Monday is Bastille Day and it has always struck me as a little surprising that there were so few reports of the ghosts of the murdered royal family. There was a vague and romantic report in 1907 of Queen Marie Antoinette’s spirit wandering the gardens of the Trianon with her children and, of course, the controversial Adventure of the Misses Moberly and Jourdain. Possibly Marie Antoinette does not need to haunt because she has been so frequently and lavishly reincarnated–if you believe stories of past-life regression–sometimes in multiple individuals in a single generation, rather like the miracle of the loaves and fishes.
Yet no one ever claims they were King Louis XVI in a previous life.
But we do have a story from a man who claims that he saw the ghost of the King, exactly one year after his death on the guillotine. The narrator framing the story is Étienne Léon, Baron de Lamothe-Langon.
“In 1807 I was on terms of intimacy with an individual who enjoyed a considerable share of literary reputation in France, and whose fame is not unknown, even in foreign countries. I allude to Louis-Sebastien Mercier. He was a very eccentric man, singular in every thing, a hater (for I must be a neologist like himself in attempting to portray his character)—he was a hater of Racine, Homer, Boileau, and Newton. His ideas were full of originality, and his conversation was exceedingly entertaining.
“Mercier had been a member of the National Convention, but he had not, like many others, withdrawn, leaving his honor behind him. One day, I was in company with him in the green room of the Comedie Francaise. There were present, besides myself, M. de Cailhava, an enthusiastic admirer of Moliere, and Pellettier-Volmerange, the author of some successful melodramas. We were all engaged in animated conversation, and Mercier said:—
“‘Gentlemen, I am the person who can give you the latest news of Louis XVI.’
“You, Mercier,” we exclaimed, “were you so fortunate as to obtain permission to see him in the Temple?”
“‘I have had the pain of seeing him face to face, as I now see you; and that since his death.’
“Since the King’s death?”
“‘ To you it probably appears so; for you doubt all things, save such as are witnessed by your own eyes: but, nevertheless,’ pursued he solemnly, ‘I saw Louis XVI revisit this world after his death.’
“Where? and at what time?” we inquired.
“‘On the night of the 21st of January 1794, I was hurrying through the streets to call on a sick friend, when, as I was crossing the boulevard, I beheld an immense multitude of people thronging towards an object which apparently excited curiosity. It was a carriage, surrounded by guards, together with several pieces of artillery and cannoniers with their matches ready lighted. In the carriage there was seated a man, whom I immediately recognized to be Louis XVI. Having approached near to me, the carriage stopped, and the King beckoned me to advance, I did so, and he said to me:—
“‘You did not vote for my death. For that you may be thankful for the sake of your own peace of mind. I was sacrificed; and France will dearly pay for shedding the blood, which I should not regret, had it been spilt for her happiness and glory. Most of my assassins will die on the scaffold, or in exile: all will be victims to soul torturing remorse. The government will pass from the hands of one set of tyrants to those of another, until, at length, my family will re-ascend the throne, and close the abyss of revolutions.’
“Louis XVI, having uttered these words, drew his head within the carriage, which then drove on, leaving me astounded and transfixed to the spot. Gradually, the crowd dispersed, and, having recovered from the stupor into which this incident had thrown me, I proceeded onward to my friend’s house.”
“Or rather,” said I to Mercier, ” you awoke.”
“‘I was not asleep’ he replied. ‘The circumstance occurred when I was as perfectly awake as I am at this moment. I swear this on the faith of an honest man, and I never yet swore falsely.’
“This story, gentlemen,” added I, “I declare on my honor I heard from the lips of Mercier; and I heard it not only once, but several times.”
Napoleon Memoirs, Étienne Léon, Baron de Lamothe-Langon, 1837
I had better confess frankly that the problem with this story is that M. le Baron was, not to put too fine a point on it, a liar and forger of historic documents. His History of the Inquisition in France was written using (he said) previously untapped ecclesiastical archives at Toulouse–archives, which, as was discovered in the 20th century, were untapped because they never existed. He also created seemingly authentic books such as the memoirs of the Countess du Barry.
The alleged witness, Louis-Sebastien Mercier [1740-1814] was a dramatist, writer, and member of the National Convention, where he voted against the death of the King. Mercier was aquainted with prophetic utterance: in 1770 he published a futuristic novel of Paris in the year 2440 called L’An 2440, rêve s’il en fut jamais. In this utopian work, meant to expose the rottenness of the ancien regime, Paris was free of priests, prostitutes, pastry-chefs, and dancing-masters, as well as all “useless” literature. Mercier, if he really did speak of his vision of Louis XVI in 1807, had the benefit of hindsight in giving to the late King those lines about the scaffold and soul-torturing remorse. And yet, in 1807, Mercier could not have known that the King’s brother, the Count of Provence, would ascend the throne as King Louis XVIII in 1814. But Lamothe-Langon certainly would have–in 1837.
So we have the ghost of Louis XVI reported by a liar and a imaginative futurist. Can two fantasists make a truth? Any information on whether Lamothe-Langon was right about Mercier’s vision? Or was this just another jeu d’esprit by an historical hoaxer?
Watch out for a man who declares “on his honor….” Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.