Tag Archive: Dauphin

Louis XV from a Van Loo portrait.

It is half past ten at night, on Friday 29 April 1774, when a doctor notices – while leaning over Louis XV, who is confined to bed – a few suspicious red marks on the royal face.  He orders a servant to bring a candle closer so that he can see better and, with a worried expression, goes over to his colleagues present in the sovereign’s bedchamber.  He murmurs a few words, and they all, one after the other, approach the patient to better examine him.  After a brief consultation with each other, the doctors decide to forbid the royal family access to the patient’s bedchamber and, a few minutes later, the Duke de Bouillon informs the Court that “the King’s smallpox is declared”.

The news rapidly spreads throughout the palace but it is decided to keep the sovereign in ignorance of his illness.  This is made easier because he believes that he has had smallpox in his youth and thinks himself immunised against it.  They therefore talk to him about “suette militaire”, a malady characterised by the eruption of a rash, accompanied by abundant perspiration.  This illness appeared in Picardie at the beginning of the century, and the King’s advanced age – sixty-four – normally shields him from a fatal outcome…

All that can be done is wait, for, in this matter, the doctors of the time know only too well the limitations of their art.  Doctor Lorry declares “that on the subject of smallpox, we have said all that we know as soon as we have named it”, and another doctor, Lemonnier, answers the Cardinal de La Roche-Aymon, Grand Chaplain to the King, who questions him on the gravity of the illness, “that there is nothing in particular to say;  it’s smallpox, you know it, you see it;  I have nothing else to add”.  At this precise moment, no-one can establish any prognosis for the evolution of the illness and the patient’s chances for survival.


For many people, this smallpox which takes hold of the royal person at the end of fifty-nine years of reign, assumes the dimension of a divine punishment.  Jesuits, Jansenists, Members of Parliament, partisans of Choiseul, all those who have something with which to reproach the man who had been Louis le Bien-Aime [the Beloved] will see a celestial punishment in his last illness.  On the preceding Holy Thursday, Abbot Jean-Baptiste Beauvais had prophesied from the pulpit.  Recently promoted Bishop of Senez, and given the task of preaching during Lent, he had denounced the debauchery which reigned at Court and the guilty complacency of a King accused of “libertinage”.  He reminded the sovereign of his wife’s death and that of six of his children, notably the Dauphin Louis, before accusing

“this monarch, glutted with voluptuousness, tired of having dipped into all the types of pleasures which surround the throne to awaken his wilted senses, who finishes by seeking out a new sort in the vile remains of public licence”.

After this direct allusion to Madame du Barry, wrongfully accused by public rumour of having been formerly an inmate of a Parisian house of pleasure, the predicator concluded with this terrible menace:

“Another forty days and Niniva will be destroyed… “

The sermon was pronounced on 1 April.  On the following 10 May, Louis XV will breathe his last breath…

The King assumed his part of the Bishop of Senez’ scarcely veiled threats, and spent an excellent month of April, which introduced the first wafts of Spring.  Installed at the Petit Trianon – which had just been finished – in the company of Mme du Barry, he consecrated himself above all to the pleasures of the hunt.  It was noticed, however, that he didn’t look very well and had very little appetite from the 20th.  His state became more serious on the 27th.  Affected with headaches, he still went hunting, but had to give it up during the day.  The situation grew worse the next day, for fever declared itself, accompanied by violent nauseas.  Consulted, La Martiniere, First Surgeon, advised returning to the Palace, which augured ill for what was to follow, for it was thought that a sovereign in danger of death should naturally be among his own.  In a few minutes, a carriage drove from the Petit Trianon to the Palace.  During the night which followed, the pains grew worse.  On Friday 29 April, Lemonnier, Ordinary Doctor to the King, decided to bleed him and consulted several of his colleagues, Lorry, Bordeu, Mme du Barry’s doctor, and Lassone, that of the Dauphine Marie-Antoinette.  Nothing very precise came out of the discussions which were then engaged and they contented themselves with speaking of “humoral fever”.  After having bled the King for the second time, they did their best to make the patient vomit and applied cataplasms to draw the “bad humours” out of the body…  There was no question of smallpox since everybody then thought, like Louis XV, that he had had it in his youth and that he was therefore safe from it.  No eruption of a rash was noticed, anyway.  It was only during the evening of the 29th that the rash appeared, immediately revealing the amplitude of the disease which was affecting the unfortunate sovereign.

The last days of Louis XV are well-known thanks to the Souvenirs of Jacob-Nicolas Moreau, the King’s historiographer, and to the witness reports of the Duke de Belle-Isle and the Duke de Croy who, a close friend of the patient, had access to his bedside.  Other witness reports, notably those of the Duke de La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt and the Baron de Besenval, use the story to get even with the King and certain members of the Court.  The Chroniques de l’Oeil-de-Boeuf or other stories of libertine inspiration, heap blame on the dying man and contribute to soiling his memory durably.  Taken up by Michelet, the black legend of a King uniquely preoccupied with hunting and his favourites, receiving by his atrocious death the just punishment for his sins, will be installed for a long time, and will please the Republican historiography of the XIXth Century.  We have to wait for the works of Pierre Gaxotte or, more recently, those of Michel Antoine, for the truth to be re-established.  Published in 1989, the excellent little book that Pierre Darmon consecrates to La Petite Verole mortelle de Louis XV has established a definitive end to the question.

To be continued.


