Naündorff—Soi-Disant  Louis XVII. of France

One evening, while Napoleon I. was still reigning at the Tuileries and guiding the destinies of France, a stranger appeared in the marketplace of Brandenburg, in Prussia. He had travelled far, was very tired, and sat him down to rest. But the Prussian police had then, and have still, a deep dislike to weary tramps; and the poor wayfarer had not been long seated when he was accosted, by the guardians of the peace, who demanded his papers. The stranger told them he had none, that he was very weary, that he liked the town, and that he had resolved to take up his abode in it. The police were astounded by his coolness, and continued to ply him with questions. They asked what his station in life was, when he seemed a little confused; but ultimately said he was a watchmaker. They demanded his name, and he said it was Naündorff, but whence he had come he refused to tell; and his sole worldly possession was a seal, which, he said, had belonged to Louis XVI. of France. The police kept the seal, and, finding that they could elicit no further information from the mysterious being who had thrust himself so unceremoniously into their dull town, permitted him to settle down quietly in Brandenburg.

Without tools, without money, without friends, he found life hard enough at first; but an old soldier and his sister took pity upon him, and took him into their house. To them he first declared himself to be Louis XVII., and narrated the manner of his escape from the Temple. He told them all about Simon and his cruelty, and described the dungeon in which he was confined, the iron wicket, and the loathsomeness of the place. He said he recollected some persons attending him who, he thought, were doctors; but he was afraid of them, and would not answer their questions. As the result of their visit, however, he was cleaned, his room was put in order, and the wicket was torn down.

About this time, he said, his friends determined to rescue him; but they found the guard at the Temple too numerous and too vigilant to allow them to carry out their plans, or to remove him from the place. Accordingly they hit upon a strange device, and resolved to conceal him in the building. They determined to take him from the second floor which he occupied, and hide him in the fourth storey of the Temple. Sometime in June, 1795, an opiate was administered to him, and he fell into a drowsy condition. In this state he saw a child, which they had substituted for him in his bed, and was himself laid in a basket in which this child had been concealed under the bed. He perceived as in a dream that the effigy was only a wooden doll, the face of which had been carved and painted to imitate his own. The change was effected while the guard was relieved, and the new guard who came on duty was content to perceive an apparently sleeping figure beneath the bedclothes, without investigating too closely whether it were the dauphin or not. Meantime the opiate did its work, and not even his curiosity could prevent him from dropping off into insensibility.

When he recovered consciousness he found himself shut up in a large room which was quite strange to him. This room was crowded with old furniture, amongst which a space had been prepared for him, and a passage was left to a closet in one of the turrets, in which his food had been placed. All other approach was barricaded. Before the transfer had taken place, one of his friends had told him that, in order to save his life, he must submit to hardship and suffering, for a single imprudent step would bring destruction, not only on himself, but on his benefactors. It was, therefore, agreed that he should pretend to be deaf and dumb. On awaking he remembered the injunctions of his friends, resolved that no indiscretion on his part should endanger their safety, and waited with patience and in silence in his dreary abode, being supplied at intervals with food, which was brought to him during the night by one of his protectors.

His escape was discovered on the same night on which it took place; but the government thought fit to conceal it, and caused the wooden figure to be replaced by a deaf and dumb boy. At the same time the guard was doubled, to give the public the idea that the dauphin was still in safe-keeping. This extra precaution prevented his friends from smuggling him out of the Tower, as they had intended; but, in order to deceive the authorities, they despatched a boy under his name, in the direction, he believed, of Strasburg. At this time he was about nine years and a half old, and his long imprisonment had rendered him accustomed to suffering. Throughout the long winter he endured the cold without a murmur; and no one guessed his hiding-place, for the room was disused and was never opened, and if any one had by chance entered it, he could not have been seen, as even the friend who visited him could only reach him by crawling on all-fours, and when he did not come the captive remained patiently in his concealment. Frequently he waited for several days for his food; but no murmur escaped his lips, and he was only too glad to endure present suffering in the hope of future safety.

