Louis XV.

It took the mortal illness of Louis XV for the French Court to see things differently.  The dead King had declared himself to be against innoculation and the young Dauphin refused to submit to it.  Only the Orleans family and a few enlightened nobles had up until then shown the way, if we except the massive character of the Franche-Comte operation.  As early as 13 May 1774, or three days after the death of the Bien-Aime, an innoculating doctor offers his services to the Count de Provence and the royal family in general.  Some are worried when, on 13 July, the Gazette de France announces the imminence of the operation.  It is thought that this decision has been taken under the influence of the Queen [Marie-Antoinette] who was able to see the efficacy of the procedure at the Vienna Court.  Worried, the Duke de Croy nevertheless concludes that

Marie-Antoinette and her children.

“if this goes well, it would be great worries the less and perhaps a revolution in the King [Louis XVI] which could make him make children, a consideration which could have entered into the just views of the Queen”.

The uncertainty is a burden nonetheless, and is translated by the brutal fall of the course of shares in the Compagnie des Indes orientales.  [Doctor] Tronchin having apparently managed to extricate himself from the solicitations of which he is the object, the innoculators retained are Richard, inspecteur general des hopitaux militaires, Lassone, the Queen’s doctor, and Jauberthon, a reputed Parisian innoculator.

Louis XVI.

The three men will firstly select a good “variolifere” (smallpox carrier):  the daughter of a laundry couple whose morality is guaranteed by the lieutenant general de police.  The King and the Princes go to Marly on 17 July.  They are joined by the sick girl on the following day.  Richard removes, via a lancet, the necessary pus from the child and then pricks Louis XVI, his two brothers and the Countess d’Artois.  After the first pains felt on the 22nd, the fever appears in the King on the 24th, soon followed by nauseas and shivers, but things get better from the 26th, and the eruption of the 27th has only a benign character.  After the suppuration engaged on the 30th, the absence of secondary fever over the course of the following days signifies that the sovereign is now out of danger.  The same goes for his two brothers and his sister-in-law.

Encouraged by this success and impressed by the size of the campaign in Franche-Comte, Louis XVI is favourable to a generalization of the procedure.  In 1782, the efforts deployed in Normandy by Doctor Lapeyre end in the creation, near Caen, of a specialised establishment.  On 24 September 1786, Calonne informs the Intendants that

“the King’s intention being to extend the progress of innoculation into the province, His Majesty has approved the project of having innoculated all of the foundling children who are in the villages and the countryside, as well as orphan children and others received into the hospitals, and who are in their charge”.

Doctor Jauberthon is given the task of supervising the operations.  The intention is laudable, but the Intendants’ responses highlight the material difficulties which the carrying out of such an enterprise will face.

The Revolution changes nothing about the case, and we have to wait until 1799, when Doctors Pinel and Leroux, from the Ecole de medecine, suggest the creation of an innoculation clinic for the purpose of using the “vaccine” procedure elaborated in England by Edward Jenner.  In 1798, in London, An Enquiry on the Causes of the Pox Vaccine [Une enquete sur les causes de la variole vaccinee] had appeared.  In it, Jenner demonstrates the anti-smallpox properties of cow-pox.  This possesses numerous advantages that the former innoculation did not have.  With vaccine, it is no longer necessary to treat the patient after innoculation, which permits envisaging it on a large scale.

Within a few years, it will allow the massive regression of deaths from smallpox.  From 50,000 to 80,000 victims before 1800, the number falls to under 10,000 from 1805.  From 1804, under the impulsion of the prefets, who receive instructions in this sense from the central power, sous-prefets, mayors and curates are mobilised for the creation of local vaccination committees.  The efficacy of the procedure is rapidly verified and overthrows the last reticences, particularly as the new innoculation no longer involves the very real risks which always accompanied the old one.  However, the road will still be long to the 1902 law which will make anti-smallpox vaccination obligatory in France.  It is only in 1910, that the illness will have almost totally disappeared, before being finally eradicated from the planet at the end of the XXth Century.