Book review: The Lost King of France

The Lost King of France by Deborah Cadbury

The Lost King of France by Deborah Cadbury combines my passion for historical mysteries, cold cases, and forensics.

Many have claimed to be the Dauphin as many claimed to be Anastasia Romanov. Both, at last, have been proven dead by DNA.

But before we had the DNA test results, we had to contend with more than 45 men claiming to be the long-lost Dauphin. We had to watch how they acquired a following, threw lavish parties, and addressed themselves as King. Painful as it was for the world to watch this, it was nothing compared to how cruel this was to his sister, Marie-Therese.

As if her life was not hard enough; the only reason for her release from the Tower was to exchange her for French prisoners held in Austria. Following the self-serving advice from her uncle, she entered into a loveless marriage that was doomed from the start.

After her release from the Tower, she went through agony every time a new Dauphin showed up, yet another man claiming to be her long-lost brother, who miraculously escaped from the Tower and who claimed his rightful place in her heart, in her life, as Head of the Family, and, of course, claimed his share of her wealth.

She went through immense troubles to explore whether they possibly could be Louis-Charles. She sent trusted servants of her father to seek out these men. She armed them with lists of questions to which only her brother would know the answers. More than once, these servants were stymied by the current regime, and the lists intercepted, as the current regime had no use for another King or a true contester for the Throne.

The heart of this cold case, the unsolved homicide, which included the missing body of Louis-Charles, finally reached a stage where questions could be answered by evolving forensics and the determination of men of trust who had no ulterior motive but to seek the truth. Men without pretenses, without false or hidden agenda’s, men who wanted just the plain truth. And it is all about the heart for the answers in this historical mystery come straight from the heart, from Louis-Charles’ heart.

After the orphan in the Tower, whose arrival there was documented, died, an extensive and meticulous autopsy was carried out on his badly neglected and abused body. During the autopsy, Dr. Phillippe-Jean Pellatan gave in to his urge to steal the heart of the boy. Pellatan was not an ardent royalist, but it was tradition that the hearts of all Kings were embalmed and placed into the crypt in Saint-Denis.

Possibly sensing that the little boy truly was the rightful King, the Dauphin, and deserved to be treated with dignity, Palletan smuggled the heart out of the Tower and placed in an urn filled with distilled wine alcohol as preservative.

The heart’s journey is as heartbreaking as the condition of the little boy’s body during the autopsy. Cadbury describes it with an agony that makes you want to jump back into history to help get answers in this historical mystery.

the heart of Louis-Charles
The heart of Louis-Charles (Image: Pierre-Emmanuel Malissin et Frédéric Valdes)

The last people involved in the search for answers are scientists assisted by Pelletan’s son. After tests involving an arm from a man claiming to be Louis-Charles and hair from the Habsburg family, dead and alive, finally the truth came out.

The stolen heart had the same unique trace of mitochondrial DNA as the entire maternal line of the Habsburg Family. Finally, the heart of the Dauphin has found its resting place, surrounded by his family members, in the crypt at Saint-Denis.

A brilliant book that left me moved and in tears. No child should ever have to face the fate of the Dauphin as retaliation for what his parents represented.

Highly recommended reading.


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