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.

Rumours of poisoning and possible escape plots began very soon after Louis-Charles's death. A few months earlier Cambacérès had prophesied to the Convention that as soon as the prince ceased to exist he would be found everywhere; such a chimera would nourish the guilty hopes of traitors to their country.   Under Louis-Philippe the préfet de police Henri Gisquet wrote that great names became a source of speculation as a means to further secret ambitions.

The idea that important figures who died in obscure circumstances could be rediscovered is a common one. (Princess Anastasia, Kennedy).  But in the case of Louis XVII it achieved unusually large proportions.

Why?  The answer lies in the mental upheaval of the previous  ten years, which created a loss of certainties.  Chamfort repeated the words of a former courtier: after the death of the King, anything could be believed.  Louis XVII was, after all, the titular king of France.  In his biography Delorme carefully analyses  reports in the Courrier universel. On 13th June 1795, that is five days after Louis-Charles's death,  the paper observes that all sorts of rumours and absurd stories circulated:  some claimed that the death was an subterfuge: the child had been handed over to the foreign powers as a condition of the recent peace. Others were convinced that he had been poisoned.  This was to give too much credit to malicious gossip; it was to be regretted that the child had disappeared at the moment his existence no longer posed a threat to France.

The death worked to the advantage of the comte de Provence, who was who was already regent to his nephew, and now became titular king. The Proclamation of Verona  announced his claim to the throne as Louis XVIII and reinforced his position as head of the émigré forces.  By contrast, the Republic lost the boy-king as a potential hostage.

[9:10] The pretenders.

The "faux-dauphins" rapidly proliferated; as rumours of an escape grew, there was scarcely a province of France where a youthful pretender did not appear.  In July 1795 the Austria Chancellor Thugut echoed universal doubts when he wrote to a correspondent that there was no "legal certainty" of LXVII's death (though this was actually untrue)

The survivalist thesis very quickly established itself.

There were perhaps a hundred "faux-dauphins" in all - they have been compared to the "101 Dalmatians". Still a year does not go by without a fresh batch of contenders.  Franck Ferrand reports that he is in constant receipt of new documentation.

At this point Philippe Delorme goes through in some detail the escapades of four of the principal "faux-dauphins".  


[12:20] In October 1796 a fifteen-year-old boy was imprisoned in Bayeux for vagrancy and falsely claiming to belong to a noble family.  This was the earliest of the "faux dauphins" Jean-Marie Hervagault, the son of a tailor from Saint-Lô   The following year Hervagault repeated his charade in Alençon; this time, in order to gain more sympathy, he dressed as a woman.  In May 1798 he was yet again arrested, near Châlons-sur-Marne, but refused to give his identity.  Rumour now spread among the royalists of Champagne that he was Louis XVII.  Hervagault warmed to his new role and soon developed a little court of supporters.  Finally his father recognised his description and had him arrested.  He was freed once more in 1801, when began to elaborate  the history of his adventures 

In Hervagault's version the prince had escaped from the Temple in a laundry basket, having first been rendered unconscious with a narcotic.  He had  been exchanged with the real JMH, whose father received 200,000  assignats in reward.  He was then hauled around, from Quiberon to London, thence to Rome where the pope himself had branded him on the thigh with a red mark to indicate his royal origins.  

In 1802, under the Empire Hervagault  found himself once again imprisoned.  He was confined in Bicêtre for four years.  In 1806 he joined a colonial batallion in Belle-Île, then  deserted.  He finally died back in Bicêtre in 1812, still claiming to be Louis XVII.

[17:25] A likely source for the accounts of the given by Hervagault and other pretenders is the popular novel published in 1800, Jean-Joseph Regnault-Warin's  Le Cimetière de la Madeleine.

Walking by moonlight in the Madeleine cemetery,  the narrator chances to meet the abbé Edgworth, former confessor to Louis XVI. The abbé tells him how the prince's escape was effected. With the complicity of Desault, a substitute child, heavily drugged with opium, had been introduced into the Temple in a wooden horse whilst Louis-Charles was smuggled out in a dirty laundry basket.  Later the substitute child was poisoned and passed off as the dead "son of Capet"   In the story, Louis-Charles does not survive but goes through various adventures, and finally dies in prison in Nantes. Nonetheless, the novel provided a schema for the escape.


[20:30]  It  was not until the more favourable climate of the Restoration that the next set of "faux-dauphins" appeared. In 1815 Louis XVIII received a letter from a certain "daufin bourbon". The new pretender was a prisoner in Saint-Malo with a passport in the name of Charles de Navarre; he had no formal education; he could not read or write well. At the beginning of 1816 he was transferred to the maison de force in Rouen where, with the encouragement of the concierge, he began to embroider an identity as Louis XVII. He surrounded himself with an entourage, which included two secretaries who produced notices and official pronouncements.  A history of his adventures circulated in manuscript among Royalist circles in the West.

The widespread support for the "daufin bourbon" fed on the desire among certain royalists to replace Louis XVIII who, they held, had failed truly to "restore" the Ancien Régime.  The storyline was  more or less the same - the prince had escaped from the Temple in a laundry basket, only this time he had taken up up the profession of shoemaker.  The elderly Widow Simon supported the story, though she grew flustered when cross-questioned and was dismissed as deranged.  The Duchess of Angoulême sent the Comte de Montmaur to investigate but again the results were inconclusive.  Rumours were put about that Madame de Tourzel herself had visited the prisoner and been swayed by his credibility.

