Lost and found in Paris: the bodies of Louix XVI and Marie Antoinette


[The following is excerpted from The History of Paris from the Earliest Period to the Present Day, vol. III, by A. & W. Galignani, 1825.]

Cimetière de la Madeleine.--This cemetery, no longer used as a burial-ground, was a dependence upon the ancient church dedicated to Mary Magdalen, situated in the Ville l'Eveque, and is principally remarkable for having been the place of interment of the unfortunate Louis XVI. and his royal consort. Upon the execution of that monarch, on the 21st of January, 1793, the body and head were deposited in a deep grave in the cemetery de la Madeleine. The queen, Marie Antoinette, was guillotined on the 16th of October in the same year, and, at her own desire, her remains were interred near those of her unfortunate spouse. For a considerable time the cemetery was guarded, lest any attempt should he made to remove the bodies of the royal victims. The church having been [371] long demolished, it was determined, in 1797, to sell the cemetery by auction. M. Descloseaux, [buried in D45 Pere-Lachaise] an ancient advocate of the Parlement, who was proprietor of a house contiguous, became the purchaser. He caused the ground, to be covered with a layer of new mould, and planted as an orchard; the alleys of the old burial-ground were marked out by rows of trees, and the surface covered with turf. The spot where the royal remains were deposited was separated from the rest of the ground by a hedge, above which arose willows and cypresses; and over the grave of the king a small hillock was thrown up, and surmounted by a cross.

By a remarkable coincidence, the royal victims were surrounded by many of their most devoted friends, and some of their bitterest enemies. At their feet lay five hundred of the Swiss guards, who perished on the 10th of August; at a short distance, along the wall, were deposited the most distinguished members of the Parlemens of Paris and Toulouse, the courageous Lamoignon de Malesherbes and mesdames de Rosambo and de Chateaubriand, his daughters; the duchess de Choiseul, the duke de Villeroy, the duchess de Grammont, the count de la Tour-du-Pin, the marquis de la Tour-du-Pin-Gouvernet, the count d'Estaing, the civil lieutenant Angrand d' Alleray; the lieutenant of police Thiroux de Crosne, and the grenadiers of the battalion des Filles-Saint-Thomas, who valiantly defended the king on the memorable 20th of June. A little behind were deposited the bodies of five hundred more of the Swiss guards, who also fell victims to their fidelity on the 10th of August. In the middle of the ground lay Charlotte Corday, who assassinated Marat; and near her, the intendant of the civil list Laporte; Cazotte, du Rozoi, d'Aigremot, the first who perished on the Place Royale for the king's cause; [372] and the eloquent Barnave, who was sacrificed by the populace whom he caressed. On the south were buried Camille Desmoulins, who, with a pistol in his hand, gave the signal in the Palais Royal for revolution and massacre; Danton, Westermann, Hebert, Chaumette, Brissot, Vergniaud, Gensonne, Gorsas, and Bailly. In the same sepulchre with these party-leaders, were buried many victims of their attachment to the government and the religion of their ancestors. Near them were the ashes of the unfortunate persons who perished on the place Louis XV. and in the rue Royale, in 1770, when a fete was given by the city of Paris upon the marriage of the dauphin, afterwards Louis XVI.

Great prudence was requisite on the part of M. Descloseaux to preserve the remains which he had voluntarily taken upon himself to protect. During the ·absence of the house of Bourbon from France, a few of their devoted servants were occasionally admitted to visit the spot, which the owner was frequently solicited to sell. In 1810, an unknown personage, whose appearance denoted opulence, offered to purchase the orchard at ·any price M. Descloseaux might fix. A magnificent hotel in Paris, or an estate in the country, was proposed, but he replied:--"Sir, none of your proposals can ever he acceded to. In purchasing this ground I knew the treasure it possessed, and no offers shall make me alienate it; whilst · there are laws, I will avail myself of them for its defence; and when there are none, I will seize my musket· to punish any one-who dares attempt to deprive me. of the sacred deposit of which I have constituted myself the guardian. I will restore it to none but the family for whom alone I preserve it; and no vile motive of interest shall ever induce me to yield." The family of M. Descloseaux [373] collected carefully the flowers which blossomed upon the royal graves, and sent them annually, with slips of the cypresses, to the duchess of Angouleme in a foreign land.

