Cover image for The lost king of France : a true story of revolution, revenge, and DNA
The lost king of France : a true story of revolution, revenge, and DNA
Cadbury, Deborah.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, 2002.
Physical Description:
xviii, 299 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Format :


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Material Type
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DC137.3 .C2 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
DC137.3 .C2 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Royalty, revolution, and scientific mystery - the dramatic true account of the fate of Louis XVII, son of Marie Antoinette, and an extraordinary detective story that spans more than two hundred years.Louis-Charles, Duc de Normandie, enjoyed a charmed early childhood in the gilded palace of Versailles. At the age of four, he became the dauphin, heir to the most powerful throne in Europe. Yet within five years he was to lose everything. Drawn into the horror of the French Revolution, his family was incarcerated and their fate thrust into the hands of the revolutionaries who wished to destroy the monarchy.In 1793, when Marie Antoinette was beheaded at the guillotine, she left her adored eight-year-old son imprisoned in the Temple Tower. Far from inheriting a throne, the orphaned boy-king had to endure the hostility and abuse of a nation. Two years later, the revolutionary leaders declared Louis XVII dead. No grave was dug, no monument built to mark his passing.Immediately, rumors spread that the prince had, in fact, escaped from prison and was still alive. Others believed that he had been murdered, his heart cut out and preserved as a relic. As with the tragedies of England's princes in the Tower and the Romanov archduchess Anastasia, countless "brothers" soon approached Louis-Charles's older sister, Marie-Therese, who survived the revolution. They claimed not only the dauphin's name, but also his inheritance. Several "princes" were plausible, but which, if any, was the real heir to the French throne?The Lost King of France is a moving and dramatic tale that interweaves a pivotal moment in France's history with a compelling detective story that involves pretenders to the crown, royalist plots and palace intrigue, bizarre legal battles, and modern science. The quest for the truth continued into the twenty-first century, when, thanks to DNA testing, the strange odyssey of a stolen heart found within the royal tombs brought an exciting conclusion to the two-hundred-year-old mystery of thelost king of France.

Author Notes

Deborah Cadbury is an award-winning TV science producer for the BBC. She is also the author of "The Feminization of Nature". She lives in London.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

British writer Cadbury (Terrible Lizard) sets out to unravel a historical mystery in this winning, highly readable account of the French Revolution and the fate of the dauphin, the son of the executed King Louis XVI. Cadbury dramatically relates how the French monarchy moved inexorably toward the abyss of 1789; she describes the seizure of the Bastille, the royal family's imprisonment in the Temple and the execution of the king and queen. But what became of their son? According to the official account, Louis XVII remained in solitary confinement in a filthy, vermin-infested prison cell, where he contracted tuberculosis and died at age 10 in June 1795; bizarrely, the physician who performed the autopsy literally, and fortuitously, stole the boy's heart. Yet millions believed that the prince had escaped, and over the years, hundreds came forward claiming to be the dauphin. Not until two centuries later, with advances in forensic science, was the mystery of Louis XVII's fate finally solved. In 2000, the boy's preserved heart was found in Paris, and its mitochondrial DNA was compared to that retrieved from Marie Antoinette's hair. The result? An exact genetic match. Cadbury does an exemplary job describing the history, the mystery and the tragic fate of Louis XVII. 8 pages of b&w photos. (Oct.) Forecast: This will appeal to the same readers who followed the recent genetic unraveling of the fate of another executed royal family, recounted in The Romanovs: The Last Chapter by Robert K. Massie. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