In 1416, the Armagnac Party imposes itself in France’s capital, where it exercises pitiless terror.  In 1417, the Bourguignon, Jean the Fearless, regains control.  He allies himself with Queen Isabeau, who has been sent away to Tours, and succeeds in gaining control of Paris in May 1418, where he stages a great massacre of the people in the opposing Party.  On 30 October, there is another surprise:  while the King appears to be siding with the victors, the Dauphin promulgates an interdiction to obey his father “during his detention and illness”.  The rupture between Charles and his son is total in 1419, while the English pursue the conquest of the kingdom.  On 10 September that same year, the Dauphin’s men assassinate the Duke de Bourgogne, Jean the Fearless, who had come to Montereau to negotiate.  Charles VI firmly condemns this crime of lese-majeste and denounces his son as a destroyer and enemy of public affairs…  By the Treaty of Troyes, concluded on 21 May 1420, he banishes and disinherits him.  The King of England, husband of Catherine de France, is therefore to succeed his father-in-law, uniting the two crowns of England and France.  At this time, the kingdom has hit rock bottom.  Its very existence is now in question.  Charles VI, who is still concerned with reconciliation and scandalised by his son’s betrayal of chivalry’s code of honour, is unable to perceive this.

It all seems over.  The King’s “folly” evidently appears as one of the principal causes of the catastrophes that are showering down upon a kingdom which his father, Charles V, had so patiently restored after the first disasters of the Hundred Years War.

However, there is a side to the sovereign’s personality which remains surprising, and incompatible with the image of a demented man sinking into total decline.  It is revealed to us by a collection of alchemical texts published in 1629 in Paris:  L’Oeuvre royale de Charles VI, roi de France.  It is difficult to enter into the treatise’s details, which are strictly alchemical, but one thing strikes all who study it:  this text is not the work of a man whose mental faculties are the least bit affected…  However, the author of this treatise is precisely Charles VI, the mad King.  Let us take note of something written on one of the pages:

“Deceived and betrayed, I wanted to forge ahead with it:  but the old man held me tightly by the hand…”

Perhaps a key to the tragic, incomprehensible destiny of Charles VI is hidden there?  A key which remains to be found…


Charles VI's funeral, in 1422, was attended by England's Regent, but none of the great French peers were present.

A few questions still need to be asked about this “madness” which leaves the door wide open to the worst ambitions.  In whose interest is this half-death, ceaselessly lived and relived?  Firstly, in that of the English.  Their pretensions to France’s throne go back to Edward III, grandson of Philippe le Bel [the Beautiful] through his mother.  They hope to profit from the defective mental health of the Valois sovereign.  Curiously, the English propaganda, so prompt to insist on Charles VI’s incapacity to govern, will be discrete after 1420 and the conclusion of the Treaty of Troyes which removes the Dauphin from the succession and gives France in heritage to England.  From then on, surrounding the patient with all the respect due to a monarch naturally inserts itself into the concern to guarantee sufficient legitimacy to Henry V, his son-in-law, and above all, to Henry VI, his grandson, later on.  On this subject, it is significant that Bedford, the Regent of the kingdom of England, is present at Charles VI’s funeral, in the absence of all the great peers of the kingdom of France.

Then, there are the Armagnacs.  They reproach Charles VI his desire for compromise and reconciliation.  They, too, want the throne, and present themselves as the political heirs of Louis d’Orleans, assassinated by Bourgogne in 1407.  As for the Dauphin, Charles VII, disavowed after the Montereau murder and disinherited, he can only preserve the idea of his legitimacy by arguing his father’s “madness”.

More reserved at first than their adversaries in the Armagnac Party, the Bourguignons start attacking the unfortunate King in 1416.  In this way they can justify the crimes committed during the Cabochian insurrection in 1413 or during their reconquest of Paris in 1418.  The sovereign’s madness also allows them to legitimize their alliance with the King of England, the only one capable of governing the kingdom…


We have already measured the weakness of most of the “clinical” explanations given by some for Charles VI’s illness.  The historian, Dominique Revel, returns, however, to one of them:  the poisoning hypothesis.  Could these apparently unpredictable, brutal attacks have been provoked, in connection with secret, unidentifiable interests?

Of the diverse toxic substances available in XIVth Century Europe, let us retain three.  The first is arsenic, which can cause headaches, nauseas, falls in blood pressure, tachycardia, cold hands and feet.  The second is atropine, which provokes hallucinations, visions, memory problems, a violent negation of self, fears, rolling of the eyes, obscene words and gestures, all this followed by heavy torpor…  The third is the rye ergot whose active constituent is lysergic acid, our modern LSD, which can provoke hallucinations and deliriums, convulsions and blood pressure problems…

The investigation is rendered difficult by the fact that the texts of the time remain imprecise on the King’s symptoms.  It is even troubling to note that the word “folie” [madness] is rarely used.  It could be thought that this abstention emanates from respect for royal majesty but the expressions employed remain curious, nonetheless.  Enguerrand de Monstrelet says, about the episode of Le Mans, that it “made the King lose a great part of his good memory” and that he had ” throughout his whole life, several times similar occupations to those above”.  Throughout his Histoire, he speaks of “usual illness” without saying anything else.  Froissart also expresses himself in unusual terms:

“You know, if as it is here above contained in our History, how the King of France, every year, was always falling into feverish illness…”

To be continued.