While he was thus stowed away in the upper storey of the Temple Tower, a rumour spread abroad that the dauphin had escaped, and the government took the alarm. It was decided that the deaf and dumb boy, who had been substituted for the doll which had taken his place, should die, and to kill him poison was mixed with his food in small quantities. The captive became excessively ill, and Desault, the surgeon, was called in, not to save his life, but to counterfeit humanity. Desault at once saw that poison had been administered, and ordered an antidote to be prepared by a friend of his own, an apothecary called Choppart, telling him at the same time that the official prisoner was not the son of Louis XVI. Choppart was indiscreet, and betrayed the confidence which had been reposed in him; and the floating rumour reached the authorities. In alarm lest the fraud should be detected, they removed the deaf and dumb child, and substituted for him a rickety boy from one of the Parisian hospitals. To make assurance doubly sure, according to Naündorff's version, they poisoned both Desault and Choppart, and the substituted rickety boy was attended by physicians, who, never having seen either the real dauphin, or the deaf and dumb prisoner, naturally believed it was the dauphin they were attending.

After recounting further and equally remarkable adventures, Naündorff declared that he was conveyed out of France, and was placed under the care of a German lady, with whom he remained until he was about twelve years of age. He could not recollect either the name or place of residence of this lady, and only remembered that she was kind to him, and that he used to call her "bonne maman!" From her custody he was transferred to that of two gentlemen, who carried him across the sea; but whether they took him to Italy or America he could not tell. One of these gentlemen taught him watchmaking, a craft which he afterwards used to very good purpose. He had a distinct recollection of an attempt which was made to poison him, but the draught was taken by somebody else, who died in consequence. In 1804, while in the neighbourhood of the French frontier, near Strasburg, he was arrested, and was cast into prison, where he remained under the strictest guard and in the greatest misery till the spring of 1809, when he was liberated by a friend named Montmorin, through the aid of the Empress Josephine. Montmorin and himself then set out for Frankfort-on-the-Maine, and during the journey the former "sewed some papers in the collar of his greatcoat, which would form undeniable proofs of his identity to all the sovereigns of Europe." In 1809, according to his own showing, he was at Stralsund fighting under Major de Schill of the Brunswick dragoons, and, when that redoubtable officer was killed, received a blow on the head which fractured his skull and rendered him unconscious for a long time. In 1810 he was in Italy, where he was recognised by several old officers of Louis XVI., who received him with every mark of loyal respect. Napoleon, he asserted, was aware of his existence, and threatened him with death if he disturbed the public peace; and when, on the downfall of the usurper, he wrote to the European powers urging his claims, his application was coldly passed over in silence, and Louis XVIII. was raised to the throne in his stead.

The credulous soldier and his equally simple sister believed this wonderful tale, and pressed their royal visitor to continue to receive their humble hospitality. Between them a letter was addressed to the Duchess of Angoulême, announcing the existence of a brother, who would be found to be the real man, and no counterfeit. A similar letter was sent to the king, and another to the Duchess de Berri; but all the three missives were careful to state that the Duke of Normandy had no desire to sit upon the throne or to disturb the tranquillity of France, but would be content to accept a reasonable pension and hold his tongue—to surrender all his claims, and retire into obscurity for ever, if he were well paid. His letters remained unanswered, but he returned to the attack, and indulged the Duchess of Angoulême with a multitude of letters, in which he implored her good offices for a brother who needed only to be seen to be recognised. But the duchess remained silent. At length he announced to the French royal family his intention of marrying a young girl only fifteen years of age, the daughter of a Prussian corporal. He could not, of course, expect that such a step would be agreeable to the other members of the House of Bourbon, but he valued his love more than his pride, and if his royal uncle would only grant such an allowance as would enable himself and his wife to live in a position of independence, he would trouble him no more, and the world need never know that the son of Louis XVI. was alive, and had perpetrated a mésalliance. But Louis XVIII. was obdurate, and would not listen even to the seductive voice of Hymen. The young couple were allowed to wed, but they had to look for their means of livelihood elsewhere.

For a time Naündorff was equal to the occasion, and supported the corporal's daughter and his rising brood by cleaning the watches and clocks of the Brandenburgers. But trouble came upon him. The house of his next door neighbour took fire, and the watchmaker was suspected of being the incendiary. He was arrested and thrown into prison; his wife and children were turned into the street; and, although his innocence was unequivocally proved, his trade was ruined, and he had to flee from the midst of the distrustful and suspicious folks among whom he had laboured and loved and wedded.