"THE FINEST KINGDOM IN EUROPE" Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. -Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Social Contract, 1762 On Saturday, April 21, 1770, the Austrian archduchess, Maria-Antonia, left her home, the imperial palace of Hofburg in Vienna, forever and embarked on the long journey to France. On departure, in the courtyard in front of the palace, the royal entourage assembled. Two grand berlines lavishly upholstered in blue and crimson velvet and decorated with fine embroidery had been provided by the French ambassador to take Maria-Antonia to Paris. These were to be conveyed in a cavalcade of almost fifty carriages, each to be drawn by six horses, and an array of guards and outriders. The whole of the Austrian court, in all its silken and bejewelled finery, attended this auspicious event. Maria-Antonia, the youngest daughter of the distinguished Empress Maria-Theresa and Emperor Franz I, was to marry the future king of France and, it was hoped, consolidate Austria's troubled relationship with France. Maria-Antonia was slightly built with all the attractiveness of youth. "She has a most graceful figure; holds herself well; and if, as may be hoped, she grows a little taller, she will possess every good quality one could wish for in a great princess," wrote her tutor, the Abbé Jacques de Vermond, adding, "her heart and character are both excellent." Maria-Antonia had large blue eyes, reddish blond hair and a good complexion; many even considered her a beauty. The aging French king, Louis XV, eagerly inquiring about the prospective Austrian bride for his grandson was told by officials that she had "a charming face and beautiful eyes." She had, however, inherited the Habsburg projecting lower lip and prominent brow, which prompted her mother, in preparations for the event, to bring a coiffeur from France to arrange her hair to soften the line of her forehead. Maria-Antonia, the subject of all this detailed scrutiny, had had her future determined when she was thirteen. "Others make war but thou, O happy Austria, makest marriages" was a family motto. Her mother, the Empress Maria-Theresa, who was widely considered to be the best queen in Europe since Elizabeth I of England, ruled the Habsburg Empire. Her territories encompassed most of central Europe, reaching to parts of Romania in the east, regions of Germany in the north, south to Lombardy and Tuscany in Italy and west to the Austrian Netherlands, now Belgium. Some of this success was due to a series of strategic marriages, which were an important part of royal diplomacy. Maria-Antonia was the youngest of sixteen children, and several of her older sisters had already taken part in Austrian foreign policy. One sister was married to the governor general of the Austrian Netherlands, another became the Duchess of Parma, and a third, Maria-Antonia's favorite sister, Maria-Carolina, had become the queen of Naples-a role that at first she deplored. "The suffering is true martyrdom," Maria-Carolina wrote home, "made worse by being expected to look happy ... I pity Antonia who has yet to suffer it." For the Empress Maria-Theresa, eclipsing all these marriages was the prospect of an alliance with the French. France was seen as the richest and most powerful state in Europe, and, with twenty-five million people, also the largest. Yet France had been Austria's enemy for over two hundred years. For many, a permanent alliance between the two former long-standing enemies seemed out of the question, even potentially dangerous. However, the empress was determined to secure a match between her youngest daughter and the dauphin of France. Such an important marriage would seal a political alliance and enable the two countries to work as allies against the growing Prussian influence. Despite the exciting prospects that lay ahead, Maria-Antonia's departure from her home, and her mother in particular, was still an ordeal, according to one witness, Joseph Weber, the son of her former nurse. "The young Maria-Antonia burst into tears and the spectators, touched by the sight, shared the cruel sufferings of mother and daughter. Maria-Theresa ... took her into her arms and hugged her.... `Adieu, my dear daughter; a great distance is going to separate us, but be just, be humane and imbued with a sense of the duties of your rank and I will always be proud of the regrets which I shall always feel.... Do so much good to the people of France that they will be able to say that I have sent them an angel.'" As her carriage departed, Maria-Antonia, "her face bathed with tears, covered her eyes now with a handkerchief, now with her hands, and put her head out of the window again and again, to see once more the palace of her fathers to which she would never return." All she had to represent her future was a miniature portrait of her future husband, Louis-Auguste, the dauphin. Her magnificent cortège travelled for a week through Austria and Bavaria until finally they reached the frontier with France, on the banks of the Rhine River near Kehl. On an island in the middle of the river, Maria-Antonia had to undergo a ceremony in which she was symbolically stripped of her Austrian roots and was then reborn, robed in French attire. A magnificent wooden pavilion, over a hundred feet long, had been constructed, divided into two main sections. On one side were the courtiers from Vienna and on the