Charles Louis de Bourbon makes his agenda overtly clear in the “Foreword” to his new book regarding his ancestors:
“This is the story of the longest persecution in history. For over 220 years my family has been tormented by the Government of France, and by members of my own family: the Bourbon-Parma's and the Orleans families. We have suffered vicious persecution starting with the death sentences for Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette.”
He ends the “Foreword by directly addressing his primary audience:
“Finally, I appeal to the French government to correct the error which now stands in French history for over 200 years. The Revolution killed Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette for political reasons. Please, now let the young son live! There is no longer a need to keep pretending that he died June 8, 1795. They have always known that he did not die that day; they know the death certificate was false. My family belongs nowhere until you let us live in honor with our name. I carry it in honor, but you have never given me the courtesy of making it official. We will keep on fighting until we get your acceptance.”
The core issue de Bourbon is referring to is the fate of Louis XVII which he claims is demonstrably different from what The history books say, that he died in prison at age 10 of tuberculosis after three years of imprisonment. De Bourbon tells the story of French authorities trying to hide the truth by substituting a false body in the coffin said to be that of the Dauphin, that is the late son of the King of France.
De Bourbon’s book is essentially three stories; that of the French revolution and the deaths of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette on the guillotine while the author maintains history has been unfair to the king. He says Louis XVI had been a decent man, issuing many new laws improving the rights of citizens. All his accomplishments and desires have been ignored in the post-Revolutionary fervor to demonize Louis XVI.
Then comes an admittedly convoluted story of the Dauphin’s alleged three year imprisonment, followed by his escape and rather poor attempts by the authorities to hide this fact by placing substitutes in the prison and then a coffin in 1795. Jumping ahead a bit, now calling himself Charles Louis, the Dauphin Escaped from the French army in 1806 during the Napoleonic wars. Thanks to the intervention of supporters in Germany where he was in danger of being deported due to having no passport or any identity papers, he took on the name Karl Wilhelm Naundorff and became known as a fine watch repairman. Taking on a wife and siring children, he lived in Berlin, Spandau, Switzerland, and England and was imprisoned from 1825 to 1828 for allegedly counterfeiting, although on the flimsiest of evidence. He survived several assassination attempts and, in 1833, came to push his claims in Paris, where he was supported as the dauphin by many individuals formerly connected with the court of Louis XVI.
Expelled from France in 1836, Charles Louis relocated to Holland where he became an inventor of various explosives and weapons. The King of Holland accepted his story so when Charles Louis died there in 1845, his tomb was inscribed “Louis XVII., roi de France et de Navarre (Charles Louis, duc de Normandy)". The Dutch authorities also had inscribed on his death certificate the name of Charles Louis de Bourbon, duc de Normandie (Louis XVII). And thus began the many lawsuits and court cases from his descendants who wanted and still want to be legitimized as heirs of Louis XVI.
Apparently, most of this story has been told before, but not with this slant. What is new is the author’s account of his own life which includes his career as a real estate agent and sailing around in Canada and along the East Coast. Of course, what the author most wants readers to accept are the final pages where the newly released DNA results are presented which he believes puts the case to rest, once and for all.
De Bourbon offers us a rather convincing narrative although he occasionally describes conversations and events in a rather fictional style. But no one should swallow the account wholesale with so much personal bias involved. I’m not sure much of the post 1845 events can be fairly described as “persecution.” This is a book for lovers of historical mysteries who might like to explore this story
further. No question, it’s a fascinating tale.
This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on July 12, 2017 at: