Why 100 Imposters Claimed to Be Marie Antoinette’s Dead Son

Why 100 Imposters Claimed to Be Marie Antoinette’s Dead Son

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

Louis-Charles de France grew up in the gold-trimmed rooms of Versailles, the happy, handsome and charming son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. At the age of four, he became the heir to the French throne when his brother died, and from that day forward, the whole palace staff bowed to his every desire.

But the French Revolution destroyed his family, and the once carefree child—an orphan by the age of eight after his parents’ execution in 1793—was horribly abused and neglected, isolated in a prison cell in the Paris Temple. Vilified as the “wolf cub,” the “son of a tyrant” and the “bastard,” by 1795 the newly styled Louis-Charles Capet was unrecognizable, covered in sores and his belly distended from malnourishment.

Finally, his jailers called in Philippe-Jean Pellatan, a respected doctor who was horrified by the condition of the young Dauphin, or heir apparent, writes Deborah Cadbury in The Lost King of France. “Unfortunately, all assistance was too late,” the doctor recalled of the boy who was once destined to become King Louis XVII. “No hope was to be entertained.”

On June 8, 1795, Louis-Charles died of tuberculosis in the arms of one of his jailers. He was only ten years old.

The revolutionary government quickly sprang into action. The child’s body, so neglected in life, was hovered over in death. Dr. Pellatan performed a detailed autopsy, and found physical evidence of the abuse Louis-Charles had endured. Once the autopsy was completed, the body was secretly buried in a mass grave at the nearby Sainte-Marguerite Cemetery.

But not all of the Dauphin’s body made it to the common pit. During the autopsy, Dr. Pellatan had slipped the wretched child’s heart into a handkerchief and placed it in his pocket. He was determined to someday return the relic to exiled members of the royal Bourbon family. (Louis-Charles’s last surviving immediate family member, Marie-Thérèse, sat unaware of his death in her cell on the floor above).

In the years following the secret burial, dozens of men claiming to be the Dauphin would come forward, many of them pestering Louis-Charles’s sister, Marie-Thérèse, the Duchesse d’Angoulême. Marie-Thérèse would be haunted by the mystery of what happened to her younger brother from the moment she was released from captivity in December 1795, to her death over five decades later.

Eventually over 100 people, most famously Charles-Guillaume Naundorff, would claim to be the real Dauphin. There were many practical reasons to make a claim. A Bourbon restoration was always a possibility, and a successful claimant could theoretically find himself on the throne of France. Riches, fame, and adulation also came to many imposters, thus encouraging others to come forward.

The charlatans were aided by the fact that in the child’s last days he had refused to speak, and no one who had known Louis-Charles in his happy youth ever saw him after he was brought to the prison. And of course, only Dr. Pellatan and a few of his friends knew of the pickled heart locked away in his desk drawer.

“There is no real and legal certainty that the son of Louis XVI is dead,” wrote the Austrian diplomat, Baron von Thugut. “His death, up to now, has no other proof than the announcement in the Moniteur, along with a report drawn up on the orders of the brigands of the Convention and by people whose deposition is based on the fact that they were presented with the body of a dead child who they were told was the son of Louis Capet.”

According to Cadbury, the mystery surrounding the “orphan of the tower” led to 500 books on the subject and an Edwardian-era monthly journal. The first book, a fictional account called The Cemetery of Madeline, about Louis-Charles’s supposed escape from the tower, came out only a few years after his death. Memoirs were also written by claimants themselves, including the Historical Account of the Life of Louis XVII, dictated by an illiterate, drunken vagabond named Charles de Navarre. Even Mark Twain got into the act, writing of a transient pretending to be “the little boy dolphin” in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

The first claimant appeared in Châlons-sur-Marne only three years after the Dauphin’s death. The charming, handsome teenager had been found wandering the countryside and put in the local prison. For months he refused to say who he was, and then said he was a member of a non-existent ducal house. Enamored villagers became convinced the seemingly aristocratic young man was Louis-Charles, and the teen did not disabuse them of this notion.

“Although still in prison, he was treated as a king,” Cadbury writes, “his cell luxuriously reappointed as a ‘little palace’ and a small ‘court’ organized with due pomp and ceremony…presents and money were lavished on him."

In due course, it was revealed that he was in fact a runaway and tailor’s son named Jean-Marie Hervagault. But this did not stop his courtiers from believing in his royal lineage. Hervagault's stories became more and more grandiose: The boy claimed that a brand on his leg, of the shield and the lilies of France, had been made by the Pope. He died in 1812, claiming to be the rightful King of France to the end.

In 1814, Napoleon’s fall led to a restoration of Bourbon rule. When the dead child’s uncle, Louis XVIII, assumed the throne, this led to a boom in men pretending to be the ill-fated Louis-Charles. By the mid-1820s, so many young men were claiming to be the Dauphin that doctors at asylums and bodyguards at royal palaces became adept at rebuffing them.

The fad made its way abroad, too. Fake Louis-Charles' appeared in England, Denmark, Columbia, and the Seychelles. In the United States, the most famous claimant was a Native American, Eleazer William, known as “Indian William.” According to Cadbury, he was eventually paid off by a French nobleman, and generously agreed to abdicate all rights to the throne.

Another man, calling himself Charles de Navarre, traveled to France from New Orleans and declared in court that he was none other than the lost Dauphin of France. Navarre, who was heavily scarred and missing many teeth, wrote pleading letters to the King and the Duchesse d’Angoulême, signed “Daufin Bourbon.”

Fraudulently claiming to be the king was illegal in France. Usually the authorities let it slide—but when imposters gained a following or made threats, they were arrested and put on trail to expose their lies. Charles de Navarre was arrested in 1817, and after a disastrous trial, sent to jail. He died there in 1822.

From Italy came the globe-trotting and dapper “Baron de Richemont.” He soon had his own court, wrote his memoirs, and began pestering Marie-Thérèse and others with elegantly written manifestos. When a confused Marie-Thérèse refused to respond, he began to write her menacing, threatening letters.

In 1834, the Baron de Richemont was put on trial. One day, a man rose in court and interrupted the proceedings. “I am the bearer of a letter for the gentlemen of the jury written by the real Charles-Louis de Bourbon, the son of Louis XVI,” exclaimed the man. He then produced a letter, which he claimed was from the true Dauphin, who would soon be known throughout Europe as Karl Wilhelm Naundorff.

The Baron de Richemont was jailed but managed to escape a year later. For years, sightings of the Baron would be whispered throughout France. But it was his rival, Naundorff, who would become the most believed of all the imposters.

Naundorff came from Prussia and claimed to be a clockmaker. In reality, he had been imprisoned in Germany for counterfeiting money (he had also been accused of arson). Much like another famous imposter, Anna Anderson (who later claimed to be Anastasia Romanov), he was unable to fluently speak his supposed native language.

Like Anderson, Naundorff soon convinced many people who had known and loved the real Louis-Charles, including his nurse, a Versailles ladies’ maid, his father’s private secretary and a former Minister of Justice, that he was the Dauphin. Many of these people wrote to the Duchesse d’Angoulême vouching for Naundorff and suspiciously insisting she give him part of her fortune.

As she had done occasionally in the past, the Duchesse d’Angoulême sent a trusted friend to inspect the claimant. The friend reported back that Naundorff looked like a Bourbon, had handwriting like a Bourbon, and seemed sane. “I am certain that my sister would recognize me after ten minutes’ talk,” Naundorff wrote. “I propose that she should meet me; I demand it of her.” Again, the tormented Duchesse did nothing.

Naundorff was eventually arrested and banished to England, where he founded a spiritual sect and got himself arrested for attempting to build a powerful bomb. He died in Holland in 1845. Both his gravestone and death certificate identified him as Louis-Charles. When his rival Baron de Richemont died in 1853, his headstone also claimed the long-dead boy’s name as his own.

Naundorff’s children and grandchildren continued to try and legitimize his claims, mounting court battles up until the 1950s. In the 1990s, scientists used a lock of Naundorff’s hair to prove once and for all that he was not the lost Dauphin.

Through the centuries, the real Louis-Charles’ heart had quietly gone on a remarkable journey. The hard, calcified heart had been rescued, stolen, trampled during a later revolution, and miraculously rescued again, ending up in the royal crypt of St-Denis, where Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette lay. In 2000, a group of geneticists proved definitively that it was the heart of ten-year old Louis-Charles de France. It is now encrypted with honor in St-Denis.

Marie Antoinette: the very name of the doomed queen of France, the last of the Ancien Régime, evokes power and fascination. Against the poverty of late 18th-century France, the five syllables evoke a cloud of pastel-colored indulgence, absurd fashions, and cruel frivolity, like a rococo painting sprung to life.

The real life, and death, of Marie Antoinette is certainly as fascinating. Falling from the Olympus-on-earth of Versailles to the humble cell of the Conciergerie and ultimately the executioner’s scaffold, the last days of the last real Queen of France were full of humiliation, degradation, and blood.

8. Some important historians

8.1. Herodoto (484-425 a.C.)

8.1.1. He was a Greek historian and geographer who lived between 484 and 425 BC. C., traditionally considered as the father of History in the western world.

8.2. David Christian

8.2.1. Focused on Russian studies early on, and then moved on to studies into human history writ large. He integrated his research of human history with astronomy, anthropology, biology, and cosmology.

8.3. Michelle Perrot

8.3.1. She is French historian and feminist, emeritus professor of history at the Paris-Diderot University. She is a pioneer in the study of the history of women in France.

8.4. Eric Hobsbawm

8.4.1. Was a British historian of Jewish origin. Considered a "key thinker of 20th century history," he is known for his trilogy on the three ages.


The question has intrigued historians for 200 years. Was the disease-riddled little boy who died in 1795 after years alone in a prison cell really the son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette?

Or had royalists managed, at the height of the French Revolution, to spirit the young heir from harm after his parents were sent to the guillotine?

Wednesday, two scientists said they could offer proof that the 10-year-old was indeed Louis XVII. He had endured two years in Temple prison, where he was left unattended and in the dark for long stretches, with skin tumors, scabies and increasing signs of madness.

After examining all that remains of the boy--a dried heart--the scientists said they had been able to match the boy's DNA with that of other members of the royal family, including DNA taken from a lock of Marie Antoinette's hair.

"This is the end of 200 years of uncertainty," said Philippe Delorme, a historian who had pressed for the test and helped announced the results. "It is a very exciting day for historians. It puts to an end a mystery that has absorbed so many of us. Now we have an answer."

Through the years, more than 500 books have been written about the young dauphin, and many theories emerged about his possible escape and presumed exile.

Even Mark Twain could not resist tweaking the issue. In "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," Huck tells Tom about "the little boy dolphin" who might have been king but was shut up in jail and may have died there, though others said the boy might have gotten away to America. In 1905, speculation on the subject was so intense that a monthly review was founded.

Within weeks of the prince's death, rumors circulated that he had been spirited out in a bathtub and that the dead boy was a substitute. Would-be heirs have popped up all over Europe claiming to be the true descendants of the Bourbon line.

One such man, Charles-Guillaume Naundorff, was so convincing that the government of the Netherlands allowed him to be buried there in 1845 under a tombstone indicating he was the true heir to the French throne.

Experts on the royal family say dozens more claim to be direct descendants, though few have been as public with their claims.

On Wednesday the scientists said they were all impostors. They said they had been able to extract three samples of mitochondrial DNA from the heart and compare them with samples from locks of hair taken from Marie Antoinette, two of her sisters and samples from two living maternal relatives, Queen Anna of Romania and her brother Andre. In all cases, they said, they had found "identical" sequences.

The scientists, specialists in human genetics, Jean-Jacques Cassiman of the University of Louvain in Belgium and Bernd Brinckmann of the University of Muenster in Germany, said they had found enough matching DNA to determine that Marie Antoinette was the boy's mother.

Whether the new evidence will end all conspiracy theories in the rarified world of royal intrigue remains unclear.

Even at the news conference announcing the results, some members of the audience questioned whether the scientists could be considered truly independent, given that they were paid by the royal family trust. Others speculated whether the dead boy might not have been another son of Marie Antoinette that no one knew about.