The little girl, looking into the glass of water to see Louis XIV’s death, does not see either his son, the Dauphin, or his grandson, the Duke de Bourgogne, near him.  As well as the other people whom she has already described, she sees only a little boy around five years old, whom a lady is holding by the hand…

Philippe, Duke d'Orleans

When Philippe, Duke d’Orleans, recounts this to his friend, the Duke de Saint-Simon, he asks his opinion of it.  The Duke replies that it is all a lot of rot and

“What is this little boy doing at the King’s bedside, when neither his son nor his grandson are there?”

Philippe explains that they had insisted a great deal…  But that she definitely did not see them.  Saint-Simon wants to know whether she saw the Duke d’Orleans.  Philippe replies that of course she did, but that there was one other thing… 

He asks the magician what would happen to himself after the King’s death…  The wise man asks him if he isn’t afraid to see himself.  Philippe replies that he isn’t…  So, the magician then places himself in front of a wall and delivers himself to new incantations.  After ten or fifteen minutes, Philippe sees his own face on the wall.  Dressed in unknown clothes.

All those around him are able to surmount their fear and recognize the Duke d’Orleans in this vision…  But the strangest part is that he is wearing a crown.  It is neither the crown of France, nor that of Spain, nor of England.  It has four circles and is open-cut at the summit.  The Duke has never seen a crown like it before.  Saint-Simon tells him:

“Be careful that this crown does not go to your head…  and leave this satanical trickery alone!”

This surprising vision took place in 1706.  And the little girl saw exactly what would happen, nine years later at the King’s death.  In 1715, in Louis XIV’s mortuary chamber, neither his son, the Grand Dauphin, nor his grandson, Louis de France, Duke de Bourgogne, the eldest son of the Grand Dauphin, were present.  This memorable reign ended in the sadness of mourning, bankruptcy and wars continually restarting.

And a hecatomb without precedent of all the Princes of the Blood.  The Grand Dauphin, Louis XIV’s elder son, is a mediocre prince whom his father removes from the kingdom’s business.  He dies in 1711, a victim of smallpox.  His younger son, the Duke de Bourgogne, dies the following year from malignant measles a few days after his wife, Adelaide de Savoie.

Dreadfully saddened, Louis XIV then declares his great-grandson, Louis, Duke de Bretagne, aged five, Dauphin de France.  The next day, the child falls ill and dies almost immediately.  Charles, Duke de Berry, the Grand Dauphin’s third son, having become the heir, succumbs, probably from the consequences of a fall from a horse, in 1714.  There remains Philippe, the second son of the Grand Dauphin;  but he is King of Spain since 1700 and “although there are no longer any Pyrenees”, he cannot mount the French throne…

As for the little boy holding his governess’ hand, he is a little orphan, the Duke d’Anjou, the son of the Duke de Bourgogne, therefore Louis XIV’s great-grandson, and future Louis XV, known as the Bien-Aime (Well-Loved).

The famous crown, which is only an abstraction of a real crown, is soon to be worn, we could say, by the Duke d’Orleans when he becomes the Kingdom’s Regent, at the death of the Sun King in 1715.

It is therefore understandable that he is troubled in 1706, and that Saint-Simon is sceptical.  The great memorialist, faithful to his reputation for being a sincere man, concludes this case of clairvoyancy by saying that he is the last one to approve of occult practices.  But that this story appeared so extraordinary to him that he feels that he should tell us about it…


The Duke d’Orleans’ contemporaries suspected him of having eliminated family members closer to the throne than himself, so as to approach his own family to it.  The Grand Century was shaken by terrible stories of sorcery, poisons and black masses.  The memory of Madame de Montespan, compromised in 1680 in the Case of the Poisons beside the sinister Voisin, is still in everyone’s minds.  But it seems that it was only gossip and that these insinuations were not supported by any proof.  Such acts did not in any way correspond, either, to the Duke d’Orleans’ character.

Of course, Philippe had no morality.  But his immorality, which was deep-seated, his intelligence, were ever only put at the service of his pleasures.  The opposite of his uncle, the Sun King, he was absolutely without a purposeful mind or any real ambition.  He was however a courageous Prince (he showed that at the Battle of Neerwinden), courteous and generous, and it is difficult to see him in the role of a Nero…


It was Louis XIV’s will that the Duke d’Orleans become Regent.  He decides it five days before he dies.  This excludes even more the hypothesis of any responsibility on Philippe’s part in these deaths…


Saint-Simon, who reports this vision, is only a second degree witness.  But he is also the most precise and the most conscientious witness of Louis XIV’s century.


Saint-Simon does not believe in magic.  Magic even horrifies him.  He is a recalcitrant witness, very little disposed to bring grist to the occultists’ mill.  He is the best witness that can be found.  If he reports this story in his Memoires it is because it has made a profound impression of truth on him.  It is in fact the uncomfortable feeling that this story gives him, that makes him want to exorcise it…


Louis XIV is unable to believe in magic because he is very pious.  He had been raised by his mother and his preceptors with very strict Christian principles.  And the Church forbids people to believe in it.  Louis XIV’s century is the century of the triumphant Church.  In its eyes, clairvoyancy is a pagan practice…  Throughout the whole of Antiquity, it was normal to consult oracles and soothsayers.  Then the Church assimilated these practices to diabolism.  But of course paganism did not disappear altogether.  This is why there are still soothsayers.


During the XVIIth Century, magic and sorcery lived beside the most fanatical bigotry.  There were about 300 deviners in Paris whom the nobles and city-dwellers often went to consult.


