The lost king of France

Thank goodness we now have DNA to unravel many of the myths that have flourished around the deaths of historical figures. The famous outlaw Jesse James was killed in 1882. For many years afterwards several elderly men died, claiming they were really Jesse James. In 2000 the body was exhumed by court order. DNA tests proved the real Jesse James had died of a gunshot wound on April 3, 1882.

In 2006, French historian Philippe Delorme used DNA tests to settle a two centuries old myth that the son of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, Louis XVII, had survived. He was the legendary "lost king of France." To protect the integrity of his research, Delorme had the testing conducted independently by scientists at the University of Muenster in Germany and others at Belgium's Louvain University. They produced identical results. Louis XVII died of tuberculosis on 8 June 1795.

The official version was this: The long suffering French people rose in rebellion. Louis XVI and his haughty, Austrian born queen, Marie Antoinette ( "let them eat cake" was her response when told the people were rioting for bread) were beheaded. Their son was imprisoned as Hugh Capet, the royal family name. He was set to work as a cobbler's assistant. The former prince died in prison.

That should have ended the story but a guard claimed that he heard a child's voice coming from the bathtub containing the prince's body as it was carried from the prison. Overnight, rumors blossomed that the child had escaped. The body of a dead boy about his size was substituted for the royal scion. The royalists, who plotted to restore the Bourbon Dynasty, helped to spread the myth. As the years passed, Louis XVII was rumored to be living incognito in the United States.

Mark Twain made use of this farcical rumor when he penned his masterpiece, "The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn." As Huck and his black American friend Jim floated down the Mississippi, two con men, the "Duke" and the "King" joined them on their raft. The King was about seventy which would be Louis's age if he had survived. He identified himself to Huck and Jim as "the lost king of France," and demanded they treat him with the respect due his rank.

The con men made life miserable for Huck and Jim but they were no match for the quick wit of Huckleberry Finn. While the two friends floated on down the river to new adventures, the Duke and King were tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail.

The scientific train is easier to follow. The doctor who performed the autopsy confirmed the boiy had died of TB. Before the corpse was buried in the prison cemetery, he removed the heart which he pickled in alcohol. Later, one of his students stole the historical artifact. On his deathbed the thief asked his wife to return it to the doctor. this time, Napoleon had been defeated and the victorious Allies had restored the Bourbon Dynasty with Louis XVIII. They were no longer interested in the heart. It ended up with some distant relatives in Spain. In 1975 the family had the heart placed in the royal crypt in Paris.

Delorme was allowed to use the heart and a few strands of hair from Marie Antoinette for DNA testing. "It's definitive," he reported. "It was the last little king of France who died in Temple prison."

Twain's king was a fake, but Strawberry Butter is fit for a king.


1 10 oz. package frozen strawberries

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 stick butter, softened

PREPARATION: Put all ingredients into blender. Blend at slow speed until thoroughly mixed. Chill before serving with waffles or pancakes.

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