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The Lost King of France - Deborah Cadbury

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      20.04.2006 12:01
      Very helpful



      A good read, but not my sort of history writing

      I bought this book about four years ago when it first cane out. Having done a history degree I have shelves full of history books but I very rarely sit down and read them cover to cover. Being bored one day and thinking that these books really should be read, I made a start on this one.

      I'm not really one for 'modern' history, in fact my interest usually ends in around 1600. However, this book interested ne because I love mysteries. I like reading about things like the Princes in the Tower and Jack the Ripper, so I thought I might enjoy this.


      I bought this book from Waterstones where it cost £18.99. I doubt very much that it is still available there. You can buy the hardcover from Amazon for £13.99. The paper back is also available on Amazon for £7.19, under a slightly different title: The Lost King fo France: The Tragic Story of Marie-Antionette's Favourite Son.


      Deborah Cadbury IS NOT a historian. This is my main problem with this book. She is a science producer for the BBC, no doubt a very good one, she's won an Emmy. Although I can see that there is some science included in this book, it is mainly history and I don't feel that this is necessarily her field.


      The book tells the story of Louis Charles, the son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antionette. He was born in Versailles in 1785 and became the Dauphin, or heir to the French throne, four years later on the death of his older brother.

      The book begins by telling of the marriage of Maria Antonia (Marie-Antionette) of Austria, to the heir to the French throne, the future Louis XVI. This took place in 1770.

      Cadbury then goes on to describe their lives together as King and Queen. They lived in luxury at Versailles. After describing the couple's problems in consumating their marriage in some detail (!), she goes on to tell of the birth of their children. Their first born was a girl, some eight years after their marriage, and she was named Marie-Therese.

      By 1789 the French Revolution had begun. Louis XVI made concessions to the radicals but they were not enough. The royal family were taken from Versailles and imprisoned in the Tulleries. Although still King in name, Louis had little power left. The family attempted escape but were re-captured. The excape attempt left them with less support; people couldn't support a king who was going to abandon them. Soon after this they were moved to the Temple, a prison to the East of Paris.

      In 1792 the 'National Convention' came to the Temple to announce that Louis had been stripped of his title and France was now a republic. They were treated more and more like criminals and given fewer and fewer comforts. In early 1793 the King was taken from the Tower. He was tried for crimes against France. He was allowed to see his wife, daughter and son only once more before he was led away to the executioner's block.

      Soon after this Louis Charles was seperated from his mother, sister and his aunt who was also imprisoned with them. He was given over to one Antione Simon and his wife. He was to be 'tutor' to the boy, to teach him the ways of the Revolution. Louis Charles was encouraged to forget his old life. He was even induced into giving evidence against his mother and aunt. This 'evidence' helped to secure Marie-Antionette's fate, as she followed her husband to the guillotine later in 1793. The children's aunt was also executed.

      Marie-Therese and Louis Charles were now the only two members of the family left in the Temple. They were seperated and were never to see each other again. Louis Charles was kept progressively worse conditions. He was confined to one room and was allowed no exercise or toys. His room had no light as the one window was borded, no toilet and he had no change of clothes or bedclothes. He soon became ill and by the time he saw a doctor in 1795 he was in a very bad way. The once lively and energetic prince had tumours in his joints and he could barely speak. Although the child was finally allowed to venture into the fresh air he was not strong enough to rally and he died in June 1795.

      Or did he? Well this is the point of the book, to find out whether Louis Charles really did die in the Temple or whether it was a substitute child and that Louis Charles had escaped. Cadbury goes on to explain that almost immediately after the child's death people came forward claiming that they were the King. There were over 100 such claims. Louis Charles' sister refused to ever meet any claimants, although some had a huge following and even managed to convince some old family servants that they were the lost king. None ever succeeded in the claims and eventually all the claimants died off. Although an investigation was opened when the monarchy was restored for a time, it was never completed.

      However, later technology has made the identification possible. When the doctor performed the autopsy on the body of the dead Temple child he stole the heart. This heart was eventually restored to the royal family and it is that which makes it possoble to identify the child. The body has not been found so the heart was invaluable. The DNA analysis took place in 1999. A piece of the heart was taken and scientists extracted DNA from around the nucleus of the cells, which is DNA only from the mother. They compared this with DNA taken from the hair of MArie-Antionette and two of her sisters.

      I won't tell you the results!


      To my mind this book is definately 'history for the non-historian'. Perhaps I'm being an academic snob (if there is such a thing!). It is fine if you want an over view of the period or have an interest in the French Revolution. Its also good if you like mysteries. I will admit that Cadbury writes well and the book does flow nicely. However, for those of you who love history and want to read it seriously then this is not the best book. Cadbury is writing for the layman, and not for historians, which is fine (it will certainly make her more money!). But, for me, it is not good enough. The thing that irritated me the most was the fact that none of the quotations (and there are many) were referenced. I have had it drummed into me for years that all quotes must be referenced and this book is very frustating in that respect. I also thought that the book ended very abruptly.

      Cadbury does give a good over view of the whole period of the French Revolution, and this is good, but it reads more like a story than historical fact. The book was interesting and I would recommend it to those who enjoy reading history for pleasure. I think that I'll stick to professional historians from now on though!


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