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18th Century Biography French History History

Marie Antoinette and her Children: The mystery and the history of Louis Charles in the tower. Part 2

Marie Antoinette's Son Louis Charles: death and reappearance

In part 1 of this story, we followed the rapidly deteriorating fortunes of the young Louis Charles, son of Marie Antoinette, as his family faced imprisonment in the forbidding tower of the Temple, his father, Louis XVI, was sent to the guillotine, and he was wrenched away from his mother and placed under the tutelage of the bitter zealot, Simon.

The story of Louis Charles was already tainted by more suffering than most people will have to endure in a lifetime, but Louis Charles was, in 1793, not yet nine years old. In the two years that remained to him, more pain would enter into the tale, and even his death marked not the end of his story, but merely the end of one chapter in what would become an epic tragedy.

Since we left him languishing in his cell him at the end of part one, the story has already got considerably more complicated. As described in this post, Louis Charles had become the pawn of Jacques René Hébert, who, in order to strengthen the fairly flimsy case against Marie Antoinette, had concocted a vindictive story that Marie Antoinette had sexually abused her son.  Hébert had managed to persuade Louis Charles to sign a document supporting this allegation, and had even made the boy confront his sister and aunt with the tale. Hébert unveiled this accusation with showmanly flourish at Marie Antoinette’s trial, and though it had not had quite the galvanising impact he had hoped for, the Queen was inevitably found guilty anyway and went to her death in September 1792.

The situation had never been worse for Louis Charles. The deaths of his father and mother had established the clear precedent that royalty was to be totally purged from France. The very idea of royalty ran counter to everything the revolution stood for and was therefore extremely and actively dangerous. And at this moment the last vestige of royalty – of all its crimes and excesses , of its history and myth, of its awkwardly persistent mystery and power, and, most pressingly of all, of its ancient bloodline – resided in the increasingly frail and filthy body of the young Louis Charles. Yet, as we saw in part 1, things weren’t quite this simple. Revolutionary France suffered from something of a PR problem, with most of Europe deriding the revolution as obscene and bestial, and several key areas of France itself engaged in open and bitter revolt. It just wouldn’t do to add child-murder to the list of the revolution’s more unsavoury habits, especially when the child in question had in the past proved effortlessly but powerfully capable of winning the sympathy of the public.

There was, however, a clear justification for keeping this king-in-waiting under lock and key. Exiled monarchist sympathisers would flock to fight under the banner of the would-be Louis XVII if he was ever allowed to go abroad and the revolution would have another enemy to fight. No, the only option was to keep him in prison. And as everyone knew, the prisons of Paris were brutal, squalid holes, where death by natural causes deprived Madame Guillotine of many cherished appointments. Here then, was the plan. Louis Charles’ milk-pale body was made for mirrored palaces and manicured gardens, not prisons. There was no need for a messy murder. Left alone, purposefully neglected, Louis Charles would soon sicken. Nature would do the job herself.

Initially, the plan worked just as it was supposed to. Since Louis Charles was now of very little use to political manipulators such as Hébert, he was largely ignored. Even Simon, Louis Charles’ former guard and co-conspirator of Hébert, left the prison in early 1794 to focus on his post at the Commune. Now, even the project to ‘re-educate’ Louis Charles in revolutionary ideals was abandoned, and the sole priority was to prevent any escape or rescue. He was placed in solitary confinement, probably in the very room where he had last seen his father. The room had always been cold and dark, and was now modified with the addition of strong bars and grates. His sole contact with any human being was when his meagre food was shoved into the room through a small slot. There were no openings to allow Louis Charles to glimpse the world beyond the ten foot thick walls that surrounded him, and at night he was allowed no candle to break the darkness. In May 1794, Robespierre visited the prison to inspect conditions. Louis Charles’ sister Marie-Thérèse desperately handed him a note, begging to be allowed to look after her brother. The request was ignored.

Louis Charles was now to all intents and purposes forgotten, as events outside the prison reduced the Prince to an irrelevance. The Terror reached its chaotic pitch, as first Hébert. then Danton, then Robespierre himself were overtaken and sent to the guillotine. Lurking somewhere in the group of prisoners who climbed the scaffold with Robespierre was Simon, his revolutionary career having proven to be only the last in a long line of failures. Throughout these turbulent months, Louis Charles endured an animal existence in the shadows.

In the wake of Robespierre’s downfall, a flicker of humanity briefly illuminated the boy’s plight. General Barras, who was now placed in charge of the royal children, paid a visit to the Temple and was shocked by what he saw. In Louis Charles’ cell he found a truly broken child. His limbs were swollen with angry tumours and he was covered in sores. His eyes seemed empty and dead, he could not walk and would not speak. He spent his days huddled in a tiny cot, presumably to put some small distance between him and the filth that was piling up on the floor of his cell.

Barras seems to have been moved to help the boy, and eventually a new guardian, Jean-Jacques Christophe Laurent, was appointed. can you drink ivermectin injection orally Laurent was a young Creole from Martinique, whose compassion and kindness stands out in this otherwise inkily grim tale. He was determined to bring Louis Charles’ sufferings to light, at some risk to his own prospects, insisting the Commune examine his case and demanding the right to be allowed in to clean Louis Charles’ cell for the first time in many months. Louis Charles was also washed, and his lice-ridden hair and claw-like nails were cut. Though he was allowed very limited time with the boy, Laurent was kind to him, calling him ‘Monsieur Charles’, rather than the barrage of insults he had been used to. After so many months of cruelty and isolation, Louis Charles recoiled suspiciously at this treatment, asking him ‘Why are you taking care of me? I thought you didn’t like me’, before retreating once again into silence.

By February 1795, it was becoming clear that Louis Charles was dying, yet still it was three months before any doctor was permitted to see him. Finally, Dr Pierre Joseph Desault arrived at the Bastille on 6 May. Despite the danger of doing so (two journalists had recently been arrested for speaking out about Louis Charles’ treatment), Desault was from the start free in his condemnation.

I encountered a child who is mad, dying, a victim of the most abject misery and the greatest abandonment, a being who has been brutalised by the cruellest of treatments and whom it is impossible for me to bring back to life… revectina serve para pulgas What a crime!