By the exertions of one of the few friends who remained to him Naündorff was appointed foreman in a watchmaking factory at Crossen, and thither he removed, carrying with him his wife and the half-dozen children who had blessed his union. But the distance was long, the roads were bad, and the man was poor. When Naündorff reached Crossen on foot with his weary and half-famished band he found that the post which he had come to obtain had been given to another, and abandoned himself to despair. Then the plebeian energy of the corporal's daughter rose superior to the weakness of her royal husband. She obtained a temporary shelter, procured needlework, and, by her unaided efforts, managed to keep the wolf from the door. After a little delay work was obtained for Naündorff also; and as his spirits revived his hopes and pretensions revived also. Little by little he told his story to his fellow-workmen, who paid no heed to it at first, but nicknamed him in derision "the French prince." But the tale was improving as it got older, and by-and-by he could number among his followers the syndic of the town, one of the preachers, a magistrate, and a teacher of languages. The syndic, in particular, was an enthusiastic partizan, and himself addressed a letter to the Duchess of Angoulême and to the principal courts of Europe. He also took a journey to Berlin to claim from the authorities the seal which Naündorff said had been taken from him by the Brandenburg police—the same seal which Louis XVI., as he was passing to execution, had handed to Clery with his dying injunction to deliver it to his son. The government very sharply ordered their subordinate back to his post, telling him that they knew nothing of Naündorff, but that they were well aware that Clery had handed the jewel which he mentioned to Louis XVIII., who had rewarded him with the riband of St. Louis. The syndic left Berlin in haste, and arrived at home full of chagrin. He concealed himself from public view, and shortly afterwards sickened and died. Naündorff declared he had been poisoned.

The discomfited impostor, finding that he was not likely to be able to move the world from his retirement at Crossen, quietly disappeared from that humble town, and was lost to the public gaze for a considerable period. His movements about this time were very mysterious; but it is proved with tolerable certainty that he repaired to Paris, and his visit to the French capital may have had something to do with the visions of Martin of Gallardon. This man was an ignorant peasant, and, being a sort of clairvoyant, pretended that, as the result of a vision, he knew that the son of Louis XVI. was still alive. He said that, in the year 1818, while he was at mass in the village church at Gallardon, an angel interrupted his devotions by whispering in his ear that the dauphin of the Temple was alive, and that he (Martin) was celestially appointed on a mission to Louis XVIII. to inform him of the fact, and to announce to him that if he ever dared to be formally crowned the roof of the cathedral would fall in and make a very speedy ending of him and his court. The king was prevailed upon to grant an interview to this impostor, and made no secret of his message. Therefore, when year after year passed without a formal coronation, the superstitious whispered that Louis knew better than tempt the Divine vengeance, and, although he sat upon the throne, was well aware that he had stolen another man's birthright, and that the dauphin of the Temple was still alive.

But people were beginning to forget the existence of the watchmaker of Crossen, when one evening, in the autumn of 1831, a traveller entered one of the best frequented inns at Berne, in Switzerland. Attached to this inn was a parlour, in which some of the most jovial of the local notables were accustomed to pass their evenings, gossiping over the occurrences of the day, and whiling away an hour or so with a quiet game at dominoes. The stranger was a pleasant-looking man, of from forty to forty-five years of age, and preferred the good company of the familiar parlour to the dulness of his private sitting-room, or the staid society of the public salon. He said his name was Naündorff, and by his affability soon made himself such a general favourite that one of the leading habitués  of the place invited him to his house and introduced him to his family. In private life he shone even more brilliantly than in the mixed company of the hotel. There was a certain dignity about his appearance which seemed to proclaim him a greater personage than he at first claimed to be, and his host was not greatly astonished when, after the lapse of a fortnight, he confided to him the secret that Naündorff was merely an assumed name, and that he was in reality the Duke of Normandy, the disinherited heir to the French throne. The whole family rose in a flutter of excitement at the presence of this distinguished guest in their midst. They had no doubt of the truth of his story, and one daughter of the house urged him to take prompt and decisive measures to recover his crown. As far as her feeble help could go it was freely at his service. The mouse has e'er now helped the lion; and this enthusiastic girl was not without hope that she might render some assistance in restoring to France her legitimate king. She became amanuensis and secretary to Naündorff, compiled a statement from his words and documents, laid it before the lawyers, and they pronounced favourably, and advised the claimant to proceed without delay to Paris and prosecute his cause vigorously. He went.