other, from France. Once the formal ceremonies were completed the door to the French side was opened, and Maria-Antonia had to make her entrance into the French court, no longer as Maria-Antonia, but Marie-Antoinette. As she realized that the door to the Austrian side had closed behind her on all those familiar faces, she was overwhelmed, and "rushed" into the French side, "with tears in her eyes." As she continued her journey into France she received a rapturous welcome. Every kind of extravagant preparation had been taken to honor the young princess. There were displays of all kinds; fireworks, dances, theater, great triumphal arches built, petals strewn before her feet, floating gardens on the river beneath her window, fountains flowing with wine, endless enthusiastic crowds, cheer upon cheer. If she had left the Austrian court in tears, her slow progress through France to such approbation could only fill her with every possible hope. By May 14 she arrived at Compiègne, some forty miles northeast of Paris, where she was to meet her future husband, the dauphin, Louis-Auguste. Marie-Antoinette, by now well briefed on etiquette by her new advisor, the eminent Comtesse de Noailles, stepped from her carriage and sank into a deep curtsy before the king. Louis XV was still a handsome man whose regal presence eclipsed that of the shy and somewhat overweight sixteen-year-old standing next to him. If she was disappointed by her first impressions of her future husband, there is no record of it. Others, however, have left a less-than-favorable account. "Nature seems to have denied everything to Monsieur le dauphin," Maria-Theresa's ambassador in France had reported, somewhat harshly. "In his bearing and words, the prince displays a very limited amount of sense, great plainness and no sensitivity." Indeed, the tail, ungainly youth was more than a little awkward with his prospective bride. When Marie-Antoinette politely kissed him he seemed unsure of himself and promptly moved away. It took twenty-three days from leaving the Hofburg in Vienna before they reached Versailles on May 16, 1770. As the cavalcade of carriages turned into the drive that sunny morning the vast scale of the magnificent chateau came into view. Once the dream of the Sun King, Louis XIV, who had transformed it from a hunting lodge to a sumptuous estate and symbol of royal power, Versailles gave off an immediate impression of classical grandeur, ionic columns, arched windows and balustrades receding into the distance as far as the eye could see. The ornamental façade of the main block alone, in brick and honey-colored stone, stretched over one-third of a mile. This was the administrative center of Europe's most powerful state, nothing less than a town for up to ten thousand people: the royal family and their entourage, several thousand courtiers and their servants, the king's household troops, Swiss guards, musketeers, gendarmes and countless other staff and visitors. Marie-Antoinette was taken to the ground-floor apartments where her ladies-in-waiting were to prepare her for her wedding. But nothing was to prepare the princess for the lavishness of the palace; the Hofburg in Austria was modest by comparison. The reception rooms were of an unbelievable richness and elegance, and the draped and canopied beds of the royal apartments had more in common with Cleopatra's silken barge than the planks and straw of the common lot. Then there were the endless mirrored panels of the vast Galerie des Glaces where courtiers were assembling to greet her. This famous Hall of Mirrors was the talk of Europe, with its four hundred thousand reflected candles, and beyond, the tall western windows; the perfect view with its enchanted blue distance held forever in mirrors, gold and more gold, the sparkle of diamonds and the finest crystal. It could not fail to seduce the senses and beguile the emperor's daughter as to her assured prospects at Versailles. The marriage ceremony took place later that day in the gilt and white chapel at Versailles. In this regal setting, Bourbon kings were traditionally christened and married, secure in the knowledge of their "divine right" as monarch. Standing before the carved marble altar, the dauphin, dressed in cloth of gold studded with diamonds, found the whole procedure something of an ordeal. "He trembled excessively during the service," wrote one eyewitness. "He appeared to have more timidity than his little wife and blushed up to his eyes when he gave [her] the ring." Marie-Antoinette, her slender figure seeming lost in her voluminous white brocade gown, was sufficiently nervous that when she signed the register, she spilled some ink. The ceremony was followed by a grand reception in the Galerie des Glaces for over six thousand guests, and a sumptuous wedding feast in the Opera House, which was inaugurated in their honor. Afterward, following customary