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.

A press cutting from 1965, attached to the back of the frame, supplies additional information. The original owner of the picture is said to have been Pierre-Charles Bonnefoy du Plan (1732-1824) garde-meuble to Marie-Antoinette and former custodian of the Petit-Trianon.  It was subsequently acquired by a  Captain Guvel, who was garrisoned in Paris, and then passed to the Lauvergnier family,  who at one time owned the Galerie Vauban in Dijon.  The artist is unknown though, inevitably, it has been attributed to David.  Since Louis-Charles is shown with short hair, the portrait is usually taken to echo his appearance in the Temple during the final months of his life.

In 2008 the vice-president of the Cercle Louis XVII, Didier Duval, used the picture for the cover of his book Louis XVII: une affaire d'Etat: la piste de Dijon dévoilée. The book expounds yet another survivalist theory.  This time Louis XVII is said to have been rescued by Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety and taken to Auxonne outside Dijon, a convenient location for handover to the Austrians. After Thermidor Carnot, a native of nearby Nolay,  and his brother, who was in charge of fortifications in the area, managed to spirit him away, first to Transylvania and then to Hungary.  Here he spent part of his life, married and had a son, finally dying in 1851 - Didier Duval has even found a woman who claims to be his descendant. Unfortunately, it is not clear from the summaries, whether the portrait is somehow relevant to the argument or is simply used because it was found in Dijon.


Sadde-Dijon, Sale of 29th November 2015: Lot 158: Portrait, presumed to be Louis XVII,
Charcoal drawing with chalk highlights. 29cm x 20cm.

See also the entry on the Musée Louis XVII website:

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.  

Pierre Benoît himself never claimed to be Louis XVII but his descendants, based on his papers, certain objects in his possession, and other evidence, have long been convinced of his identity.  A member of the family approached Jacques Soppelsa, then cultural attaché in Buenos Aires, who, after his own investigation, came to endorse their view. 

Arte de la Argentina: Pierre Benoit, self-portrait

Franck Ferrand comments in his radio programme that, although the story of Pierre Benoît is something of an Alexandre Dumas novel, coincidences which seem to multiply and converge. I  don't have access to Jacques Soppelsa's book, but his main arguments summarised by Franck are as follows:


The birth certificate of Pierre Benoît, exists in different copies and contains worrying erasures and additions, suggesting that an identity has been manufactured.  Benoît's date of birth is variously given as 1794, 1797 and 1788.  His father is recorded as unknown or given as another Pierre Benoît.  His mother, a "fisherwoman", has the Christian names Marie-Jeanne and the unusual surname Daut ("Daulo" in Spanish).  This has been read by the family as a veiled allusion to Marie-Antoinette:  Marie [Antoinette Josephe] Jeanne [, archiduchese] D ['] Au triche et de] Lo[rraine].

According to Christian Crépin, however, there is no great mystery surrounding  Pierre Benoît's birth.  His father can be securely identified as Pierre François Nicolas Benoît (1764-1844).  He was not, as Jacques Soppelsa implies,  a humble fisherman, but a successful privateer, who commanded several vessels during the American and Revolutionary Wars and took significant prizes.

Pierre Benoît, was born on 16 Thermidor an II (2nd August 1794) in Calais.  His father is not named on the birth certificate, but his parents later married and Pierre was formally recognised before a notary as the fruit of their union.  His mother's surname is variously given as Dot, Daut, Deaux, Dault.  The couple had eight children in all


Education and early career

Although he lived with a "poor family of fishermen in Calais", Pierre Benoît/Louis XVII received an excellent education. Funds arrived regularly from Paris to provide him with tutors.  He was therefore able to develop a passion for botany and geography first acquired under the guidance of his father in the Temple.  Among his papers in Buenos Aires is a reference to Louis XVI's famous request before his execution for "news of Lapérouse".  Benoît  made his reputation as a civil and naval architect; draftsman and painter; and had an extensive knowledge of astronomy, botany, and geodesy. He was also said to be fluent in Castillian, French, Italian, Spanish, Latin, English and German.

The origin of the claims concerning a private education are not clear; according to one website Benoît's "official biography" states that he was educated by the "best private tutors, paid for by the future Emperor". Maybe Benoît himself, a staunch Imperialist, embellished his own academic credentials - why else the reference to Napoleon? In reality his accomplishments are not inconsistent with those of a naval officer, explorer and autodidact.

