The story of the lost king of France

He was the son of Queen Marie Antoinette, whose tragic end was to be beheaded. As her son, he was the royal heir. His name was Louis Charles, called by some Louis XVII. But it was 1793, and the monarchy had been abolished. What was his fate? This is the story of the lost king of France.

Birth of the myth

The heir, even as a child, was a political danger. That’s why he was locked up in the Temple Tower, a medieval fortress. Soon after, a rumor started there. It was said that someone had exchanged him for another child, and that the heir had fled. The story of the “lost king” of France became a myth.

The story of the lost king of France, Louis Charles, the character in this engraving, intrigued for centuries.
The story of the lost king of France, Louis Charles, the character of this engraving, intrigued for centuries.

How to check if he survived, fled, had offspring? Science now searched for Louis Charles’ DNA to compare with that of a relative. “It’s an answer that has been sought for centuries,” says Jean-Jacques Cassiman. He is a professor of genetics and responsible for the research.

When his parents were executed, little Luis Carlos was eight years old. It is said that in prison he suffered from malnutrition and disease. His jailers announced his death on June 8, 1795 when he was 10 years old. His body was buried in a common grave in the cemetery of Sainte-Marguerite. Later the myth grew that it was the body of another person.

Preserved heart

But not all of Luis Carlos’ body went straight to the grave. During the autopsy, the doctor kept his heart. Why? He wanted to get it to the remaining members of the Bourbon dynasty. It was preserved in alcohol for several years. Finally, it was placed in the Basilica of the Kings of France.

This mystery, the story of the lost king of France, grew worldwide. Mark Twain based his famous novel on the story “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”. One of the characters is introduced as the “lost king of France”.

With the Bourbon Restoration in 1814, more than a hundred people claimed to be the royal heir to the dynasty. The most famous was Karl Wilhelm Naundorff, a Prussian watchmaker. He managed to convince those who knew the real Ludwig Karl during his lifetime that he was the real one. None of the supposed dolphins succeeded in proving the veracity of their stories.

This image depicts the moment when Louis Charles was taken from his mother.
This image depicts the moment Luis Carlos was taken from his mother.
Science to the rescue

In 2000, scientists set out to unravel the whole historical mess. They extracted DNA from the preserved heart. Then they searched for Marie Antoinette’s DNA, no easy task. But the researchers found a necklace belonging to Marie Antoinette’s mother. It was a chain with 16 medallions, one for each child she bore. In each locket, there was hair from one of her children. Among them, Marie Antoinette’s.

The results were conclusive. The DNA of the child’s heart stored in the French royal crypt matched the DNA of the former queen of France. The son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette did die in prison.

The French Ministry of Culture gave permission for the symbolic burial of Louis Charles in the Basilica of Saint-Denis in 2004. It was the end point of a sad story.

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