France lays to rest tiny heart of Louis XVII

8th June 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 8 (AFP) - France laid to rest one of its most intriguing mysteries Tuesday when it installed the tiny heart of Louis XVII - the son of the beheaded king Louis XVI and queen Marie-Antoinette - in a royal crypt outside Paris.

PARIS, June 8 (AFP) - France laid to rest one of its most intriguing mysteries Tuesday when it installed the tiny heart of Louis XVII - the son of the beheaded king Louis XVI and queen Marie-Antoinette - in a royal crypt outside Paris.

European aristocrats were among the 2,500 people who packed into the Saint-Denis basilica north of Paris to watch the 209-year-old organ in its crystal vase given a final burial after spending a long period as a much-traded curiosity in the wake of the French Revolution.

A 12-year-old descendant of France's former royal family, Amaury de Bourbon-Parme, handed the heart over in a formal mass broadcast to another 1,000 people watching outside.

The presiding priest, archbishop Jean Honore, paid homage to the "lost child who knew nothing of what he was and of what he is".

Louis-Charles, the so-called "lost dauphin" who would have reigned as Louis XVII, died of tuberculosis at the age of 10 on June 8, 1795 in a windowless cell in the French capital's Temple prison, where he had been incarcerated with his parents before they were guillotined.

The boy's fate was the source of rumours and speculation for two centuries, until DNA tests four years ago finally proved the heart belonged to a Hapsburg, the lineage of Marie-Antoinette.

The story of the heart is a bizarre tale that began when the doctor who performed the autopsy on the boy cut out the organ to save it as a memento in an alcohol-filled vase kept on his bookshelves.

He boasted of his possession to one of his students, who swiped the prize.

Years later, after the thief died of tuberculosis himself, his widow returned the heart to the doctor.

The physician tried for many years to return the heart to members of the Bourbon family but was thwarted by royal squabbles. Louis XVII's remains finally found their way to the Spanish Bourbons, and eventually back to France.

Historians and conspiracy theorists seized on the amazing journey of the heart to argue that maybe it did not belong to Louis XVII after all, suggesting that instead of dying in prison, he had escaped or been spirited out of France to safety, and that the heart belonged to another child.

In the 19th century, several pretenders to the throne surfaced, including a German clockmaker named Karl Wilhelm Naundorff. Although he never claimed it himself, many thought US naturalist John James Audubon was the long-lost heir.

In 2000, scientists conducted DNA tests to put the rumours to rest. Result: the heart indeed belonged to a descendant of Marie-Antoinette.

Those who wanted to keep the "lost dauphin" myth alive argued that the heart could belong to Louis-Xavier-Joseph, Louis XVII's older brother who died in 1789.

But the heart of the older brother had been properly embalmed according to royal custom, while the one that had been examined - that of Louis XVII - had not. For historians, the debate was over.

"This is a way to give this child-martyr, who passed away in tragic circumstances and around whom mystery swirled for more than 200 years, a proper death," said Charles-Emmanuel de Bourbon-Parme, one of Louis XVII's relatives.


© AFP

Subject: French news

 

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