Christian Crépin documents Benoît's early career.  He is recorded in the census for Calais in 1809, 1815 and again in 1820 as a sailor, living at his parents' home. As early as 1805 he was a cabin boy on a fishing vessel. At the end of 1810, at the age of sixteen, he joined  the Imperial Navy; papers in the possession of his family document his service from 1810 to 1814, by the end of which he had obtained the rank of officer. The French archives no longer have the dossier available. During the Hundred Days he applied for a commission in the Lancers, then, when this was unsuccessful, in a regiment of the line.

The journey to Argentina

In 1818 Benoît is known to have sailed from Le Havre to Buenos Aires in the crew of the scooner  Chiffonne and is thought to have jumped ship in Buenos Aires.  This was an opportune moment for a former Napoleonic officer to seek adventure abroad, though it is less obvious why Louis XVII would want to leave France at this time.  Jacques Soppelsa has two crucial facts:  Firstly, Benoît  was accompanied to Le Havre by no less a personage than Louis XVIII's minister the duc  Decazes. Perhaps the King felt threatened and wanted his rival claimant out of the country?  Secondly, his other travelling companions were an odd set: one Honoré, De Launey, nephew of the governor of the Bastille and a certain Valois.  Again, it is hard to know what to make of this.  Crépin states categorically that Decazes never personally conducted anyone to Le Havre and that there was no-one called Launay or Valois on the Chiffonne.

In Argentina

 Despite travelling incognito, Benoît/Louis XVII seems to have had a privileged position in Buenos Aires and enjoyed access to high society.  He achieved prominence as artist, functionary and political adviser. 

But was his success, in the prevailing colonial environment,  really more than that of a talented adventurer?

On his arrival in 1818 Benoît applied to serve in the Argentine Navy, as an "adventurer officer".  In 1819 he participated in Aimé Bonpland's explorations in the north and along the Argentine coast in 1820, acting as a draftsman and illustrator of flora and fauna.

In 1821, on his return to the capital,  President Rivadavia appointed him auxiliary officer to the Department of Architectural Engineers, then under the direction of the Frenchman  Prospero Catelin. Major projects included the regeneration of the Recoleta area and the construction of the new Buenos Aires Cathedral. Benoit  inspected  the work on the cathedral. A letter of Catelin dated 1823 confirms that he also worked on the plans. In 1828 he was appointed Director of Drawing for the Topographical Department.   He subsequently became civil and naval architect and member of the Public Works Council.  Much of the final years of his life were taken up with designs for the portico of the cathedral,  presented in 1847. For the last fourteen years he suffered from ill health, and was obliged to conducted his tasks for the Topographical Department from his bed.

In 20014 his extensive private house on the corner of Independencia and Bolívar Avenues was investigated by the University of Buenos Aires as an example of early 19th-century Argentinian domestic architecture.
Centro de Arqueología Urbana: Bolivar 793 Casa Pierre Benoit

Benoît's career was undoubtedly assisted by his involvement in Freemasonry. In 1825 he was received into the Lodge of Philadelphia.  His membership may well have secured him the patronage of  Rivadavia, who was also a Mason.

In July 1828 he married Maria Josepha de Las Mercedès Lejes. It is recorded that his father-in-law had misgivings about the eligibility of an unknown Frenchman.  The couple had two children, a daughter Petrona and a son, Pedro, the architect of La Plata.  The latter's first-born daughter Dolores Cándida married into the Zapiola family.

Other clues

Relatives discerned a number of indication - some perhaps deliberately provided - which connected Benoît specifically with Louis XVII.

1. Benoît  had blue eyes.

2. He owned a lock of hair, said by the Zapiola family to have come from Marie-Antoinette. It was contained in a silk purse embroidered with the arms of the Bourbons and fleurs-de-lys.  Elais Zapiola approached the Carnavalet for help with authentication but has so far received no response.