Upon the restoration of his majesty Louis XVIll., in 1814, the cemetery de la Madeleine was resorted to by natives and foreigners. The king of Prussia visited it a few days after his entry into Paris. When the duchess of Angouleme had returned to the palate of her ancestors, her first care was to visit the sacred spot, where, after giving vent to the anguish of her feelings, her royal highness said to M. Descloseaux, "I did not expect to find such faithful Frenchmen. Good old man, you have religiously preserved the ashes of my parents; your family will be blessed." The duchess afterwards frequently repaired to the cemetery; and on her last visit was accompanied by MONSIEUR. The prince, taking off his cordon of the order of Saint Michael, invested M. Descloseaux with it in the king's name. His majesty also granted him a pension, with reversion in part to his daughters. M. Descloseaux had already ceded the orchard to his sovereign without fixing a price.

His majesty having decreed that the remains of the late king and queen should be disinterred, and deposited in the abbey church of Saint Denis, the ancient burial-place of the kings and royal family of France, the measures requisite to that effect were forthwith adopted. Previous to searching for the remains, it was determined to examine such persons as could give testimony respecting the interments in order that the precise spot might be ascertained. The result of this examination is contained in the following report, presented to the king by the chancellor of France:--

" I, Charles Henry Dambray, chancellor of France, having been charged by your majesty to ascertain and report the circumstances [374] that preceded, accompanied, and followed the interment of their late majesties Louis XVI. and the queen Marie Antoinette, summoned before me, this 22d day of May, 1814, the witnesses whose names bad been handed to me, and received from them the following depositions:--

"François Silvani Renard, formerly rector of the church de la Madeleine, deposed as follows:--‘On the 20t of January, 1793; M. Picavez, curate of the parish de la Madeleine, received an injunction from the executive government to fulfil its commands relative to the obsequies of his majesty Louis XVI. M. Picavez, not possessing the firmness necessary to fulfil so painful and melancholy a duty, alleged indisposition, and appointed me, as his premier vicaire, to occupy his place, enjoining me to adhere strictly, upon my own responsibility, to the orders given by the executive government. No one being more strongly attached to the king than myself, I refused to perform the service; but upon M. Picavez justly observing that a second refusal might bring incalculable evils upon both of us, I consented. Accordingly, the next day, January 21, after ascertaining that the orders of the executive power relative to the quantity of lime, and the depth of the grave, which, to the best of my recollection, was ten or twelve feet deep, had been performed, I remained at the church door, accompanied by the late abbe Damoreau and a cross-bearer, till the body of his majesty should be given into our hands. Upon my demanding the surrender of the body, the members of the department and the commune answered that they were ordered not to lose sight of it for a moment. The abbe Damoreau and myself were therefore compelled to accompany them · to the cemetery situated in the rue d' Anjou. Upon reaching the spot, I ordered the most profound silence to be observed. The king's body was then presented to us. It was dressed in a white dimity waistcoat, and grey silk small clothes and stockings. We sung vespers, and recited all the prayers of the burial service; and it is but just to acknowledge, that the populace, who but a few moments before rent the air with their vociferations, listened attentively to the supplications offered up for the repose of his majesty'soul. The clothes were taken off before the corpse was placed in the coffin, which was then deposited in a grave about ten feet from the wall, into which a quantity of quick lime had been thrown by order of the executive government. The coffin was covered with a layer of lime, upon which the earth was thrown in, and beaten firmly down. We withdrew in silence after this painful ceremony; and, to the best of my recollection, minutes were made by the juge de paix, and signed by the members of the department and the [375] commune. On returning to the church I drew up a register, which was taken by the members of the revolutionary committee, who were waiting in the cloisters.’

"Antoine Lamaignere, juge de paix of the first arrondissement, deposed, that he was not present at the king's interment, but arrived at the spot the moment after the body had been covered with lime. He added, that the spot enclosed in the orchard of M. Descloseaux is really that in which the king was buried.

"Jean-Richard-Eve Vaudremont, registrar to the juge de paix of the first arrondissement, deposed, that in his official capacity he accompanied the juge de paix to the cemetery de la Madeleine, a short time after the king's burial, which took place in the spot marked out in the orchard of M. Descloseaux.