He insisted that Louis Charles be allowed to take air and exercise, and provided him with toys. signs of ivermectin toxicity The pair seem quickly to have formed a trusting, even, in its muted way, affectionate relationship. Then, after a public dinner, Desault complained of severe stomach pains, and died three days later. Rumours rapidly circulated that he had been poisoned, which seemed all the more likely given that two of his assistants also died suddenly soon afterwards.

Though another doctor was appointed, it was too late for Louis Charles, who died in the night on 8 June 1795, at the age of ten. The story is a squalid one; a simple tale of neglect with all too much cruelty and all too little heroism. But, like the long lines of kings before him, the death of Louis Charles marked merely the passing of history into legend, and before long rumours began circulating that Louis Charles had not died at all, that he had somehow been smuggled out of the Temple and had not suffered that ignominious end. A far more palatable romance quickly took the place of the sordid reality, and before long, a string of claimants to the throne of Louis Charles would start to emerge in the unlikeliest of places. For that story, come back next time.

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18th Century Biography French History History Royal History

Marie Antoinette and her Children: The shocking accusations at Marie Antoinette’s Trial

Marie Antoinette's trial before the revolutionary tribunal

The most striking thing about reading the record of Marie Antoinette’s trial before the Revolutionary Tribunal in October 1793 is realising what an astonishing mess the whole thing really was. In most other accounts, revolutionary justice always seems so swift, so merciless, so ruthlessly efficient. Many of those who stood trial before the Tribunal had few real crimes to answer for, and yet they were quickly exposed as monsters and condemned to die by public guillotining. So, on the balance of things, you would have thought Marie Antoinette – a figure universally despised by a populace which had been spoonfed wild propaganda and grotesque fantasies about her since before she even came to France – wouldn’t have presented many problems.

And yet as you keep reading the account of her two day trial, one question increasingly plays on your mind – is this it?

The king’s trial and execution had turned out to be a painful and awkward affair. Louis argued his case with a quiet dignity, and the final vote to decide his fate revealed the extent of lingering doubt and latent sympathy for the former king. 361 deputies voted for Louis’ immediate execution, but 288 voted against the death penalty. On the streets of Paris, where public executions had become something of a spectator sport, Louis’ end brought its share of rejoicing, but somehow failed to offer the hoped-for catharsis, the line in the sand between the old regime and the revolutionary future.

If Louis’ execution had the atmosphere of a funeral, Marie Antoinette’s was expected to have more in common with a rowdy wake. The people had never hated Louis as much as they had come to despise Marie Antoinette, indeed in the popular version of events Louis was usually cast as a hapless, blundering but essentially good puppet being manipulated by the calculating Marie Antoinette for her own nefarious ends. Until she was removed from the equation, the revolution could never feel entirely secure.

The trial was presided over by Antoine Quentin Fouquier-Tinville, President of the Tribunal. He oversaw all the key trials of the period, and had earned a reputation as one of the revolution’s most fearsome figures. Ruthless and single-minded in the pursuit of revolutionary justice, rumour had it that he was terrified of the people, sleeping with an armed guard at his door and a hatchet under his pillow. One can only imagine his feelings as he received word that Marie Antoinette was finally to stand before his court. Here was an opportunity for a spectacular showpiece, a chance to reaffirm and reenergise the revolution. All that was really necessary was to provide a reminder of the crimes that the majority of people were already convinced Marie Antoinette had committed.

Marie Antoinette was given just two days to prepare for her trial, unlike her husband who had been afforded months tucked away with his lawyers at the Temple. As per the rules of the Tribunal, her lawyers would not be allowed to speak for her during the trial itself, so she alone must respond to all examination.

On 14th October, when the galleries had filled with expectant crowds (including the diehard groups of women who attended so many trials and executions that they now brought their knitting with them to do while they watched), the trial commenced. As expected Foquier-Tinville began with a lengthy, vitriolic speech in which he outlined the charges, and placed Marie Antoinette in a long line of infamously wicked women ‘like Messalina, Brunhilda, Fredegund and Medici’. He described her as ‘the scourge and the blood-sucker of the French’, and in language reminiscent of witchcraft accusations talked of the ‘creatures’ and ‘midnight meetings’ she employed.

From the outset then it was clear that the trial was to proceed along familiar lines of character assassination, the rationale seemingly being that proving Marie Antoinette’s complete moral degeneracy would show her capable of committing any crime, thereby absolving the need to prove her guilty of actually committing particular ones. Anyone with a bad word to say about Marie Antoinette, however unilluminating, is roped in to the court. Thus, Jean Baptiste Lapiere, a former guard at the Tuileries, testifies that he was on duty on the night the royal family made their escape, ‘but not withstanding his vigilence he had seen nothing’. Pierre Joseph Terrason observes that when the family had been captured and returned to the Tuileries, he saw Marie Antoinette “throw upon the national guards who escorted her, and likewise upon the citizens in her way as she passed along, a most vindictive glance; which suggested to me the idea that she would certainly take revenge; in reality a short time after the scene of [the massacre at] the Champ de Mars took place”. Rene Mallet, a former maid at Versailles, even goes so far as to relay a rumour she had heard that Marie Antoinette had conceived a plot to assassinate the Duke of Orleans, keeping two pistols secreted in her skirts in case any opportunity to carry out the murderous plan should present itself.

Evidence like this dominates the trial in part because of the corner the revolutionary authorities had backed themselves into. Most of the people who ever had any real contact with Marie Antoinette had long since fled France, or had already faced the Tribunal themselves. A few such associates were found for the trial, but Fouqier-Tinville is so keen to establish that they too are guilty and odious that he is forced to demolish their credibility and render their testimony next to useless. Jean-Frederic Latour Dupin gave evidence on the second day of the trial. As an ex-Minister of War he initially claims to know nothing of any of the charges laid against Marie Antoinette, and rather than pressing him on this, Fouqier-Tinville devotes much time to scrutinising Latour Dupin’s actions as minister, many of which have little or no bearing on Marie Antoinette. Even when he eventually does prompt Latour Dupin to concede that Marie Antoinette had asked him for military details, which he duly supplied, Fouqier-Tinville quickly becomes distracted by questions over whether she ‘abused the influence you had over your husband, in asking him continually for drafts on the public treasury?’. The crucial point of whether or not Marie Antoinette betrayed the armies of France (so pivotal to the charge of treason at the centre of the trial) is therefore never satisfactorily resolved.