 3. Benoît confided to his daughter that his mother's native language had been German. 

The following is from an article in Euskonews (courtesy of Google Translate!):
The story [that Benoît was Louis XVII] came to Dolores Cándida, his grand-daughter, from her aunt Petrona; the family took many years to get her to say all that she had heard. In fact, in a letter Pierre had stated: "What would we do with knowing the truth so late and without a purpose? [...] It is not the crowns or the shields that make man worth, but his cleansing of the soul, his performance honest, without asking for help from those who left. My grandfather was well born, more in a disastrous time, let us content ourselves with knowing that we are of good birth " . With the passage of time, the secret was obtained from Dolores; but when she broke silence she also indicated:"[My aunt] confessed something to me, not everything, and she told me that her father recommended silence, because if she spoke they would say that she would have lost her mindSo the oral tradition had a break through which information was lost.
In her memoirs, Dolores Cándida recalls that Benoit indicated to his daughter Petrona: "At the end of 1793, at the time of the Terror, a woman of a certain age and a man took me hidden under a wide cape, in a buggy, a dark night and I was handed over to the Benoit couple, in the Port of Calais. Don't ask me Petrona to talk about before that night. I received a careful and private education, I was as if hidden, but very well treated; with great affection

The duchesse d'Angoulême by Pierre Benoît      
4. Benoît fell into a state of depression after the death of the duchesse d'Angoulême.

5. He painted three portraits of the royal women, Marie-Antoinette, Madame Elisabeth and Madame Royale, which are on view at the Casa Rosada, the presidential palace in Buenos Aires. 

 6. His three self-portraits reveal a likeness to the lost prince.  He has a pleasant face, with a thin nose and small mouth like Marie-Antoinette.  Around one of the portraits is a freize with fleurs de lys, discovered by his family only when the frame was dropped and broken. (Crépin, however, points out that the Deseine bust suggests that Louis XVII had a broader lower face. Benoît also lacked the divided chin shown in some drawings of the prince.)

7. His self-portraits show a scar on the upper lip which corresponds to Louis-Charles's rabbit bite.

8. A sculpture by Benoît of Laocoon and his sons has the interlaced letters L.C.R.F.P.B. which the Zapiola family interprets as "Louis Charles Roi de France Pierre Benoit". 

9.His handwriting is identical to a surviving sample from the duc of Normandy in the Temple.

10. Benoît signed his name with a flourish very similar to the one found on the signature of Louis XVI's at the beginning of his Testament.. Crépin points out that this may in itself  be an addition. The embellishment of Benoît's signature may also be identified as a Masonic "love-knot".

10. Benoît's skeleton, exhumed in 1996, was judged to be that of a man of 66 or 67, making him the correct age to be the dauphin.  This, comments Crépin, is potentially a good piece of evidence, but over the age of fifty or so there is margin for error and none of the books give a detailed medical report.

Death and exhumation

On 22nd August 1852 Pierre Benoît died suddenly and mysteriously after taking a remedy proscribed by an unknown French doctor, possibly called Lavergne, who had recently arrived in Buenos Aires. Benoît suffered from longstanding ill-health but poisoning was suspected; when the body was exhumed in April 1996 traces of arsenic were indeed found..The doctor was said to have been arrested immediately on his return to France and secretly guillotined, though there is no documentation to substantiate this  It is claimed that this was the same doctor Lavergne who tried to blackmail the duchesse d'Angoulême in the 1840s - though this man died in his bed aged 81 in 1862.

Jacques Soppelsa, Louis XVII: La piste argentine, A2CMedias, collection histoire, 2011, 187 pages.

Franck Ferrand, Au cœur de l'Histoire: Le sort de Louis XVII, la piste argentine , Europe 1 [radio programme] broadcast 3.5.2013.

"Louis XVII et la piste argentine" - Discussion thread with illustrations on Le Forum de Marie-Antoinette.

"Louis XVII: la piste argentine..." on Tribune Histoire

Christian Crépin, Pierre Benoit et le livre de Jacques Soppelsa, paper presented  at the Cercle d'' études historiques sur Louis XVII, 26th November 2011.

Pierre Benoit" - Biographical notice on
Gonzalo Javier Auza "Los Zapiola, una familia vasco-argentina que convive con la memoria de Luis XVII y la herencia de la corona francesa"

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.

The "Expertise Castelot"

In 1943 André Castelot asked a Dr Locard, director of the police laboratory in Lyon, to compare a lock of the boy king Louis-Charles's hair in the possession of the abbé Ruiz, with a sample from Naundorff, given to him by the baron de Genièbre.  The then new science of trichoscopy confirmed that the two specimens had the same characteristic off-centre channel. However, hair from the 1950 exhumation failed to reproduce the anomaly. As a result both Castelot himself and Alain Decaux retracted their support for the Naundorffists.  Locard later confided to Castelot that the initial specimens were so alike that he thought they must both have have come from Louis-Charles.

