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12.6.04

It's Not Good to Be the King

Related News Articles

Delphine Chayet, Le cœur de Louis XVII inhumé dans la nécropole des rois, June 9, in Le Figaro

Jean Foyer, Une filiation indiscutable, June 9, in Le Figaro

Le cœur de Louis XVII, "enfant martyr" à la basilique de Saint-Denis, June 8, in L'Express (with nice pictures of Saint-Denis, the heart in its crystal urn, and Louis-Alphonse de Bourbon, who would be King of France if the royalists had their way)

Images of the Basilica of Saint-Denis (Alison Stones, University of Pittsburgh)
Earlier this week Cronaca quoted some of the Reuters story on the scientific proof that Louis XVII, the son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette who became King of France when his father was executed, did indeed die in his prison cell in 1795. He was seven years old when his family was arrested, and the boy was eventually sent alone to a cell in the Temple. Subjected to harsh conditions, as well as terrible physical and psychological abuse at the hands of his captors, the child signed, probably under force, a "confession" that his mother had had sexual relations with him, which was cited in the case for the queen's execution. When he died of complications from tuberculosis, the Revolutionaries threw his body in a common grave in the Sainte-Marguerite cemetery in Paris, near what is now the Place de la Nation (under the monarchy it was the Place du Trône [Square of the Throne] and, during the Revolution, the Place du Trône Renversé [Square of the Overturned Throne]), but a physician doing the autopsy had removed the heart from the body, which has been preserved by the family. Ever since that time, some thought that the boy actually escaped and that another child's body was placed in the grave, and pretenders have claimed to be his descendants, falsely as it has now been ultimately proven.

The DNA testing was done in 2000 (comparing DNA from the boy's heart to that of hair preserved from Marie-Antoinette and her sisters), but in this special Mass on June 8, the heart was buried in the tomb of the French royal family, near the tombs of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. Some 2,500 people filled the Basilica of Saint-Denis, and a thousand or more amassed outside the church, most of them royalists (Libération reported cries of "Vive le roi! Le roi est mort, vive le roi! A mort la révolution!" [The King is dead! Long live the king! Death to the revolution!]). This is hard for me to believe, but there are actually people who still want to see the Bourbons restored to the French throne. Having read a lot of coverage on this event (organized in part by a royalist group called Mémorial de France) in the French press, my favorite commentary was by Najate Zouggari in the communist newspaper L'Humanité (Affaire de coeur à la basilique de Saint-Denis, June 9). It practically drips with the seething resentment that still exists between classes today in France:
The monarchists finally got a heart, a petrified one in a 30-cm niche. It's not really theirs, but that of Louis XVII, "saint and martyr." Yesterday was the end of the road for the precious organ, that of the imprisoned son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. Many tears were wiped in silk handkerchiefs yesterday morning, a few steps from the very popular Saint-Denis market. Around a thousand people, according to an official estimate, followed the ceremony outside, broadcast on a giant screen, in the Basilica's square.

The ceremony was supposedly open to "all French people, even communists," as Prince Charles-Emmanuel de Bourbon-Parme put it, not ungenerously. This did not change the fact that entrance to the basilica was not "open" to all French people and that spectators had to make an extra effort just to see a few images of the broadcast. Although there is some historical interest in the ceremony, it mostly provided a chance for the most reactionary to unload a rosary's worth of stupid superstitions. A charming little Spanish woman, dressed in a flowery dress, admits that she missed Franco, "a good man," she says, with a thumbs-up. For her, the "murder" of the Dauphin was only the beginning of "the long list of totalitarian crimes." Another woman, dressed in white and with her hair pulled back in a chignon, says she weeps today "to beg forgiveness of this martyred child." Other victims of daily, less noble violence apparently are not worthy of such concern. A little farther away, in the crowd, a young man with a blue tie and a fleur-de-lys in his buttonhole, sells pamphlets of monarchist poetry in honor of Louis de Bourbon for 5 euros. "France must have a king," he says. "I am here for France, to defend its Christian roots."
These people really do want to return to monarchy: this article has a picture showing the heart in its urn, on a cloth of fleur-de-lys, with a crown in front of it.

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