But royal-gazing does not really interest the French much. The French Revolution and its many aftershocks wiped out a great many members of the royal family. Since the last reigning king, Louis-Philippe, was removed from office in the revolution of 1848, there has been much feuding over who is the real heir to the throne, but very little effort to restore anyone to it.


Maria Antonia was born on 2 November 1755 at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria. She was the youngest daughter of Empress Maria Theresa, ruler of the Habsburg Empire, and her husband Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor. [2] Her godparents were Joseph I and Mariana Victoria, King and Queen of Portugal Archduke Joseph and Archduchess Maria Anna acted as proxies for their newborn sister. [3] [4] Maria Antonia was born on All Souls Day, a Catholic day of mourning, and during her childhood her birthday was instead celebrated the day before, on All Saint's Day, due to the connotations of the date. Shortly after her birth she was placed under the care of the governess of the imperial children, Countess von Brandeis. [5] Maria Antonia was raised together with her sister, Maria Carolina, who was three years older, and with whom she had a lifelong close relationship. [6] Maria Antonia had a difficult but ultimately loving relationship with her mother, [7] who referred to her as "the little Madame Antoine".

Maria Antonia spent her formative years between the Hofburg Palace and Schönbrunn, the imperial summer residence in Vienna, [4] where on 13 October 1762, when she was seven, she met Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, two months her junior and a child prodigy. [8] [4] [5] [9] Despite the private tutoring she received, the results of her schooling were less than satisfactory. [10] At the age of 10 she could not write correctly in German or in any language commonly used at court, such as French or Italian, [4] and conversations with her were stilted. [11] [4]

Under the teaching of Christoph Willibald Gluck, Maria Antonia developed into a good musician. She learned to play the harp, [10] the harpsichord and the flute. She sang during the family's evening gatherings, as she had a beautiful voice. [12] She also excelled at dancing, had "exquisite" poise, and loved dolls. [13]

Later in 1768, Mathieu-Jacques de Vermond was dispatched by Louis XV to tutor Marie Antoinette as she became the future wife to Louis XVI. Serving as an educator, Abbe de Vermond found her to be unsatisfactorily educated and lacking in, at the age of 13, important writing skills. Nonetheless, he also complimented her stating "her character, her heart, are excellent." He found her "more intelligent than has been generally supposed," but since "she is rather lazy and extremely frivolous, she is hard to teach." [14]

Following the Seven Years' War and the Diplomatic Revolution of 1756, Empress Maria Theresa decided to end hostilities with her longtime enemy, King Louis XV of France. Their common desire to destroy the ambitions of Prussia and Great Britain and to secure a definitive peace between their respective countries led them to seal their alliance with a marriage: on 7 February 1770, Louis XV formally requested the hand of Maria Antonia for his eldest surviving grandson and heir, Louis-Auguste, duc de Berry and Dauphin of France. [4]

Maria Antonia formally renounced her rights to Habsburg domains, and on 19 April she was married by proxy to the Dauphin of France at the Augustinian Church in Vienna, with her brother Archduke Ferdinand standing in for the Dauphin. [15] [16] [4] On 14 May she met her husband at the edge of the forest of Compiègne. Upon her arrival in France, she adopted the French version of her name: Marie Antoinette. A further ceremonial wedding took place on 16 May 1770 in the Palace of Versailles and, after the festivities, the day ended with the ritual bedding. [17] [18] The couple's longtime failure to consummate the marriage plagued the reputations of both Louis-Auguste and Marie Antoinette for the next seven years. [19] [20]

The initial reaction to the marriage between Marie Antoinette and Louis-Auguste was mixed. On the one hand, the Dauphine was beautiful, personable, and well-liked by the common people. Her first official appearance in Paris on 8 June 1773 was a resounding success. On the other hand, those opposed to the alliance with Austria had a difficult relationship with Marie Antoinette, as did others who disliked her for more personal or petty reasons. [21]

Madame du Barry proved a troublesome foe to the new dauphine. She was Louis XV's mistress and had considerable political influence over him. In 1770 she was instrumental in ousting Étienne François, Duc de Choiseul, who had helped orchestrate the Franco-Austrian alliance and Marie Antoinette's marriage, [22] and in exiling his sister, the duchess de Gramont, one of Marie Antoinette's ladies-in-waiting. Marie Antoinette was persuaded by her husband's aunts to refuse to acknowledge du Barry, which some saw as a political blunder that jeopardized Austria's interests at the French court. Marie Antoinette's mother and the Austrian ambassador to France, comte de Mercy-Argenteau, who sent the Empress secret reports on Marie Antoinette's behavior, pressured Marie Antoinette to speak to Madame du Barry, which she grudgingly agreed to do on New Year's Day 1772. [23] [24] She merely commented to her, "There are a lot of people at Versailles today", but it was enough for Madame du Barry, who was satisfied with this recognition, and the crisis passed. [25] Two days after the death of Louis XV in 1774, Louis XVI exiled du Barry to the Abbaye de Pont-aux-Dames in Meaux, pleasing both his wife and aunts. [26] [27] [28] [29] [30] Two and a half years later, at the end of October 1776, Madame du Barry's exile ended and she was allowed to return to her beloved château at Louveciennes, but she was never permitted to return to Versailles. [31]

Early years (1774–1778)

Upon the death of Louis XV on 10 May 1774, the Dauphin ascended the throne as King Louis XVI of France and Navarre with Marie Antoinette as his Queen. At the outset, the new queen had limited political influence with her husband, who, with the support of his two most important ministers, Chief Minister Maurepas and Foreign Minister Vergennes, blocked several of her candidates from assuming important positions, including Choiseul. [32] [33] The queen did play a decisive role in the disgrace and exile of the most powerful of Louis XV's ministers, the duc d'Aiguillon. [34] [35] [36]

On 24 May 1774, two weeks after the death of Louis XV, the king gifted his wife the Petit Trianon, a small château on the grounds of Versailles that had been built by Louis XV for his mistress, Madame de Pompadour. Louis XVI allowed Marie Antoinette to renovate it to suit her own tastes soon rumors circulated that she had plastered the walls with gold and diamonds. [37]

The queen spent heavily on fashion, luxuries, and gambling, though the country was facing a grave financial crisis and the population was suffering. Rose Bertin created dresses for her, and hairstyles such as poufs, up to three feet (90 cm) high, and the panache (a spray of feather plumes). She and her court also adopted the English fashion of dresses made of indienne (a material banned in France from 1686 until 1759 to protect local French woolen and silk industries), percale and muslin. [38] [39] By the time of the Flour War of 1775, a series of riots (due to the high price of flour and bread) had damaged her reputation among the general public. Eventually, Marie Antoinette's reputation was no better than that of the favorites of previous kings. Many French people were beginning to blame her for the degrading economic situation, suggesting the country's inability to pay off its debt was the result of her wasting the crown's money. [40] In her correspondence, Marie Antoinette's mother, Maria Theresa, expressed concern over her daughter's spending habits, citing the civil unrest it was beginning to cause. [41]

As early as 1774, Marie Antoinette had begun to befriend some of her male admirers, such as the baron de Besenval, the duc de Coigny, and Count Valentin Esterházy, [42] [43] and also formed deep friendships with various ladies at court. Most noted was Marie-Louise, Princesse de Lamballe, related to the royal family through her marriage into the Penthièvre family. On 19 September 1774 she appointed her superintendent of her household, [44] [45] an appointment she soon transferred to her new favourite, the duchesse de Polignac.

In 1774, she took under her patronage her former music teacher, the German opera composer Christoph Willibald Gluck, who remained in France until 1779. [46] [47]

Motherhood, changes at court, intervention in politics (1778–1781)

Amidst the atmosphere of a wave of libelles, the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II came to France incognito, using the name Comte de Falkenstein, for a six-week visit during which he toured Paris extensively and was a guest at Versailles. He met his sister and her husband on 18 April 1777 at the château de la Muette, and spoke frankly to his brother-in-law, curious as to why the royal marriage had not been consummated, arriving at the conclusion that no obstacle to the couple's conjugal relations existed save the queen's lack of interest and the king's unwillingness to exert himself. [48] In a letter to his brother Leopold, Grand Duke of Tuscany, Joseph II described them as "a couple of complete blunderers." [49] He disclosed to Leopold that the inexperienced—then still only 22-year-old—Louis XVI had confided in him the course of action he had been undertaking in their marital bed saying Louis XVI "introduces the member," but then "stays there without moving for about two minutes," withdraws without having completed the act and "bids goodnight." [50]

Suggestions that Louis suffered from phimosis, which was relieved by circumcision, have been discredited. [51] Nevertheless, following Joseph's intervention, the marriage was finally consummated in August 1777. [52] Eight months later, in April 1778, it was suspected that the queen was pregnant, which was officially announced on 16 May. [53] Marie Antoinette's daughter, Marie-Thérèse Charlotte, Madame Royale, was born at Versailles on 19 December 1778. [7] [54] [55] The child's paternity was contested in the libelles, as were all her children's. [56] [57]

In the middle of the queen's pregnancy two events occurred which had a profound effect on her later life: the return of her friend and lover, the Swedish diplomat Count Axel von Fersen [58] to Versailles for two years, and her brother's claim to the throne of Bavaria, contested by the Habsburg monarchy and Prussia. [59] Marie Antoinette pleaded with her husband for the French to intercede on behalf of Austria. The Peace of Teschen, signed on 13 May 1779, ended the brief conflict, with the queen imposing French mediation at her mother's insistence and Austria's gaining a territory of at least 100,000 inhabitants—a strong retreat from the early French position which was hostile towards Austria. This gave the impression, partially justified, that the queen had sided with Austria against France. [60] [61]

Meanwhile, the queen began to institute changes in court customs. Some of them met with the disapproval of the older generation, such as the abandonment of heavy make-up and the popular wide-hooped panniers. [63] The new fashion called for a simpler feminine look, typified first by the rustic robe à la polonaise style and later by the gaulle, a layered muslin dress Marie Antoinette wore in a 1783 Vigée-Le Brun portrait. [64] In 1780 she began to participate in amateur plays and musicals in a theatre built for her by Richard Mique at the Petit Trianon. [65]

Repayment of the French debt remained a difficult problem, further exacerbated by Vergennes and also by Marie Antoinette's prodding [66] Louis XVI to involve France in Great Britain's war with its North American colonies. The primary motive for the queen's involvement in political affairs in this period may arguably have more to do with court factionalism than any true interest on her part in politics themselves, [67] but she played an important role in aiding the American Revolution by securing Austrian and Russian support for France, which resulted in the establishment of the First League of Armed Neutrality that stopped Great Britain's attack, and by weighing indecisively for the nomination of Philippe Henri, marquis de Ségur as Minister of War and Charles Eugène Gabriel de La Croix, marquis de Castries as Secretary of the Navy in 1780, who helped George Washington to defeat the British in the American Revolutionary War, which ended in 1783. [68]

In 1783, the queen played a decisive role in the nomination of Charles Alexandre de Calonne, a close friend of the Polignacs, as Controller-General of Finances, and of the baron de Breteuil as the Minister of the Royal Household, making him perhaps the strongest and most conservative minister of the reign. [ citation needed ] The result of these two nominations was that Marie Antoinette's influence became paramount in government, and the new ministers rejected any major change to the structure of the old regime. More than that, the decree by de Ségur, the minister of war, requiring four quarterings of nobility as a condition for the appointment of officers, blocked the access of commoners to important positions in the armed forces, challenging the concept of equality, one of the main grievances and causes of the French Revolution. [69] [70]

Marie Antoinette's second pregnancy ended in a miscarriage early in July 1779, as confirmed by letters between the queen and her mother, although some historians believed that she may have experienced bleeding related to an irregular menstrual cycle, which she mistook for a lost pregnancy. [71]

Her third pregnancy was affirmed in March 1781, and on 22 October she gave birth to Louis Joseph Xavier François, Dauphin of France. [72]