On a May morning in 1833, the watchman of the great Parisian cemetery at Père la Chaise discovered a dust-stained traveller sleeping among the tombs, and shaking him up demanded his name, and his reason for choosing such a strange resting-place. His name he said was Naündorff; but as he only spoke German the curiosity of the guardian of the place was not further satisfied. In a short time the same individual met a gentleman who could speak German, who took pity upon his apparent weakness and ignorance of the gay capital, and who, when he heard that he had arrived on foot the night before, and was utterly destitute, advised him to apply to the old Countess de Richemont, as one who was proverbially kind to foreigners, and had formerly been one of the attendants on the dauphin who died in the Temple. The stranger was profuse in his thanks, muttered that the dauphin was not dead yet, and set out for the Rue Richer, where the countess lived.

He obtained easy access to the presence of the lady, and announced himself as the Duke of Normandy. The countess acted in orthodox fashion, and straightway fainted, but not before she had hurriedly exclaimed that he was the very picture of his mother Marie Antoinette. The first joyful recognition over, and all parties being sufficiently calm to be practical, the countess produced the numerous relics which she possessed of the happy time when Louis XVI. reigned in Versailles. The duke recognised them all down to the little garments which he had worn in his babyhood. She mentioned scars which were on the body of the youthful prince, and her visitor assured her that he had similar marks which he could show in private. The countess was wild with delight, ordered him to be placed in the best bed the mansion could afford, sent for a tailor, and had him clothed as befitted his rank, and invited her royalist friends to come and pay their homage to their recovered king. They came in crowds, and to all and sundry, the pretender told the story of his escape from the Tower. They were disposed to be credulous, and the majority yielding readily to the prevalent enthusiasm, proclaimed their belief in his truth, and promised their assistance to restore him to his own again. A few were dubious, and one lukewarm Bourbonist remarked, "You were an extremely clever child, and spoke French like an angel. How is it you have so completely forgotten it?" The duke replied that thirty-seven years of absence was surely a sufficient explanation of his ignorance; but a few held a different opinion and retired, and by their withdrawal somewhat damped the general enthusiasm.

But there was a safe and certain method of arriving at the truth. The duke was taken in haste to be confronted with the seer, Martin, who was then living in the odour of sanctity at St. Arnould, near Dourdin. That fanatic no sooner beheld the stranger than he hailed him as king, and told his delighted auditory that he was the exact counterpart of the lost prince, who had been revealed to him in a vision. The question of identity was considered solved, the whole party proceeded to the church to return thanks for the revelation which had been made, and the village bells were rung to celebrate the auspicious event. The noble ladies who were attached to the pretender influenced the priests, the priests influenced the peasantry, and Martin, the clairvoyant and quack, exerted a powerful influence over all. Money was wanted, and contributions flowed in abundantly, until the so-called Duke of Normandy found his coffers filling at the rate of fifty thousand pounds a-year.

Thus suddenly enriched, he set up a magnificent establishment in Paris. His horses and carriages were among the most splendid in the Champs Elysées, his banquets were equal to those of Lucullus, his name was in every mouth, and people wondered why the government did not interpose. They were afraid, said some, to touch the sacred person of the man they knew to be king; they did not care to meddle with an obvious impostor, whose crest was a broken  crown, said others; but his partizans maintained that their silence was more dangerous than their open enmity, and that the crafty Louis Philippe had given orders that his rival should be assassinated. They declared that this was no mere supposition, for late on one November evening, when the duke was returning to his quarters in the Faubourg St. Germain, across the Place du Carrousel, a dastardly assassin sprang upon him and stabbed him with a dagger. Fortunately for the illustrious victim he wore a medallion of his sainted mother, Marie-Antoinette, and the metal disc caught the point of the weapon, and received the full force of the blow; but nevertheless a slight wound was inflicted, and the duke staggered home wounded and bleeding. He was too confused to report the circumstance at any of the guard-houses which he passed, but in his own mansion he showed the dint of the cowardly blade, and the cut on his flesh. It was disgraceful, cried his adherents; it was ridiculous, said his opponents; and they did not hesitate to add, that if blow there had been it was self-inflicted.

