The Lost King
Of France

Revolution, Revenge, and the
Search for Louis XVII

Deborah Cadbury
(Fourth Estate)
The French Revolution started when Louis XVI called up the Parlement because of a minor cash-flow problem, a shortfall of 72 billion gold francs. The Parlement responded by changing its name to the Real Estate Agents (The Estates-General). They met in the Salle des Menus Plaisirs (the Room of Pleasant Meals) and told Louis that if he would do something about Marie-Antoinette he could save a few ducats and possibly his head.

Austria and France had just concluded a very long war, called the Seven Year's War even though it went on for nine years due to inflation. Wars lasted much longer in those days --- no nukes and missiles and smart-bombs, just muskets and pikestaffs --- and this one went on so long it caused the people to get cranky especially in August when it was time for everyone to leave Paris for les vacances in St. Tropez.

Marie-Antoinette was from Austria, so she spoke French with a guttural accent, couldn't keep the king's books balanced (she was known as Madame Déficit) and took her good time in providing an heir. "Peuple" the People magazine of the day suggested that perhaps it was Louis XVI's fault. "His matchstiçk is always lîmp and curlèd up," they reported.

M. le Matchstick
It was also claimed that Marie-Antoinette said "Let them eat cake." This is a canard (or, as present-day menus term it, a canard a l'orange). What she actually said the first time was "Let them eat crêpes." Later, as nostalgia for Vienna overtook her, she was heard to cry "Let them eat sachertorte," referring to the most beloved of Viennese pastries. The Paris mob thus referred to Marie as "l'Autrichienne" (the Austrian Dog, later made into a famous movie by Luis Buñuel and Salvadore Dali).

The Real Estate Agents then changed their name to the Third Estate which was immediately dissolved by the National Assembly which in turn formed the National Guard open to all young men who wanted to avoid the draft in the upcoming Napoleonic Wars. They marched on the Bastille and embarked on an urban renewal program --- that is, they tore it down and built a parking lot.

They then marched on the Hôtel de Ville for lunch and took along Bernard de Launay ("Looney Bernard") who had been head chef of the Bastille Snack Bar. With a cook-off to see who could make the best coq au vin, the chef of the Hôtel, M. Désnot, won with his le coq d'or --- a dazzling confection in which the fowl was stuffed with gold ducats before being reduced and deglazed. Le Coq d'Or was later made into a popular song by Rimsky and his demented half-brother Korsakov.

Meanwhile Louis and Marie Antoinette were holed up at Versailles with Louis XVII --- affectionately called Dauphin ("Daffy") --- and Marie Thérèse. They were busy hiding from the revolution and making locks which was the king's hobby while he wasn't being king. Unfortunately he forgot to lock the door and the citizens of Paris stormed in vowing to "fry Marie-Antoinette's liver" with butter, white wine and fine herbes.

The royal family was immediately transferred to the Tuileries (The Toolshed) to await the verdict of the National Assembly which in the meantime had changed its name to the "Insurrectionary Commune." Collectively, they were known as the sans culottes ("The Flashers.") Anyone dressed like nobility --- that is, with pants --- was hunted down and given a head job so they could be carried around on pikes.

Maximilien Robespierre, founder of the Terror Party, announced that the king, queen, Marie Thérèse and Daffy should stay in the Tour d'Argent since it had been demoted to two-stars by Michelin but later they were moved to the Great Tower of the Temple where the head cheese was said to be divine, "vaut le voyage."

The French Revolution finally ended up in the hands of the Flashers and because of his modesty, Louis decided to run away with his family to the Netherlands. They dressed up in fright wigs and capes and drove off in a deux chevaux. French transportation being what it is they got stuck in a traffic circle near Jersey City. The Assembly then ordered Louis and family back to Paris, and since the revolutionary urban renewal project had destroyed the Bastille, the royal family was forced to go back to the Toolshed.

The Assembly decided to change its name to the "National Convention" so they could meet during hot summers and make long speeches and puff on cigars. They called each other "Citizen" which helped because there were so many delegates they forgot each others names so they just said "Moyen Citizen" and everyone would answer.