Empress Maria Theresa died on 29 November 1780 in Vienna. Marie Antoinette feared that the death of her mother would jeopardize the Franco-Austrian alliance (as well as, ultimately, herself), but her brother, Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor, wrote to her that he had no intention of breaking the alliance. [73]

A second visit from Joseph II, which took place in July 1781 to reaffirm the Franco-Austrian alliance and also to see his sister, was tainted by false rumours [57] that Marie Antoinette was sending money to him from the French treasury. [74] [75]

Declining popularity (1782–1785)

Despite the general celebration over the birth of the Dauphin, Marie Antoinette's political influence, such as it was, did greatly benefit Austria. [76] During the Kettle War, in which her brother Joseph attempted to open the Scheldt River for naval passage, Marie Antoinette succeeded in obliging Vergennes to pay huge financial compensation to Austria. Finally, the queen was able to obtain her brother's support against Great Britain in the American Revolution and she neutralized French hostility to his alliance with Russia. [77] [78]

In 1782, after the governess of the royal children, the princesse de Guéméné, went bankrupt and resigned, Marie Antoinette appointed her favorite, the duchesse de Polignac, to the position. [79] This decision met with disapproval from the court as the duchess was considered to be of too modest a birth to occupy such an exalted position. On the other hand, both the king and the queen trusted Mme de Polignac completely, gave her a thirteen-room apartment in Versailles and paid her well. [80] The entire Polignac family benefited greatly from royal favor in titles and positions, but its sudden wealth and lavish lifestyle outraged most aristocratic families, who resented the Polignacs' dominance at court, and also fueled the increasing popular disapproval of Marie Antoinette, mostly in Paris. [81] De Mercy wrote to the Empress: "It is almost unexampled that in so short a time, the royal favor should have brought such overwhelming advantages to a family". [82]

In June 1783, Marie Antoinette's new pregnancy was announced, but on the night of 1–2 November, her 28th birthday, she suffered a miscarriage. [83]

Count Axel von Fersen, after his return from America in June 1783, was accepted into the queen's private society. There were and still claims that the two were romantically involved, [84] but since most of their correspondence has been lost or destroyed, there is no conclusive evidence. [85] In 2016, the Telegraph's Henry Samuel announced that researchers at France's Research Centre for the Conservation of Collections (CRCC), "using cutting-edge x-ray and different infrared scanners," had deciphered a letter from her that proved the affair. [86]

Around this time, pamphlets describing farcical sexual deviance including the Queen and her friends in the court were growing in popularity around the country. The Portefeuille d’un talon rouge was one of the earliest, including the Queen and a variety of other nobles in a political statement decrying the immoral practices of the court. As time went on, these came to focus more and more on the Queen. They described amorous encounters with a wide range of figures, from the Duchess de Polignac to Louis XV. As these attacks increased, they were connected with the public's dislike of her association with the rival nation of Austria. It was publicly suggested that her supposed behavior was learned at the court of the rival nation, particularly lesbianism, which was known as the "German vice". [87] Her mother again expressed concern for the safety of her daughter, and she began to use Austria's ambassador to France, comte de Mercy, to provide information on Marie Antoinette's safety and movements. [88]

In 1783, the queen was busy with the creation of her "hamlet", a rustic retreat built by her favored architect, Richard Mique, according to the designs of the painter Hubert Robert. [89] Its creation, however, caused another uproar when its cost became widely known. [90] [91] However, the hamlet was not an eccentricity of Marie Antoinette's. It was en vogue at the time for nobles to have recreations of small villages on their properties. In fact, the design was copied from that of the prince de Condé. It was also significantly smaller and less intricate than many other nobles'. [92] Around this time she accumulated a library of 5000 books. Those on music, often dedicated to her, were the most read, though she also liked to read history. [93] [94] She sponsored the arts, in particular music, and also supported some scientific endeavours, encouraging and witnessing the first launch of a Montgolfière, a hot air balloon. [95]

On 27 April 1784, Beaumarchais's play The Marriage of Figaro premiered in Paris. Initially banned by the king due to its negative portrayal of the nobility, the play was finally allowed to be publicly performed because of the queen's support and its overwhelming popularity at court, where secret readings of it had been given by Marie Antoinette. The play was a disaster for the image of the monarchy and aristocracy. It inspired Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro, which premiered in Vienna on 1 May 1786. [96]

On 24 October 1784, putting the baron de Breteuil in charge of its acquisition, Louis XVI bought the Château de Saint-Cloud from the duc d'Orléans in the name of his wife, which she wanted due to their expanding family. She wanted to be able to own her own property. One that was actually hers, to then have the authority to bequeath it to "whichever of my children I wish" choosing the child she thought could use it rather than it going through patriarchal inheritance laws or whims. It was proposed that the cost could be covered by other sales, such as that of the château Trompette in Bordeaux. [97] This was unpopular, particularly with those factions of the nobility who disliked the queen, but also with a growing percentage of the population, who disapproved of a Queen of France independently owning a private residence. The purchase of Saint-Cloud thus damaged the public's image of the queen even further. The château's high price, almost 6 million livres, plus the substantial extra cost of redecorating, ensured that much less money was going towards repaying France's substantial debt. [98] [99]

On 27 March 1785, Marie Antoinette gave birth to a second son, Louis Charles, who bore the title of duc de Normandie. [100] The fact that the birth occurred exactly nine months after Fersen's return did not escape the attention of many, leading to doubt as to the parentage of the child and to a noticeable decline of the queen's reputation in public opinion. [101] The majority of Marie Antoinette's and Louis XVII's biographers believe that the young prince was the biological son of Louis XVI, including Stefan Zweig and Antonia Fraser, who believe that Fersen and Marie Antoinette were indeed romantically involved. [102] [103] [104] [105] [106] [107] [108] [109] Fraser has also noted that the birthdate matches up perfectly with a known conjugal visit from the King. [57] Courtiers at Versailles noted in their diaries that the date of the child's conception in fact corresponded perfectly with a period when the king and the queen had spent much time together, but these details were ignored amid attacks on the queen's character. [110] These suspicions of illegitimacy, along with the continued publication of the libelles and never-ending cavalcades of court intrigues, the actions of Joseph II in the Kettle War, the purchase of Saint-Cloud, and the Affair of the Diamond Necklace combined to turn popular opinion sharply against the queen, and the image of a licentious, spendthrift, empty-headed foreign queen was quickly taking root in the French psyche. [111]

A second daughter, her last child, Marie Sophie Hélène Béatrix, Madame Sophie, was born on 9 July 1786 and lived only eleven months until 19 June 1787.

Marie Antoinette's four live-born children were:

    , Madame Royale (19 December 1778 – 19 October 1851) , Dauphin (22 October 1781 – 4 June 1789) , Dauphin after the death of his elder brother, future titular king Louis XVII of France (27 March 1785 – 8 June 1795) , died in infancy (9 July 1786 – 19 June 1787)

Prelude to the Revolution: scandals and the failure of reforms (1786–1789)

Diamond necklace scandal

Marie Antoinette began to abandon her more carefree activities to become increasingly involved in politics in her role as Queen of France. [112] By publicly showing her attention to the education and care of her children, the queen sought to improve the dissolute image she had acquired in 1785 from the "Diamond Necklace Affair", in which public opinion had falsely accused her of criminal participation in defrauding the jewelers Boehmer and Bassenge of the price of an expensive diamond necklace they had originally created for Madame du Barry. The main actors in the scandal were Cardinal de Rohan, prince de Rohan-Guéméné, Great Almoner of France, and Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy, Comtesse de La Motte, a descendant of an illegitimate child of Henry II of France of the House of Valois. Marie Antoinette had profoundly disliked Rohan since the time he had been the French ambassador to Vienna when she was a child. Despite his high clerical position at the Court, she never addressed a word to him. Others involved were Nicole Lequay, alias Baronne d'Oliva, a prostitute who happened to look like Marie Antoinette Rétaux de Villette, a forger Alessandro Cagliostro, an Italian adventurer and the Comte de La Motte, Jeanne de Valois' husband. Mme de La Motte tricked Rohan into buying the necklace as a gift to Marie Antoinette, for him to gain the queen's favor.

When the affair was discovered, those involved (except de La Motte and Rétaux de Villette, who both managed to flee) were arrested, tried, convicted, and either imprisoned or exiled. Mme de La Motte was sentenced for life to confinement in the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, which also served as a prison for women. Judged by the Parlement, Rohan was found innocent of any wrongdoing and allowed to leave the Bastille. Marie Antoinette, who had insisted on the arrest of the Cardinal, was dealt a heavy personal blow, as was the monarchy, and despite the fact that the guilty parties were tried and convicted, the affair proved to be extremely damaging to her reputation, which never recovered from it. [ citation needed ]

Failure of political and financial reforms

Suffering from an acute case of depression, the king began to seek the advice of his wife. In her new role and with increasing political power, the queen tried to improve the awkward situation brewing between the assembly and the king. [113] This change of the queen's position signaled the end of the Polignacs' influence and their impact on the finances of the Crown.

Continuing deterioration of the financial situation despite cutbacks to the royal retinue and court expenses ultimately forced the king, the queen and the Minister of Finance, Calonne, at the urging of Vergennes, to call a session of the Assembly of Notables, after a hiatus of 160 years. The assembly was held for the purpose of initiating necessary financial reforms, but the Parlement refused to cooperate. The first meeting took place on 22 February 1787, nine days after the death of Vergennes on 13 February. Marie Antoinette did not attend the meeting and her absence resulted in accusations that the queen was trying to undermine its purpose. [114] [115] The Assembly was a failure. It did not pass any reforms and, instead, fell into a pattern of defying the king. On the urging of the queen, Louis XVI dismissed Calonne on 8 April 1787. [113]

On 1 May 1787, Étienne Charles de Loménie de Brienne, archbishop of Toulouse and one of the queen's political allies, was appointed by the king at her urging to replace Calonne, first as Controller-General of Finances and then as Prime Minister. He began to institute more cutbacks at court while trying to restore the royal absolute power weakened by parliament. [116] Brienne was unable to improve the financial situation, and since he was the queen's ally, this failure adversely affected her political position. The continued poor financial climate of the country resulted in the 25 May dissolution of the Assembly of Notables because of its inability to function, and the lack of solutions was blamed on the queen. [69]

France's financial problems were the result of a combination of factors: several expensive wars a large royal family whose expenditures were paid for by the state and an unwillingness on the part of most members of the privileged classes, aristocracy, and clergy, to help defray the costs of the government out of their own pockets by relinquishing some of their financial privileges. As a result of the public perception that she had single-handedly ruined the national finances, Marie Antoinette was given the nickname of "Madame Déficit" in the summer of 1787. [117] While the sole fault for the financial crisis did not lie with her, Marie Antoinette was the biggest obstacle to any major reform effort. She had played a decisive role in the disgrace of the reformer ministers of finance, Turgot (in 1776), and Jacques Necker (first dismissal in 1781). If the secret expenses of the queen were taken into account, court expenses were much higher than the official estimate of 7% of the state budget. [118]

The queen attempted to fight back with propaganda portraying her as a caring mother, most notably in the painting by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun exhibited at the Royal Académie Salon de Paris in August 1787, showing her with her children. [119] [120] Around the same time, Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy escaped from prison and fled to London, where she published damaging slander concerning her supposed amorous affair with the queen. [121]

The political situation in 1787 worsened when, at Marie Antoinette's urging, the Parlement was exiled to Troyes on 15 August. It further deteriorated when Louis XVI tried to use a lit de justice on 11 November to impose legislation. The new Duc d'Orléans publicly protested the king's actions, and was subsequently exiled to his estate at Villers-Cotterêts. [122] The May Edicts issued on 8 May 1788 were also opposed by the public and parliament. Finally, on 8 August, Louis XVI announced his intention to bring back the Estates General, the traditional elected legislature of the country, which had not been convened since 1614. [123]

While from late 1787 up to his death in June 1789, Marie Antoinette's primary concern was the continued deterioration of the health of the Dauphin, who suffered from tuberculosis, [124] she was directly involved in the exile of the Parlement, the May Edicts, and the announcement regarding the Estates-General. She did participate in the King Council, the first queen to do this in over 175 years (since Marie de' Medici had been named Chef du Conseil du Roi, between 1614 and 1617), and she was making the major decisions behind the scene and in the Royal Council.

