Louis XVII, dauphin and titular king of France, son of the preceding, born in Versailles, March 27, 1785, died in the Temple at Paris, June 8, 1795. He was the third child of Louis and Marie Antoinette. The title he first bore was duke of Normandy, and he became dauphin by the death of his elder brother Louis Joseph, June 4, 1789. He was very carefully educated under the supervision of his father, and at the outbreak of the revolution was a beautiful, lively, and intelligent child, but remarkably impatient and unmanageable, He was imprisoned in the Temple with the rest of the royal family, Aug. 13, 1792. After the execution of his father, Jan. 21, 1793, he was proclaimed king by his uncle (afterward Louis XVIII.), and was recognized by most of the courts of Europe, by the Vendean chiefs, and by the insurgents in the south of France. These demonstrations, together with several attempts by the royalists to rescue him from prison, irritated and alarmed the revolutionary government; and on July 3, at 10 o'clock at night, the boy was torn from his mother's arms and carried screaming to another part of the prison. Here he was consigned to the care of a shoemaker named Antoine Simon, a violent Jacobin of rough manners and brutal temper, who, with his wife, treated him with systematic cruelty.
The young prince was left alone in a cell day and night, without employment or amusement, or any opportunity for exercise or to breathe fresh air. A vessel of water, seldom replenished, was given him, and some coarse food was occasionally thrown in at the half opened door. He was allowed no means of washing himself, and his bed was not made for months. His limbs became rigid, and his mind, through terror, grief, and monotony, became imbecile, and at length deranged. Something he had said in reply to questions having been perverted to the injury of his mother, he resolved thenceforth to be silent, and for a long period neither threats nor blows nor coaxings could induce him to speak. When not sleeping he sat quietly in his chair, without uttering a sound or shedding a tear, or shrinking from the rats with which his dungeon swarmed. After the reign of terror he was placed under more merciful keepers, but was still kept in solitary confinement, and not allowed to see his sister, imprisoned in an adjoining apartment.
At length, in May, 1795, a physician was allowed to see him, who pronounced him dying of scrofula, According to official accounts, he died at 2 P. M. in the arms of Lasne, one of his keepers, and the next day, June 9, his body was identified and certified to by four members of the committee of public safety and by more than 20 officials of the Temple. A post-mortem examination was made the same day by four distinguished physicians. On the 10th the remains were buried in the cemetery of Ste. Marguerite, and every trace of the grave carefully obliterated. - The principal pretenders who have claimed to be Louis XVII. were the Rev. Eleazar Williams, who died in 1858 (see Williams, Eleazar); Hervagault, a tailor's son, who died at Bicetre in 1812; Bruneau, another mechanic's son, who died in prison about 1818; Hebert, who called himself baron de Richemont, duke of Normandy, and after various arrests and adventures died about 1855; and Naundorff, son of a Prussian locksmith, born in 1786, died at Delft, Aug. 10, 1845. The last named published his autobiography, Histoire des infortunes du dauphin.
His claims were pleaded in 1851 by Jules Favre before a French court, at the instance of his son and daughter; but the evidence of the death of Louis XVII. in 1795 was regarded as conclusive by the court. The case was revived in February, 1874, with the same result. - See Intrigues devoilees, ou Louis XVII, dernier roi legitime de France (4 vols., Rotterdam, 1846-'8), and other writings by Gruau de la Barre; and Beauchesne, Louis XVII, sa vie, son agonie, sa mort (Paris, 1852; English translation by William Hazlitt, London, 1853).