On 8 June, the young Temple prisoner was dead.

Immediately, a rumour started to circulate about a plate of spinach containing a slow poison.  It is true that an illness that had evolved so rapidly, with symptoms such as violent colics, vomitting and cold sweating, looked suspiciously like poisoning.

People remembered that Representative Mailhe, in the name of the Legislation Committee, had ended his report on the trial of Louis XVI with these menacing words:  “This child is not yet guilty;  he hasn’t yet had time to share the iniquities of the Bourbons.  You have to weigh his destiny with the interests of the Republic.  You will have to make up your minds on the question raised by Montesquieu: “In the States which value liberty the most, there are laws which violate it… and I admit that the customs of the most liberal peoples on Earth, lead me to believe that there are situations when liberty should be veiled, the way we once veiled the statues of the Gods.””

It was also remembered that on 1 August 1793, Barere, in a report on the attitude of Europe toward France, had cried out:  “Is it our indifference toward the Capet family which has deceived our enemies like this?  Well!  It is time to extirpate all of the royal offspring… ”

Chabot had said loudly at the Convention:  “It is the pharmacist’s job to deliver France from the Capet son”.  And, a few months before the death of the young king, Brival, a Convention colleague of Chabot, had said in a speech:  “I think that, after having cut down the tree, we must dig up its roots, which can only bear poisoned fruit, and I am surprised that, in the middle of so many useless crimes committed, we have spared the remains of a race… ”

On top of this, the death of the Dauphin helped the negotiations with Spain, which was demanding the child in exchange for peace.  As soon as he was dead, the treaty was rapidly signed.

However, the Commune, which had several times obtained poison – a pharmacist having received one hundred thousand ecus for the secret of a slow, efficient poison – was not necessarily responsible for an actual poisoning .

Public rumour spread the poisoning story.  The Commune and the committees were sufficiently shaken to order an autopsy, as much to quieten the rumour as to prove their own innocence.

The operation was carried out by the doctors and surgeons Pelletan, Dumangin, Lassus and Jeanroy.  All of these names were highly respected at the time.  Pelletan and Dumangin were hospital doctors.  Lassus had been part of the Health Service of Mesdames de France, aunts of Louis XVI.  Jeanroy had been attached to the House of Lorraine.

It was said that the last two had been purposely chosen by the Convention, because they had known the Dauphin as a small child.  As far as we know, Lassus had never claimed to have seen him.  Jeanroy admitted that he had only rarely seen him.  When he was shown the portrait of the young prince, he is said to have exclaimed, while dissolving into tears:  “You cannot be mistaken, it is he, and you cannot mistake him.”

However, the year of his death, the child, or the one who had replaced him, had arrived at such a degree of emaciation, that it was impossible to recognize in this skeletic body, the pretty Dauphin whom Jeanroy may have glimpsed.  It seems evident that the exclamation attributed to this doctor, aged over eighty, has been invented to advance the cause.

The same could be said of Pelletan.  Here is what the Duchess of Tourzel wrote about it:

“This statement was supported by that of Pelletan who, called to my home in consultation a few years after the death of Jeanroy, had been struck with the resemblance of a bust of the dear little prince, which he saw on my chimney and, although there was no sign by which he could have recognized him, he exclaimed when he saw it:  “It is the Dauphin; ah!  It so resembles him!”  and he repeated the words of Jeanroy:  “The shades of death had not altered the beauty of his face.”  He added that he had not seen him very much, that he was dying, unconscious to everything, except to the treatment he was being given, for which he was still grateful.

“It was impossible for me to have the least doubt about the statements of two such respectable people.  The only thing left for me to do was to mourn the loss of my dear little prince.”

Pelletan’s behaviour is rather ambiguous.  He will steal the heart of the child, which leads us to believe that he thought him to be the Dauphin.  On the other hand, he will be rebuked by Napoleon for having been indiscrete enough to talk about the evasion of Louis XVII, about which he appears to have had pertinent knowledge.

Seventh part tomorrow.