Marie Antoinette was instrumental in the reinstatement of Jacques Necker as Finance Minister on 26 August, a popular move, even though she herself was worried that it would go against her if Necker proved unsuccessful in reforming the country's finances. She accepted Necker's proposition to double the representation of the Third Estate (tiers état) in an attempt to check the power of the aristocracy. [125] [126]

On the eve of the opening of the Estates-General, the queen attended the mass celebrating its return. As soon as it opened on 5 May 1789, the fracture between the democratic Third Estate (consisting of bourgeois and radical aristocrats) and the conservative nobility of the Second Estate widened, and Marie Antoinette knew that her rival, the Duc d'Orléans, who had given money and bread to the people during the winter, would be acclaimed by the crowd, much to her detriment. [127]

The death of the Dauphin on 4 June, which deeply affected his parents, was virtually ignored by the French people, [128] who were instead preparing for the next meeting of the Estates-General and hoping for a resolution to the bread crisis. As the Third Estate declared itself a National Assembly and took the Tennis Court Oath, and as people either spread or believed rumors that the queen wished to bathe in their blood, Marie Antoinette went into mourning for her eldest son. [129] Her role was decisive in urging the king to remain firm and not concede to popular demands for reforms. In addition, she showed her determination to use force to crush the forthcoming revolution. [130] [131]

The situation escalated on 20 June as the Third Estate, which had been joined by several members of the clergy and radical nobility, found the door to its appointed meeting place closed by order of the king. [132] It thus met at the tennis court in Versailles and took the Tennis Court Oath not to separate before it had given a constitution to the nation.

On 11 July at Marie Antoinette's urging Necker was dismissed and replaced by Breteuil, the queen's choice to crush the Revolution with mercenary Swiss troops under the command of one of her favorites, Pierre Victor, baron de Besenval de Brünstatt. [133] [134] [135] At the news, Paris was besieged by riots that culminated in the storming of the Bastille on 14 July. [136] [137] On 15 July Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette was named commander-in-chief of the newly formed Garde nationale. [138] [139]

In the days following the storming of the Bastille, for fear of assassination, and ordered by the king, the emigration of members of the high aristocracy began on 17 July with the departure of the comte d'Artois, the Condés, cousins of the king, [140] and the unpopular Polignacs. Marie Antoinette, whose life was as much in danger, remained with the king, whose power was gradually being taken away by the National Constituent Assembly. [138] [141] [142]

The abolition of feudal privileges by the National Constituent Assembly on 4 August 1789 and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (La Déclaration des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen), drafted by Lafayette with the help of Thomas Jefferson and adopted on 26 August, paved the way to a Constitutional Monarchy (4 September 1791 – 21 September 1792). [143] [144] Despite these dramatic changes, life at the court continued, while the situation in Paris was becoming critical because of bread shortages in September. On 5 October, a crowd from Paris descended upon Versailles and forced the royal family to move to the Tuileries Palace in Paris, where they lived under a form of house arrest under the watch of Lafayette's Garde Nationale, while the Comte de Provence and his wife were allowed to reside in the Petit Luxembourg, where they remained until they went into exile on 20 June 1791. [145]

Marie Antoinette continued to perform charitable functions and attend religious ceremonies, but dedicated most of her time to her children. [146] She also played an important political, albeit not public, role between 1789 and 1791 when she had a complex set of relationships with several key actors of the early period of the French Revolution. One of the most important was Necker, the Prime Minister of Finances (Premier ministre des finances). [147] Despite her dislike of him, she played a decisive role in his return to the office. She blamed him for his support of the Revolution and did not regret his resignation in 1790. [148] [149]

Lafayette, one of the former military leaders in the American War of Independence (1775–83), served as the warden of the royal family in his position as commander-in-chief of the Garde Nationale. Despite his dislike of the queen—he detested her as much as she detested him and at one time had even threatened to send her to a convent—he was persuaded by the mayor of Paris, Jean Sylvain Bailly, to work and collaborate with her, and allowed her to see Fersen a number of times. He even went as far as exiling the Duke of Orléans, who was accused by the queen of fomenting trouble. His relationship with the king was more cordial. As a liberal aristocrat, he did not want the fall of the monarchy but rather the establishment of a liberal one, similar to that of the United Kingdom, based on cooperation between the king and the people, as was to be defined in the Constitution of 1791.

Despite her attempts to remain out of the public eye, Marie Antoinette was falsely accused in the libelles of having an affair with Lafayette, whom she loathed, [150] and, as was published in Le Godmiché Royal ("The Royal Dildo"), and of having a sexual relationship with the English baroness Lady Sophie Farrell of Bournemouth, a well-known lesbian of the time. Publication of such calumnies continued to the end, climaxing at her trial with an accusation of incest with her son. There is no evidence to support the accusations.


A significant achievement of Marie Antoinette in that period was the establishment of an alliance with Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, Comte de Mirabeau, the most important lawmaker in the assembly. Like Lafayette, Mirabeau was a liberal aristocrat. He had joined the Third estate and was not against the monarchy, but wanted to reconcile it with the Revolution. He also wanted to be a minister and was not immune to corruption. On the advice of Mercy, Marie Antoinette opened secret negotiations with him and both agreed to meet privately at the château de Saint-Cloud on 3 July 1790, where the royal family was allowed to spend the summer, free of the radical elements who watched their every move in Paris. [151] [152] At the meeting, Mirabeau was much impressed by the queen, and remarked in a letter to Auguste Marie Raymond d'Arenberg, Comte de la Marck, that she was the only person the king had by him: La Reine est le seul homme que le Roi ait auprès de Lui. [153] An agreement was reached turning Mirabeau into one of her political allies: Marie Antoinette promised to pay him 6000 livres per month and one million if he succeeded in his mission to restore the king's authority. [154]

The only time the royal couple returned to Paris in that period was on 14 July to attend the Fête de la Fédération, an official ceremony held at the Champ de Mars in commemoration of the fall of the Bastille one year earlier. At least 300,000 persons participated from all over France, including 18,000 national guards, with Talleyrand, bishop of Autun, celebrating a mass at the autel de la Patrie ("altar of the fatherland"). The king was greeted at the event with loud cheers of "Long live the king!", especially when he took the oath to protect the nation and to enforce the laws voted by the Constitutional Assembly. There were even cheers for the queen, particularly when she presented the Dauphin to the public. [155] [156]

Mirabeau sincerely wanted to reconcile the queen with the people, and she was happy to see him restoring much of the king's powers, such as his authority over foreign policy, and the right to declare war. Over the objections of Lafayette and his allies, the king was given a suspensive veto allowing him to veto any laws for a period of four years. With time, Mirabeau would support the queen, even more, going as far as to suggest that Louis XVI "adjourn" to Rouen or Compiègne. [157] This leverage with the Assembly ended with the death of Mirabeau in April 1791, despite the attempt of several moderate leaders of the Revolution to contact the queen to establish some basis of cooperation with her.

Civil Constitution of the Clergy

In March 1791 Pope Pius VI had condemned the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, reluctantly signed by Louis XVI, which reduced the number of bishops from 132 to 93, imposed the election of bishops and all members of the clergy by departmental or district assemblies of electors, and reduced the Pope's authority over the Church. Religion played an important role in the life of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, both raised in the Roman Catholic faith. The queen's political ideas and her belief in the absolute power of monarchs were based on France's long-established tradition of the divine right of kings. [ citation needed ] On 18 April, as the royal family prepared to leave for Saint-Cloud to attend Easter mass celebrated by a refractory priest, a crowd, soon joined by the Garde Nationale (disobeying Lafayette's orders), prevented their departure from Paris, prompting Marie Antoinette to declare to Lafayette that she and her family were no longer free. This incident fortified her in her determination to leave Paris for personal and political reasons, not alone, but with her family. Even the king, who had been hesitant, accepted his wife's decision to flee with the help of foreign powers and counter-revolutionary forces. [158] [159] [160] Fersen and Breteuil, who represented her in the courts of Europe, were put in charge of the escape plan, while Marie Antoinette continued her negotiations with some of the moderate leaders of the French Revolution. [161] [162]

There had been several plots designed to help the royal family escape, which the queen had rejected because she would not leave without the king, or which had ceased to be viable because of the king's indecision. Once Louis XVI finally did commit to a plan, its poor execution was the cause of its failure. In an elaborate attempt known as the Flight to Varennes to reach the royalist stronghold of Montmédy, some members of the royal family were to pose as the servants of an imaginary "Mme de Korff", a wealthy Russian baroness, a role played by Louise-Élisabeth de Croÿ de Tourzel, governess of the royal children.

After many delays, the escape was ultimately attempted on 21 June 1791, but the entire family was arrested less than twenty-four hours later at Varennes and taken back to Paris within a week. The escape attempt destroyed much of the remaining support of the population for the king. [163] [164]

Upon learning of the capture of the royal family, the National Constituent Assembly sent three representatives, Antoine Barnave, Jérôme Pétion de Villeneuve and Charles César de Fay de La Tour-Maubourg to Varennes to escort Marie Antoinette and her family back to Paris. On the way to the capital they were jeered and insulted by the people as never before. The prestige of the French monarchy had never been at such a low level. During the trip, Barnave, the representative of the moderate party in the Assembly, protected Marie Antoinette from the crowds, and even Pétion took pity on the royal family. Brought safely back to Paris, they were met with total silence by the crowd. Thanks to Barnave, the royal couple was not brought to trial and was publicly exonerated of any crime in relation with the attempted escape. [165] [166]

Marie Antoinette's first Lady of the Bedchamber, Mme Campan, wrote about what happened to the queen's hair on the night of 21–22 June, ". in a single night, it had turned white as that of a seventy-year old woman." (En une seule nuit ils étaient devenus blancs comme ceux d'une femme de soixante-dix ans.) [167]

After their return from Varennes and until the storming of the Tuileries on 10 August 1792, the queen, her family and entourage were held under tight surveillance by the Garde Nationale in the Tuileries, where the royal couple was guarded night and day. Four guards accompanied the queen wherever she went, and her bedroom door had to be left open at night. Her health also began to deteriorate, thus further reducing her physical activities. [168] [169]

On 17 July 1791, with the support of Barnave and his friends, Lafayette's Garde Nationale opened fire on the crowd that had assembled on the Champ de Mars to sign a petition demanding the deposition of the king. The estimated number of those killed varies between 12 and 50. Lafayette's reputation never recovered from the event and, on 8 October, he resigned as commander of the Garde Nationale. Their enmity continuing, Marie Antoinette played a decisive role in defeating him in his aims to become the mayor of Paris in November 1791. [170]

As her correspondence shows, while Barnave was taking great political risks in the belief that the queen was his political ally and had managed, despite her unpopularity, to secure a moderate majority ready to work with her, Marie Antoinette was not considered sincere in her cooperation with the moderate leaders of the French Revolution, which ultimately ended any chance to establish a moderate government. [171] Moreover, the view that the unpopular queen was controlling the king further degraded the royal couple's standing with the people, which the Jacobins successfully exploited after their return from Varennes to advance their radical agenda to abolish the monarchy. [172] This situation lasted until the spring of 1792. [173] [174]

Marie Antoinette continued to hope that the military coalition of European kingdoms would succeed in crushing the Revolution. She counted most on the support of her Austrian family. After the death of her brother Joseph in 1790, his successor, Leopold, [175] was willing to support her to a limited degree. [ citation needed ] Upon Leopold's death in 1792, his son, Francis, a conservative ruler, was ready to support the cause of the French royal couple more vigorously because he feared the consequences of the French Revolution and its ideas for the monarchies of Europe, particularly, for Austria's influence in the continent. [ citation needed ]

Barnave had advised the queen to call back Mercy, who had played such an important role in her life before the Revolution, but Mercy had been appointed to another foreign diplomatic position [ where? ] and could not return to France. At the end of 1791, ignoring the danger she faced, the Princesse de Lamballe, who was in London, returned to the Tuileries. As to Fersen, despite the strong restriction imposed on the queen, he was able to see her a final time in February 1792. [176]

Leopold's and Francis II's strong action on behalf of Marie Antoinette led to France's declaration of war on Austria on 20 April 1792. This resulted in the queen being viewed as an enemy, although she was personally against Austrian claims to French territories on European soil. That summer, the situation was compounded by multiple defeats of the French armies by the Austrians, in part because Marie Antoinette passed on military secrets to them. [177] In addition, at the insistence of his wife, Louis XVI vetoed several measures that would have further restricted his power, earning the royal couple the nicknames "Monsieur Veto" and "Madame Veto", [178] [179] nicknames then prominently featured in different contexts, including La Carmagnole.

