Louis XVI and smallpox inoculation: four royal health bulletins (June 24, 25, 26 and 29, 1774)

Louis XVI and smallpox inoculation: four royal health bulletins (June 24, 25, 26 and 29, 1774)

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  • Health report for the vaccination of Louis XVI, the count of Provence, the count of Artois and the countess of Artois

  • Health report for the vaccination of Louis XVI, the count of Provence, the count of Artois and the countess of Artois

  • Health report for the vaccination of Louis XVI, the count of Provence, the count of Artois and the countess of Artois

  • Health report for the vaccination of Louis XVI, the count of Provence, the count of Artois and the countess of Artois

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Title: Health report for the vaccination of Louis XVI, the count of Provence, the count of Artois and the countess of Artois

Author :

Creation date : 1774 -

Date shown: June 24, 1774

Dimensions: Height 255 cm - Width 195 cm

Technique and other indications: prints

Storage location: National Museum of the Palace of Versailles (Versailles) website

Contact copyright: RMN-Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / Gérard Blot Link to image

Picture reference: 98-019581 / RH2a

Health report for the vaccination of Louis XVI, the count of Provence, the count of Artois and the countess of Artois

© RMN-Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / Gérard Blot

To close

Title: Health report for the vaccination of Louis XVI, the count of Provence, the count of Artois and the countess of Artois

Author :

Creation date : 1774 -

Date shown: June 25, 1774

Dimensions: Height 255 cm - Width 195 cm

Technique and other indications: printed

Storage location: National Museum of the Palace of Versailles (Versailles) website

Contact copyright: RMN-Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / Gérard Blot Link to image

Picture reference: 98-019585 / RH2b

Health report for the vaccination of Louis XVI, the count of Provence, the count of Artois and the countess of Artois

© RMN-Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / Gérard Blot

To close

Title: Health report for the vaccination of Louis XVI, the count of Provence, the count of Artois and the countess of Artois

Author :

Creation date : 1774 -

Date shown: June 26, 1774

Dimensions: Height 255 cm - Width 195 cm

Technique and other indications: printed

Storage location: National Museum of the Palace of Versailles (Versailles) website

Contact copyright: RMN-Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / Gérard Blot Link to image

Picture reference: 98-019587 / RH2c

Health report for the vaccination of Louis XVI, the count of Provence, the count of Artois and the countess of Artois

© RMN-Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / Gérard Blot

To close

Title: Health report for the vaccination of Louis XVI, the count of Provence, the count of Artois and the countess of Artois

Author :

Creation date : 1774 -

Date shown: June 29, 1774

Dimensions: Height 255 cm - Width 195 cm

Technique and other indications: 98-019593 / RH2e

Storage location: National Museum of the Palace of Versailles (Versailles) website

Contact copyright: RMN-Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / Gérard Blot Link to image

Picture reference: 98-019593 / RH2e

Health report for the vaccination of Louis XVI, the count of Provence, the count of Artois and the countess of Artois

© RMN-Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / Gérard Blot

Publication date: April 2020

Professor of modern history at the University of Nice-Sophia Antipolis.

Historical context

From Louis XV's natural smallpox to Louis XVI's artificial smallpox

On June 24, 1774, the date of the first health report, Louis XVI has been King of France for only a month and a half. The famous Swiss mathematician Daniel Bernoulli then estimated in "Reflections on the advantages of Inoculation [...] read in the public meeting of April 16, 1760" published in the Mercure from France in April 1760, that the life expectancy at the birth of an uninoculated child was 11.5 years while that of an inoculated one increased to 25.5 years. The report of the royal inoculation indicates: "The royal family finally persuaded by the evidence of the most authentic and the most multiplied facts, that there was only one way to put itself henceforth in safety against the misfortunes which it. were still threatening from all sides, suddenly took, alone and without foreign impulse, the courageous party to have recourse to inoculation ”, which is official communication. Voltaire himself urges the Bourbons: "It is our misfortune that truths and discoveries of all kinds have long been the subject of contradictions among us; but, when such a dear interest speaks, the contradictions must be silent ”. The inoculation therefore concerns the two brothers of the king: Monsieur - the count of Provence, future Louis XVIII - and the count of Artois - future Charles X - and the countess of Artois. They are relayed by the authorities and feed the official communication of the monarchy in particular in order to counter rumors.