In 1818,  the affair was brought to trial.  The faux-dauphin was identified as a certain Mathurin Bruneau  from Vezins in Anjou.  Had been a sailor in the Republican navy, travelled to the United States, then settled in Saint-Malo.  Condemned to five years imprisonment, he found himself in a cell in Mont Saint Michel which at that time was still a prison. He died there in 1822.


Delorme's third dauphin surfaced in Modena in 1820, with  a passport in the name of "Bourlon".  After being imprisoned in Italy, he had taken refuge in Geneva where he had styled himself the Baron de Richemont (after Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, later Henry XVII of England.)  In 1828 he declared his identity as Louis XVII to the prefecture in Rouen.  He did not demand the throne, only asylum.  The Restoration government tolerated the faux-dauphins, which it did not see as any real political threat. In 1830 Richemont made another declaration.  Again, he at first fared well, attracting a number of wealthy people into his entourage.

In January 1831 Richemont  published his memoirs which in reality resembled a popular novel. After his escape from the Temple, he had participated  in the Egypt campaign with Kléber and been present at the Battle of Marengo.  Later he had taken refuge in Brazil, becoming the chief of an Amazonian tribe no less. He recounted a secret interview with Madame Royale in the park at Versailles in 1816;
He claimed to have deposited documents at Rodez with the magistrate Fualdès, famously assassinated in 1817; in this way he connected cleverly with a well-known event - the reason for the assassination became knowledge of the secret of Louis XVII.

Richemont was finally arrested in 1833 and sent to St Pélagie. On 30 October 1834 his trial opened at the Assizes Court in Paris.  He was revealed to have assumed an astonishing number of pseudonyms and personas (PD recites a long list - certainly a "personne polyforme").  We still don't really know his true identity.  Probably he was the son of a butcher from the department of Aisne, a certain Claude Perrin.   Finally he was condemned to twelve years imprisonment for various frauds and impostures, though not directly for impersonation of the dauphin.  Only the next year he escaped from prison in the company of a royalist and a republican (two opponents of Louis-Philippe!). He was not energetically pursued.  After the general political amnesty of 1840 political amnesty,  he was able to return to Paris and settled comfortably in the Faubourg Saint-Germain where he continued to pursue his claims.  According to PD , Richemont was "the most credible false dauphins of a certain era",  more credible, says PD pointedly,  than Naundorff whom we hear a lot about today only because he has descendants.  Among certain royalists there was a will to believe.  Richemont's final patroness, the comtesse d'Apchier, is quoted to the effect that was sweet to devote oneself to the cause, to connect the broken chain which linked the present with memories of the royal past.


[37:55] PD now finally discusses Naundorff.   The latter arrived in Paris quite late in the day, in 1833, at the invitation of  a magistrate from Cahors, a certain  François Albouys, who  had been dismissed for an attack on Louis-Philippe and was thus a legitimist.  Albouys had  read about Naundorff's claims in the Constitutionnel and offered him money to come to France.

Naundorff had an astonishing effect on his audience for a man who did not even speak French. He even managed to convince Madame de Rimbaud.  However, he offered much the same story as the rest, that is he had escaped in a wooden horse, been taken to America and lived through various adventures before ending up in Germany.

The man's origins remain unknown.  He appeared in 1809 in Berlin with a passport under the name of Naundorff and settled in Spandau, where he worked as a watchmaker.  He said that he came originally from Weimar.  At the time of his trial for counterfeiting coin, he claimed to be of noble birth but did not yet identify himself as Louis XVII.   It was only subsequently, whilst in gaol, that he began to elaborate the role.  In 1829, having left prison, he settled at Crossen on the Oder. He married and had three children, then a fourth who was christened "Louis".

In 1836 after his unsuccessful legal challenge to the Duchess of Angoulême, he was expelled from France, moved to Camberwell and started his work with explosives.

In 1838 (here Delorme pauses for effect) Naundorff actually founded  a new religion.  This was the "doctrine celeste"; an esoteric mishmash  which reflected the Illuminist currents of early 19th century and the general atmosphere of spiritual ferment.  He was recognised by the famous visionary Thomas Martin of Gallardon, but was condemned by the Pope and alienated some of his Catholic supporters. Finally he moved to Delft where he died in 1845.

Although the Dutch authorities allowed Naundorff to be buried as Louis XVII, this did not constitute an official recognition.  (In any case, PD notes, the official title of the dauphin,  was "de France" and not "de Bourbon");

Philippe Delorme finishes his talk with some final reflections on the strange power of Naundorff to convince, which was based mainly emotional manipulation: PD quotes from the memoirs of a hostile eye-witness:
The vehemence of his words, his effusiveness, his embraces, dazzle those who are on the receiving end; surprise impedes their judgment.  They are naturally ashamed to condemn him to his face when he showers them with expressions of friendship.  M.  Naundorff is like one of those armies which is always on the offensive.  It is a way of disconcerting his adversaries and concealing the weakness of his resources.  When you cannot take a town by  regular siege you make a surprise attack. 
A.-F.-V. Thomas, Naundorff ou Mémoire  à consulter sur l'intrigue du dernier des faux Louis XVII (1837), p.141-2

He also had an ability to pick up information from one confidant to use with another.

Naundorff may well in the end have come to believe  his own lies,  but to start with he certainly sought to make money; he sent back funds regularly to his family in Germany. His descendants were exploited by others, for instance the lawyer Jules Favre,one of the founders of the Third Republic,  took up the Naundorff case, with the intention of dividing the Royalist camp; it was, said Hervé Pinoteau; "a machine of war, pious in appearance, which paralyses the will and thins out the militants"

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