Let us return to the Temple Prison in November 1794.
This is the time when the guardian Gomin took up his function. He had never seen the Dauphin, so was therefore unable to show any surprise when a child in the last stages of cachexia was presented to him.
This child was unable to walk or move around because of the tumours which he had on both knees, and he didn’t speak either. This was noted by the three delegates from the General Security Committee, sent to inform their colleagues about the Dauphin.
The deputies’ report is, at the least, ambiguous. The prisoner remained absolutely silent at every question put to him. It is tempting to conclude that it was not the son of Louis XVI and of Marie-Antoinette, but a rachitic, mute child that had been substituted for him, whom the deputies Harmand, Reverchon and Mathieu saw.
On 29 March 1795, a few weeks after this visit, the guardian Laurent left the Temple Tower for his native home of Santo Domingo.
The day after that, the new guardian, Lasne, took up his function. He could only take note of the bad state of health of the child. At this point, Dr Desault of Hotel Dieu was called in.
Desault had already been called to the Temple the day after Barras’ visit. At this time, the child prisoner was in bad health and, if we accept the evasion date as being the Simons’ departure, the young boy visited by Barras, then by Desault, was not the Dauphin.
The doctor’s prescription does not reveal a serious illness, but rather a need for stimulants and tonics. He prescribed wine, chocolate, meat and lettuce. For medecine, the patient was given a decoction of hops and an antiscorbutic syrup.
On 29 May, Desault stopped coming to the Temple. He had become seriously ill and was unable to continue his visits to the prisoner. On 2 June, Commissioner Bidault, upon arriving at the Temple, cried out: “Don’t wait any more for the doctor, he died yesterday”.
This sudden death was thought to be suspicious. People refused to accept that such a rapid demise had had a natural cause. All of the Memoires of the time support the rumour of premeditated poisoning.
Had the doctor realised, while examining the prisoner, that the child was not the Dauphin? In the eyes of Dr Abeille, Desault’s pupil, of Dr Adouls, his former protector, of Madame Calmet, his niece, there was no doubt that he had been poisoned.
In a declaration made by Madame Calmet on 5 May 1845, she claimed to have often heard her aunt Madame Desault say that her husband, Dr Desault, chief surgeon at Hotel Dieu, had been called to visit the “Capet child” who was imprisoned in the Temple. She said that when he made his visit, he was presented with a child whom he did not recognize as being the Dauphin. He had seen the Dauphin on several occasions before the arrest of the royal family.
Madame Calmet also declared that she had heard the doctor’s wife say that, on the day that Desault presented his report (after having made a few enquiries to try to find out what had happened to the son of Louis XVI, since another child had been shown to him instead) some Convention members invited him to dinner. After this dinner, upon arriving home, the doctor started to vomit, and died shortly afterward. This led his wife to believe that he had been poisoned.
Louis XVI’s former valet, Jacques Boillaut, also claimed that Madame Desault had told him that her husband had been poisoned, and another suspicious circumstance is that Desault’s report on the royal prisoner’s health was never published.
Six days after Desault’s death, the surgeon Chopart died too. He had been a very close friend of Desault. Doctor Doublet, who had been called in for a consultation at the Temple, also met a very rapid end.
These successive deaths immediately appeared suspicious. So, it was thought that they were all caused by poison.
Firstly, for Desault, according to the documention on his autopsy, it appears evident that he died from either typhoid fever or cerebro-spinal meningitis. Chopart stayed with his friend during his illness and was with him when he died. Chopart had suffered from different infirmities for a long time and was prematurely aged, so his death, too, could have been from natural causes. As for Doublet, nothing in particular suggests that he may have been murdered. It was all just presumption.
Doctor Pelletan was named to replace Desault as doctor to the child in the Temple. He was called to see the young patient in the afternoon of 5 June. The illness does not appear to have been serious; the remedies prescribed were powdered rhubarb, quinine extract and a tea made from hops.
The next day, the illness was worse and Pelletan, judging the situation to be very serious, asked to be joined by one of his colleagues, Dr Dumangin. After consultation, the two doctors asked for the help of two more colleagues. The doctors Jeanroy and Lassus were appointed by the Convention, although it is also said that these last two doctors were only called in for the autopsy.
Sixth part tomorrow.