Saint-Simon does not give the name of the soothsayer in this story.  He is not a professional and he goes beyond clairvoyancy.  He projects images onto a wall…


Parapsychology is making great progress today.  People are seeking to explain clairvoyancy through physics.  There is some research being done on the structure of time….

There is an attempt to find out if time does not have two senses…  In other words, if instead of only flowing from the past to the future, it can also flow the opposite way…  Clairvoyancy could therefore just be information which comes to us, not from the past , but from the future.  Louis Pauwels proposes the following formula to speak about this notion:  in clairvoyancy or in premonitions, we have waves of memory.  But they are very particular memories:  they are memories of the future


Philippe, Duke d'Orleans

One evening in 1706, the Duke d’Orleans gives a supper for his friends.  Underneath his windows, in the Palais-Royal gardens, an orchestra attacks a gavotte.  This is the signal for the arrival of stuffed eels, chapons en croute and largely “ripened” game – the Duke likes it like that for its tonic virtues – onto the future Regent’s table.  The queen of the evening is an actress, Mademoiselle Adrienne Lecouvreur, whose last play is a triumph.  Mostly because of the Duke’s debauched friends who went to applaud her very loudly…

Once again, the Duke begins a war story in which he was the hero in Italy a few years before.

The ladies, in low-cut dresses of the fashionable sky-blue, have moved nearer.  Lovingly, Philippe d’Orleans’ mistress, the ardent Marie-Louise de Siry, drapes herself over his shoulder.

As for his debauched friends, flanked by their catamites and their demi-mondaines, they are thinking only of leaving for the Opera ball…

Monsieur de Saint-Simon, whose piety is offended by the end-of-meal conversation, discretely leaves.

The supper crowd is having a lot of fun at the Duke d’Orleans’ Palais-Royal home.  Far from Versailles where the Sun King is declining under the influence of that nightcap called Madame de Maintenon…

Darkness has now completely descended on the palace.  The Duke has retired to his mistress’ boudoir with a few of his inner circle.  Through a hidden door, a strange-looking man is shown in.  His breeches are very worn and he stinks of tobacco.  This man passes himself off as a magician capable of reading the past, the present and the future.  His only instrument is a glass filled with water…

For a long moment, the man remains bent over the glass, doing strange things…  Perspiration trickles down his pallid face.  He says in a raucous voice:

“A child, I need a child”.

In spite of the late hour, they send for the daughter of one of the domestics, woken anyway, by the noise of the supper.  She is eight years old and does not seem very bright.  She was born in the palace and has never left it.

The magician strokes her chin and places his hand on her head.  He then pronounces confused incantations.  The little girl leans over the glass…  The magician says:

“Let us try to begin with the present.  Tell us what is happening right at this moment at the home of Madame de Nancre.  Come along!  Tell us, child!…”

The little girl then tells what she sees…

The Duke loves occult sciences.  It is the only thing that he takes seriously…  But, as he has often been tricked, he remains sceptical, at first.  He discretely sends one of his valets to Madame de Nancre’s, which is close by.  He tells him:

“Run over there and have a good look around.  Examine in detail how the furniture is disposed and all that is happening right now.  Then come back and whisper in my ear what you have seen…”

The valet rushes out, registers as much as he can and, as he is very alert, comes back to Philippe and gives him a whispered detailed description.  The Duke then says:

“Right…  I want the little girl to watch what is happening right now at Madame de Nancre’s, in the glass.”

The child, who has never set foot inside this lady’s home, describes the salon with the precision of someone who is there.  She enumerates all of the furniture, even indicating how it is placed, and what people are walking through the rooms.  She describes everything as she would if she were hiding in a corner of the grand salon, this person’s face, this other one’s gestures, the clothes that the guests are wearing, whether they are seated or standing.  She indicates in particular that there are two gaming tables well-separated and she recounts in length the comportment of the players and that of the spectators.

The next day, Philippe d’Orleans reports this prodigy to the Duke de Saint-Simon.  The author of the famous Memoires is very religious.  It is not rare for him to lock himself up with the Trappist monks for a retreat.  Magicians horrify him.  He doesn’t hide his opinion and asks the Duke, who is also his confidant and friend:

“Why do you amuse yourself with these mysteries?  You should occupy yourself with more serious things!…”

Philippe replies:

“Wait!  I’ve only told you the beginning of my story.  Now, it becomes really interesting!”

And Philippe recounts the end of his evening.

The strange man says:

“Now this little girl is going to see things of the future in the glass of water.  What do you want her to see, Excellency?”

Philippe does not hesitate.  He wants her to see what will happen at the King’s death.  The magician says that she will not be able to reveal the date, but that she will show them all of the circumstances.

Louis XIV's death-bed

The little girl, who has never seen Versailles, describes the details of Louis XIV’s chamber.  She then shows the Sun King stretched out on his death-bed, enumerates the high-ranking people who are keeping watch over the body and she paints their portraits.  They recognise Madame de Maintenon, Madame, the King’s sister, the Duchess d’Orleans and even a little child whom she describes with more vivacity because she has already seen him in the apartments of Mademoiselle de Siry.

When one of them moves, she follows him or her with her eyes and describes it…  With such precision and naturalness that the people present are fascinated.

They are listening with extreme attention because there, in front of the eyes of this innocent little girl, the kingdom of the greatest King of all time is hovering.

