Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Lost King of France: A True Story of Revolution, Revenge and DNA

The Lost King of France: A True Story of Revolution, Revenge and DNA, also printed under the name of  The Lost King of France: How DNA Solved the Mystery of the Murdered Son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, is a 2002 written by Deborah Cadbury

The premises of The Lost King is based on the life of Louis-Charles, son of Louis XVI of France, the dauphin of France; otherwise, known as Louis XVII. 

On April21, 1770, Archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria bids farewell to her homeland of Austria, her family and most importantly her formidable Mother, the Empress Maria Theresa. She is off the France (ruled by the long time enemies of Austria and the Hapsburg-Lorraine; the Bourbons ) to marry the Dauphin of France, Louis-August, and the countries of Austria and France together. The couple are ill matched and their differences leads to conflict; the main one being their lack of children. Seven years after their initial marriage and with the help of Marie Antoinette's elder brother, Joseph II of Austria, the marriage is finally consummated and and in 1778, the Queen gave birth to her first child, Marie-Therese. A son later, in 1785, she gives birth to Louis-Charles, Duke of Normandy.

Louis-Charles grows up in a strong and healthy boy, the complete opposite of his elder brother, the dauphin, Louis-Joseph, who has come down with a bad case of tuberculosis. The disease greatly deforms the poor boy and eventually killing him in 1789, making Louis-Charles the new dauphin.

Along with personal tribulation upon the Royal couple, Louis and Marie-Antoinette are facing turmoil from the French public. The Queen is publicly ridiculed in the streets as an adulteress and a reckless spender, called Madame Deficit amongst the people, her reputation is further blackened by the Diamond Necklace Affair
even though she was completely innocent in the dealings. Louis, having added more debt into the French coiffures by aiding the Americans in their Revolution, seeks means to repay the enormous sum by raising taxes. His initial ideas were to target the clergy and nobility, the two classes that are largely exempt from taxes, however the plan fell through. As time progressed things seemed to get worse and worse, finally resulting in the departure of the royal family from Versailles to the home of Louis XIV, the Tuileries Palace  

After failed attempt to escape France, the King and his family are brought back to Paris in shame and are now placed in the Temple, a fortress in the heart of Paris. He is charged with treason against the state and is sentence to death. After spending one final night with his family after six weeks of separation, Louis XVI bids farewell to the world and is executed via guillotine.

Having been pried, literally, from the arms of his distraught Mother , Charles, as he is now known, is brought into isolation in order to instill into him the ideals of the revolution. Heavily abused by his care taker, a man by the name of Simon, physically, mentally, and by some reports, sexually, for over a year, Charles falls seriously ill. Clinging the cruel hope of being reunited with his Mother, who he still believed to be in a room somewhere above his, the guards do not tell him of his Mother's execution (1793) nor of his Aunt's (1794). On June 8 1795, the titular King of France, dies reportedly of scrofulous, virtually alone. The ten year old child's body is sent to an autopsy, where a Doctor, Pelletan, stole his heart.

 Meanwhile, in the outside world, time has passed. Marie-Therese left France in December of 1795 for Austria and later, she married her cousin, Louis-Antoine, son of the Count of Artois. After the decline of the French Revolution and the fall of Napoleon, the Bourbon dynasty is restored to their throne.This causes a uproar in the number of pretenders claiming to be Louis XVII. Louis XVIII, devises several attempts to discover the fate of his nephew and even Marie-Therese herself does some investigating. A dreadful turn of fortunes, the family of the Count of Artois, now Charles X, are forced into exile. Marie-Therese died of pneumonia in 1851, after having been moving from place to place for the last decade, a faded reminder of the glory days of France.

It was not until 2000 was the case of the lost dauphin of France laid to rest. The family of Naundorff  still clung to the belief that they were indeed descendants of Louis XVI and Mari-Antoinette. Phillippe Delorme, a historian and journalist, began doing testing on samples of Karl Naundorff to compare them to Marie-Antoinette. The results were less than perfect. Into the hands of the scientist came the heart of Louis XVII that was stolen during the boy's autopsy. The maternal DNA of the sample was an exact replica of Marie-Antoinette's and her two sister,Maria-Johanna-Gabriella and Maria- Josepha, DNA.And so, it was made public, the lost King of France did not miraculously escape from the Tower but died there are was reportedly, a half-mad figure that used to be Marie-Antoinette's chou d'amour.

I give this book a 4/5. The author paints the story of the tragic Louis XVII of France in such a gut wrenching way, that at certain points of the story, I was nearly on the verge of tears. It is really such a revolting tale on the cruelty of man and such an innocent child. I haven't read many books on the French Revolution, although, I have read an occasional book or the odd film on his Mother, the infamous, Marie-Antoinette but this book has really caught my attention on the atrocity committed against the Bourbon family. It receives a definite recommendation from me, it is a rather nice introduction to those interested in the French Revolution and the events  that happened afterward with Marie-Therese, which is largely ignored.