of luminous vapour that crowned that lovely evening, seemed delaying and prolonging the farewell of the sun.
Two sentinels were posted, one in the cemetery, and one at the entrance-gate, to prevent any person from attempting to carry off the body of Louis XVII. This precaution was taken for two or three nights
Alcide de Beauchesne, Louis XVII: his life - his suffering - his death, translated by William Hazlitt (New York: 1853), vol. 2: p.333-337.