Tuesday 30 June 2020

The Exhumation of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette

The Cemetery prior to the Exhumation

The Madeleine Cemetery was formally closed on 24th March 1794.

Two years later, on 25th June 1796, the site was sold as a bien national to a carpenter ("marchand-ébéniste") called Isaac Jacob; neighbours complained that he carried out a great deal of excavation in defiance of the ten year moratorium. Subsequently, on 3rd June 1802 the land was bought from Jacob's creditors by the lawyer Pierre-Louis-Olivier Descloseaux (1732-1816), who since 1769 had owned the property immediately adjacent at no.48 rue d'Anjou.

Descloseaux took upon himself the role of custodian of the royal remains, and was to be a pivotal figure in the establishment of the Madeleine as a focus of Royalist fervour. He has sometimes been accused of being a charlatan and profiteer, but his motivation was almost certainly genuine.  Louis Hastier characterises him as one of those men for whom the Revolution had gone too far. A former avocat of the Parlement de Paris, he had been active in local politics in the early part of the Revolution, indeed had been a member of the Society of the Friends of the Constitution, but had withdrawn from public life after the abolition of the monarchy.  He had managed to live quietly through the Terror, without being troubled.

With the encouragement of the new proprietor, the Cemetery rapidly became a place of pilgrimage. As early as 1803 two illustrious visitors were authorised  - the duchesse de la Trémouille and the comtesse de Béarne (Pauline de Tourzel). The German writer Kotzebue, in Paris in 1804, learned that the royal graves were already marked by lilies, although access had been prudently restricted for the moment due to the number of visitors.

Monday 29 June 2020

A visit to the Madeleine Cemetery in 1793

On 18th February 1793, barely three weeks after Louis XVI's execution, an intrepid young woman set out in her carriage for the Madeleine Cemetery to see the King's grave for herself.  She left an extraordinary first-hand account was first published by Louis Hastier in the Revue des Deux Mondes for 1951.

 The woman in question was Angélique-Catherine Charton, née Chauchat (1759-1849), wife of Jean Charton, a member of a prominent family of Lyon silk designers.  Her husband served  as a Commander of the National Guard and then colonel in a Regiment of the Line, but in June 1796 he too was to fall victim to Revolutionary justice,  guillotined on the place du Trône-Renversé, and consigned to a communal grave in the Picpus cemetery.  Angélique-Catherine herself  lived a long active life, dying in 1849 at the age of ninety.  She was one of the founder members of the committee which acquired the Picpus Cemetery as a place of memorial and, in the last decade of her life, acted as president of the Picpus Society.

Portrait from "Les guillotinés de la Révolution Française" website

Here is an English translation. 

The Dead of the Madeleine

This week the newspapers are full of stories about the discovery of "the remains of 500 guillotine victims" found stashed behind false walls in the Chapelle expiatoire.  It was formerly thought that in 1815, when the bodies of the King and Queen were transferred to Saint-Denis, the remains from the Madeleine Cemetery had been removed to a communal grave in Cimetière des Errancis  and subsequently consigned to the Catacombs.  But in 2018 small medical cameras lowered into the cavities behind the walls of the chapel glimpsed human bones and leather-covered wooden chests containing further bone fragments.  Investigations have been delayed by the demonstrations of the Gilets jaunes, but now a formal request has been made to the Direction régionale des affaires culturelles (DRAC) for an archaeological survey to be carried out.  This is scheduled to take place in 2021.

Tuesday 9 June 2020

Louis XVII - "Last Words" from Philippe Delorme

I think we are bestowing justice on this child.
 Until now, his death was stolen, it was not admitted that he died in such a horrible way
Philippe Delorme, quoted in the Independent in 2000.

2015/16 "La biographie"

At the end of 2015 Philippe Delorme's biography of Louis XVII was published:

Philippe told Action Française that he felt there was now nothing was left to add on "the enigma of Louis XVII" . Rigorous research by Alcide de Beauchesne and others in the 19th century had long ago established that the son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette  died in the Temple, a sad victim of imprisonment and cruel treatment.  Professor Cassiman's genetic analysis of the heart preserved by Dr Pelletin, carried out on Delorme's own initiative in 2000, should have put a final end to debate.

More than two thousand works have been published on the affair, usually to "prove" that the little prince escaped his executioners. Each year more appear, written by the so-called "descendants" of Louis XVII!  From time to time the results of the DNA analysis are questioned.  For this reason  Delorme felt it necessary to  put together this "definitive" work of nearly five hundred pages: Vingt fois sur le métier, remettez votre ouvrage... It is the sum of a quarter of a century's research and covers not only the tragic life of Louis XVII, but also the era of the "faux dauphins" and the odyssey of the heart.

Tuesday 2 June 2020

Louis XVII - Franck Ferrand on a anniversary

This month the popular magazine Historia has published an article by Franck Ferrand on Louis XVII and the pretenders. The occasion is the twentieth anniversary of the press conference of 19th April 2000 which announced the result of the DNA analysis of Louis XVII's heart. This, Franck writes, should have resolved any doubts and marked an end to the speculations of the survivalists. Yet the supposed descendants of the child in the Temple continue to make themselves heard....

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