The first DNA testing in 1992
In 1992 the Dutch historian Hans Petrie invited Professor Cassiman to conduct DNA tests on hair recovered from Naundorff during the exhumation. Despite repeated attempts, it proved impossible to extract viable DNA from the hair,  so Cassiman was forced to rely on bone samples held by the Dutch police. The mitochondrial DNA sequence established from the bone showed two nucleotide differences from those of Marie-Antoinette and her two sisters (established from various hair samples) and four differences from living relatives (Anna of Romania and her brother André de Bourbon Parme).  As Cassiman repeated to Franck Ferrand in 2014,  this made it "exceedingly unlikely" that Naundorff was the son of Marie-Antoinette.
Here is Cassiman's report in the European Journal of Human Genetics for 1998.
Predictably, the Naundorffists remained unconvinced. C-L felt that Petrie had betrayed his confidence and "corrupted" Cassiman.

There is one particularly interesting aspect of Professor Cassiman's  conclusions. In his book C-L criticises Cassiman for failing to use DNA from Naundorff's living relatives.  However, it seems he has misremembered: 

A letter from Cassiman dated 5th May 1997 addressed to the two Naundorff cousins is reproduced on Facebook and several other websites.  In it Cassiman clearly states that he has created profiles for the Y-chromosome from blood samples given by various Naundorff descendants, the cousins included.  With a great deal of difficulty, he has also established a profile for the Y-chromosome from the bone sample. The significant point is that THE TWO DID NOT MATCH.  He concludes that it is "very probably the humerus, or at least the DNA extracted from it, does not come from a paternal ancestor of the Comtes de Bourbon living today".  Cassiman himself cautiously declined to pursue his researches further and suggested that they reopen the grave to secure further samples.  

His readers, like the historian Bruno Roy-Henry, whose letter is also reproduced, immediately jumped to the conclusion the bone sample was at fault;  as C-L puts it in his book, the results were based on  "a very dubious bone with a different DNA formula".  However, the logical possibility remained that the corpse itself had been misidentified.

Letters posted on Facebook by "Charles Louis, le Roi Louis XVII", 2 Feb 2015

2004 - The second exhumation

On 27th October 2004 a new exhumation of Naundorff's remains took place in Delft. Further DNA tests were carried out in Leiden by Professor Peter de Knijff , seconded by Professor Walter Parison at the Institute of Legal Medicine in the University of Innsbruck. 

The initiative was a joint one between the two rival branches of the Naundorff family, but the French Naundorffs subsequently pulled out. The Canadian branch has never allowed the results to be published.  In August 2015 Professor de Knijff informed Philippe Delorme that he could not divulge his findings without written permission from the family lawyer.

For a long time, Charles-Louis himself claimed that the tests had not yielded a clear DNA profile; on 22 September 2013 the baron d'Auzat,  his representative, wrote:  "I remind people simply that DNA analysis is only one means to resolve the enigma of Louis XVII.  Genetics is a modern science, constantly developing, and posing new problems everyday for  researchers".

Inevitably there was speculation that the results had proved unfavourable.  Sources close to the French branch reported that the Canadians "had proof that they did not descend from Naundorff".  

In his 2017 book Louis-Charles de Bourbon finally gives an answer. It would seem that the rumours are justified. The results are "the same as the previous conclusions found by Drs Cassiman and Pascal", which "proved without doubt that the body in the grave in Delft was not a Bourbon body and thus the negative results":

We have never published these test results until now. But the final result is that there were three grave sites for Louis XVII. First, in Delft Holland, he was not in the National Monument of Holland. The heart in the Cathedral of St. Denis was not his. The grave in the cemetery of St. Marguerite was not his. Now we knew that the body in Delft was not a Bourbon, and no relation to me.

This is a little unclear, but it appears that the researchers have uncovered a new mystery; not only is the person buried in Delft not Louis XVII, apparently he is not Naundorff either!

The Findings of Gérard Lucotte

DNA profile of Hugues de Bourbons
Since the French branch of the Naundorffs did not have access to the results of the exhumation, in June 2011 Hugues de Bourbon agreed himself to undergo  DNA testing.  Samples were taken at La Rochelle at the home of Bruno Roy-Henry and submitted to the controversial geneticist Gérard Lucotte. In February 2014 Lucotte published his findings in the International Journal of Sciences  He compared the Y-STR  profile of Hugues de Bourbon with those established in 2014 by Cassiman and Larmuseau  for three living male members of the Bourbon family. The results were very similar. Hugues de Bourbon belonged to the same subhaplogroup.  Discrepancies were found in only six out of twenty-seven markers studied, leading Lucotte to conclude that  Hugues could indeed belong to the "grande famille" of the Bourbons.