Image Analysis

An official medical bulletin

The bulletin looks like an official document, starting with the arms of France, the mention of the king’s printing press at Versailles. It indicates their place of containment since June 17: Marly, the date: here June 24, 1774, and the time when the first press release stops the clinical condition of the four inoculated. For each of them, the opinion is signed by the same four doctors: Lieutaud, Lassone, Richard - the inoculator, nicknamed in Parisian salons Richard-sans-Peur according to Mme du Deffand - and Jauberthon. De la Bordere, Buffon and Portat signed the health reports for the count of Provence, the count and countess of Artois, but not that of the king.

The medical opinion describes the clinical state of the patients and the symptoms of the disease: fever, heralding the eruptive affection, "universal malaise", that is to say generalized pain, headaches, itching. We observe that if the four bulletins are separated, they are associated in their layout, because it is indeed a collective inoculation. The clinical condition of the Count of Provence is therefore compared to that of the king, in whom the local reactions to inoculation are stronger. The Count and Countess of Artois bring up the rear and the condition of the future Charles X is compared to that of the future Louis XVIII. The very presentation therefore associates the king with his brothers the brothers but follows the order of succession to the throne, the royal couple not yet having children (their births took place between 1778 and 1785).

The following bulletins, from June 25, 26 and 29, specify the progression of the symptoms, with more restless nights. If they are confined to Marly, the bulletins say they are walking in the park. Clinically, the bulletin of the 29th is reassuring for the king: eleven days after inoculation suppuration is abundant and the first spots are drying out.

Interpretation

Putting it into perspective: How to manage communication around the health of heads of state?

This health bulletin is not the only monarchical communication on the subject of the inoculation of 1774. One of the signatories, Lassone, writes a detailed account of the intervention which, in print, is read in front of the Academy of Sciences July 20. These various publications, which daily follow the evolution of the health of Louis XVI and the heirs presumptive to the crown, clearly show that the separation between the private and the public is meaningless for a sovereign of the XVIII.e century. The same is true a few years later, when the public space rises with rumors about the alleged - wrongly - impotence of the king. When his brother-in-law, Emperor Joseph II, even comes to Versailles to talk to the royal couple, the courtiers want at all costs to know the content of their exchanges. Soon, the chansonniers glossed over Charlot and Toinette.

In a monarchical regime, the political stake is essential: in the event of royal illness, it would be necessary to inform at the same time to silence rumors but above all to reassure to prevent any risk of disorder and to maintain the subjects' love for their sovereign. Scientific advice is clearly put forward; it is noted that there is no Secretary of State at the King's Household or Principal Minister among the signatories. Under the Ve Republic, the presidents-in-office have also had to grapple with the disease and the public's expectations in terms of information about their health. Georges Pompidou’s illness was killed until the end, but contemporaries were able to watch his physical transformation on television - a big difference from the XVIIIe century. François Mitterrand announces that he will publish a regular health bulletin, but is also silent about his fight against cancer.

  • absolute monarchy
  • Louis XVI
  • Charles X
  • Louis XVIII
  • Louis XV
  • smallpox
  • medicine
  • disease
  • epidemics
  • Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet, said)
  • castle of Marly

Bibliography

Pierre Darmon, Smallpox, nobles and princes. Louis XV's small fatal pox, Brussels, Complexe editions, 1989.

Catriona Seth, Kings also died of it. Enlightenment in the fight against smallpox, Paris, Desjonquières, 2008.

To cite this article

Pierre-Yves BEAUREPAIRE, "Louis XVI and smallpox inoculation: four royal health bulletins (June 24, 25, 26 and 29, 1774)"


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