Barnave remained the most important advisor and supporter of the queen, who was willing to work with him as long as he met her demands, which he did to a large extent. Barnave and the moderates comprised about 260 lawmakers in the new Legislative Assembly the radicals numbered around 136, and the rest around 350. Initially, the majority was with Barnave, but the queen's policies led to the radicalization of the Assembly and the moderates lost control of the legislative process. The moderate government collapsed in April 1792 to be replaced by a radical majority headed by the Girondins. The Assembly then passed a series of laws concerning the Church, the aristocracy, and the formation of new national guard units all were vetoed by Louis XVI. While Barnave's faction had dropped to 120 members, the new Girondin majority controlled the legislative assembly with 330 members. The two strongest members of that government were Jean Marie Roland, who was minister of interior, and General Dumouriez, the minister of foreign affairs. Dumouriez sympathized with the royal couple and wanted to save them but he was rebuffed by the queen. [180] [181]

Marie Antoinette's actions in refusing to collaborate with the Girondins, in power between April and June 1792, led them to denounce the treason of the Austrian comity, a direct allusion to the queen. After Madame Roland sent a letter to the king denouncing the queen's role in these matters, urged by the queen, Louis XVI disbanded [ citation needed ] the government, thus losing his majority in the Assembly. Dumouriez resigned and refused a post in any new government. At this point, the tide against royal authority intensified in the population and political parties, while Marie Antoinette encouraged the king to veto the new laws voted by the Legislative Assembly in 1792. [182] In August 1791, the Declaration of Pillnitz threatened an invasion of France. This led in turn to a French declaration of war in April 1792, which led to the French Revolutionary Wars and to the events of August 1792, which ended the monarchy. [183]

On 20 June 1792, "a mob of terrifying aspect" broke into the Tuileries, made the king wear the bonnet rouge (red Phrygian cap) to show his loyalty to the Republic, insulted Marie Antoinette, accusing her of betraying France, and threatened her life. In consequence, the queen asked Fersen to urge the foreign powers to carry out their plans to invade France and to issue a manifesto in which they threatened to destroy Paris if anything happened to the royal family. The Brunswick Manifesto, issued on 25 July 1792, triggered the events of 10 August [184] when the approach of an armed mob on its way to the Tuileries Palace forced the royal family to seek refuge at the Legislative Assembly. Ninety minutes later, the palace was invaded by the mob, who massacred the Swiss Guards. [185] [186] On 13 August the royal family was imprisoned in the tower of the Temple in the Marais under conditions considerably harsher than those of their previous confinement in the Tuileries. [187]

A week later, several of the royal family's attendants, among them the Princesse de Lamballe, were taken for interrogation by the Paris Commune. Transferred to the La Force prison, after a rapid judgment, Marie Louise de Lamballe was savagely killed on 3 September. Her head was affixed on a pike and paraded through the city to the Temple for the queen to see. Marie Antoinette was prevented from seeing it, but fainted upon learning of it. [188] [189]

On 21 September 1792, the fall of the monarchy was officially declared and the National Convention became the governing body of the French Republic. The royal family name was downgraded to the non-royal "Capets". Preparations began for the trial of the king in a court of law. [190]

Louis XVI's trial and execution

Charged with treason against the French First Republic, Louis XVI was separated from his family and tried in December. He was found guilty by the Convention, led by the Jacobins who rejected the idea of keeping him as a hostage. On 15 January 1793, by a majority of six votes, he was condemned to death by guillotine and executed on 21 January 1793. [191] [192]

The queen, now called "Widow Capet", plunged into deep mourning. She still hoped her son Louis-Charles, whom the exiled Comte de Provence, Louis XVI's brother, had recognized as Louis XVI's successor, would one day rule France. The royalists and the refractory clergy, including those preparing the insurrection in Vendée, supported Marie Antoinette and the return to the monarchy. Throughout her imprisonment and up to her execution, Marie Antoinette could count on the sympathy of conservative factions and social-religious groups which had turned against the Revolution, and also on wealthy individuals ready to bribe republican officials to facilitate her escape [193] These plots all failed. While imprisoned in the Tower of the Temple, Marie Antoinette, her children, and Élisabeth were insulted, some of the guards going as far as blowing smoke in the ex-queen's face. Strict security measures were taken to assure that Marie Antoinette was not able to communicate with the outside world. Despite these measures, several of her guards were open to bribery and a line of communication was kept with the outside world. [ citation needed ]

After Louis' execution, Marie Antoinette's fate became a central question of the National Convention. While some advocated her death, others proposed exchanging her for French prisoners of war or for a ransom from the Holy Roman Emperor. Thomas Paine advocated exile to America. [194] In April 1793, during the Reign of Terror, a Committee of Public Safety dominated by Robespierre was formed, and men such as Jacques Hébert began to call for Marie-Antoinette's trial. By the end of May, the Girondins had been chased from power. [195] Calls were also made to "retrain" the eight-year-old Louis XVII, to make him pliant to revolutionary ideas. To carry this out, Louis Charles was separated from his mother on 3 July after a struggle during which his mother fought in vain to retain her son, who was handed over to Antoine Simon, a cobbler and representative of the Paris Commune. Until her removal from the Temple, Marie Antoinette spent hours trying to catch a glimpse of her son, who, within weeks, had been made to turn against her, accusing his mother of wrongdoing. [196]


On the night of 1 August, at 1:00 in the morning, Marie Antoinette was transferred from the Temple to an isolated cell in the Conciergerie as 'Prisoner n° 280'. Leaving the tower she bumped her head against the lintel of a door, which prompted one of her guards to ask her if she was hurt, to which she answered, "No! Nothing now can hurt me." [197] This was the most difficult period of her captivity. She was under constant surveillance, with no privacy. The "Carnation Plot" (Le complot de l'œillet), an attempt to help her escape at the end of August, was foiled due to the inability to corrupt all the guards. [198] She was attended by Rosalie Lamorlière, who took care of her as much as she could. At least once she received a visit by a Catholic priest. [199] [200]

Marie Antoinette was tried by the Revolutionary Tribunal on 14 October 1793. Some historians believe the outcome of the trial had been decided in advance by the Committee of Public Safety around the time the Carnation Plot (fr) was uncovered. [201] She and her lawyers were given less than one day to prepare her defense. Among the accusations, many previously published in the libelles, were: orchestrating orgies in Versailles, sending millions of livres of treasury money to Austria, planning the massacre of the gardes françaises (National Guards) in 1792, [202] declaring her son to be the new king of France, and incest, a charge made by her son Louis Charles, pressured into doing so by the radical Jacques Hébert who controlled him. This last accusation drew an emotional response from Marie Antoinette, who refused to respond to this charge, instead appealing to all mothers present in the room. Their reaction comforted her since these women were not otherwise sympathetic to her. [203] [204]

Early on 16 October, Marie Antoinette was declared guilty of the three main charges against her: depletion of the national treasury, conspiracy against the internal and external security of the State, and high treason because of her intelligence activities in the interest of the enemy the latter charge alone was enough to condemn her to death. [205] At worst, she and her lawyers had expected life imprisonment. [206] In the hours left to her, she composed a letter to her sister-in-law, Madame Élisabeth, affirming her clear conscience, her Catholic faith, and her love and concern for her children. The letter did not reach Élisabeth. [207] Her will was part of the collection of papers of Robespierre found under his bed and were published by Edme-Bonaventure Courtois. [208] [209]

Preparing for her execution, she had to change clothes in front of her guards. She wanted to wear a black dress but was forced to wear a plain white dress, white being the color worn by widowed queens of France. Her hair was shorn, her hands bound painfully behind her back and she was put on a rope leash. Unlike her husband, who had been taken to his execution in a carriage (carrosse), she had to sit in an open cart (charrette) for the hour it took to convey her from the Conciergerie via the rue Saint-Honoré thoroughfare to reach the guillotine erected in the Place de la Révolution (the present-day Place de la Concorde). [210] She maintained her composure, despite the insults of the jeering crowd. A constitutional priest was assigned to her to hear her final confession. He sat by her in the cart, but she ignored him all the way to the scaffold as he had pledged his allegiance to the republic. [211] [212]

Marie Antoinette was guillotined at 12:15 p.m. on 16 October 1793. [213] [214] Her last words are recorded as, "Pardonnez-moi, monsieur. Je ne l’ai pas fait exprès" or "Pardon me, sir, I did not do it on purpose", after accidentally stepping on her executioner's shoe. [215] Her head was one of which Marie Tussaud was employed to make death masks. [216] Her body was thrown into an unmarked grave in the Madeleine cemetery located close by in rue d'Anjou. Because its capacity was exhausted the cemetery was closed the following year, on 25 March 1794. [217]

Foreign Response

After her execution, Marie Antoinette became a symbol abroad as a consequence and controversial figure of the French Revolution. Some used her as a scapegoat to blame for the events of the Revolution. Thomas Jefferson, writing in 1821, claimed that "Her inordinate gambling and dissipations, with those of the Count d’Artois, and others of her clique, had been a sensible item in the exhaustion of the treasury, which called into action the reforming hand of the nation and her opposition to it, her inflexible perverseness, and dauntless spirit, led herself to the Guillotine" adding that "I have ever believed that, had there been no Queen, there would have been no revolution." [218] Others were shocked and viewed it as evidence of the dangers of Revolution. Edmund Burke gave a speech lamenting her death stating that "the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded, and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever" and now "Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex." [219] After receiving the news, Maria Carolina, Queen of Naples and close sister to Marie Antoinette, spiraled into a state of mourning and an anger against the revolutionaries. She quickly suspended protections of reformers and intellectuals in Naples, allowed Neapolitan bishops wide latitude to halt the secularization of the country, and offered succor to the overflowing number of émigrés fleeing from revolutionary France, many of whom were granted pensions. [220]

Bourbon Restoration

Both Marie Antoinette's and Louis XVI's bodies were exhumed on 18 January 1815, during the Bourbon Restoration, when the Comte de Provence ascended the newly reestablished throne as Louis XVIII, King of France and of Navarre. Christian burial of the royal remains took place three days later, on 21 January, in the necropolis of French kings at the Basilica of St Denis. [221]

For many revolutionary figures, Marie Antoinette was the symbol of what was wrong with the old regime in France. The onus of having caused the financial difficulties of the nation was placed on her shoulders by the revolutionary tribunal, [222] and under the new republican ideas of what it meant to be a member of a nation, her Austrian descent and continued correspondence with the competing nation made her a traitor. [223] The people of France saw her death as a necessary step toward completing the revolution. Furthermore, her execution was seen as a sign that the revolution had done its work. [224]

Marie-Antoinette is also known for her taste for fine things, and her commissions from famous craftsmen, such as Jean-Henri Riesener, suggest more about her enduring legacy as a woman of taste and patronage. For instance, a writing table attributed to Riesener, now located at Waddesdon Manor, bears witness to Marie-Antoinette's desire to escape the oppressive formality of court life, when she decided to move the table from the Queen's boudoir de la Meridienne at Versailles to her humble interior, the Petit Trianon. Her favourite objects filled her small, private chateau and reveal aspects of Marie-Antoinette's character that have been obscured by satirical political prints, such as those in Les Tableaux de la Révolution. [225]

