The mystery of the lost Dauphin of France began when the French government had transferred the Dauphine Louis XVII to the Temple prison in Paris. This was after the couple in charge of his safekeeping had resigned their post as his jailer. While he was there, his new jailer cruelly mistreated him. This cruelty combined with the harsh conditions of prison life contributed to his death on June 8, 1795. Five people were allowed to examine the body and later testified that he was the Dauphin of France. However, these people never saw the Dauphin while he was still alive. The authorities never consulted the Dauphin's sister.
The French authorities said that an autopsy had determined that tuberculosis was the cause of death. This announcement should have closed a chapter in the history of the French Revolution but this was not the case, because before Louis XVII died in 1795, a rumor began circulating that contradicted the official story of his death.
This rumor was based on a confession that suggested that the boy who died in Temple prison was actually an imposter. The woman, who had been his jailer, told nuns who were nursing her in a hospital, that she and her husband had smuggled another boy into the prison. When they resigned as the young prince's keepers on January 19, 1794, they smuggled him out. She said nothing more other than, "My little prince is not dead." If true, then who actually died in the prison cell? Was it the Dauphine or another boy as the rumor suggests?
No less than 100 men came forward claiming to be Louis XVII after the monarchy was restored in 1814. Most were obvious charlatans. Then in 1833, Karl Wilhelm Naundorff came forward to claim the title of Louis XVII. According to the historian Philippe Boiry, Naundorff appeared in Germany with no birth certificate and no known parents. He was in fact the most plausible of all the characters that claimed to be Louis XVII (1) because he was recognized by the Dauphin's nurse and the minister of justice under King Louis XVI. The Dauphin's sister was told of his strong resemblance to the family. However, she refused to see him because at the time she was a strong supporter of her uncle King Louis XVIII. Her refusal to see Naundorff combined with his story of what really happened in 1795 gave credence to his claim.
Naundorff's story did not conform to the accepted theory that the Dauphin's jailers smuggled him to safety. He said that General Paul Barras had assisted him. He claimed that Barras had moved him to another part of the prison and put the second boy in his place. Then, on the day that the imposter died, he was smuggled out of prison and was taken first to Italy, then to Prussia where he took the name Naundorff. He even went to civil court to push his claim but he was arrested and expelled from France. Naundorff first returned to London, then he moved to Holland where he died 9 years later. His death certificate described him as "Louis Charles de Bourbon, aged 60, son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette."
Most historians have never given credence to the lost Dauphin theory. They have declared Naundorff and the other pretenders to the French crown as frauds. Now they have proof that this theory is nothing more than a myth because modern science has solved this historic mystery through DNA testing. On April 19, 2000, the Associated Press reported that two scientists were able to determine that the boy, who died at Temple prison on June 8, 1795, was Louis XVII. They did this by comparing the DNA from the preserved heart of the boy with the DNA from known samples of Marie Antoinette's hair.
The Puzzle of the Dead Prince, page 355; From Strange Stories, Amazing Facts. Published by The Readers Digest Association, Inc., Pleasantville, New York. Copyright 1982.
The Heart of the Matter, by Clar Ni Chonghaile of the Associated Press, December 21, 1999.
Long-Dead Boy Identified as Louis XVII, Marie-Antoinette's Son, by Clar Ni Chonghaile of the Associated Press, April 19, 2000.