"M. Dominique-Emmanuel Daujon, son-in-law of M. Descloseaux, deposed, that he witneased the interment of both the king and the queen. He saw them both placed in their graves in coffins without lids, which were then filled up with quick lime and earth; the king's head, which had been separated from the body, was placed between his legs; he had never lost sight of the spot, which he regarded as sacred. Upon the purchase of the ground by his father-in-law, the walls were heightened, and the space in which the bodies of their majesties were interred was surrounded by a hedge of elms, near which several cypresses and willows were planted.

"Alexandre-Etienne-Hippolyte, baron de Baye, deposed, that he saw the carriage pass in which the king's body was conveyed to the cemetery de la Madeleine; he did not follow it, but heard it affirmed that the corpse was deposited at the spot since marked out by M. Descloseaux; and that the latter had been offered an hotel in Paris in exchange for the ground, but refused to comply.

"Done and signed at Paris, in the Hotel de la Chancellerie, this 2d day of May, 1814.

(Signed) "Dambray."

This preliminary measure having been executed, it was decreed that the remains of their late majesties should be conveyed to Saint Denis on the 21st of January-following, it being the anniversary of the king's death; and to that effect a commission. was appointed to superintend the exhumation of the bodies. The following is their report:--

"On the 18th of January, 1815, we, Charles-Henry Dambray, chancellor of France; the count de Blacas, minister of the king's household; M. le Bailli de Crussol, knight; M. de la Fare, bishop [376] of Nancy, and chief almonier to the duchess of Augouleme; and M. Phillippe Distel, his majesty's surgeon, commissioners appointed by the king to search for the sacred remains of their late majesties Louis XVI. and the queen Marie Antoinette, his august consort, repaired, at eight o'clock in the morning, to the ancient cemetery de la Madeleine, rue d'Anjou.

"Upon entering the house No. 48, adjoining the cemetery, which had been purchased by M. Descloseaux, and converted into an orchard, in order to preserve the remains deposited therein, we found the said M. Descloseaux, together with M. Daujon his son-in-law, and several other members of his family, who conducted us into the ancient cemetery, and pointed out the spot in which M. Daujon, in his deposition on the 22d of May, 18l4, had declared that he saw the bodies of the king and queen interred.


"Having thus ascertained the spot, we began by searching for the body of the queen, in order that the remains of his majesty might be discovered with the greater certainty, as we had reason to believe that they had been deposited nearer the wall, towards the rue d' Anjou. After the workmen, several of whom had witnessed the interment of the queen, had opened, to the depth of five feet, a space ten feet in length by five or six in breadth, we found a 'bed of lime ten or eleven inches deep, which we ordered to he removed with the greatest care; under this bed we distinctly perceived the outline of a coffin about five feet six inches in length. Following these traces, we discovered, in the depth of the lime, several pieces of board still fastened together. In this coffin we found a number of bones, but several were wanting, having undoubtedly been reduced to dust; the skull was entire, and its position indicated incontestably that it had been severed from· the body. We also found remains of clothing, and particularly two elastic garters, in good preservation. The whole were placed in a chest, and locked up. In another chest were deposited the earth and lime found mixed. with the bones. The opening in the cemetery was then covered with thick planks, and we proceeded to search for the body of the king. To that effect, we caused an opening twelve feet square to be dug between the former opening and, the wal towards the rue d'Anjou. Not finding any lime to indicate that the king's body had been interred there, we considered it necessary to dig a little lower in the same direction, but the approach of night compelled us to suspend the search until the following day. The two chests were removed into M. Descloseaux’s hall, where they were sealed with the arms of France, covered with a pall, and surrounded with lighted tapers. The priests of his majesty's chapel spent the night in the hall; repeating the prayers of the [377] church. The gates of the cemetery were then locked, and a guard stationed round the ground.

"We again repaired to the cemetery at half past eight o'clock on the morning of January 19, attended by the workmen. A deep trench, nearer the wall, being opened in our presence, we discovered some earth mingled with lime, and several small pieces of board, indicative of a coffin. The search was then carried on with the greatest care; but instead of a bed of pure lime, as round the queen's coffin, we found that the earth and lime bad been mixed, but that there was a greater proportion of the latter substance. In this mixture of earth and lime we discovered the bones of a man, several of which were on the point of crumbling to dust; the skull was covered with lime, and placed between the leg-bones. Fragments of clothes were carefully looked for, but none were discovered. We collected all the remains, and placed them, together with some pieces of lime, in a cloth brought for the purpose. Although the spot in which the body was found corresponded with that pointed out by several eye-witnesses of the interment, and the situation of the head left no doubt as to its identity, we nevertheless caused the ground to be dug twelve feet deep to the distance of twenty-five feet, in order to ascertain whether there was any where a bed of pure lime. No such bed being found was a corroboration of the proof, already satisfactory, that the remains we were in possession of were those of the king. These remains were enclosed in a chest, sealed with the arms of France, conveyed into the hall of M. Descloseaux, and placed by the side of those of the queen. The priests continued to repeat the prayers of the church over the two bodies.