But if the calumny was intended to destroy the faith of Naündorff's partizans, it failed in its effect. Their zeal waxed hotter than ever; their contributions flowed even more freely than before into his treasury; and they conceived the idea of solacing his misfortunes by providing him with a wife. Unfortunately, there remained the long-forgotten daughter of the corporal and her progeny who were alive and well, although somewhat impoverished, at Crossen. Their existence had to be declared, and as it was not seemly that they should be longer separated from their illustrious lord and master, they were sent for, and a governess was provided for the youthful princes and princesses. It was now the turn of the lion to help the mouse. The lady who was selected for the post was the enthusiast of Berne—the same damsel who had acted as scribe to the wandering heir—the daughter of the gentleman who had been the first to penetrate the thin disguise of the illustrious stranger in the cosy parlour of the inn.

The new governess was a real acquisition to the household, and devoted herself more to politics than tuition. Once more the duke resumed his habit of letter-writing, and epistles both supplicatory and minatory were showered upon the Duchess of Angoulême and the Duchess de Berri. To the former, however, the pretender generally wrote as to a beloved sister, whose coldness and reluctance to receive him caused him the keenest pain. He offered to satisfy her as to his identity by incontrovertible proofs, and recalled one circumstance which ought to dissipate her last lingering doubts as to his truth. He reminded her that when the royal family were confined together in the Temple, his aunt the Princess Elizabeth, and his mother Marie-Antoinette, had written some lines on a paper; which paper was subsequently cut in two and given one half to "Madame Royale," and the other half to the dauphin. "When we meet," said the pretender, "I will produce the corresponding half to that which you possess. It has never been out of my possession since our fatal separation." Even this appeal failed to move the duchess, and failed simply because she had never heard of the existence of any such divided document.

But the claims even of righteous claimants are apt to become wearisome to the public, and the interest in them dies away unless it is now and again fanned into a flame. The Duke of Normandy found it so, and devised a new means of attracting attention. Although he had gone with his followers to return his grateful thanks to God at the shrine of St. Arnould, he was not a member of the Roman Catholic Church, but he discovered the error of his past ways, and was desirous to embrace the orthodox faith. Accordingly, he was openly received as a disciple and proselyte in the church of St. Roche. His conversion was followed by that of his wife and children; but it cost him a very good friend. It was hoped that the governess would have consented to change her creed with the others. But the Swiss girl was a good and conscientious Protestant, and this wholesale conversion aroused her suspicions as to the cause in which she was engaged; she reviewed the pretensions of the duke a little more judiciously than she had ever done before, and as the result of her investigations, threw up her post and returned to her father, convinced that she had been ignorantly aiding an imposture.

But if he lost a very efficient assistant, he gained many partizans who had only refrained from acknowledging him previously by a fear lest the throne should be snatched from the Catholic party. These late adherents came to pay their homage bringing gifts, and their accession to his ranks and their contributions to his purse stimulated the duke to still more ostentatious displays of regal magnificence. His court grew to an alarming size, and at last a hint was sent from the prefecture of police, that if he did not moderate his pretensions, and behave with greater circumspection, it would be necessary for him to have an interview with the judges of the Assize Court. The threat was quite sufficient. Naündorff withdrew to a quiet abode in the Rue Guillaume, and granted his interviews in a more secret manner. Indeed, from open clamour he turned to underhand plotting, and so mysterious was his conduct that his landlord requested him to betake himself elsewhere. He found a yet more retired asylum, and still more suspicious-looking friends, until the police began to suspect that a conspiracy was on foot, and favoured him with a domiciliary visit. They seized his papers and read them; but they treated him with no great severity. They hired three places in the diligence which, in 1838, travelled between Paris and Calais. The duke occupied one of these seats, and two police agents the others, and when they reached the famous little port, his attendants placed him on board the English packet, and watched her speeding towards Dover with the prisoner of the Temple as a present to the English nation.

The duke established himself at Camberwell Green, and made it his earliest care to write to the Duchess of Angoulême, soliciting her good offices on behalf of her unfortunate brother, who had been so vilely treated by the government of Louis Philippe, and had been cast out from the country over which he should have ruled. In England he devoted himself to the manufacture of fireworks and explosive shells; and while he obtained the commendation of the authorities at Woolwich for his ingeniously-contrived obuses, aroused the ire of the inhabitants of Camberwell, who could not sleep because of the continuous explosion of concussion-shells on his premises. They summoned him before the magistrates as a nuisance, and he transferred his establishment to Chelsea. Here the emissaries, or supposed emissaries, of the French king, pursued him. An attempt was made to shoot him, and he made it a pretext for leaving a country where his life was not safe, and retired to Delft, in Holland, where he died in very humble circumstances, on the 10th of August, 1844.