And they are astonished.  Because nowhere around the dead King, does the little girl distinguish the Princes of the Blood.  She speaks of neither My Lord, the King’s son, Grand Dauphin de France, nor of his grandson Monsieur, the Duke de Bourgogne.  Philippe d’Orleans presses her to look again.

To be continued.

Louis XVI, King of France, from a painting by Dumenil

On 21 June 1791, we read in the Journal of Louis XVI:

“Left Paris at midnight, arrived and was arrested at Varennes-en-Argonne at eleven o’clock at night.”

In this solstice period, when daylight hours are about to be shortened, Louis XVI puts an end to his reign by sacrificing himself on the nation’s altar.  For the man was executed on 21 January 1793, but the king died that night, on the road leading to Varennes.  He had been brought down in flight.

The many caricatures of the “pig king” which are born of this episode, reproach him pitilessly with this.  The farm pig must be killed, then eaten.  Such is its destiny.  And if it betrays its own, it hastens its judgement… and pronounces its own sentence.

In the same way, the head of the nation must offer his life.  And if he fails his duty, his subjects do not pardon him.  He must then leave the stage.  With no appeal, and no remission.

A few hours before his death, the King would repent of this weakness before the only master whom he loves and respects.  He writes:

“I would not have the temerity, oh my God, to want to justify myself before you;  but you know that my heart has always been submissive to the Faith and to morality;  my faults are the fruit of my weakness and seem worthy of your great misericord.  You pardoned King David, who had been the cause of your enemies blaspheming against you;  you pardoned Manasses, who led his people into idolatry.  Would you be inexorable today for a son of Saint Louis who takes these penitent kings for models, and who, following their example, wishes to repair his faults and become a King after your own heart?”

The repentance is touching and sincere.  But it comes too late.  And anyway, did time really play a decisive role in this story?  Who can say?  It would seem that other forces were in play.  The Prince’s childhood led to the worst kind of unhappiness, which could be attributed to a mysterious “bad luck”.  As soon as someone becomes kind, illness takes him away.  As soon as a ray of sunshine appears, a cloud covers it.

There are those who believe in signs.  And those who don’t.  Perhaps this episode could incite us to adopt an intermediary attitude.  We must definitely not give in to the easy temptation of accusing fate or determinism here.  But it has often been remarked that certain destinies are doomed from birth, and their burden becomes heavy with the weight of events.  It is as if a certain habit gradually insinuates itself… and slowly gangrenes the whole being.  The scapegoat gradually takes on all of the world’s problems, as he travels through life… finally succumbing under their weight.  The innocent victim of a pitiless game of massacre between Destiny and his destiny.

By continually bathing in suffering, we become accustomed to unhappiness.  There comes a point, when there is nothing left but flight.

The bells start to toll.  The whole village of Varennes awakes and treason explodes into the open.  The road is cut.  The King is delivered.  Behind him – far behind – eight centuries of absolute power disintegrate.  In the dust of a doomed carriage that wanted to escape the ruses of an inexorable destiny.

Louis XV dies of smallpox on 10 May 1774.  This terrible illness leaves in its wake a halo of terror and suspicion.  A medical book which appears that year affirms that it is “the most general of all”.  Ninety-five people out of every hundred in France contract it.  One in seven dies from it.

Care is taken to avoid the people who frequented the King during his illness.  For this reason, the young successor cannot even consult the ministers who advised his grandfather, right at his bedside.  Louis-Auguste, as well as his two brothers, rapidly decide – in spite of the reprobation of the court elders – to have themselves innoculated.

During the few days which follow the operation, France lives in fear.  Everyone waits for news of the King, who is suffering fever and discomfort.  But, rapidly, the menace disappears and the people forgets its fear and praises the audacity of the Children of France.  Voltaire says:

“History will not forget that the King, the Count of Provence and the Count of Artois, all three very young, taught the French, by being innoculated, that you must face danger to avoid death.  The nation was touched and instructed.”

So, one by one, all those who had guided the steps of the future King Louis XVI left the scene, leaving him alone to assume the heavy burden which incumbs to the heir to the French Crown.  To complete this sad picture, we must also note the disappearance of his governor Mr de La Vauguyon, in 1772, followed several years later by that of Abbot Soldini, his confessor.


On 11 June 1775, during the Festival of the Trinity, the King is consecrated at Reims.  He struggles a bit under the thirty square feet of his heavy mantel, even though it is raised by the Grand Ecuyer.  He had murmured when hearing of the death of his grandfather, Louis XV:

“My God, protect us, we are too young to reign.”

The prophecy of the Austrian Empress comes true, and he can’t escape it.  The unctions of the holy oil open wide the doors of the kingdom to him…

The 6 August is a great day for the royal family.  A beautiful child is born.  But the mother is the Countess of Artois and the King is “still at the same point” according to Marie-Antoinette’s own expression.  The unhappy wife is unable to conceal her chagrin “to see an heir [born] which is not from her”.  At the announcement of his sister-in-law’s pregnancy, Louis XVI again consults a doctor.  We learn from a letter sent by Marie-Antoinette to Marie-Therese that this doctor says

“just about the same as the others that the operation was not necessary and that there was every hope without it”.

To resume, there was every reason to hope… and every reason not to hope, for time was passing and age was advancing.  Inside and out, in the salons and in the corridors, mocking words were starting to be heard.

“Each asks quietly:/Can the King?  Or can’t He?/The sad Queen desperately tra la la, tra la lee.”

