Tuesday, 17 March 2020

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

No comments:

Post a Comment

Print Friendly and PDF