"On the 20th of January we proceeded, in pursuance of the king's commands, to the house of M. Descloseaux, where we, the commissioners who had been present at the preceding operations, together with other personages whose right of office, or the king's commands, bad assembled, witnessed the removal of the remains of their majesties into leaden coffins made for that purpose.

"In the presence of these noble and other personages, we broke the seals and opened the chests in which the remains had been deposited. Those of his majesty were placed in a leaden coftin, together with the pieces of lime and wood, and were then soldered down. Upon the lid was fastened a gold plate, with the following inscription:--

Ici est le corps du tres-haut, tres-puissant et tres-excellence prince, Louis XVI. du nom, par la grace de Dieu roi de France et de Navarre.

"The remains of the queen were then deposited in a leaden [378] coffin, in the presence of the same personages, and soldered down. Upon the lid was the following inscription:--

Ici est le corps du tres-haut, tres-puissant et tres-excellente princesse,

Marie-Antoinette -Josephine-Jeanne de Lorraine, archduchesse d’Autriche, epouse du tres-haut, tres-puissant et tres-excellence Louis XVI. du nom, par la grace de Dieu roi de France et de Navarre.

"The coffins were then covered with palls, and the priests were ordered to continue repeating prayers near them till their removal to Saint Denis.

"In proof whereof, etc.

"Paris, January 20, 18i5.

(Signed) "Dambray, De Blacas, De la Fare," etc. etc.

On the 21st of January, 1.815, the remains of the unfortunate Louis XVI. and his royal consort were conveyed to the abbey-church of Saint Denis. At an early hour in the morning, all the regiments in garrison at Paris were under arms, and formed a double line from the rue d'Anjou to the barrier Saint Denis. At eight o'clock, MONSIEUR, accompanied by the duke of Angouleme and the duke of Berry, went from the palace of the Tuileries to the house of M. Descloseaux, and laid the first stone of a sepulchral chapel, upon the spot where the royal remains had been discovered. The coffins were then carried to the funeral car by twelve of the guards de la Manche, and the procession moved forward in the following order:--

A detachment of gendarmes.
The colonel of the king's regiment of huasars.
The trumpeters of the same regiment.
A squadron of the same regiment.
The colonel of the king and queen's regiment of light infantry.
Band and colours of the same regiment.
A detachment of the same regiment.
The governor of the first military division, attended by his stall:
A detachment of the national guards, on horseback.
A detachment of the national guards, 0n foot.
Lieutenant-general Dessolle, attended by the staff of the national guards.
A captain and officers of the king's guards. [379]
A detachment of grenadiers on horseback.
The great officers of the king's household, and those of the princes, in three carriages drawn by eight horses.
A detachment of fusiliers of the king's guards, headed by their officers and band.
A detachment of the light hone of the king's guards, headed by their officers, trumpets, and cymbals.
A number of high personages, appointed by his majesty to attend the procession, in eight carriages drawn by eight horses.
Monsieur, the duke of Angouleme, and the duke of Berry, in a carriage drawn by eight horses.
Four heralds, on horseback.
The king at arms on horseback.
The grand master of the ceremonies, attended by the master of the ceremonies and assistants, on horseback.
Four light horsemen.
Two gentlemen ushers, on horseback.
The funeral car.--At the wheels were the captains of the four compagnies rouge. 0n the sides were six guards de la Manche. It was escorted to the barrier Saint Denis by thirty of the Cent Suisses, headed by their captain.
The equerry of the king’s stables, on horseback.
The captain of the body guards.
The officers of the same corps.
A detachment of the same corps.
A detachment of gendarmes of the king's guards.
A detachment of Monsieur’s guards.
Monsieur’s carriage.
The duke of Angouleme’s carriage.
The duke of Berry's carriage.
A detachment of the national guards on horseback.
A squadron of the king's dragoons.