The trial often falls into a pattern, with Fouqier-Tinville throwing accusations at Marie Antoinette without any tangible evidence, and Marie Antoinette sticking to what must have been her planned approach of giving short, unemotional responses – usually one word answers, or simply stating that she had no knowledge of what witnesses alleged.

Given the motley crew of witnesses assembled for the trial and the paltry store of evidence, the revolutionary authorities must have known that it had the makings of a repeat of Louis’ confused and messy hearing. What they needed was a piece of killer evidence – some new juicy scandal that even the rumour-weary people of Paris had never heard before – to turn this trial and execution into the triumph they needed it to be. And in searching for someone to take on the role of showman/muck-racker, they didn’t have to look very far.

Jacques René Hébert was one of those deliciously intriguing personalities that make studying the French Revolution such a joy. As editor of the incendiary (and, even today, shockingly foul-mouthed) newspaper Le Père Duchesne, Hébert had achieved great influence among his hundreds of thousands of readers, and had already made repeated calls for the destruction of Marie Antoinette, ‘the Austrian bitch’. Hébert himself was a figure riddled with contradictions. His newspaper was peppered with obscene language and visceral, violent imagery, and he adopted the persona of the archetypal sans-culotte; yet he himself came from a bourgeois background, dressed finely and, in some accounts, was in private a remarkably ordinary family man. And while his huge popular following made him the envy (and, latterly, the enemy) of figures as powerful as Robespierre, Hebert was never able to win a major elected position, and his attempts to do so ended in frankly embarrassing results.

He was, however, able to secure a position as the second substitute of the procureur of the Paris commune, and in this position he shared responsibility for the imprisonment of the royal family in the Temple. In this capacity he was privy to every detail of the actions of the family, shared responsibility for the decision to separate Louis Charles from his mother (as examined in a previous story) and from then enjoyed a powerful influence over the boy. For a man like Hébert this was a golden opportunity. All he had to do now was figure out how to use it.

Marie Antoinette’s personality had been assailed on almost every front – her wild extravagance was well known and unquestioned; her supposedly perverse and numberless sexual proclivities had been the stock in trade of pornographers and gossips for years; and at one and the same time she was dismissed as intellectually vapid and reviled as a cunning, Machiavellian enemy of the revolution. But through all this, one positive light had continued to shine on Marie Antoinette: the glow of motherhood. This aspect of her role was especially important to Marie Antoinette herself; in part because it had taken her so agonisingly long to become pregnant, in part, perhaps, because of the epic example of motherhood provided by her mother the Empress Maria Theresa, and in part simply because of her own naturally maternal personality. The image had been deliberately fostered through public events and in official portraits, especially those of preferred painter Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun. That it had a profound impact on the public was powerfully demonstrated in October 1789 when the crowds who invaded Versailles called for Marie Antoinette to appear before them on a balcony. When she attempted to come out with her family, the mob yelled ‘No children! No children!’, as if wanting to strip her of the cushioning aura of her motherhood.

If there was one thing Hébert knew it was how to whip up the people, and so he quickly arrived at a plan to destroy the one last vestige of humanity left in the public image of Marie Antoinette, and speed her on her way to the guillotine. At some point, it was mentioned to Hébert that when Louis Charles was frightened Marie Antoinette would comfort him and let him sleep in her bed. This planted the seeds of an idea. Hébert decided to frame a story that Marie Antoinette abused her son sexually, teaching him to masturbate and making him sexually dependant upon her. There has been some speculation that in order to provide this story with a foundation, Hébert ordered Louis Charles’ guard Simon to encourage him to masturbate, and even bring prostitutes into his cell. Certainly, Louis Charles was subject to all manner of physical abuse by his jailers, and there is no way of knowing how far this extended. However, it is clear that Hébert knew better than most men that truth was far less important than what people could be made to believe. He operated in the realm of words rather than action, and would have seen that subjecting the boy to actual sexual abuse was unnecessary for the plan to succeed. Louis Charles was, anyway, a vulnerable and easily-led boy.

In early October 1793 Hébert visited Louis Charles in the Tuileries, and got him to sign a pre-drafted confession. Most cruelly, Louis Charles was also made to confront his sister and aunt (who had not seen him for 3 months) with the accusations, and they too were then interrogated. Though only 15 years old and unable to understand the full weight of the accusation, Marie-Thérèse knew enough to recognise it as an obscene lie, and was profoundly upset by the incident. Aunt Elisabeth refused even to respond to the questions.

Armed with this coup de grâce, Hebert arrived at the great hall of the Revolutionary Tribunal on 14th October for Marie Antoinette’s trial. When called to give evidence, he began unremarkably enough, with recollections of finding counter-revolutionary symbols belonging to Marie Antoinette, and insinuations about Lafayette’s role in the escape plan. Is it too much to detect a little nervousness in Hébert’s opening remarks? He’s certainly watching his language, and there’s something hesitant, stumbly in his hotchpotch accusations. Finally though, he gets to the point, and the wind floods back into his sails.

In fine, young Capet, whose constitution became every day impaired, was surprised by Simon in practices destructive to his health, and at his period of life very uncommon; he was asked who had instructed him in these practices; he replied that it was his mother and his aunt.

Hebert went on, keen to prove that Marie Antoinette could not even engage in child abuse without some still more sinister motive.

There is reason to believe that this criminal indulgence was not dictated by the love of pleasure, but by the political hope of enervating the constitution of the child, whom they supposed destined to sit on the throne, in order that they might acquire ascendancy over his mind.

The court fell silent as the accusations landed, then an ambiguous murmur rippled round the crowd. Fouquier-Tinville hastily asked Marie Antoinette what she had to respond, Marie Antoinette replied “I have no knowledge of the facts of which Hebert speaks”. Even Fouquier-Tinville now seems unwilling to delve any deeper into this appalling line of questioning, and instead begins asking questions about some of Hébert’s earlier, more mundane accusations. He is interrupted by a member of the jury, who demands that the Queen answer the accusations about her son.

