The Dauphin, or Crown Prince, Louis-Charles de France, known as “Louis XVII”, was born in 1785, shortly before the start of the French Revolution. Locked up with his family in the Temple prison in 1792, he was never to leave it and died in his cell, aged 10, without ever having reigned, far from the gilded luxury of his childhood.
The second son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, and brother of Madame Royale, Louis-Charles de France spent his early childhood at the Château de Versailles, with his parents, surrounded by his valets and his governess. In 1789, he became heir to the throne on the death of his brother who died prematurely. The young Louis-Charles then took the title of Dauphin when the kingdom was experiencing the first assaults of the French Revolution.
After the momentous day of 10 August 1792 and the taking of the Tuileries palace, the young Louis-Charles de France was locked up in the Temple prison. On 21 January 1793, his father was guillotined. The Dauphin logically took the name of Louis XVII, a title recognised by the royalists and the European powers. The Dauphin was left at first with his mother Marie-Antoinette, then taken away from her shortly before her death and entrusted to the shoemaker Antoine Simon, who raised him in the Temple prison with a stated aim: to make him forget his royal origins. The young Dauphin had been put under pressure by him to testify against his mother during her trial. Based on the statements of her son, Marie-Antoinette was accused of incest before being guillotined.
The young Louis XVII, aged 8, stayed in his prison under the shoemaker’s orders. Living in deplorable conditions of hygiene, he became seriously ill. In 1795, when the revolutionaries were thinking of using him as a bargaining counter with the Austrian army, as they had done with his sister Madame Royale, Louis XVII died of tuberculosis. His heart, preserved by the celebrated surgeon Philippe-Jean Pelletan, was placed in the crypt of the basilica of Saint-Denis in 1975. Recent analyses have confirmed that the child who died in the Temple prison was indeed the son of Marie-Antoinette, thus ending the rumours of a possible imposture.