Tired of these songs, the Dauphine finally obtains from her husband the promise that

“if nothing has been decided in the next few months, he will decide, himself, on the operation”…

In the Spring, Joseph II visits Marie-Antoinette.  The Emperor comes to give advice to his sister… and to get his own idea of the King.  He reports to his brother Leopold:

“This man is rather weak, but not stupid;  he has notions, he has judgement, but there is an apathy of body and mind.”

After her brother’s visit, Marie-Antoinette tries to get closer to her husband.  And at last, the miracle happens.  On 30 August 1777 – seven years after their marriage – she announces to her mother the news that all Europe awaits:

“I am in the most essential happiness of my whole life.  My marriage has been perfectly consummated for more than a week;  the proof has been reiterated, and again yesterday more completely than the first time.”

A few months later, the Dauphine, with great joy, declares to her husband jokingly:

“I come, Sire, to complain about one of your subjects who is so audacious as to give me kicks in the stomach…”

On 19 December 1778, a girl is born.  Louis XVI is at last a father – not only the father of the nation, father of twenty-seven million French – but father of a little Marie-Therese-Charlotte whom he immediately cherishes tenderly.

The news spreads rapidly throughout the kingdom.  The whole of France sinks into the intoxication of this happy event.  To show her joy, the Empress of Austria sends her daughter two vases in petrified wood, decorated with precious stones.  But these fragile objects, broken during the trip, never arrive at their destination…  Is this another omen?  In any case, the euphoria does not last long…

The King could have started to enjoy life from this day on.  But it seems that destiny decided otherwise.  Two of the three children who are born in the following years rapidly leave the land of the living, abandoning their father to the torments of History in the making.  Here and there, riots break out in the street and a dull rumour of discontentment starts to rumble.  Everywhere, oppositions are born.  The King tries to resist for a time.  But he is not prepared for an affrontment.

To be continued.

On 19 April 1770, Mr de La Vauguyon’s function as governor of the Dauphin comes to an end.  This is because his pupil, aged fifteen-and-a-half, puts an end to his childhood by marrying, by procuration, the Archduchess Marie-Antoinette, daughter of the Empress Marie-Therese of Austria.  The Dauphin’s mother-in-law gives him the following advice:

“Love […] your duties to God, I say to you, my dear Dauphin, and I said it to my daughter.  Love well the peoples over whom you will only too soon reign.  Love the King, your grandfather, inspire and renew this attachment in my daughter;  be good like him!  Make yourself accessible to the poor;  it is impossible that in acting like this, you will not be happy.”

Upon the arrival of the Dauphine in France, she will receive these wishes from an old lady, aged one hundred and five, who had never been ill:

“Princess, I make vows to heaven for you to live as long as I have and as free from infirmities.”

Marie-Antoinette answered:

“I desire it to be so, if it is for the good of France.”

The festivities last several days.  On 16 May, the grounds and palace of Versailles are decked out for the marriage ceremony.  Boats pack the rivers and the gardens swarm with people.  Triumphal arches glow with thousands of little lamps so that this celebration will be placed under the sign of Light.  The festivities look as if they will be spectacular.  However, a few formalities have to take place first.

At one o’clock, the ceremony begins.  Louis-Auguste makes a few mistakes in his responses and Marie-Antoinette signs the marriage act with an enormous ink-blot.  Nothing very serious.  But, as they leave the church, a big storm breaks.  A capricious cloud pours down great buckets of water, inundating the marriage feast preparations.  The celebrations are postponed.  And this heavenly anger only serves to announce the drama which will explode a few days later in Paris.

An over-dense crowd crams into the Rue Royale to join the festivities on the boulevards.  One hundred and thirty-two people perish trampled or suffocated.  The tolling of the bells for this event announces the approaching end of the solemnities.  On 8 June, a tornado closes them definitively by blowing away the Temple of the Sun which had been erected to celebrate the union.  So many bad omens were accumulated during these days of national celebration…

The first months of the marriage pass without any noteworthy incidents.  In the Prince’s diary, only frequent indigestions are noted, along with a few blood-spittings and temporary stomach weakness.  But the future King commits no excesses… anywhere.  Rumour even has it that the young husband is rather late in accomplishing his conjugal duties, limiting himself to the courtesies codified by sacrosanct “etiquette”.  On 15 June 1770, it is reported to Marie-Therese that King Louis XV speaks of

“the cold countenance of the Dauphin, underlining however “that he should be left alone”, that he was extremely “timid and unsociable”, and that he wasn’t “a man like others” “.

Whatever the cause, everyone is surprised and worried about this abnormal situation.  Rumour spreads not only in Versailles, but also in all the European courts.  The “matrimonial state” of the Dauphin fuels the conversations of the salons and the couple becomes everyone’s laughing-stock. 

Marie-Antoinette occupies herself as best she can.  She learns to ride a horse and follows the royal hunts.  She plays with the children of her chambermaids.  She teases the dogs in the palace grounds.  Her impatience grows from day to day.  To her wifely frustration is added that of the woman who ardently wants to be a mother.  But she holds a gleam of hope.  She is told that, according to a doctor’s report, Louis-Auguste

“is well-constituted, he loves [his wife] and is full of goodwill, but he is of a nonchalance and a laziness which leaves him only for hunting”.