Suddenly the bricked-off, emotionless, almost robotic Marie Antoinette of the rest of the trial disappears.

If I have not replied it is because Nature itself refuses to answer such a charge laid against a mother.

Standing to face the assembled crowd directly, she challenged them.

I appeal to all mothers here present – is it true?

Hébert’s time as witness here ends abruptly and the trial swiftly moved on. As far as it is possible to tell from the accounts, the reaction to Hébert’s revelation was not what he had expected. There was at best dismay and at worst a wellspring of sympathy for Marie Antoinette, especially from the mothers to whom she had appealed. Not that it mattered, of course. The trial ended the next day, and the following morning Marie Antoinette went to the guillotine.

Few figures in history have suffered as much as Marie Antoinette from the distorting influence of myths and lies. The very first thing that most people will say if you mention her name is ‘Let them eat cake!’, a cold-hearted and idiotic comment that almost certainly never passed her lips. But at least the last great lie in her story has never taken hold, and the myth of Marie Antoinette as child abuser was seen for just what it was. Revolutionary karma had an ironic sense of humour, and the old adage ‘what goes around comes around’ has never been truer than in this case. Less than half a year after Marie Antoinette’s execution, Hébert fell foul of Robespierre and was himself tried at the Revolutionary Tribunal. Legend has it he responded with far less dignity than Marie Antoinette, throwing his hat at his judges and trembling on the scaffold before a crowd clearly relishing every drop of irony. Fouquier-Tinville too fell from grace in 1795. He protested that “It is not I who ought to be facing the tribunal, but the chiefs whose orders I have executed. I had only acted in the spirit of the laws passed by a Convention invested with all powers.” His trial lasted 41 days, but ended in in the same journey to the guillotine endured by so many of those he had judged.

It is too easy to dismiss Marie Antoinette’s trial as an empty sham, too tempting to gloss over its details in the rush towards the tragic finale of her story. But to do so is to miss out on a rich insight both into Marie Antoinette’s character at this final stage in her life, and into the mentality and operation of a revolution spiralling rapidly out of control. Marie Antoinette remains a polarising figure, but whichever side you take, the squalid details of her trial and final days, and the unnecessary attempts to blacken the character of a woman already certain to die, serve as a chilling example of human cruelty.

Sources

Infuriatingly, there is no published account of the trial available in English. For this story I relied on a contemporary account published in The Times in 1793, and printed as a book under the title Authentic Trial at Large of Marie Antoinette, Late Queen of France, Before the Revolutionary Tribunal at Paris, published by Chapman&Co 1793. This is available to request at the British Library.

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18th Century Biography French History History Royal History

Marie Antoinette and her Children: The mystery and the history of Louis Charles in the tower. Part 1

Louis Charles mystery Marie Antoinette

On the morning of 11th August 1792, an exhausted and increasingly sweaty royal family sat in the reporters’ box of the National Assembly, a stone’s throw from the Seine in Paris. The night before, the Tuileries (the 16th-century royal palace near the Louvre which had been their residence since they were removed from Versailles in 1789) had been invaded by the people, and a chaotic and brutal battled ensued. The king had been forced to flee the palace and seek refuge with the Assembly.

As debate raged around them over the future of the monarchy, one thing was already clear. The Tuileries was no longer a suitable residence for the royal family, and an alternative must be found urgently. And so it was that on 13th August, Louis, Marie Antoinette and their children were transported to the Temple. This would have come as no great surprise to Marie Antoinette, indeed she had predicted that they would ultimately be moved there several months before it came to pass. But it was nonetheless a frightening development. Marie Antoinette had always disliked the Temple – a complex of buildings including a rather lovely seventeenth-century palace and the far more ominous Tower, a decaying hulk of a building constructed by the Knights Templar in the 12th century. Earlier in her life, Marie Antoinette was even said to have suggested to her brother-in-law (then owner of the palace) that the Tower should be knocked down.

The Temple, Marie Antoinette's prison
The Temple Tower

The prospect of life in the Temple was very different to the one they had known in the Tuileries. Though certainly well past its best, and a precipitous step down from Versailles, the Tuileries was at least a royal palace, and while they had been tucked away there, a sort of calm had descended, allowing questions over the exact status of the royal family to be conveniently postponed or half-answered. The family had enjoyed considerable independence in the Tuileries, where there was space to walk outside and to house supporters, and enough leeway for many of the traditions and rites of Versailles to continue in some form or another. Security had even been lax enough to allow the royal party to make its ill-fated escape attempt earlier in the year.

The Temple, it was clear to everyone, was to allow none of this ambiguity. In moving to the Temple, Marie Antoinette and her family were being imprisoned, physically and psychologically. Though their quarters were cramped, damp and cold, there were still touches of luxury in their furnishings, meals continued to be lavish, and the King was allowed his own study. What made the real difference was that the King and Queen were now strictly monitored and controlled by jailers who openly disrespected them, and clearly enjoyed inflicting what Antonia Fraser calls ‘petty humilations’ on them whenever possible. What’s more, any chance of escape, except in the most fervid daydreams of die-hard monarchists and paranoid republicans, had now well and truly passed. Most painful of all for the king and queen must have been the dawning realisation that they were now powerless – locked out of the way whilst their fate, and that of France, was being decided elsewhere.

From now on, events moved rapidly. On 21st September, the National Assembly declared France a republic, and abolished the monarchy – adding new urgency to the question of what should be done with its former monarchs. In October, Louis was separated from his family in preparation for trial. His jailers presented him with a choice – he could be allowed to see his children during this time, or they could be left with Marie Antoinette, but it must be one or the other. They would not be allowed to see both parents. Louis chose to leave the children with their mother, and he would be reunited with his family just one more time, on the night before his execution on 21st January 1793. He bade them a tearful farewell, but promised to see them again the next morning before he was taken away.

