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.

Print Friendly and PDF