Leading geneticists, including both Professor Cassiman and his colleague Maarten Larmuseau, were not slow to offer criticism of Lucotte's conclusions.

According to Cassiman, in order to claim a relationship when discrepancies exist in  six Y-STR markers, a base of thirty-eight markers rather than twenty-seven needs to be taken into account. (The three Bourbons had discrepancies in only four markers between them).  If Hugues and the Bourbon line had a common ancestor it would have been thousands of years ago, not in the 18th century.  To be certain Y-SNP markers rather than Y-STR markers should be compared.  These did not match, so it can safely be concluded that Naundorff's descendant is not in fact a Bourbon.

Professor Lucotte presents his findings at the Biennale Blanche conference in October 2017.
 On the left is the late Charles Barbanès and on the right Christian Crépin

DNA profile of Naundorff
The findings concerning Hugues de Bourbon were eclipsed in the media by Lucotte's announcement in 2014 of a far more ambitious project - the genetic profiling of Naundorff himself.  At the end of 2013, Christian Crépin entrusted Lucotte with a sample of Naundorff's hair, not it should be noted from the grave but taken on his deathbed in 1845. (The hair had been purchased by Crépin at the 2003 Bancel sale).  An article in Figaro announced Lucotte's intention to establish Naundorff's complete DNA profile.

In July 2014 Lucotte reported that Naundorff's mitochondrial DNA
 belonged to the sub-haplogroup HVO within the group HV.  The mtDNA of Anne of Romania  (profiled by Cassiman) also belongs to the HV cluster. Therefore, the possibility that Naundorff was Louis XVII was not excluded.

In December 2014 Lucotte announced that he had successfully established the Naundorff Y-STR profile.  This matched that of Hugues de Bourbon for 14 values out of 15 (not surprising really since Hugues is Naundorff's direct descendant!).  Lucotte pronounced that there was a 50% probability that Naundorff and the three Bourbons had a common ancestor in about 1300.  
Even I can see this is a dubious statistic - apparently as much can be said for a fair percentage of the French population.

Comparison with Louis XVII
At this point Christian Crépin was moved to furnish Lucotte with another of his treasures, this time a lock of hair from Louis XVII himself, preserved in a  medallion which Crépin had also acquired in the Bancel sale. As with Louis XVII's heart, it proved possible to extract mitochondrial DNA from the hair sample but not DNA from the Y-chromosome.

In November 2015 Lucotte confirmed that the Louis XVII-Bancel sample was an exact match to the rare haplotype H19 of the Hapsburg women (as profiled by Cassiman). Four mutations were examined in the variable sequence HVR2: the hair sample matched Marie-Antoinette but had only two mutations in common with Naundorff. The conclusion?
  1. Louis XVII was Marie-Antoinette's son.
  2. The two hair samples could not belong to the same individuals, in other words Naundorff could not be Louis XVII.

Comparison with Louis XVI
In April 2016 Lucotte published a Y-STR profile for Louis XVI based on yet another hair sample.  As one might expect, it proved close to that of the three living Bourbons but completely different to that of Naundorff.


Although some of Lucotte's science has been challenged, his results are pretty much as one would expect.  The early optimism that he had established a link between Hugues de Bourbon and the Kings of France, is not corroborated by his own later research. He has verified known relationships, between Naundorff and his descendants, and between Louis XVII and his family,  but has found against the identification of Naundorff with Louis XVII.  The opening of the grave in Delft in 2004  has yielded no further information but merely added a new mystery: if the individual buried there is not a member of the Naundorff family, who is he?  And where, more to the point, is Naundorff???


Articles by Lucotte in the International Journal of Sciences

Delphine de Mallevoüe "L'énigme de Louis XVII relancée par l'ADN" Figaro, 28 March 2014. Pr Gérard Lucotte

 "Sang Royal" : le généticien Gérard Lucotte et JL Bachelet sur le mystère Naundorff/Louis XVII (YouTube video, 2015)

La Charte de Fontevrault, 31.12.2017: "Biennale Blanche"Conference on DNA findings of Lucotte (2014-16).

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
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