The Dauphin’s Heart:
Louis XVII was collateral damage in the French revolution. He was seven when the sans-culottes decided to end civilisation: ‘the glory of Europe is extinguished for ever’. And he was ten when he died, in 1795, a lone prisoner in the Temple Tower in Paris, his mother and father having already gone to pay for their dynastic blood on the steps of Monsieur Guillotine.
At the autopsy in 1795 the doctor in attendance, Pelletan, decided (as you do) to take Louis’ heart as a souvenir. Pelletan squirreled the heart away, unseen by the other doctors, and stored it in a crystal cup in liquid on a bookshelf.
In 1810 Pelletan noticed that the heart was missing and decided that the thief was a student of his, a Dr Tillus: in a dangerous Republican age Pelletan had told only Tillus the story of the heart. Pellatan tracked down Tillus who had just died of tuberculosis and convinced Tillus’ wife to give the heart up.
In 1828 the heart was handed over to the Archbishop of Paris in a casket with the crystal cup and various papers describing its history: the Archbishop had hoped to get it back to the royal family. But in 1830 in riots in the capital – revolutions teach bad habits – a group of ne’er-do-wells got into the Archbishop’s building and two looters, not knowing what was inside, fought over the casket. In the fight a sabre blow smashed the crystal cup and the heart disappeared. The heart was later found on the floor of the room.
In 1895 the heart was handed over to the Bourbon claimant to the throne, Don Carlos, with whom it travelled to Frohsdorf in Austria, where it sat next to Marie Antoinette’s bloodstained scarf from the day of her guillotining: ‘I thought that ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards…’ Mother and son were reunited. In 1942 the heart was taken to Italy by Don Carlos’ daughter. Then in 1975 the heart was handed over to the royal relic collection at Saint Denis where it remains to this day.
The history of the heart is not the most reliable (read MORE), but certainly it shares DNA with Marie Antoinette.