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.

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.

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.

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.

--- Jean Le Phage
L. W. Milam
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