Louis was fascinated by history, and had spent much of his life reading history books. Some observers had wondered why, because the king had never seemed to learn much from it. But recently he had been fixated on the story of Charles I of England, and in particular the fearless and noble way he met his own execution. It was said that Charles had secretly worn two overshirts as he stepped onto the scaffold that January morning, so that his people would not see him shiver from cold and think him afraid. Louis was determined that his people should not see him shiver, finding, as he faced his death, a resolution and strength he had so often lacked in life.

This newfound resilience called upon all of Louis’ emotional reserves, so when dawn came, he found himself unable to face the strain of of seeing his family again. He broke his promise. Marie Antoinette and her children waited in the Tower, unaware of what was going on. It was only when they heard drums and a huge cheer echoing round the streets that they knew Louis was dead. Later, some would claim that in that instant Marie Antoinette turned to her son Louis-Charles and said ‘The king is dead, long live the king’, expressing the tradition that monarchy itself never dies – kings come and go, but kingship passes down a divinely-ordained and unbroken ancient line.

The comment seems emotionally out of place, but whether or not Marie Antoinette actually said it, it was true that, with French law forbidding a woman to hold the crown, for those unwilling to accept that monarchy in France was a thing of the past, the seven-year-old Louis Charles had suddenly become King Louis XVII.

Louis Charles, son of Marie Antoinette
Louis Charles, painted in 1792 by Alexander Kucharsky

Louis Charles can’t have remembered much of life before the revolution, and in one way or another conflict had overshadowed his whole life. Portraits of the boy show an angelic and spirited but delicate looking child, and this matches well with the reports of everyone who knew him. He was said to be loyal and loving, and his stubborn pride was certainly forgiveable (indeed, almost a requirement) in a dauphin of France. He was adored by his parents and his sisters, and proved capable of charming even his most implacable enemies. The revolution would severely test the boy, and though he endured numerous terrifying episodes in which he and his family could easily have been killed, he did not emerge unscathed. These experiences seem in particular to have reinforced a pair of key character traits which Marie Antoinette and others had noted despairingly even before the upheavals of 1789. Firstly, Louis Charles had always been easily scared. At Versailles, more often than not it was the sound of dogs that startled him, but by 1793 his nerves had become so frayed that he cowered at almost any disturbance. Secondly, Louis Charles, like many young boys, had a tendency to repeat things that he had heard too freely, adding his own invented details to enhance the telling, without consciously meaning to lie. This it seems was a symptom of a more general desire to please, and to be loved.

This particular combination of character traits, though not exactly unusual in a boy of his age, was to prove disastrous in the new phase of Louis Charles’ life that was now beginning. With his father dead and mistrust and hatred for Marie Antoinette as widespread as ever, it was decided that the boy should be separated from his mother. This was done in June, without warning. When men entered to take him away, Marie Antoinette clung to her son for over an hour, refusing to release him even when her life was threatened. Only when the guards shifted tactic and threatened her daughter did Marie Antoinette finally relent.

Louis Charles now posed a problem for the revolutionary authorities. He was too young to be tried like his father, and he could certainly not be allowed to go into exile, where he would provide the counter-revolutionaries with a potent figurehead. And though the problem of his father had been solved by killing him, doing the same to this cherubic, innocent boy would present a most unpleasant image of the revolution to the world, and could inspire a backlash of monarchist sympathy. So, it seems to have been decided, the only thing to do with Louis Charles was to keep him out of sight of the public and hope that in time he would be forgotten. More deliciously for some, a close, solitary imprisonment even presented the tantalising possibility that Louis Charles might be made to forget himself. The Commune, which oversaw the imprisonment of Louis Charles, spoke explicitly in terms of a ‘re-education’, and the ultimate hope was that the boy should ‘lose the recollection of his royalty’, in the words of Jacques-René Hébert, and become a revolutionary.

The man chosen for this ‘re-education’ would be, in any other circumstances, an unlikely tutor. Antoine Simon was one of life’s failures, making a mess of everything he tried his hand at. Training initially as a shoemaker, nobody was interested in buying his wares, and his cheap tavern by the Seine proved equally disastrous. His luck seemed in when his first wife died and by some miracle he managed to attract another who came with a hefty dowry attached, but this too was soon frittered away. Rather than accepting that his own laziness and lack of business acumen had been the primary cause of the string of failures that riddled his adult life, Simon became increasingly angry and bitter, blaming anyone but himself for keeping him from the success he richly deserved. The Revolution was a gift to Simon, dovetailing nicely with his paranoid conspiracy theories, encouraging him to paint the aristocracy as being responsible for keeping men like him in their lowly stations. Even in the midst of this revolution, dominated by legendary characters and awesome personalities, Simon’s commitment and zeal marked him out, and he was soon noticed by those in authority. Simon was a man who would put the revolution above anything, and would not allow sentiment or affection to prevent him from following orders. Consequently when Jacques-René Hébert and his superiors at the Commune were searching for a man to watch over Louis Charles and break his royal spirit, Simon was a natural choice. One can only imagine Simon’s feelings on discovering his new destiny. He had spent his life railing impotently against the aristocratic Hydra laying waste to his hopes and dreams. Now one of its last remaining heads was his to control – and destroy.

Louis Charles’ re-education could not begin immediately as for the first few days he simply huddled in a corner, weeping uncontrollably, terrified by the slightest noise. Eventually though, things began to settle into a routine, and at least in this early stage, Louis Charles was not treated too badly. He was washed and his clothes were cleaned, he was given toys and sometimes even got to play with the laundry woman’s daughter. He was allowed outside into a small garden for air, and on one of these occasions Louis Charles found the courage to demand of some officials who had come to see him ‘I want to know what law you are using that says I should be separated from my mother… Show me this law, I want to see it!. Louis Charles’ short walk to the garden took him directly past Marie Antoinette’s cell, and if she craned her neck to a certain crack in the wall she could catch the merest glimpse of him as he walked by. Marie Thérèse wrote later that her mother would stand for hours with her eye crammed against that crack, waiting to see her son – ‘it was her sole hope, her sole occupation’.

In these early days of his isolation, there seems to have been some uncertainty about what exactly was to be done with Louis Charles. Simon didn’t like uncertainty, and resolved to clarify the situation. In July he went to the Commune, demanding what their intentions were for the boy. Their answer was clear and unequivocal – ‘We want to get rid of him!’.