Long after her death, Marie Antoinette remains a major historical figure linked with conservatism, the Catholic Church, wealth, and fashion. She has been the subject of a number of books, films, and other media. Politically engaged authors have deemed her the quintessential representative of class conflict, western aristocracy and absolutism. Some of her contemporaries, such as Thomas Jefferson, attributed to her the start of the French Revolution. [226]

In popular culture

The phrase "Let them eat cake" is often attributed to Marie Antoinette, but there is no evidence that she ever uttered it, and it is now generally regarded as a journalistic cliché. [227] This phrase originally appeared in Book VI of the first part of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's autobiographical work Les Confessions, finished in 1767 and published in 1782: "Enfin Je me rappelai le pis-aller d'une grande Princesse à qui l'on disait que les paysans n'avaient pas de pain, et qui répondit: Qu'ils mangent de la brioche" ("Finally I recalled the stopgap solution of a great princess who was told that the peasants had no bread, and who responded: 'Let them eat brioche ' "). Rousseau ascribes these words to a "great princess", but the purported writing date precedes Marie Antoinette's arrival in France. Some think that he invented it altogether. [228]

In the United States, expressions of gratitude to France for its help in the American Revolution included naming a city Marietta, Ohio in 1788. [229] Her life has been the subject of many films, such as Marie Antoinette (1938) and Marie Antoinette (2006). [230]

In 2020, a silk shoe that belonged to her was sold in an auction in the Palace of Versailles for 43,750 euros ($51,780). [231]

Name Portrait Lifespan Notes
Marie Thérèse Charlotte
Madame Royale
19 December 1778 –
19 October 1851
Married her cousin, Louis Antoine, Duke of Angoulême, the eldest son of the future Charles X of France.
Louis Joseph Xavier François
Dauphin de France
22 October 1781 –
4 June 1789
Died in childhood on the very day the Estates General convened.
Louis XVII of France
(Nominally) King of France and Navarre
27 March 1785 –
8 June 1795
Died in childhood no issue. He was never officially king, nor did he rule. His title was bestowed by his royalist supporters and acknowledged implicitly by his uncle's later adoption of the regnal name Louis XVIII rather than Louis XVII, upon the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in 1814.
Sophie Hélène Béatrix 9 July 1786 –
19 June 1787
Died in childhood.

In addition to her biological children, Marie Antoinette adopted four children: "Armand" Francois-Michel Gagné (c. 1771–1792), a poor orphan adopted in 1776 Jean Amilcar (c. 1781–1793), a Senegalese slave boy given to the queen as a present by Chevalier de Boufflers in 1787, but whom she instead had freed, baptized, adopted and placed in a pension Ernestine Lambriquet (1778–1813), daughter of two servants at the palace, who was raised as the playmate of her daughter and whom she adopted after the death of her mother in 1788 and finally "Zoe" Jeanne Louise Victoire (1787-?), who was adopted in 1790 along with her two older sisters when her parents, an usher and his wife in service of the king, had died. [232] Of these, only Armand, Ernestine, and Zoe actually lived with the royal family: Jean Amilcar, along with the elder siblings of Zoe and Armand who were also formally foster children of the royal couple, simply lived at the queen's expense until her imprisonment, which proved fatal for at least Amilcar, as he was evicted from the boarding school when the fee was no longer paid, and reportedly starved to death on the street. [232] Armand and Zoe had a position which was more similar to that of Ernestine Armand lived at court with the king and queen until he left them at the outbreak of the revolution because of his republican sympathies, and Zoe was chosen to be the playmate of the Dauphin, just as Ernestine had once been selected as the playmate of Marie-Therese, and sent away to her sisters in a convent boarding school before the Flight to Varennes in 1791. [232]

Eleazar Williams, the ‘Lost Dauphin,’ Claimed to Be Real Bourbon French

Many an Indian, from the Minneconjou Sioux Red Horse to the Santee Sioux Walks Under the Ground, claimed to have killed 7th Cavalry Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer at the Little Bighorn. But only one Indian ever claimed to be the Lost Dauphin and heir to the throne of France—and had people take him seriously. That Indian, Eleazar Williams, wasn’t the only claimant to the title of Dauphin. Mark Twain ridiculed such Bourbon imposters in Huckleberry Finn, set in the same antebellum era when Williams’ adherents took him at his word, but written after Williams died without a coronation.

Williams began circulating the story he was the Lost Dauphin around 1839, when he was living in western New York after a long sojourn in the Green Bay area of Wisconsin. Two years later, when François d’Orléans, Prince de Joinville, younger son of King Louis Philippe I of France, visited Green Bay, he encountered Williams—they appear to have met on a steamboat on the Great Lakes— and they had an acknowledged conversation. Eleazar later claimed the prince had confirmed Williams was indeed Louis XVII, surviving son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and rightful heir to the French throne. The prince supposedly offered him a sizable amount of money to sign a quit-claim on the contested throne, but Williams refused to sign. The Prince de Joinville denied having made such an offer, insisting he had stopped off to see Williams only because he was curious to meet a Christian clergyman who was also an Indian. He saw no resemblance to Louis XVII, who, after all, had officially died in prison at age 10 in 1795 under the custody of abusive revolutionary and cobbler Antoine Simon and then been buried after an autopsy had established his identity.

Complicating matters, however, was a portrait painted of the Dauphin while he was in prison. It shows a feral-looking boy with black hair and fierce black eyes, not at all like the blond, blue-eyed boy in official portraits from happier times. The suspicion was that somebody stuck a fake Dauphin in prison and helped the real Dauphin escape—though the feral painting looks more like a preadolescent Williams than the royal portrait.

The Dauphin story had legs. In 1849 an anonymous article in The United States Magazine and Democratic Review asserted Eleazar Williams truly was the Dauphin, though prevailing opinion holds the anonymous author was Williams himself. The story found a staunch advocate in the Rev. John Hanson, whose 1854 book The Lost Prince supported Williams’ claim to royal blood. Hanson had met Williams on a train ride in 1851 and been struck by his unusual appearance: Williams had a full head of somewhat unruly black hair, but his features were classic and rather handsome. Williams told the Rev. Hanson that the first years of his life were a blank. He had always supposed he was a mixed-blood Indian, until he met the Prince de Joinville on the steamboat ride a decade before and was told of his true heritage and offered a bribe to abdicate. Hanson showed Williams a painting of the cobbler Simon, and Williams exclaimed, “Good God! I know that face. It has haunted me through life!” The Lost Prince was feted in New York City, where, according to The New York Times, “levees were held in his honor his portrait was in all the galleries and for a time he was extensively lionized.”

A year later Williams showed Franklin Hough, a local historian, “a dress of splendid brocade silk with a long trail, which he says he received from France as the dress of his mother the queen. It is really a most splendid quality of silk.” Williams offered to write out a history of the local Indians for Hough. He kept his word, and Hough made good use of the manuscripts. But Williams’ claim to be a full-blood French prince did not sit well with his Mohawk relatives. When he returned to Akwesasne territory in New York and tried to convince the Mohawks there to relocate to Green Bay, they met his proposal with scorn. That turned into outright indignation when the Mohawks were shown a document, supposedly signed by his Mohawk birth mother, avowing he had been adopted and was not an Indian at all. At that revelation the old mother burst into tears and wondered how Eleazar could be so bad as to “deny his own mother.”

Williams died among the St. Regis Mohawks on August 28, 1858, but according to white witnesses, not a single Mohawk attended the formal funeral, conducted with both Masonic and Episcopalian rights. A New York Times correspondent who attended the funeral reported that Williams had a collection of books about the French Revolution, which could explain how he knew Simon the cobbler jailer at first glance. Rumors persisted that Williams might have been telling the truth—his purported status as Dauphin was debated into the 1890s, and in 1901 author Mary H. Catherwood published a novel, Lazare, about the Lost Dauphin.

In 1947 Williams’ remains were exhumed for shipment to Wisconsin and burial among his Western descendents. Scientific measurements at the time reportedly confirmed the skeleton was that of an American Indian. The final blow came in 2000. Dr. Philippe-Jean Pelletan had preserved the heart of the Dauphin in alcohol after his autopsy of the boy in 1795, and it survived the centuries. Modern-day tests for mitochondrial DNA measured the heart tissue against hair samples from Marie Antoinette and other Hapsburg relatives. The tests confirmed the heart was of Hapsburg lineage—which meant the real Dauphin did die in Paris in 1795.

Who, then, was Eleazar Williams? Records show he was the son of Thomas (Tehorakwaneken) and Mary Anne (Konwatewanteta)Williams, born about 1788 in Caughnawaga (present-day Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, Quebec). The family had adopted its surname from Eunice Williams, a 7-year-old white girl taken captive by Mohawks in 1704 during the French and Indian wars who later married a Mohawk warrior from Caughnawaga. The Williams name was handed down, along with a modicum of white blood, and in 1800 Deacon Nathaniel Ely of Longmeadow, Mass., whose wife was a white Williams, sponsored the education of brothers John and Eleazar Williams. John dropped out, but Eleazar struck it out and learned to read and write. Brought up in Ely’s Congregational Church, Eleazar ultimately switched to the Episcopal Church and, as a fluent Mohawk speaker, became a missionary to his people.

In 1820 New York land speculator Thomas Ludlow Ogden approached Williams with a grand scheme to create a Christian Indian nation of many tribes somewhere in the unsettled West, with Williams as its leader. Secretary of War John Calhoun, eager to remove the Indians from New York, sent a commissioner to investigate sites in the Fox River Valley (in what would become Wisconsin). Meanwhile, Williams, with money from Ogden, led a group of Oneida Indians west to investigate buying land. Williams met with Winnebago and Menominee chiefs in the Fox River region and then, with the support of Michigan Territorial Governor Lewis Cass, persuaded the chiefs to sell the New York tribes a four-mile strip of land for $3,950 in trade goods. The first group of Oneida and Stockbridge Indians established a settlement at Duck Creek in 1822. Williams appears to have planned a Christian Indian empire expanding west from his base in Green Bay, where in 1823 he married Madeleine Jordan, the 14-year-old daughter of a prosperous French blacksmith and a Menominee woman. Madeleine came with a generous dowry of land, but the marriage was not a happy one, as Williams spent much of his time rallying Iroquoian and Delaware Indians for his fantasized “Indian empire” in the West.

Governor Cass betrayed Williams by negotiating a treaty that transferred most of the Fox River valley from the Winnebagos, the Menominees and Williams’ transplanted Iroquois and Delaware followers to the U.S. government. Williams, still dreaming of an Indian empire with himself as emperor, traveled around the Midwest trying to persuade Indians to move into the territory of the formidable Plains tribes—but they knew better. In 1830 Williams went to Washington, D.C., seeking to interest Congress in his grandiose scheme, but at that point the Indian Removal Act had been promulgated, and tribes from all over the South were being force marched to Indian Territory. Most of the Indians themselves wrote off Williams as an eccentric or a crook, and he headed back to western New York, minus Madeleine and their three children. He reportedly visited her only once in the last seven years of his life, which ended in August 1858. Madeleine died in 1886 and was buried, “very homely at her death and very corpulent,” in the dress Williams had claimed once belonged to Marie Antoinette.

It was only after Williams had failed as a new Napoléon of an Indian empire sponsored by Congress that he seems to have settled for being a Lost Prince of an actual kingdom that wasn’t really his. The mysterious discoveries of his purported European heritage seem to have taken hold of his personality only after the Episcopal Church and the Western Indians had dismissed him as a nobody. This is known in psychology as a “delusion of grandeur”—but amazingly, Williams had persuaded some educated white people to fall for it.

Originally published in the October 2013 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.

Why 100 Imposters Claimed to Be Marie Antoinette’s Dead Son - HISTORY

Featured in Macworld one of the best
history sites on the web




Did You Know?


