|Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte of France, circa 1800|
A 200-year-old mystery that links a castle in a German town, a mysterious 'Dark Countess' and the French royal family may be on the cusp of finally being solved. In 1807 a covered carriage arrived in the central German town of Hildburghausen. A man, now known to be Leonardus Cornelius van der Valck, a secretary in the Dutch embassy in Paris from July 1798 to April 1799, got out. With him was an enigmatic and secretive young woman who would go on to fire the imaginations of historians everywhere. Known as the 'Dark Countess', many believed she was none other than Marie Thérèse Charlotte de Bourbon - daughter of the French King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, who were executed during the French Revolution....They are exhuming her grave to collect DNA evidence that can prove once and for all whether the Dark Countess was in fact the ill-fated princess.
The substitution theory claims that Louis XVI had an "operation" and was encouraged by his wicked brother Provence to test himself upon a serving maid. The maid, who was a married woman, gave birth to a daughter named Marie-Philippine Lambriquet. Marie-Antoinette eventually adopted the girl and renamed her "Ernestine" after a character in one of her favorite novels. Ernestine and Madame Royale were educated together.After her parents were guillotined Marie Thérèse was imprisoned in the 'Temple', a notorious former fortress used as a prison during the Reign of Terror. Accepted historical dogma is that afterwards she was taken to Vienna, the capital city of her cousin, the Holy Roman Emperor Francis II, and also her mother's birthplace. It was speculated that she would have refused to rejoin society after her traumatic time in the Temple, where it is rumoured she was subjected to cruelties by the guards - and perhaps even pregnant from rape - and was replaced by Ernestine Lambriquet, her half-sister and childhood companion. The Count gave her name as Sophie Botta, a single woman from Westphalia and refused to confirm what the relationship between the pair was. When she died in November 1837 she was quickly buried, possibly without a religious service, intensifying the speculation. (Read more.)
Later, the legend claims, while Madame Royale was in prison, she was raped and impregnated. She was sent off to Germany to a small town where she was made to wear a green veil and given the name of "Sophie Batta," also known as The Dark Countess. Meanwhile, her wicked uncle Louis XVIII replaced her with her alleged "half-sister" Ernestine, who became the Duchesse d' Angoulême. The Dark Countess rumor was perpetuated by Marie-Thérèse's moroseness and lack of beauty. How could she be the daughter of the beautiful lively Marie-Antoinette? So they assumed that she was someone else.
Here are some glaring points as to why this story is untenable:
1) Louis XVI had no illegitimate children. There is no proof that he had an operation. He was known for his devotion to his wife, fidelity to his marriage vows and his religious scrupulosity. He did not have an affair with a chambermaid and beget Ernestine. There was an Ernestine, a child of servants, whom Marie-Antoinette adopted. (She adopted two other children as well. The queen came from a large family and liked having lots of children around.) There is no evidence that Ernestine was the secret daughter of Louis XVI or of any of the other princes.
2) Louis XVIII would have had to pay off a huge amount of people to buy their silence, and he really did not have all that much money - not enough for that kind of blackmail. He had been an impoverished exile for over 20 years. When he did get hold of some cash, he immediately deposited it in an English bank. The Bourbon family lived on his savings the next time they were all exiled.
3)Louis XVIII may have been clever and devious enough to carry off that kind of a hoax, but the other members of the family were not. His brother Artois (Charles X) was notorious for his lack of discretion. His nephew the Duc d'Angoulême, Madame Royale's husband and cousin, was deeply pious and scrupulously honest, in spite of other innumerable short-comings. He would never have been able to live that kind of a lie. The other nephew, the Duc de Berry, was like his father Artois, completely unable to be devious, no matter how hard he tried.
4) Many faithful retainers and childhood friends of Madame Royale, such as Pauline de Bearn and her mother the royal governess Madame de Tourzel, were close to Marie-Thérèse before and after the Revolution. Both mother and daughter were known as women of honor and to insinuate that they would participate in such a hoax is outrageous to say the least. There were many, many others, who had lost fortunes through being faithful to the royal family and were not the type to sacrifice their principles over such a charade that really served no purpose.
UPDATE: The Dark Countess has been proved to be false.