From this point on the life of Louis Charles took a far more sinister turn.

Click here for part 2 of this story >>

Categories
19th Century Biography British History Historical Places History London Royal History

Queen Victoria’s Black Sheep: Prince Eddy and the Ripper Rumours, Part 2

Prince Albert Victor 'Eddy'

As we saw in Part 1 of this story, there are many theories on the real identity of Jack the Ripper doing the rounds, which range from the hypothetically plausible to the palpably absurd. Delving a little deeper, it is interesting to note how many of the suspects suggested over the years involve highly respected figures from the very top of Victorian society. Perhaps this should not be entirely surprising, as there is a strong and distinct social element in the Jack the Ripper story and its lasting emotional resonance. The Ripper scandal drew attention to the squalor and abject poverty of the East End of London where the murders took place, and the extreme inequalities that riddled complacent Victorian society. Recently uncovered census records have revealed that in 1881 (7 years before the murders took place) several of the Ripper’s victims were living with husbands and families. Presumably, in the years before 1888, these marriages must have disintegrated, with consequences for the abandoned women that eventually led them into prostitution.

There is a case to be made that part of the outrage over the murders was (and is) prompted not just by the barbarity of the acts themselves, but also by a feeling of shared guilt, that society as a whole could allow fellow human beings to fall so low and be forced into such dangerous and degrading means of survival. In this version of the narrative, it is fitting that many should seek to cast the grandees of Victorian Society in the role of Jack the Ripper. The story seems to work better (and certainly have more moral impact) if the Ripper was socially the polar opposite of his victims, his calculated murders being only an extreme, twisted version of polite society’s cold indifference. This perspective on events has developed over time. Contemporary suspects more often than not lived amongst, and in similar conditions to, their supposed victims, and included many immigrants, and known domestic murderers. As time has passed, however, new information on the always shifting, historically invisible community of Whitechapel has become harder and harder to obtain, necessitating perhaps a shift away from simple homicide on a human, local scale, and towards grand conspiracy theories and elaborate whodunit yarns, with ever more unlikely culprits.

Given this line of investigation, there could be no more perfect candidate for Jack than a royal, and it so happens that the contemporary royal brood had a black sheep who could quite easily be made to fit the bill, and has been the subject of not one but three distinct Ripper theories. Prince Albert Victor (always known as Eddy) was grandson to Queen Victoria and son of Prince Albert Edward, and as such stood to inherit the throne on the death of his father. But somehow, even amongst the Hanoverians (for whom spectacularly fractured and unhappy families were something of a tradition), Eddy seems particularly awkward, never quite fitting the role he was destined to play. He was an odd, listless character. Opinions vary over his lack of intelligence, but the argument is only over its extent not its existence, with assessments ranging from his tutor’s report that his mind was ‘abnormally dormant’, to persistent but unverified rumours that he had learning disabilities. Lack of intelligence was, however, no impediment to a young prince gaining admission to Cambridge, and he was helpfully excused from examinations during his time there from 1883 to 85.

Prince_Albert_Victor,_Duke_of_Clarence_(1864-1892)_by_William_(1829-18_)_and_Daniel_Downey_(18_-1881
Prince Albert Victor (Eddy). What secrets are hidden by that impeccably moustachioed smile?

As he entered adulthood, Eddy found himself in the unusual position of being simultaneously renowned as a ladies man and reviled as a homosexual. In 1889, his name became involved in the Cleveland Street Scandal, in which it emerged that several high-profile figures (including an Equerry to the Prince of Wales) were clients at a male brothel. All homosexual acts between men were illegal at this time, and punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment with hard labour, so these were serious accusations. However, it seems there was no evidence linking Eddy to the establishment, and his name was probably only thrown into the mix to distract attention from those who had actually been involved. Keen to avoid a scandal (having already created quite enough of his own), Eddy’s father stepped in to make the matter go away, effectively ending the investigation into the affair. This ultimately seems to have done more harm than good, the cover-up encouraging gossips to believe that Eddy did in fact have something to hide. Certainly, whispers of homosexuality (which seem to have very little grounding other than this case) have clung to him ever since.

Like his father, it seems Eddy also had dalliances with a string of women, leading to other scandals, including Margery Haddon’s (almost certainly false) claim that he was the father of her son, and subsequent blackmailing by the ‘son’ himself. In 1891, he was also blackmailed by two prostitutes who claimed to be in possession of compromising letters written in his hand. Though these claims, too, are now thought to have been fraudulent, there is little doubt that Eddy had his fair share of amatory adventures, and it is has been widely claimed that at some stage he contracted a venereal disease, possibly gonorrhoea.

The increasingly vexed question of Eddy’s eminent unsuitability to ever assume the crown was abruptly resolved in 1892, when he died, suddenly. The cause of death was officially recorded as influenza, though the shocking timing of his death, aged just 28, has prompted further conspiracy theories that he was poisoned, or pushed off a cliff, or that his death was faked in order to remove him from the succession.

Mix all of these elements together and you have a stew whose peppery aromas would attract any Young Turk looking to make his mark and his fortune on the Jack the Ripper scene. Although there is no evidence of anyone making the connection at the time of the murders, Eddy has subsequently become the linchpin of several theories.

Theory One: The Lone Madman

This theory, originally popularised by Dr Thomas Stowell in 1970, did not name Eddy directly, but there is enough evidence in his explanation to make it clear who he is referring to. According to this account, Eddy was suffering from syphilis, exotically contracted in the West Indies, which drove him mad and set him on the murderous course of Jack the Ripper. The royal family is said to have known that Eddy was the killer from at least the second murder, but did not act until after the fourth, when he was locked away in an asylum. He somehow escaped to murder Mary Jane Kelly, at which point he was re-interred and died of ‘softening of the brain’ in a private mental hospital at Sandringham.

Stowell died shortly after publishing this theory, and his papers were destroyed by his family. This has made many elements of the story impossible to substantiate. More damagingly, official records show that Eddy was not in London on the murder dates (but then, they would do, wouldn’t they?).