Primary Source Archives



The Mystery of the Lost Dauphin, Louis XVII

portrait of Louis XVII (unattributed but possibly by Jacques Louis David, the famous revolutionary painter)

for more information

The Lost King of France : How DNA Solved the Mystery of the Murdered Son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette
by Deborah Cadbury

more information about this book

The fate of the “lost dauphin,” Louis XVII, has been a subject of mystery for over 200 years. Did he die in prison? Did he escape and become a famous American naturalist, or a German clockmaker, or an Episcopal minister raised by Native Americans? All of these solutions, and more, still have loyal supporters. The issue was laid to rest by DNA testing in 2000. But this is a mystery that just won’t die.

There is no question that Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette died under the guillotine during the French Revolution. It is the fate of their 10 year old son, Louis Charles, who disappeared in 1795, that is the mystery.

After the death of his father, Louis Charles was the uncrowned King of France, Louis XVII. He and his sister were imprisoned with their mother until July 3, 1793 when guards came in the dead of night to remove the 8-year-old Louis from her arms. Marie Antoinette resisted, clutching the child for nearly an hour, arguing and pleading. Finally she bowed to the inevitable and gave him up. As Marie Therese (Louis' sister) later recalled, "they threatened the lives of both him and me, and my mother's maternal tenderness at length forced her to this sacrifice." Louis was imprisoned alone in a small windowless room. What happened next is at the heart of the mystery.

The official record states that Louis died in the Temple prison at the age of 10 on June 8, 1795 from tuberculosis. But few accepted the official verdict. Some said that he died of neglect, some that he was murdered, and others that he did not die at all, but was spirited away to safety and another child put in his place. A doctor who had been summoned to treat the dauphin died mysteriously the week before the boy's death. His widow hinted that he had refused to take part in some irregular practice on the patient.

Rumors flew. At first, it was widely believed both in France and Britain that the Committee of Public Safety (the radical governing body of the revolution) had murdered the child. Later public opinion came to favor the escape theory. In 1814 the historian of the newly restored French monarchy announced that Louis Charles had escaped and was still alive. He would not reveal his location however. The most common rumor was that royalists substituted another child in his place and spirited him to America where he would be safe.

The rumors did not fade with the passage of time. In 1846 authorities exhumed the mass grave where the child was buried. Only one showed evidence of tuberculosis. But he wasn't a perfect fit. The body appeared to be that of a slightly older child, in his middle to late teens. Of particular interest was the fact that the boy had already cut a wisdom tooth. In the years that followed, at least a hundred men claimed to be the ill-fated prince.

The most intriguing candidate was famous naturalist John James Audubon. Although he never publicly claimed it himself, Audubon was thought by many to be the real Louis. He was adopted at about the right time, if indeed Louis had escaped, and was the same age. On a visit to France in 1828, Audubon wrote an intriguing letter home to his wife. In it he said that, "patient, silent, bashful, and yet powerful of physique and of mind, dressed as a common man, I walk the streets! I bow! I ask permission to do this or that! I… who should command all!"

A most colorful claimant was perhaps Eleazer Williams. Williams was the descendant of a Mohawk Native American and a white woman who had been kidnapped by the Mohawks at the age of 7. Though raised with the Mohawks, as a teenager he left the tribe, and went on to become an Episcopal minister and a pioneer of Greenbay, Wisconsin. He told his story, The Lost Prince, and became a national celebrity for a few years. He may have been the object of Mark Twain’s satire in Wild Man and Huckleberry Finn. Williams claimed until his death that he was Louis Charles, though there was never any evidence to support his story. His skull was exhumed in 1947 for anthropological study. The conclusion was that Williams probably did have Native American ancestry and so could not have been Louis Charles.

The most successful of the claimants was a German clockmaker named Karl Wilhelm Naundorff. He had some evidence to back his claim and had widespread support. He managed to convince the dauphin's childhood nurse, who questioned him at great length about childhood memories. He spent his final years in The Netherlands and was even recognized as Louis Charles by that government, which allowed him to take the family name Bourbon. In 1950 a bone was taken from his grave and later tested for DNA. His DNA did not match any of the DNA available from Marie Antoinette and other members of her family. It appeared that he was an imposter.

As the years passed, the speculation continued. Thousands of articles and 600 books have been written about this mystery. The most authoritative are by a French historian and an American journalist. Philippe Delorme, the recognized expert on this story, tells a fascinating tale of mystery and conspiracy and pretenders. Recently Delorme has updated his book (originally L’affaire Louis XVII), Louis XVII: the Truth, now available in English. A new American book by journalist Deborah Cadbury also tells the story (the Lost King of France: How DNA Solved the Mystery of the Murder of the Son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette).

In early 2000, scientists did DNA tests on the putative heart of the boy who died of tuberculosis in his prison, and who was presumed to be the prince. A sample from the heart was compared with a lock of hair taken from Marie Antoinette as a child. There was no doubt. The owner of the heart and the queen shared DNA.

Delorme organized the tests to finally end the debate. To avoid all question, tests were conducted independently by two different scientists. Jean-Jacques Cassiman, a professor of genetics at Belgium's Louvian University, conducted one test Ernst Brinkmann of Germany's Muenster University conducted the other.

Was it the heart of Louis Charles? The heart has an interesting history of it’s own. It has been shuffling around for over 200 years. The doctor who did the autopsy, Philippe-Jean Pelletan, hid the heart in his handkerchief, stole the heart, and pickled it in alcohol. Later one of his students took it, but on his deathbed, full of remorse, the student asked that it be returned to the doctor. His wife sent it to the Archbishop of Paris where it stayed until the Palace was attacked in the Revolution of 1830. The crystal urn holding the heart was smashed, and the doctor’s son retrieved it from a pile of broken glass. The heart had moved again.

After the restoration of the monarchy in 1814, the heart was sent to the Spanish branch of the Bourbon family where it found a new home. Soon, the heart was on the move again - the family returned the heart to Paris. There Louis Charles finally received his due. His heart was placed in a crystal vase in the royal crypt at Saint Denis Basilica, where it stayed until 1999. A piece was removed for DNA tests, and dramatically transported to the lab in a hearse.

Is the mystery really solved? The DNA tests did not end the speculation about “the lost dauphin.” Cassiman himself said that this test only established that the boy in the crypt was a relative of Marie Antoinette’s. It is true that the test did not specifically show that the heart they tested was that of the boy, or that the owner of the heart and Marie Antoinette were mother and son. Cassiman said he would leave it to historians to determine whether the boy was in fact the son of Marie Antoinette.

Delorme and most historians have accepted the tests as sufficient evidence, but others such as Philippe Boiry (author of Naundorff-Louis XVII), have questioned the conclusion because the heart itself was shuffled around so much. By the time it was tested it was mummified, hard as wood. Is it even the heart of the boy who died in prison? No one can be absolutely sure. Because the tests were not absolutely certain, there is continued speculation from the loyal followers of Eleazer Williams, John James Audubon, and Karl Naundorff.

Naundorff’s descendants, who still carry the name Bourbon, have rejected the DNA evidence, and they have asked to have Naundorff’s grave reopened so that there can be more tests.

And in Lawrence, Wisconsin, there is still a Lost Dauphin Road, in De Pere the state of Wisconsin still has a Lost Dauphin State Park, and there is still a restaurant named Lost Louie’s. Owner John Nick has no plans to change the name.

Will the Real Anastasia Romanov Please Stand Up?

When the Russian Royal Family was assassinated in 1918, rumors swirled that a daughter, Anastasia, had secretly escaped. People are still obsessing over the story a century later.

&ldquoSomewhere down this road/I know someone's waiting/Years of dreams just can't be wrong!/Arms will open wide/I'll be safe and wanted/Finally home where I belong.&rdquo &mdash"Journey to the Past," Anastasia

On July 17, 1918, Anastasia Romanov, holding her dog Jimmy, followed the family down the steps to the terrible cellar in Yekaterinburg, where they were told to wait. The White Army was nearing their location, desperate to free the czar. Suddenly the executioners strode in. The family and their servants, arrayed against the far wall, were gunned down by about a dozen men. Anastasia, who had just turned 17, was among the last to die, according to later testimony from the Bolshevik firing squad. Nor did the killers spare her pet. They crushed the dog&rsquos head with a rifle butt and tossed him into the truck with the dead. The bodies of the family and their retainers were disfigured, mutilated, and either burned or buried in the forest.

But Anastasia refused to stay dead. Hearsay-fueled stories about her rumored survival, along with the many imposters purporting to be her&mdashby some counts over 100 Anastasias have emerged&mdashmean her tragic tale has morphed into a modern myth.

We want to imagine that the lost princess found home, love, and family in the face of terrible odds.

There have been blockbuster films, best-selling books, and theatrical productions, including the recently-opened Broadway musical Anastasia, inspired by the beloved 1997 animated movie. Just last month, Mad Men&rsquos Matthew Weiner announced his plans for an Amazon mini-series about the Romanov family saga. As far as Hollywood is concerned, Anastasia wasn&rsquot shot or stabbed in a pitiless slaughter. Somehow she escaped.

&ldquoI think the legend of Anastasia has persisted for a century because we&rsquore all romantics at heart, yearning for happy endings, especially in dark times,&rdquo says Lynn Ahrens, Tony-award-winning lyricist for Anastasia. &ldquoWe want to imagine that the lost princess really did find &lsquohome, love, and family&rsquo in the face of terrible odds.&rdquo

There are, of course, two versions of the story: one real, one fairytale. In the 1997 animated film, the cherished child of Russia&rsquos ruling Romanovs is separated from her family and injured as they&rsquore forced to flee St. Petersburg. Her memory lost, Anastasia ends up in an orphanage. Years later she joins forces with two kind-hearted con men seeking to reunite her with her grandmother, the Dowager Empress Marie, who&rsquos offered a large reward for her return.

Follow Town & Country on Facebook!

The historical Anastasia is more interesting than the sweet, beautiful child who has been so mythologized. She was not the star of the family. Her birth was greeted with disappointment in the Russian court, and in the palaces of their European royal cousins, because of the country&rsquos strict rule of male succession. &ldquoMy God! What a disappointment! A fourth girl,&rdquo said Nicholas&rsquos sister, Grand Duchess Xenia, at the time, according to Helen Rappaport&rsquos book The Romanov Sisters.

Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, born on June 18, 1901, was the youngest daughter of Czar Nicholas II, the last of the imperial Romanov rulers, and Czarina Alexandra, born a German princess. Anastasia was not a traditional Russian imperial name but derived from the Greek anastasia, meaning resurrection. &ldquoIn naming her thus, the tsar and tsaritsa were perhaps expressing a profoundly held belief that God would answer their prayers and that the Russian monarchy might yet be resurrected, by the birth of a son,&rdquo wrote Rappaport.

Empress Alexandra&rsquos next child was indeed a son, but one with hemophilia, which in the early 20th century meant the child was not likely to live to adulthood. The Tsarevich Alexei&rsquos parents were consumed with fear for him and determined to keep his condition a secret from everyone. Alexandra, herself sickly, was shy and always reluctant to mix with Russian society. After the prince&rsquos birth, the family lived almost like recluses, even though Romanov Empire covered one-sixth of the globe.

Despite the tense atmosphere inside the palace and the simmering violence outside (Russia had a near-revolution in 1905 before the one in 1917), Grand Duchess Anastasia grew into an energetic child. She was the shortest of the daughters and the least ethereal, with dark blonde hair and blue eyes. What everyone remarked on was her quickness and sense of humor. She loved mischief and playing tricks, not all of them nice. As Rappaport writes, Anastasia was known to trip people her cousins complained she played too rough. Anastasia didn&rsquot seem to care. She climbed trees and adored animals. She ate chocolates with her gloves on.

Anastasia climbed trees and adored animals. She ate chocolates with her gloves on.

She was a brilliant mimic and shone in family theatricals. Anastasia disliked her lessons and showed little aptitude for grammar or spelling, but she was considered by some the most intelligent of the four daughters. When Nicholas was pressured to abdicate, chaos reigned throughout the country, and for a time he could not get back to his wife and children. Tsarina Alexandra tried to hide the disaster, saying their father was delayed. It was Anastasia who said, &ldquoBut the train is never late.&rdquo

After the family was imprisoned, Anastasia did her best to keep everyone&rsquos spirits up, although being denied outdoor activity must have been particularly hard on her. She sewed, read, and painted.

