The Lost King of France How DNA Solved the Mystery of the Murdered Son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette

Deborah Cadbury

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

336 Pages



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Louis-Charles, duc de Normandie, enjoyed a charmed early childhood in the gilded palace of Versailles. At the age of four, he became the dauphin, heir to the most powerful throne in Europe. Yet within five years he was to lose everything. Drawn into the horror of the French Revolution, his family was incarcerated and their fate thrust into the hands of revolutionaries who wished to destroy the monarchy.

In 1793, when Marie Antoinette was beheaded at the guillotine, she left her adored eight-year-old son imprisoned in the Temple Tower. Far from inheriting a throne, the orphaned boy-king had to endure the hostility and abuse of a nation. Two years later the revolutionary leaders declared Louis XVII dead. No grave was dug, no monument built to mark his passing.

Immediately, rumors spread that the prince had in fact escaped from prison and was still alive. Others believed that he had been murdered, his heart cut out and preserved as a relic. As with the tragedies of England's princes in the Tower and the Romanov archduchess Anastasia, countless "brothers" soon approached Louis-Charles's older sister, Marie-Thérèse, who survived the revolution. They claimed not only the dauphin's name, but also his inheritance. Several "princes" were plausible, but which, if any, was the real heir to the French throne?

The Lost King of France is a moving and dramatic tale that interweaves a pivotal moment in France's history with a compelling detective story that involves pretenders to the crown, royalist plots and palace intrigue, bizarre legal battles, and modern science. The quest for the truth continued into the twenty-first century, when, thanks to DNA testing, the strange odyssey of a stolen heart found within the royal tombs brought an exciting conclusion to the two-hundred-year-old mystery of the lost king of France.


Praise for The Lost King of France

"Absolutely stupendous . . . This is history as it should be. I can't praise [this book] highly enough. It is stunningly written; I could not put it down. This is the best account of the French Revolution I have ever read."—Alison Weir, author of Henry VIII: The King and His Court

"A wonderful book . . . Cadbury's fascinating account of a child victim of revolutionary brutality is a masterly synthesis of science and narrative history that provides a definitive solution to a celebrated mystery. Authoritative, lucid, and utterly absorbing."—Anne Somerset, author of Elizabeth I

"A first-class read—informative, entertaining, and a great grand adventure. Most noteworthy."—Margaret George, author of The Autobiography of Henry VIII

"Cadbury lays out in fascinating detail the historical mystery of the royal heir [and] uses modern science to try to solve it."—The Wall Street Journal

"Cadbury [offers] a smart, informed and excruciating examination of what may be the French Revolution's cruelest episode . . . An accessible account of the French royal family [and] a puzzling mystery of great magnitude and depth."—The Washington Times

"Unputdownable. I was already familiar with the story of the French royal family's end, but Deborah Cadbury succeeds in conveying the human tragedy of it more emotively than any other writer. Added to that, her book has the gripping pace of a thriller and offers the ultimate satisfaction in revealing how a historical mystery has been solved by modern science. For fascinating insights into history, I cannot recommend this too highly."—Maureen Waller, author of 1700: Scenes from London Life

"An absorbing tale, combining sound history and modern science. The restrained description of the suffering of the little prince from the officious sadism of the revolutionary officials serves only to add poignancy to his story."—John Hardman, author of p0Louis XVI: The Silent King

"The Lost King of France is a fascinating and well told story that reads with great interest and pleasure. My congratulations on a well researched work."—Ian Dunlop, author of Marie Antoinette and Louis XIV

"Outstanding . . . The action races forward with sumptuously judged pace equal to that of any top-rate thriller."—Financial Times

"Cadbury's painstaking inquiry [is] a fascinating example of how science can collaborate with historical research . . . [An] impressive conclusion to the Lost King's story . . . Recommended."—Library Journal

"A highly readable account of the French Revolution and the fate of the dauphin . . . Cadbury does an exemplary job describing the history, the mystery, and the tragic fate of Louis XVII."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



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The Lost King of France
Chapter One"THE FINEST KINGDOM IN EUROPE"Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.--JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU, SOCIAL CONTRACT, 1762 
On Saturday, April 21, 1770, the Austrian archduchess, Maria-Antonia, left her home, the imperial palace of Hofburg in Vienna, forever and embarked on the long journey to France. On departure, in the courtyard in front of the palace, the royal entourage assembled. Two grand berlines lavishly upholstered in blue and crimson velvet and decorated with fine embroidery
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  • Deborah Cadbury

  • Deborah Cadbury is an award-winning journalist specializing in the fundamental issues of science and history and their effects on today's society. She is also the author of the highly acclaimed books Terrible Lizard and The Estrogen Effect. She has produced science programs for BBC television and has won numerous international science film awards, including an Emmy. She lives in London, England.