The theory was elaborated by Frank Spiering, who claimed to have seen notes of royal physician Sir William Gull, in which he described hypnotising Eddy and watching in horror as he acted out the Ripper murders. When the New York Academy of Medicine, Spiering’s stated source for this material, claimed that it had no such records, Spiering went on to challenge the Queen to throw open the royal archives and publicly reveal the truth about Eddy’s murderous secret. When the royal household said they would gladly allow Spiering access to the archives (as they will to anyone who applies), Spiering stroppily replied that he didn’t want to see the files anyway, so there.

Bunkometer Rating: A theory which, aside from being based on a paper trail which no-one can prove exists, seems to offer no tangible connection between Eddy and the murders, other than that he had a sexually transmitted disease and therefore must have despised all women madly, and killed a string of them. Codswallop.

Theory Two: Eddy As Jack’s Muse

James Kenneth Stephen - Jack the Ripper?
James Kenneth Stephen

Accepting that the idea of Eddy as Jack the Ripper has colander-level water-holding abilities, but unwilling to leave him out of the story entirely, another theory has emerged with Eddy the unlikely inspiration for enough searing sexual jealousy to fuel the fires of history’s most infamous serial killer. This theory, advocated by Michael Harrison, centres around James Kenneth Stephen, a poet, and Eddy’s tutor at Cambridge (as well as cousin of Virginia Woolf).

Stephen was undoubtedly an unusual character, and any hint of being a little bit odd is blood in the water for your second-rate Ripper researcher. It is undeniable that some of Stephen’s poetry did contain a misogynistic streak. Take, for example, his poem In the Backs, which contains the following lines about a woman he comes across and takes an instant disliking to,

…I do not want to see that girl again:
I did not like her: and I should not mind
If she were done away with, killed, or ploughed.
She did not seem to serve a useful end :
And certainly she was not beautiful.

Chilling words, certainly, but is it any more than poetic hyperbole? Harrison certainly seems to think so. According to his version of events, Stephen fell passionately in love with Prince Eddy during his time at Cambridge, and Eddy initially responded to his advances, entering into a sexual relationship. Soon though, Eddy grew tired of Stephen, and took the excuse of his enrolment in the army to end the affair. Less controversially, two years later Stephen suffered a brain injury, as a result of either being hit by an object falling from a moving train, or far more romantically being thrown by his horse into the spinning vane of a windmill. Thus began a period of mental deterioration, culminating, says Harrison, in complete insanity.

Enraged by Eddy’s widely rumoured flings with women, whom he clearly lusted after in a way Stephen had never been able to inspire, Stephen determined to take his revenge on an entire gender by committing the Ripper murders. Precisely why Stephen should pick these East End prostitutes as way of hurting Eddy is not fully explained.

Bunkometer Rating: This theory seems to be based on the apparently groundless belief in Eddy and Stephen’s homosexuality, and yet again relies on an implied and murky, yet clearly direct and unswayable, relationship between sex, madness and the murder of prostitutes. In going to far greater lengths to establish the suspect’s immorality and strangeness than any direct link to the murders, it’s as if the author is suggesting that, in effect, the former proves the latter. Crapola.

Theory Three: The Royal Conspiracy

Everyone likes a conspiracy, and this one is so juicy that it has gained a lot of ground in recent decades, and has frequently been portrayed in television, film and popular books.

Based on the claims of Joseph Gorman, this version of events holds that Eddy secretly married and had a child with a Alice Mary Crook, a Catholic shop assistant (of all things!) in the East End. On hearing of this brewing scandal, the royal family, including Victoria herself, formed an unholy alliance with (you guessed it) the Freemasons to cover up the awful mess. Key figures, including Lord Salisbury and, yet again, royal physician Sir William Gull, masterminded a plot to eliminate everyone who knew about Eddy’s child, and at the same time send a powerful coded message, broadcasting the abiding power of the freemasonry. For some reason, the motley crew stopped short of killing Alice, instead whisking her off to an asylum where Gull conducted experiments on her to make her forget what had happened, and plunge her into lunacy.

Bunkometer Rating: Balderdash! Eddy plays only a supporting role in this one, his accepted profligacy making him a suitable donor of the wild royal oats needed to get this potboiler going. There are several gaping holes here: notably why was Alice not murdered, and how is it that the covering up of this ripe rumour only necessitated the killing of five women, all of them prostitutes? The final nail in the coffin should have been Joseph Gorman’s later admission that he had made the whole thing up, but the rumour is out in the wild now, and seemingly unstoppable.

What all of this seems to suggest is that the British, as affectionate as many of them are towards the royal family, take only a very little prompting to believe that this august and ancient institution has a dark, rotten heart, and a mind programmed entirely differently from our own. The fact that such flimsy theories, contradictory of each other and often of themselves, have gained any currency at all reflect our willingness to see the royals as characters in the vividly painted, infinitely flexible story of history rather than as fellow human beings, operating in a unique but real set of social circumstances. But then, we needn’t have looked to history to highlight that.

Anyone for another Diana enquiry?

Further Reading

Categories
19th Century Biography British History Royal History

How do you solve a problem like Victoria: was Queen Victoria illegitimate?

Queen Victoria - illegitmate?

Of the 41 monarchs of England since the arrival of William the Conqueror, only 7 have been women. But stop and think of the 41 figures on that list: how many do you feel any real connection with, how many produce an emotional response when you picture them? And, crucially, how many do you have any genuine respect for?

When you whittle things down this way, the list starts looking decidedly feminine. There are very few monarchs who can match the imaginative appeal of Elizabeth I and Victoria; none who seem so absolutely inseparable from their age. The majority of our male kings seem to run together into a blur of degeneracy or mediocrity, and frequently both. Perhaps precisely because of the essential masculinity of the role, many of our Queens seem to have worked much harder, given much more and left a far more unique legacy. Heck, to use a phrase borrowed (worryingly) from my parents, they just had more spunk.

In 2002, the BBC conducted a poll to find the ‘100 Greatest Britons‘. There are three monarchs in the top twenty – Alfred the Great, Elizabeth I and Victoria. So it seems, despite the fact that still only a puny one in five of our elected officials in the House of Commons is female, when it comes to strength, leadership and respectability, the monarchy has had no better, more lastingly memorable and characteristic representatives than Elizabeth and Victoria.

