The Lost King of France: Revolution, Revenge and the Search for Louis XVII

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9780007156733: The Lost King of France: Revolution, Revenge and the Search for Louis XVII

A true story of royalty, revolution and mystery - the detective story of the brief life and many possible deaths of Louis XVII, the son of Marie Antoinette. Louis-Charles Bourbon enjoyed a charmed early childhood in the gilded palace of Versailles. At the age of four, he became the Dauphin, heir to the most powerful throne in Europe. Yet within five years, he was to lose everything. Drawn into the horror of the French Revolution, his family was incarcerated and their fate thrust into the hands of the revolutionaries who wished to destroy the monarchy. In 1793, when his mother was beheaded at the guillotine, she left her adored eight-year-old son imprisoned in the Temple Tower. Far from inheriting a throne, the orphaned boy-King had to endure the hostility and abuse of a nation. Two years later, the Revolutionary leaders declared Louis XVII was dead. No grave was dug, no monument built to mark his passing. Immediately, rumours spread that the Prince had, in fact, escaped from prison and was still alive. Others believed that he had been murdered, his heart cut out and preserved as a relic. In time, his older sister, Marie-Therese, who survived the Revolution, was approached by countless "brothers" who claimed not only his name, but also his inheritance. Several "princes" were plausible, but which, if any, was the real Louis-Charles? This work interweaves a pivotal moment in France's history with a compelling detective story involving pretenders to the crown, royalist plots and bizarre legal battles. The quest for the truth finally runs to the present day. Using modern DNA testing, the strange odyssey of a stolen heart found within the royal tombs was to lead to an exciting conclusion to the 200-year-old mystery of the lost King of France.

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Even casual French history readers will notice a discrepancy in the numbering of their kings--Louis XVI goes to the guillotine in the French Revolution; Louis XVIII returns after the defeat of Napoleon. What happened to Louis XVII? That's the subject of Deborah Cadbury's The Lost King of France. Louis-Charles, heir to Louis XVI, automatically became king, in the eyes of French royalists, when his father was guillotined in 1793. He was, however, an eight-year-old boy and at the mercy of the Revolutionary government. Cadbury's vivid and sympathetic account of his imprisonment and the appallingly abusive treatment he received makes for painful reading.

In 1795 the boy king died, still in prison. Or did he? For decades afterward pretender after pretender to the throne appeared, claiming that he was the real Louis. He had been rescued and a substitute child had died in the hands of the revolutionaries. Some claimants were ludicrous. (One was a mixed-race Native American from New York.) Others were so convincing that their descendants still have supporters today. "Karl Wilhelm Naundorff" persisted with his claim to his deathbed and beyond. His gravestone boldly states that he was the son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette.

In the second half of her book, Cadbury turns from the sad narrative of Louis the Seventeenth's apparently short life to the mystery of his claimed survival. Finally her book becomes a scientific detective story as the tools of modern DNA testing are used to pinpoint the identity of the boy who died in prison and to investigate the genetic make-up of Naundorff. As both the story of a tragic and short life and a record of how science solved one of the greatest puzzles in French history, The Lost King of France works brilliantly. --Nick Rennison


‘Outstanding. In providing such a vivid biography of Louis Charles’s life, the author has set a fine standard of scholarship. The action races forward with sumptuously judged pace equal to that of any top rate thriller.’ George Lucas, Financial Times

‘Beautifully structured and sympathetically narrated, Cadbury’s book benefits from having a subject that successfully brings together science, suspense and sentiment. Something for everyone, then.’ Miranda Seymour, Sunday Times

‘This tale reads like a Gothic novel of gloomy castles, dark deeds and false claimants and a cliffhanger ending with science as an added bonus. Gripping from start to finish.’ New Scientist

‘In this riveting book Deborah Cadbury delivers a fable for our times which combines the grisly panache of Stuwwelpeter with the concentrated pathos of John Everett Millais’s “The Princes in the Tower”.’ Daily Telegraph

Praise for ‘The Lost King of France’:

‘Absolutely stupendous…This is history as it should be. I can’t praise it highly enough. It is stunningly written, I could not put it down. This is the best account of the French Revolution I have ever read.’ Alison Weir, author of Henry VIII, King and court

‘Unputdownable. For sheer escapism and some fascinating insights into history, I cannot recommend this too highly.’ Maureen Waller, author of ‘1700: Scenes from London Life’

‘A fascinating story…extremely well told.’ Ian Dunlop, author of ‘Louis XIV’

‘A first-class read – informative, entertaining, and a great, grand adventure. Most noteworthy.’ Margaret George, author of ‘The Autobiography of Henry VIII’


This is a tale of intrigue and deception, of burning ambition and failed dreams…exquisitely portrayed by Deborah Cadbury in this scholarly yet exhilarating book.' Independent

'Cadbury is a wonderful writer, weaving natural history, human history and science together in a smooth, flowing tapestry that keeps you turning the pages as if her book were a thriller.' The Times

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Cadbury, Deborah
ISBN 10: 0007156731 ISBN 13: 9780007156733
Used Quantity Available: 1
(Berlin, Germany)

Book Description Book Condition: good. 259 Gramm. Bookseller Inventory # M00007156731-G

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