French etiquette, the bride and groom were prepared for bed in a very public ritual where the king himself gave the nightshirt to his grandson. Yet for all the weeks of imposing preparations in anticipation of this happy moment, when the sheets were checked in the morning, there was no evidence that the marriage had been consummated. The aging king "was enchanted with the young dauphine," observed her First Lady of the Bedchamber, Henriette Campan; "all his conversation was about her graces, her vivacity, and the aptness of her repartees." But her new husband was not so appreciative. Rumors soon began to circulate that the dauphin was impotent or had difficulty making love. He showed only "the most mortifying indifference, and a coldness which frequently degenerated into rudeness," continued Madame Campan, whose memoirs as the queen's maid convey many intimate details of Marie-Antoinette's early years in France. "Not even all her charms could gain upon his senses; he threw himself, as a matter of duty, upon the bed of the dauphine, and often fell asleep without saying a single word to her!" When Marie-Antoinette expressed her concerns in a letter to her mother, the empress advised her not to be too impatient with her husband, since increasing his uneasiness would only make matters worse. Nonetheless, Marie-Antoinette was worried and "deeply hurt" by his lack of physical interest in her. The dauphin was in fact a serious, well-intentioned young man who suffered from a chronic lack of confidence and self-assertiveness. As a child, Louis had felt himself to be in the shadow of his brothers; first his brilliant older brother who had died at the age of ten, and then his younger brothers, the clever and calculating Comte de Provence-who wanted the throne for himself-and the handsome Comte d'Artois. To add to his sense of insecurity, when Louis was eleven, his father had died of tuberculosis, to be followed soon afterward by his mother-a loss which he felt deeply. Increasingly anxious about whether he was equal to his future role, he withdrew, absorbing himself in his studies, especially history, or pursuing his passion for the hunt. Somewhat incongruously for a future king, he also loved lock-making and had a smithy and forge installed next to his library. Marie-Antoinette did not share his interest in history or reading and thought his smithying quite ridiculous. "You must agree that I wouldn't look very beautiful standing in a forge," she told a friend. Her mother, the empress, was increasingly concerned about their apparent incompatibility. For the public, however, the fortunate young couple symbolized all the promise of a new age. When Louis and Marie-Antoinette made their first ceremonial entrance into Paris on June 8, 1773, there was jubilant cheering. Their cortege clattered across the streets of the capital, which had been strewn with flowers. "There was such a great crowd," wrote Marie-Antoinette, "that we remained for three-quarters of an hour without being able to go forwards or backwards." When they finally appeared on the balcony of the Palace of the Tuileries, the crowds were ecstatic and their cheers increased as the dauphine smiled. Hats were thrown in the air with abandon, handkerchiefs were waving and everyone was enthusiastic. "Madame, they are two hundred thousand of your lovers," murmured the governor of Paris, the Duc de Brissac, as he saw the sea of admiring faces. The following year, their protected lives were to change dramatically. On April 27, 1774, Louis XV was dining with his mistress when he became feverish with a severe headache. The next day, at Versailles, he broke out in a rash. The diagnosis was serious: smallpox. Within a few days, as his body became covered with foul-smelling sores, it was apparent that the king was suffering from a most virulent form of the disease. Louis and Marie-Antoinette had no chance to pay their last respects; they were forbidden to visit him. In less than two weeks, the once handsome body in his exquisite gilded bed festooned in gold brocade appeared to be covered in one huge, unending black scab. For those who could not come near the sickroom, a candle had been placed near the window, which was to be extinguished the instant the king died. Continue... Excerpted from The LOST KING of FRANCE by Deborah Cadbury Copyright © 2002 by Deborah Cadbury Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Introduction: The Heart of Stonep. xiii
Chapter 1 "The Finest Kingdom in Europe"p. 3
Chapter 2 'Grace pour Maman'p. 24
Chapter 3 The Tuileriesp. 46
Chapter 4 "God Himself Has Forsaken Me"p. 69
Chapter 5 The Young "Sans--Culotte"p. 99
Chapter 6 The Orphan of the Templep. 127
Chapter 7 Farce and Fraudp. 165
Chapter 8 Return of the Liliesp. 187
Chapter 9 The Shadow Kingp. 209
Chapter 10 The Royal Charadep. 235
Chapter 11 Resolutionp. 253
Notes on Sourcesp. 275
Bibliographyp. 283
Indexp. 291