Why Dozens Claimed To Be Marie Antoinette's Dead Son

Marie Antoinette's life in France began the way that many fairy tales end: with mass adulation and a resplendent wedding. The Austrian-born royal was just 14 or 15 when she traveled to Versailles to tie the knot with the future Louis XVI. The welcome she received put concept of a red carpet to shame. Per History, in 1770 she was taken to an island in the middle of the Rhine River, where a royal procession accompanied her to Versailles for her wedding. Already married by Proxy in Vienna, according to History, she and Louis would have a second, in-person ceremony, and that extravagant event had more than 5,000 guests.

The problem with starting a story with a happy ending is that unhappiness comes after. Marie Antoinette and Louis didn't consummate their marriage for seven years because Louis suffered from a "painful medical condition" that required surgery. Once that problem was remedied, the pair produced four children, one of whom was young Louis-Charles, who became heir to the throne at four years old after the death of his brother. Much like his mother, he started off living in luxury. History writes that "the whole palace staff bowed to his every desire." Four years later, the French Revolution blew his world to smithereens.

Unhappily ever after

At about eight years old, Louis-Charles was imprisoned and his parents were executed, according to History. A life of fawning luxury was replaced by cruel contempt. He was neglected, abused, and branded "wolf cub" and "the son of a tyrant." Within two years he "was unrecognizable, covered in sores and his belly distended from malnourishment." At age 10 this tortured child, now suffering from tuberculosis, died in the arms of a jailer.

None of his surviving relatives knew he had died. A doctor conducted an autopsy and removed Louis-Charles' heart with the intention of one day giving it to the child's extended family. What followed was even more heartless. Louis-Charles' body was secretly buried in a mass grave, and a series of impostors would pop up, claiming to be the deceased child. This parade of fraudsters hoped to cash in if ever the royal family returned to power. They hounded Louis-Cadre's surviving sister. Ultimately more than 100 people claimed to be her dead brother.