This was too much for the royal family, who thereupon invited the English, the Austrians, the Spaniards, the Russians, the Prussians, the Frisians, the Thracians, the Nicians (from Nice), and the Sardines (from Sardinia) to invade France and overthrow the Flashers, or at least force them to put their pants back on.

Finally, the king was invited to stand up and address the National Convention, which had in the meantime changed its name to "The Insurrectionary Commune." Louis disguised his belief in the Divine Right of Kings by doing a stand-up routine, replete with in-law jokes and double-entendres, but the Communards were unamused, and showered him with eggs, bruised tomatoes, and tartes au citron.

Chrétien de Malesherbes (Christian the Bad Vegetable) defended the king's routine, Phillippe Egalité (Philip the Eggnog) denounced it, and the Convention as a whole decided that it was intolerably long, and sentenced him forthwith to lunch. Louis said that he "would rather die" than eat with a bunch of raincoaters, so they gave him a tumbrel ride to the Place de la Révolution, where a new machine invented by Dr. Guillotin whittled him down to size --- roughly 4'11". Afterwards he and his head were transported in carts to the cemetery at Madelaine where Proust had his first inspiration, and there they rest peacefully to this day.

After the beheading the people shouted "Vive la République" and "Vive la nation," and then adjourned to the Deux Magots, an existentialist café and sports bar on the Rive Gauche. Over glasses of Pernod, they debated the virtues of the Jacobins versus the Girondins, the two leading soccer teams of the day.

When the Jacobins won the match, 3-2, the mob poured into the street and elected Jean Paul Marat to the Assembly. By this time, the Assembly was tired of assembling and changed its name to the Revolutionary Tribunal. Marat and Robespierre demanded that the Tribunal should now do away with the queen.

Some members of the Girondins team, including the Duc d'Orléans, said they should give her a break, or at least breakfast but Robespierre claimed that she had been consœrting with the enemy, put on entirely too many raves, and, come to think of it, the Tribunal was getting a little soft and perhaps it should be whittled down to size too. The Girondins were convinced and Marie-Antoinette was charged with defaming French pastries (or lèsé-pâtisserie), aggravated consorting, and speaking French with a guttural accent. She was quickly found guilty, deprived of all her Viennese pastries and sentenced to a short interview with Dr. Guillotin.

Meanwhile, Georges Danton wanted to have a committee of his own, so the communards set him up with the Committee of Public Safety so he could put in stop signs, turn signals, and other items to make the revolution run more smoothly.

Heads were rolling but Robespierre wanted more so he established the Reign of Terror and, for no reason whatsoever, named himself the "Goddess of Reason." He gave new names to all the months, instituted the metric system, and decreed that parking was limited to alternate sides of the street on odd and even days. In a trice General Securité, his wife Homéland Securité, and the entire Tribunal shouted "Down with the tyrant" and Robespierre was denounced as being hors la loi, hor de jeu and hors d'oeuvre.

He ended his days riding around Paris in a tumbrel, shouting "Liberté, Egalité, Crudités!" and after a while he lost his head, too. In the meantime, the Tribunal changed its name back to "The Directory" and went into the business of publishing Parisian telephone books consisting mainly of obsolete names, erroneous addresses, and wrong numbers.

§     §     §

Oh yes. The Lost King of France. It's a pistol.

The boy Louis XVII was shut up like a dog, barely eating, lying around in his own offal. They say he died shortly afterwards, although through the years a hundred or so people appeared claiming to be the missing king.

There was a heart: a small hard object, presumably taken from Louis XVII's wasted body during the autopsy in 1795. It turned up not too long ago and two different scientific laboratories --- one French, one German --- compared the heart's DNA with the DNA of a lock that had been snipped from Marie Antoinette's head before her head was snipped from her body. The results came out a couple of years ago. And?...

We're not going to tell you. Read The Lost King of France. It's worth it. You'll find out the truth on the last page. If you don't cheat (and it is hard not to.)

--- Jean Le Phage
L. W. Milam

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