Closed in 1804, the cemetery attached to the Church of Sainte-Marguerite in the 11th Arrondissement in Paris, contains a small tomb with the inscription “L XVII – 1785-1795”. There is a mysterious story associated with this, as for a long time it was taken to be the tomb of Louis XVII.
The son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, Louis-Charles was shut away in the prison of Le Temple on 13 August 1792, when he was just 7 years old. After the execution of his father on 21 January 1793, he was entrusted to the keeping of the cobbler Simon until January 1794. Thereafter all trace of him is lost, and the official story runs that the Dauphin fell ill and died on 8 June 1795 and was buried in secret. The mystery surrounding this death lead to no fewer than forty-three false “Dauphins” coming forward over the following years.
Research carried out at Sainte-Marguerite cemetery, traditionally used to bury those who had died in the prison of Le Temple, revealed that a child was buried there on 19 June 1795 – that is, two days after the supposed death of Louis XVII. A first exhumation was ordered in 1846, but the body discovered in the coffin was that of a youth aged 15-18. This gave rise to various rumours: some said that the prince had been saved from prison by royalists, and that the body had been placed there to cover his escape; others argued that he had actually died in Le Temple but in 1794, and that no one was informed of the fact until a year later (in order to avoid a scandal, a burial was then held with another body).
The truth would seem to be that Louis XVII did actually die in the dungeons of Le Temple, and that his heart was removed and concealed during the autopsy. The prince’s body was apparently then buried in Sainte-Marguerite cemetery, before being exhumed by order of the government of the day for reburial in the cemetery of Calmart. Over the coming years his heart would pass from owner to owner, until in 1975 it was laid to rest in the crypt of Saint-Denis, the burial place of many of France’s kings. DNA analysis carried out in 2000 confirmed the authenticity of the attribution to Louis XVII, and a funeral urn containing the heart was placed in the Bourbon Chapel of the cathedral on 8 June 2004.
However, one question still remains: who is buried in the tomb at Sainte-Marguerite????