It is almost certainly true that Anastasia&rsquos life ended shortly after in the city of Yekaterinburg, along with her parents, her sisters Olga, Tatiana, and Maria, her brother Alexei, and four family retainers. For decades, their unmarked graves were a closely guarded secret, until 1979, when the Romanov family remains were discovered in the forest and positively identified using DNA technology. Scientists believe the body of Anastasia is among those remains. But that did not put a stop to the widespread theories.

In 1920, a young woman was pulled out of a canal in Berlin, an attempted suicide. For months the woman refused to give her name or say much of anything. Transferred to an asylum, she was told one day by a fellow psychiatric patient that she looked like the Grand Duchess Tatiana, the second oldest daughter. Later, when it was clear that she was too short to be Tatiana, the other mental patients wondered if she was actually Grand Duchess Anastasia. The mysterious young woman did not discourage their assumptions, according to the book The Resurrection of the Romanovs: Anastasia, Anna Anderson, and the World&rsquos Greatest Royal Mystery by Greg King.

While now this may seem laughably farfetched, it wasn&rsquot so outlandish in 1920. In the years immediately after the Russian Revolution, it would not have been unusual for a young Russian woman to be found in Germany&rsquos capital. So-called White Russian communities, noble and upper-crust refugees who had been stripped of wealth and position, huddled in Berlin and Paris. Those who fled the Bolsheviks by an eastern route settled in Shanghai, where young Russian women resorted to working as &ldquotaxi dancers&rdquo&mdashpaid dance partners&mdashto feed their extended families.

Could one of these far-flung, desperate women be Grand Duchess Anastasia? Although it seems impossible that anyone could have escaped a Bolshevik firing squad with members handpicked for their willingness to kill the Romanovs, a great deal of uncertainty on who precisely died persisted for years.

Vladimir Lenin wanted it that way. The new government released the news that Nicholas II was dead, but would not confirm the executions of his wife and children. Kaiser Wilhelm and the Empress Alexandra were cousins&mdashshe was of the House of Hesse&mdashand Wilhelm did not want her and her children harmed. Lenin had gained control of his country&rsquos warring factions by pulling Russia out of the punishing war, and he did not want anything to harm that fragile peace. He played for time with the Germans by offering vague details and denials.

And so the rumors flew, ranging from guards rescuing one or two daughters to the Tsarevich Alexei being the one to escape. None of the claimants to be resurrected Romanov children, then or later, rivalled the fame of the woman in the German mental hospital, who took the name Anna Anderson. She explained the survival of &ldquoAnastasia&rdquo by saying one of the guards realized she was unconscious, not dead, while carrying her out of the cellar, according to The Resurrection of the Romanovs. The guard allegedly spirited her away and became her lover, only to die later in a street brawl.

As news of Anna Anderson&rsquos claims spread, extended family of the Romanovs and former servants made their way to the hospital in Germany. Some said she resembled Anastasia, that the shape of her ears and feet was the same, that her eyes were as blue as the grand duchess&rsquos, and that her mannerisms reminded them of the princess.

But others poked holes: Her mouth was too wide and other facial features were different. She didn&rsquot recognize people she should have, and, most troubling, she didn&rsquot speak Russian. Pierre Gilliard, the Romanov children&rsquos tutor, said Anna Anderson was a &ldquovulgar adventuress.&rdquo

To those family members who knew Anastasia best before 1918, Anna Anderson&rsquos claims were a painful ordeal. The Dowager Empress Marie, grandmother of Anastasia, refused to meet with her. Although she never spoke publically of her family&rsquos tragedy, it is believed that she accepted reports from people she trusted that the entire family was slain in Yekaterinburg. She never posted any reward. Anastasia&rsquos aunt and Nicholas&rsquos sister, the Grand Duchess Olga, visited Anderson in the hospital and afterward lamented, &ldquoI was looking at a stranger.&rdquo Empress Alexandra&rsquos brother, Louis of Hesse, financed an investigation into his purported niece that concluded Anderson&rsquos real identity was that of a mentally unstable Polish factory worker named Fraziska Schanzkowska.

Newspapers covered the &ldquounveiling&rdquo of Anna Anderson&rsquos identity and it was a scandal of its day. Yet some people persisted in believing that this young woman was Anastasia. Anderson lived on the charity of sympathetic monarchists in Germany and the United States, cycling in and out of mental hospitals until she married a Virginia genealogist named John Manahan, 18 years her junior. All the time she still insisted she was a Romanov princess.

In 1956, the film Anastasia was released to great acclaim. The storyline followed the life of Anna Anderson, a confused young woman, played by Ingrid Bergman, who was retrieved from a river in 1928 on the point of suicide. Then fiction takes over. Yul Brynner plays a charismatic White Russian con man living in Paris who backs her claims in hopes of collecting a huge reward. Helen Hayes, playing the Dowager Empress Marie, is eventually persuaded that her granddaughter survived. (This film was based on a French play, and the playwright&rsquos heir is currently suing the producers of the Broadway show. The producers say the legal action is without merit. A judge declined to dismiss the suit at the end of January.)

Anastasia won Bergman an Academy Award for Best Actress the film&rsquos enduring fame spread the story of the &ldquoRomanov Pretender&rdquo to even more people. Distressed, Pierre Gilliard, a swiss academic who had worked as a tutor to Tsar Nicholas&rsquos five children from 1905 to 1918, wrote a book called The False Anastasia, but it did nothing to halt the stream of other books and television shows supporting her claim.

A cornerstone of the myth of &ldquoAnastasia Returned&rdquo is the existence of the Romanov fortune, millions of rubles of gold sitting unclaimed at the Bank of England. This is just as much a fairy tale as anything else. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert K. Massie&mdashwhose serious 1969 biography, Nicholas and Alexandra, was made into an Oscar-winning 1971 film&mdashsettled the question of the fabled inheritance in his later book The Romanovs: The Final Chapter.

Massie wrote, &ldquoThere is evidence that, during the First World War, Nicholas II brought home whatever private money he and his wife had in British banks and used it to pay for hospitals and hospital trains.&rdquo A London bank archivist is quoted as saying, &ldquoPeople keep asking. They will not take no for an answer. It&rsquos frustrating. Listen, if there had been family money here, it would have come out long ago.&rdquo

The 1984 death of Anna Anderson in Charlottesville, Virginia, filled in some last pieces of the puzzle. After the bodies of Tsar Nicholas and his family were exhumed and identified in the 1990s, a subsequent DNA test proved Anderson had no relation to the Russian royal family. Medical tests linked her to the Polish worker Fraziska Schanzkowska, confirming the story that was broken in German newspapers decades earlier. For 63 years she had somehow managed to live another woman&rsquos existence and in so doing inspired a play, a film, television depictions, novels, and now a musical.

You either believe it or you don&rsquot believe it. It doesn&rsquot matter. In no anyway whatsoever.

Anna Anderson once said in English, &ldquoYou either believe it or you don&rsquot believe it. It doesn&rsquot matter. In no anyway whatsoever.&rdquo

Emotions have always run high when it comes to the Romanov family. Some 50 blocks north of Manhattan&rsquos theatre district is a Russian journey into the past of another kind. As much as a cathedral can be hidden, St. Nicholas Cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church is tucked away on 97th Street, between Fifth and Madison avenues. The baroque facade with five onion-shaped domes is not on the route of the tourist buses, the ones that sway past St. Patrick&rsquos Cathedral and St. John the Divine. Its visiting hours are unclear if you call the phone number listed on the website, no one answers and no message clicks on. It will ring 20 times without an answer.

And yet, when you push open the heavy doors of St. Nicholas Cathedral, it brings you face to face with ravishing, soaring beauty. Lit by flickering candles and chandeliers, the space is filled with centuries-old religious relics, icons, paintings, and murals. The air hangs with incense so intense it almost smothers the delicate scent of the faded roses gathered in vases that dot the floor.

&ldquoIt is not a museum, it&rsquos a working church,&rdquo says an elegant young blond man lingering after services on a recent Sunday. He is a descendent of first-wave emigres, the ones who poured out of Russia in the chaos of the 1917 Revolution. Fiercely proud of the cathedral where he was baptized, the young man explains the stories behind several Orthodox saints, and points out a painting on the back wall of a crowned and robed man with a beard: Nicholas II, the father of Anastasia.

When the Russian community of New York City wanted to build a cathedral at the turn of the last century, the pious czar donated 7,500 rubles and urged others to contribute. A large wall plaque testifies to Czar Nicholas&rsquos pivotal role in founding this church.

In the 21st century the cathedral has seen a resurgence. A plaque to another benefactor can be found on a wall of St. Nicholas: Vladimir Putin, the man dominating world news right now. He made his own donations and in 2001 quietly visited the 97th Street cathedral. After decades of government mandated-atheism and persecutions&mdasha time when the Romanov royal family and aristocratic class were anathema&mdashRussia has a president who supports the Orthodox faith and has promoted certain aspects of the country&rsquos pre-Revolution history. In 2000, Nicholas, his wife, and children were sainted by the Russian Orthodox church. A survey of Russians at about the same time found that 30 percent of the population felt Czar Nicholas&rsquos reign &ldquobrought more good than harm.&rdquo

The fascination extends far beyond Russia. When asked about his forthcoming series about the doomed family, Matthew Weiner told The Hollywood Reporter, &ldquoI love this idea that these characters believe themselves to be, whether they are or not, descendants of this last autocratic family who are part of one of the great true crime stories of all time.&rdquo

Why do the Romanovs have such a hold? Other powerful dynasties fell in the upheaval of World War One&mdashthe Hapsburgs, the Hohenzollerns&mdashbut no musicals have been made of their fates. It could be the shock of the execution, which surpassed in horror even the deaths of the French monarchs in the throes of the French revolution. After all, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were tried in a court before being guillotined, and their daughter was spared.

Perhaps we are forever caught up in our feelings for those young children, murdered in Siberian exile. Who knows what else they could have become if they made it out alive?

Marie Antoinette’s Marriage Was Unconsummated For Years

Marie Antoinette, daughter of the Holy Roman Empress and his 11th daughter, married into the French royal family on May 16, 1770. The next morning, rumors swirled that the couple had not consummated their marriage.

For the next seven years, Marie Antoinette remained a virgin. The Austrian had become queen of France before the union was consummated, but in 1778, the queen gave birth to a daughter, Marie Therese. The long gap between the royal wedding and the birth of the couple's first child left many wondering if Marie Antoinette was a good queen.

Photo : Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

1 The Heart Of Dauphin Louis XVII Of France

Few historical figures spawned more questions about their presumed death than Louis XVII, who was the son of King Louis XVI of France and Queen Marie Antoinette. In August 1792, in the midst of the French Revolution, Louis XVI was arrested and removed from power. While both of his parents were executed, Louis XVII would be imprisoned in the tower of Paris Temple for the next three years. During that time, he became seriously ill and died of tuberculosis on June 8, 1795 at the age of 10. After this death, an autopsy was performed on the boy and his heart was removed. However, rumors eventually began circulating that Louis-Charles did not actually die and had escaped after his sympathizers smuggled him out of the prison.

Due to the long-standing rumors that the dauphin survived, hundreds of impostors came forward over the years to claim they were him. As the years went on, fraudulent impostors even started claiming they were descendants of Louis XVII, but none of their stories could be verified. After Louis-Charles&rsquo heart was removed, it was preserved and housed in many places over the next two centuries. Finally, in 1975, the heart found a permanent home on display inside a crystal vase at the royal crypt in the Saint Denis Basilica, the burial place of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. In 2000, DNA testing was finally performed on the heart and compared with DNA samples from a strand of Marie Antoinette&rsquos hair. The testing firmly concluded that the heart belonged to the dauphin. It was finally given a proper burial at the royal crypt.

Watch the video: Why 100 impostors claimed to be Marie Antoinettes dead son. Louis XVII