A detachment of artillery joined the procession at the barrier Saint Denis, and followed it, firing minute guns. A regiment of the king's chasseurs lined the road from Paris to Saint Denis. The drums and musical instruments were covered with black serge, and the arms and colours of the troops were ornamented with crape. A deep and solemn silence prevailed among the multitudes who thronged the streets and road by· which the ·procession passed. [380]


Upon reaching the church of Saint Denis, the bodies were taken from the car by the guards de la Manche, and carried into the church, where they were received by the clergy, and presented by the bishop of Carcassone to the bishop of Aire. They were then placed upon a lofty tomb of state in the midst of the choir. Monsieur, after retiring for a few minutes, entered the church, and was followed by the duke of Angouleme, the duke of Berry, the duke of Orleans, and the prince de Conde, who occupied the stalls on the right nearest the "altar. The duchess of Orleans, the duchess of Bourbon, and mademoiselle of Orleans, entered the opposite stalls. Next to the princes sat the duke 'of Dalmatia, the duke de Reggio, count Barthelemy, and M. Laine, whom the king had appointed to support the pall when the coffins were carried to the vault. The other stalls were occupied by deputations from the Court of Cassation, the Court of Accompts, the Council of the University, the Cour Royale, the Municipality, and the Tribunal de Premiere lnstance. The choir. was filled by the great officers of the king's household, the officers of the princes' households, his majesty's ministers, the high personages appointed to form part of the procession, the marshals and peers of France, the deputies of the departments, the grand crosses of the order of Saint Louis, the grand cordons of the Legion of Honour, the major-general and staff of the national guards, the governor of the first military division and his staff, and a great number of generals and other military officers. The governess of the royal children, the ladies in waiting upon her late majesty, and the ladies in waiting upon the duchess of Angouleme, sat upon benches near the coffins. Four hundred young ladies of the maison royale de Saint Denis were seated in front of the altar.

When all these attendants had taken their places, the [381] service commenced. The princes and princesses, followed by the grand master and master of the ceremonies, and their assistants, approached the altar to present their offerings, after which a funeral oration was delivered by the bishop of Troyes. The absolution having been pronounced, the bodies were lowered into the royal vault, into which Monsiuer and the two princes, his sons, descended, and prostrated themselves upon the coffins of their royal relatives. Salutes of artillery were fired at the moment when the procession set out from Paris, during the service at Saint Denis, and when the bodies were lowered into the vault.

To perpetuate the memory of these august victims, the king has ordained that solemn funeral services shall be performed annually, in all the churches of the kingdom, on the 21st of January, for the repose of the soul of Louis XVI.; and on the 16th of October, for that of his royal consort; and that on those days the court shall wear mourning, and the public offices, courts of justice, exchange, and theatres be closed.

To testify her sense of his unshaken fidelity, the duchess of Angouleme presented to M. Descloscaux portraits of her unfortunate parents; and upon the spot where he for so many years watched over their remains, a sepulchral chapel, after the designs of Fontaine, has been erected. Its form is a parallelogram one hundred and sixty-eight feet in length, by ninety-three and one-half in breadth; it is surmounted by a dome of stone, sculptured in scales, with a demi-cupola on each side, presenting the same ornaments. Two covered galleries, which, with the portico, form a projecting body, consist each of nine arcades, closed by iron gates. Under the arcades are tombs, surmounted by white marble medallions encircled by cypress and poppies; and tablets with [382] inscriptions. At the extremities of the galleries are two large cippi, bearing funereal ornaments, and the inscription—

Has ultra metas quiescunt.

The roof of the galleries is ornamented with garlands of cypress and other emblems. The principal entrance is in the form of a tomb, and leads, by sixteen steps to a vestibule situated at half the height of the galleries; a second flight of steps conducts to a platform, from which rises the portico, consisting of four Doric columns, supporting a pediment. Twelve steps lead into the chapel. The interior of the dome and cupolas is ornamented with roses; through the centre of the former, light is admitted by a window of coloured glass. The pavement is formed of various coloured marble, wrought in mosaic work to correspond with the roof. Around the chapel are fifteen niches, destined to receive statues of the most distinguished victims of the revolution. From this spot a double staircase- leads to a subterranean chapel, in which will be placed a monument to the memory of Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette. The effect of the building, although of small dimensions, is highly imposing, and cannot fail to produce interesting associations in the mind of the beholder.