The young husband even assures his wife himself that he “loves her tenderly”… and that he “estimes her even more”.  However, the months pass and the Dauphine starts to get tired of waiting.  She says:

“The coldness of the Dauphin, young husband aged twenty, toward a pretty woman, is inconceivable to me.  In spite of the assertions of the Faculty, my suspicions are growing as to the physical constitution of this prince… “

In reality, it should be remembered that, at his marriage, the young man was only sixteen.  He had been raised in the aversion of the sins of the flesh.  The devout people’s teachings had stopped at the chapter on guilt.  Of women, he knows only the severe judgement of his preceptors, who saw in them replicas of the first temptress.  This is perhaps the reason for the reserve which the Prince feels toward these singular creatures.

We know that this moral righteousness will be the subject of a dispute with his grandfather, Louis XV.  Since the death of his wife Marie Leszezynska, the King diverts himself by making frequent visits to the “little houses” of the Parc-au-Cerfs…  Rapidly, the Countess du Barry becomes his “favourite” and the Prince does not hide his reprobation.

Gradually, however, time will bring the two men together, and it is another heart-wrenching moment for the young boy when he is told that his grandfather is living his last instants.  Blood-lettings succeed each other, but they don’t work.  A doctor discovers a suspicious rash, which removes all interrogation on the illness…  and at the same time, any hope of a cure.  The infection progressively covers the whole body and a sickening odour spreads throughout the apartments.  On 10 May 1774, smallpox kills the King.

To be continued.

The Dauphin’s diary, started in 1766, rarely mentions outings and distractions.  Pierrette Girault de Coursac speaks of a “sort of incarceration”.  This was his father’s wish, and his mother continues to apply it.  Mr de La Vauguyon’s intercession is necessary for the child to obtain permission to take a riding lesson or follow a hunt in an open carriage.

But soon, the Dauphin will no longer have to obey the Dauphine’s orders.  Just when the child was beginning to conquer, through his piety and his uprightness, the affection and confidence of his mother, destiny sets off the first signs of alarm.

Although the doctors wanted to hide the fact, the state of health of Marie-Josephe of Saxe could no longer conceal the cruel truth.  While caring for her husband, she had caught pulmonary tuberculosis.  The symptoms are unmistakable:  continual coughing, suffocation, fever, extreme thinness…  A visitor will even write:

“I thought that I was talking to death itself, she was so disfigured.”

Her entourage watch, powerless, her terrible demise.  Friday 13 March 1767, having used up her last strength, she falls into a fainting fit after having drunk a cup of chocolate.

On this day, there is only one line in the Dauphin’s diary:

“Death of my mother at eight o’clock this evening.”

However, we must not make the mistake of drawing hasty conclusions about the dryness of this note.  It is in a jagged writing, hiding extreme suffering and inerrable pain.

In the weeks which preceded the death of his mother, there are many mentions of the Dauphin which show his sickly aspect and his sombre expression.  His red eyes even lead some people to think that he is suffering from a precocious myopia.  As for his general allure, it is no better.  The boy is thin, even skinny, his walk is clumsy.  All of these elements combined start a rumour that the child will soon join those who have preceded him into the kingdom of the dead.

In fact, this rumour demonstrates the secret wish of the whole court.  The death of the prince would leave the position free for the Count of Provence, loved by all.  Xavier of Saxe writes at this epoch:

“My Lord the Dauphin is very delicate and Monsieur the Count of Provence will always be a great catch… “

This rumour is so amplified that it will influence even those who, later, will search through the prince’s Journal.  There where it is written:  “I was confirmed”, they will think that they have read:  “I was infirm”.  And, in the list of expenses written in the book, you would never guess that the “glasses” acquired are…  astronomical glasses, or telescopes.

Mr de La Vauguyon profits again from the circumstances.  From this moment on, there will be no more obstacles to the application of his educational theories.  In the diverse manuals which he used, he highlights virtue as being the most important.  He affirms that “if he ignores firmness” the sovereign will call down upon his person “the anger of the heavens, the hate of his subjects and the scorn of nations”.  He insists:

“Firmness is for all men, and particularly for Princes, a virtue so absolutely necessary that without it all others are nothing.  In fact, however Pious, however Good, however Just you may be, if you are not Firm, you will understand no principle, your best dispositions will have no effect…  Born virtuous without really being so, you will accept that vice triumphs and dares to oppress merit and innocence.”

He also warns the prince against indecision, which is the consequence of weakness.  Absolute monarchy cannot pactise with these faults:  the king is the only master, it is up to him to make all the decisions.  He incites his pupil not to confuse this virtue with its corresponding vice:  stubbornness, which

“persuades a prince that he can do anything that he wants and everything that he has conceived without allowing him to listen to reason and submit his projects to a considered examination;  this makes him a sort of monster who becomes the flayer of the peoples whom God has given to his care”.

It has been concluded from this teaching that the virtue of firmness, so exalted by his preceptor, must have been lacking in the prince.  And this suspicion is not without some foundation.  The perspective of governing uncontestably causes him some fear.  Mr de La Vauguyon even evokes one day “a way of diminishing his terrors and weaken in him the idea of difficulties”.  But this doesn’t mean that the virtue of firmness is totally foreign to the prince.

In all of his writings, he places this quality above all others.  And it is not just vague theoretic elucubrations.  He insists also on its practical application and on the necessity, consequently, of preserving the absolute character of the French monarchy.  Gradually, he prepares himself for the duties to which he will be called.  He describes the arguments to which he will try to conform his conduct:

“I sense that I owe to God, to the choice that he has made for me to reign, to the virtues of my ancestors, to immediately leave childhood and make myself worthy of the throne on which one day I could be seated;  that for this reason, I should neglect nothing to become a really pious, good, just and firm prince;  that I can only acquire these qualities by hard work, and that I make the resolution to give myself up to it completely.”