So what if many of the features that made Queen Victoria remarkable and rejuvenating were owed not to her connection to the ancient royal bloodline, but to her disconnection from it? What if Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, was not her real father? And what if Victoria’s troublesome genetic legacy is the smoking gun that can prove it?

This claim has been made most forcefully by the formidable Victorian specialist A.N Wilson, but questions have also been raised by those with a far more intimate connection to the subject. After watching the film of Alan Bennet’s The Madness of King George, which graphically depicted George III’s torments whilst suffering with porphyria, Princess Margaret is said to have wondered aloud, ‘Isn’t it hereditary?’.

She was of course right. Acute porphyria is now often attributed as the cause of George’s ‘madness’, triggering the famous discoloured urine, flatulence, constipation, colic, itchy skin, seizures and anxiety. Visit the Discover website to find out how cbd products helped with my anxiety. If you’re looking for supreme, unbeatable kratom products then, kratommasters.com will give all you want!

This diagnosis suggests that the king may not have been mad at all; rather the incessant discomfort, severe pain and nervous exhaustion caused by porphyria may have literally driven him to distraction, creating the impression of a man who had lost his mind and all connection to reality. She got her computer and searched for the best cbd body lotions online and found out they actually have a lot of benefits, like helping with stress, anxiety, depression, just what she needed. You can then look forward to enjoying the many benefits that CBD products can offer such as enhanced sleep, lower anxiety levels, and increased relaxation. cannablossom.co will look at the main benefits of buying CBD products online with them. CBD is generally considered to be safe and free from harmful side effects, and because of this, here are the best cbd companies that are popular in today’s market.

It is extremely rare for men to exhibit such extreme symptoms of porphyria, leading some researchers to speculate that it may have been caused by exposure to arsenic. An examination of a sample of George’s hair found traces of arsenic at 300 times the toxic level, likely as a result of the arsenic-laden James’ powders medicine the king is known to have been given.

It may well be that George inherited the disease from Mary Queen of Scots and her son James I, both of whom are recorded as suffering from complaints that tally well with the symptoms of porphyria. From this point on, porphyria seems to have been prevalent amongst the royals, with George only its most high profile sufferer. Prevalent, that is, until Victoria, after whom the disease mysteriously vanished from the royal family.

So goes the theory. Although it is often stated that after Victoria there is no evidence of porphyria in the line, at least two of her descendants seem to have shown signs of the condition. The remains of her granddaughter, Charlotte, Duchess of Saxe-Meiningen, have recently been examined and revealed a high likelihood that she suffered from porphyria, together with her daughter, who committed suicide in 1945, after a lifetime of health problems. Prince William of Gloucester, who died in a plane crash in the 1970s, was reliably diagnosed with the disease by three separate specialists, though he was also descended from Victoria’s uncle, the Duke of Cambridge, and might have inherited it from him.

This evidence is not enough to entirely quash the idea that the run of porphyria in the the royal family ended with Victoria, but it certainly introduces enough doubt to stop anyone getting too carried away with the idea that Victoria was illegitimate. There is, however, another genetic mystery which is harder to dismiss.

While porphyria is said to have stopped with Victoria, another disease is said to have started. Victoria was a known carrier of haemophilia, and certainly passed it on to two of her daughters and her son, Prince Leopold. What’s strange is that there is no known incidence of haemophilia in the royal family before this time, and, unlike porphyria, male carriers always suffer the disease, which would at the time have been very difficult to conceal. Research conducted at the Royal Society of Medicine through seventeen generations of ancestors on Victoria’s mother’s side has revealed no evidence of the disease.

This leaves only two options: either Victoria acquired haemophilia through a spontaneous genetic mutation, or the Duke of Kent was not her father. Although genetic mutation accounts for around 33% of all cases of haemophilia, the chances of it occurring in any one generation are between 1 in 25,000 and 1 in 100,000. And it must be admitted that the alternative explanation has several points in its favour. The marriage between Edward, Duke of Kent, and Victoria’s mother Victoire, Princess of Leiningen, was by no stretch of the imagination a happy one. Neither spoke each other’s language for a start, and by the time of the marriage, when Edward was in his 50s, he was, to put it politely, past his physical prime. There were also persistent and widespread rumours about Victoire and her secretary Sir John Conroy. Victoria seems to have openly loathed Conroy, which many (including the august Duke of Wellington) supposed was the result of her certain knowledge of his affair with her mother. Some went so far as to suggest that Victoria had inadvertantly stumbled across the couple in what would now be called a compromising situation.

There are problems with this theory – Conroy was a soldier, a career which would surely have been made next to impossible by haemophilia, and none of his descendants showed signs of the disease. But the tantalising possibility remains that Victoire’s infidelity may not have stopped with Conroy, and Victoria was the result. The implications of this are far-reaching – not only did this furtive coupling create one of our most iconic monarchs, but in successive generations it spread the disease throughout the royal houses of Europe; to Alfonso, Prince of Asturias and Infante Gonzalo of Spain, and to Alexei, Tsarevich of Russia. His mother’s desperate search for a cure, of course, brought the profoundly unpopular Rasputin to a position of royal influence, adding fuel to the revolutionary fires.

All this, of course, is speculation, and highly controversial speculation at that. The evidence from porphyria is at best questionable, and far more unlikely events have happened in history than spontaneous genetic mutation. On the balance of the evidence available, it has to be said there’s no reason to abandon the official line that the Duke of Kent was indeed the true father of Victoria. But the alternative remains appealing, partly because deep down everyone loves a good bit of gossip, and partly because of the light it sheds on the true nature of royalty and the vicissitudes of history. Could it be that Victoire got bored one afternoon, summoned some unknown haemophiliac lover to her bedchamber and engaged in a little nookie that changed the course of history forever? Probably not. But the mystery remains, and there’s something gloriously, wickedly subversive in it that serves as a refreshing antidote to all the grand history we so often have shoved down our throats.

Further Reading

  • The Victorians by A.N. Wilson A masterly overview of the Victorian period, which includes Wilson’s controversial claims about Victoria herself.