Louis-Joseph, first dauphin of Louis XVI

Among the children of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, we know well Madame Royale and the Dauphin Louis XVII. Yet long before the latter, there was a first dauphin Louis Joseph Xavier François, of fragile health, who disappeared at the age of 7 and a half. His tragic disappearance in 1789 affected the royal family when the Estates General had only just begun.

The birth of the first dolphin

Three years after Marie Thérèse Charlotte, who would later be called Madame Royale, the second child of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette was born in October 1781. He was the heir to the throne of France, but for a short time because he died in June 1789, following a serious illness.

The king is really happy in this month of October 1781, he has just had a son, he even cries to have a dolphin, an heir, after eleven years of marriage. Aged 27, Louis XVI awaited this moment with great impatience, because without this happy event, his successor would have been his brother the Count of Provence.

The childbirth takes place in public, in the queen's room, according to the custom and customs of the Court and according to the king “The queen spent the night of October 21 to 22 very well, she felt a few small pains in her body. 'awakening who did not prevent him from bathing; she felt it at half past two ... the pains were mediocre. Between midday and half past twelve, the pains increased, she got down on her working bed, and at a quarter past one just by my watch, she very happily gave birth to a boy ”.

The very merry king then whispered in her ear “Madame, you have fulfilled my wishes and those of France. You are the mother of a dolphin ”. The royal couple is saved: he had been accused of impotence, she becomes unassailable, having fulfilled her duty.

In the following minutes, the European courts are informed; two hours later, the Dauphin was baptized by the Grand Chaplain of France, Louis de Rohan in the chapel of the Palace of Versailles; the godfather is the brother of Marie Antoinette, Joseph II, Emperor of Austria, the godmother is the sister of the king, Marie Clothilde of France, princess of Piedmont.

The first names are given to the little dauphin: Louis Joseph Xavier François, in honor of the brother of Louis XVI, who died young at the age of 9. 1781 is also the 30 th anniversary of the birth of this beloved brother.

The first years

Fireworks are fired on the Place d'Armes and the celebrations will last nine days. All the representatives of each profession come to pay homage to the king by offering them a gift: the locksmiths a mysterious lock, the bakers a magnificent bread, the city of Paris a baby chest. Although the house of the dolphin is constituted, the queen remains very close to her first son and the king intends to take care of his education. To this end, he ordered from the geographer Edme Mentelle, a terrestrial globe showing the submerged and emerged lands, which would be delivered in 1788. From 1783, the king thought of marrying his son to his cousin Marie Amélie of Sicily; the marriage will never take place, but Marie Amélie will become Queen of the French between 1830 and 1848 by marrying Louis Philippe d'Orléans.

The delicate health of the dolphin

From 1784, his health became worrying. He was only two and a half years old when the first high fevers appeared. He spent his convalescence at the Château de la Muette, near the Bois de Boulogne. In March 1785, he stayed there again to undergo variolation, a common practice reserved for the elite who were inoculated with smallpox. It will have no after-effects, but remains fragile. In April 1786, the dolphin was again seized with high fevers, then was shaken by feverish movements, his back gradually bent, which did not worry many people, and yet, these were warning signs of the tuberculosis, which was reportedly transmitted by one of his nurses.

At the age of five, as is customary, he left the world of women for that of men. During this ceremony, we finally realize that he has difficulty walking and that his body has traces of blister (like blisters). In an attempt to recover, he will wear an iron corset for two years. Her parents are very concerned, especially since they have just lost Sophie Hélène Béatrice at the age of one.

The queen is transformed, she no longer has fun, no longer runs parties or balls.

From January 1788, the child's health declined further: the slow fever changed, the dolphin had one hip higher than the other, he became almost crippled and limp from his room in the park for his outings. More and more pale and puny, some of his vertebrae are affected by gangrene, the evening is always more difficult with outbreaks of fever more and more severe.

The painful end of the heir to the throne

In the spring of 1789, the doctors no longer knew what remedy to offer: some wanted to transport him to Meudon where the air was healthier, others to La Muette and the last recommended to stay where he was, where he was born. The king has the last word and sends it to Meudon. During his stay, the young dolphin does not know what position to adopt, as his back and his hip hurt him. He seems aware of his approaching end, but wants to get out of it. Every evening, his parents visit him and take care of him.

French Revolution, by Robert Enrico) "/> Back at the Palace of Versailles, the Dauphin insists on attending the parade of deputies of the States General. As he can no longer stand, he watches the parade from the balcony of the castle, lying on a armchair One month later, his condition deteriorated even more rapidly On June 2, the dolphin was very ill, to such an extent that the drone of Notre Dame de Paris sounded the Forty Hours prayer.

The dolphin died on June 4 at 1 am at the castle of Meudon, his mother upset and completely lost, crying at the foot of his bed, he was 7 and a half years old. At the French Theater, we lower the curtain in full performance and we reimburse the spectators. On June 5, the Blessed Sacrament is withdrawn from the churches.

The funeral ritual

The queen is forced to leave her son's bed and the royal couple go to Versailles. In Meudon, the funeral ceremony begins: the bed is surrounded by twelve lighted candles; the child's body is opened and embalmed, then placed in a coffin lined with white satin; the leafy monks pray for several days around the parade bed; the dolphin, whose face is uncovered, is covered with a silver cloth; princes, deputies and sovereign courts come to prostrate themselves and throw holy water. The king asks the archbishop of Paris to recite 1000 masses for the repose of his son's soul.

On June 7, the queen, who is collapsed in her bed, is to receive the mourning curtsies of several hundred ladies, all dressed in black. The solemn mourning begins for two and a half months. The men will have to wear a black coat, a bronze sword, the hat without feathers; the second month they will be able to replace bronze with silver and put back the feathers.

On June 12, the heart of the Dauphin was entrusted to the Abbess of Val de Grâce, transported in an urn carried by the Duke of Orleans; the prince of Condé is in charge of leading the remains to the basilica of Saint Denis, surrounded by 100 Swiss and the guard; the coffin is lowered into the crypt.

During this time, the king asks the deputies of the Third States to postpone the planned audience, in order to accomplish his mourning. But curiously, they refuse to postpone the interview. The disappearance of the dolphin will go almost unnoticed, especially as the new dolphin, the future Louis XVII will have an even more tragic end. Yet he was a child of great maturity and great courage in the face of illness, filled with affection for his mother, an intelligent child who already had a taste for power and authority, unlike his father.


- Louis XVI, by Jean-Christian Petitfils. Perrin Editions, 2005.

- Louis XVI the misunderstood, by Alexandre Maral. Ouest-France editions, 2013.

Video: The French Revolution- King Louis XVI (September 2021).