In another Entretien, he even affirms that firmness is a natural character trait for him, of which he must avoid the excesses.  Gradually, he forges his character and believes himself ready to affront the tempests that the heavens might wish to send him…

Is he really?  His masters have certainly taught him the principles which should guide his reign.  But they painted him a picture of a paternal monarchy, while keeping him far away from the preoccupations of their times.  The education given to him, based on moralistic and rigoristic theories, show the flaws which will shake his timid authority…  This is why the pedagogy of Mr de La Vauguyon has been particularly criticised by posterity.

Apart from the contents of this teaching, the educator has been reproached with having voluntarily kept the prince in ignorance and fear to reinforce his own influence.  It would seem that the Duke of Berry was not deceived by this.  In fact, later on, when he had to choose a preceptor for his son, he will decline the services of the young Duke de La Vauguyon, saying to him:  “I am upset to have to refuse you, but you know that you and I have been raised very badly.”

To be continued.

One day, on the pretext that the Duke of Berry, future King Louis XVI, has not been assiduous enough in his studies, his father, the Dauphin, decides to punish him by depriving him of the Great Hunt of Saint Hubert, a sacred ritual in the royal family’s calendar.  The Dauphin’s entourage try to have the punishment attenuated, without success.  This punishment, inflicted while the Dauphin is already confined to bed, is however, the last he will give.

The 19 October, 1765, the Children of France are advised to prepare themselves for the death of their father.  The Duke of Berry is unable to hold back his tears.  Marie-Josephe of Saxe writes:

“In the conversation, the Dauphin says to the Duke of Berry:  “Well, my son, did you really think that I only had a cold?”  Then, laughing, and joking about it, he added:  “Doubtless, when you learned of my state of health, you said to yourself:  good, he won’t prevent me from going hunting any more!” “

So this last punishment remained engraved in the affective memory of this very sensitive child, and is singularly intertwined with this new tragedy.  A remorseless malediction seems to weigh down this young life, punctuated with miseries and sufferings.  He could repeat one of the last sentences of his father, which still resounds in his memory:  “I wish all sorts of happiness and benedictions for my children”, reasonably, he is unable to believe it.

For his mother, it is also a fatal blow.  The idea of death attacking the royal family becomes an obsession for her.  Living in its constant company, she starts to call it to her, and ardently desire it.  She installs around her, black draperies and a copy of the funeral monument erected for her husband…  this tomb which seems to her “more beautiful than all the palaces of the universe”.  Jean-Francois Chiappe comments:

“Louis-Auguste, having lost his father, has a living corpse for a mother”.

She devotes her days to prayers and pious readings, inciting her children to spend their time in study and prayer.  She refuses all distractions and dresses austerely to make “her face as clear as her soul”.  In a highly symbolic gesture, she cuts her hair.

Once again, the new Dauphin has to assume the role of scapegoat.  The 31 March 1766, Easter Day, he occupies his father’s place at the church service, following the Mass for the first time as the second highest-ranking person in the kingdom.  This is another “dagger blow” for the widow, for which she blames the innocent boy.  Later, she will reproach him for not having spoken to her enough about the dead man – while accusing her father-in-law, Louis XV, of reminding her of him with too much insistence by his frequent visits.

Mr de La Vauguyon seizes on this painful event to present his pupil with a new example to follow in his Recueil abrege des vertus de Monseigneur le dauphin.  At his pressing invitation, the Duke of Berry plunges again into the horrors of illness and suffering.  From then on, his governor will profit from every occasion to revive his pain, like a fire that is stirred to stop it from going out.  One of these moments is the Requiem Mass sung for the repose of the dead man’s soul, accompanied by a funeral prayer which furnished a timely reminder of moral edification.

“The sad ceremony which you have just attended has renewed all your pain:  my eyes bathed in tears, saw yours flow.  We have therefore rendered our last duties to Mr le Dauphin…  He deigned to honour me with his friendship and his confidence, he gave me the greatest proof of that in charging me to take his place at your side and teach you to become worthy of him…  How many times did he say to me:  “Will my son know that, raised above other men, he remains, himself, a man?” “


It is therefore in this austere climate, encumbered by phantoms and spectres, that the prince’s childhood will continue.  Illnesses, deaths and sufferings one after the other.  The 23 February 1766, his great-grandfather – King Stanislas of Poland – succumbs from an atrocious accident.  After having revived the fire in his hearth, he approached it to warm himself.  But his clothes took fire and the poor man, screaming in pain, fell into the grate.  Before his death, he was able to leave a few precious words of advice to his great-grandson, commenting a work of Machiavelli in a prophetic tone:

“Of all the bad things which can happen to a nation, there are none for which attention to preventing them is not a remedy […].  But there are some bad things, according to a famous politician, like illnesses of langour and consumption, at first easy to cure and difficult to recognize, and as they progress, very easy to recognize and very difficult to cure.  There is no doubt that a prudent wisdom, which sees the unhappy things of State at an early stage, can easily prevent them from coming to a head.  But, if they haven’t been seen, and they explode and you are unable to discover the cause or the nature of them, then it is almost impossible to stop their course…” 

To be continued.

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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