The 29 November 1760, the Duke of Burgundy is baptised.  The next day he is presented with the holy eucharisty for the first time.  He now knows that he is living his last moments, and prepares himself for the final act with calm and piety.  Right up until his death, he conserves his strength and lucidity.

When the last sacrements are brought, his greatest worry is not for himself, but for his younger brother.  His “brother de Berry”, as he calls him tenderly, has himself become ill.  He will not see his elder brother again – his ruthless rival and unequalled guide.

In the night of 20 to 21 March 1761, the Duke of Burgundy is delivered from his long suffering.  A few months before his tenth birthday, he fades away into the Easter light, a crucifix in his hands, calling:  “Mummy, Mummy…”

Lefranc de Pompignan reports:

“At six o’clock in the morning, the Duke de La Vauguyon went to see the King.  His Majesty was only too well prepared for the dreadful news.  He ordered the Duke to descend to My Lord the Dauphin’s.  He went straight away and sent word to the prince that the Duke of Berry was well and that the Duke de La Vauguyon was there.  These few words said it all.”

The royal family would never recover from this drama.  The Dauphin tried hard to distract his chagrin, every event revived his pain, every word opened the too recent wound.  Memories surged from everywhere.  They escaped from discussions with his dead son’s former valet, they seeped through the walls of the funereal apartments…  now occupied by the Duke of Berry.

It could be thought that the Dauphin would transfer his affection to this child who is now promised to the throne.  He didn’t.  His father was not far from accusing him of not being strong enough to mourn his elder brother, and of having then usurped his place by surviving him.  At the same time, he reproached him for not keeping up appearances.  He seemed excessively reserved, too entrenched in his timidity.

On top of this, his physical appearance is the complete opposite of that of the Duke of Burgundy.  He is blond, the dead boy was dark.  His eyes are blue like his mother’s, those definitively closed were black.  On the other hand, the Counts of Provence and of Artois have a lot going for them.  Their dark, sparkling eyes make them resemble, not only the Duke of Burgundy, but also their father.  Their characters help them too.  They are talkative and like to shine in society.  It is particularly noticed that the Count of Provence has the same impertinence as his dead brother.  Therefore, he is especially spoiled by his father, who considers him to be the genius of the family.

What remains for the unloved prince?  The consolation of being – after his father – the heir to the throne of France.  Although this is also a heavy burden to carry.  For such a destiny – particularly when it arrives by accident – is bound to cause jealousy and resentment.

In this, we find a whole court faction, tied to the philosophical currents.  At its head, the Duke of Choiseul, Minister of Foreign Affairs, who seized the slightest occasion to undermine the prince.  In 1761, when Charles III, King of Spain, asked the Duke of Berry to represent him at the baptism of the Count of Artois, Choiseul did everything he could to dissuade the monarch.  He didn’t succeed, but his hostility was thus exposed to everyone.

In the middle of these intrigues, the Duke of Berry continued his apprenticeship.  Mr de La Vauguyon himself composed philosophical works which presented exemplary figures to his pupil.  One of them was entitled Recueil abrege des vertus de Monseigneur de Bourgogne…  A second time, then a third and a fourth, the prince relived the terrible death of his brother with a lot of details on his atrocious sufferings.  Until this macabre scene was imprinted in the deepest part of his being.

This seems a very strange pedagogy.  But, for the governor, the deployment of sensibility is one of the conditions of the development of virtue.  So, the closer the example, the more it should mark.  This instruction goes hand in hand, of course, with the grandiloquent exaltation of the character of the Duke of Burgundy, whose every trait contributes to brushing a saintly model to be imitated in minute detail.  The lesson is supposed to be that, although unworthy of his martyr brother, he must do everything to try to acquire his qualities.  His preceptor repeats untiringly to him:

“It is time to answer the call of your high destiny.  France and the whole of Europe have their eyes fixed on you”.

At this school, the prince grows in age, in science and in wisdom.  And the Dauphin does not remain insensitive to his progress.  However, he reserves for him a particularly rigorous preferential treatment.  He allows him only a few distractions and brief, instructive outings.  His major preoccupation is to perfect his intellectual formation, while taking care that the court does not put him at the forefront and that the newspapers do not speak about him too much.

To be continued.

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