The Lost King of France by Deborah Cadbury

Lost King of France Deborah Cadbury

Rating: 4 Stars ★★★★☆

From the portrait by Alexandre Kucharski, Louis-Charles, Duc de Normandie looks out confidently on the world with large blue eyes in a sensitive face framed by fair hair; the perfect storybook prince.

About

In 1793, when Marie-Antoinette was beheaded at the guillotine, she left her adored eight-year-old son imprisoned in the Temple Tower. Far from inheriting the throne, the orphaned boy-king had to endure the hostility and abuse of a nation. Two years later, the revolutionary leaders declared the young Louis XVII dead, prompting rumors of murder. No grave was dug, no monument built to mark his passing. Soon thereafter, the theory circulated that the prince had in fact escaped from prison and was still alive. Others believed that he had been killed, his heart preserved as a relic. The quest for the truth continued into the twenty-first century when, thanks to DNA testing, a stolen heart found within the royal tombs brought an exciting conclusion to the two-hundred-year-old mystery.

Review

Everyone knows about Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI, but the fate of their children is rarely discussed in more than a slight addition to the story of their parents. This book focusses primarily on them, particularly the dauphin, but also on his sister.

 

477px-Marie_Antoinette_Children

Marie Thérèse and her brother, Louis via Wikimedia Commons

 

This book is incredibly well-written. It reads like a thriller in parts, a mystery in others but its’s very well researched and full of fascinating information about the life of the royals during the Revolution.

Hearing of the slaughter, the king sent his last order, instructing his faithful Swiss Guards to lay down their arms. They obeyed, only to be massacred as the “populace rushed from all quarters into the interior of the palace’. The Tuileries became a bloodbath, with guards and nobles chased up onto the parapets fighting to the last as they were stabbed, shot or sabered. The dead or dying were flung from windows, some grossly mutilated, others impaled on pikes as trophies.

For of course, the French Revolution is a big part of the story of young Louis. Imprisoned at a very young age after weeks and months of increasing terror, he soon finds himself isolated from his family. Unsure what to do with the young prince and unwilling to just straightout kill him, he suffers terrible abuse.

At first he is verbally and physically abused by a keeper that tries very hard to make him into a revolutionary and beat out every last bit of his royal education out of him. Traumatized, he is forced to give testimony against his mother.

What happens after that is even worse. He’s isolated in a room with darkened windows, no toilet and no human contact whatsoever. His captors give him food, but they don’t talk to him or clean his room.

As the weeks passed, he ceased to make any attempt to clean his room or to take proper care of himself. His bed was left unmade for months, bugs and fleas covered it, latching onto his body and covering it in bloody sores. Little by little he succumbed to the misery and spent many hours just curled up on the bed.

The prince dies at a very young age but rumors are soon rife that the boy in the tower was not the real prince after all. The real dauphin is alive and well, hidden from the revolutionaries. And after the Revolution., lots of so-called dauphins step forward. Only recently, advances in genetics made it possible to determine if any of their claims were true.

It’s a heartbreaking tale and it’s fascinating. The author creates a vivid portrait of the time and makes these historical figures come to life in one of the best biographies I’ve read in a while.

Conclusion

A dramatic and thrilling history of the French Revolution and the life of Louis XVII.

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