The Identification of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in Unmarked Graves

The fate of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, the ill-fated monarchs of France during the French Revolution, has long fascinated historians and enthusiasts alike. After their executions in 1793, their remains were buried in unmarked graves, leaving their final resting place shrouded in mystery for decades. This article explores the fascinating journey of how the bodies of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were finally identified, shedding light on a remarkable feat of historical research.

The Execution and Burial

The execution and subsequent burial of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette marked a tragic end to their reign during the turbulent years of the French Revolution. The events surrounding their deaths and the manner in which they were buried reflect the tumultuous nature of the times and the desire of the revolutionaries to erase any trace of their monarchy.

The Execution of Louis XVI

On January 21, 1793, Louis XVI, the last Bourbon king of France, faced the guillotine in Paris. Found guilty of treason by the National Convention, he was sentenced to death, becoming the first king in Europe to be executed by his own people. The execution took place in the heart of the city at the Place de la Révolution (now the Place de la Concorde).

The execution of Marie Antoinette

After the execution of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, the former Queen of France, endured months of imprisonment, isolation, and interrogation. On October 16, 1793, she too faced the guillotine. Accused of various crimes against the French people, she met her fate in the same place as her husband.

Buried in unmarked graves

In an effort to erase any trace of the monarchy and symbolize the equality of death, the revolutionaries chose to bury Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in unmarked graves. The bodies were buried in the cemetery of the Church of the Madeleine, near the Place de la Révolution. To further conceal their identities, only their initials were used on the burial registers.

Anonymity and symbolism

The decision to bury the monarchs in unmarked graves reflected the revolutionary fervor and the desire to eliminate the symbols of the old regime. By denying them individual markers or graves, the revolutionaries sought to emphasize the end of the monarchy and the rise of the egalitarian ideals of the Revolution.

The transfer to the Errancis’ cemetery

In 1794, during the Reign of Terror, the remains of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were exhumed and transferred to the Cimetière des Errancis. This cemetery, located in what is now the northeastern suburbs of Paris, served as a mass burial site for the victims of the Revolution.

The fate of the cemetery

Over time, the cemetery of the Errancis fell into disrepair and was finally closed in 1811. The abandoned graves were left unmarked, and the exact locations of the remains became uncertain.

The transfer to the Errancis cemetery

In 1794, during the Reign of Terror, the remains of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were exhumed and transferred, along with other victims of the Revolution, to the Errancis cemetery, a former quarry outside of Paris. Here, the bodies were thrown into two common pits without any individual identification.

The discovery of the graves

Decades later, in 1815, the Bourbon monarchy was restored in France, rekindling interest in the fate of the executed monarchs. Charles X, the brother of Louis XVI, ordered an investigation to locate and identify the remains of his brother and sister-in-law.

The Search for Clues

The search for clues to the final resting places of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette has been a challenging endeavor, requiring meticulous research and a deep understanding of historical accounts and testimony. Historians, researchers, and investigators set out to uncover the hidden truth, piecing together fragmentary evidence and oral histories to shed light on the locations of the unmarked graves.

Historical accounts and testimonies

The first phase of the search involved examining historical accounts and testimony from individuals who witnessed or had knowledge of the burials. These sources provided valuable insight into the circumstances surrounding the execution and burial of the monarchs. Surviving records, memoirs, and correspondence were examined to identify any references to the burial sites.

Eyewitness interviews

Investigators sought out individuals who were present at the burials or had knowledge of the events surrounding them. Eyewitness testimony was crucial in narrowing down potential locations and gathering specific details about the burial sites.

Working with Cemetery Officials

Working with cemetery officials and staff was instrumental in gaining access to burial records and archives. By studying burial registers, ledgers, and other administrative documents, researchers sought to identify any entries or notations that might provide clues to the resting places of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

Geographical surveys

Conducting geographic surveys of the areas where the bodies were believed to be buried played an important role in the search. Researchers studied maps, historical plans, and architectural drawings to determine the layout and boundaries of the cemeteries. This information helped narrow the search area and focus on specific sections or plots within the cemeteries.

Archaeological Excavations

In some cases, archaeological excavations were conducted to locate potential burial sites. This involved careful excavation and examination of areas identified through historical research and testimony. The goal was to discover any human remains or burial markers that could be associated with Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

Analysis of burial practices

Researchers studied the burial practices of the time to gain insight into how people were buried during the French Revolution. Understanding the customs and procedures of the time helped guide the examination and interpretation of the available evidence.

Comparison with Contemporary Accounts

Detailed contemporary accounts, such as diaries, letters, and newspaper articles, were compared and cross-referenced to corroborate information and establish a timeline of events. By analyzing multiple sources, researchers were able to validate or refute certain claims and gain a more accurate understanding of the burial process.

Excavation and exhumation

In 1815, under the direction of Commissioner Alexandre Lenoir, a team of workers excavated the cemetery of the Errancis. The remains were exhumed from the common graves and carefully collected for further analysis.

Identification by physical examination

The collected remains were meticulously examined in an attempt to identify the bodies. The skeletal remains were analyzed for characteristics such as age, sex, and signs of injuries consistent with execution by guillotine.

Comparison with contemporary descriptions

Detailed descriptions of the physical appearance of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were available during their lifetimes. These descriptions, along with portraits and other visual representations, were compared to the skeletal remains to determine potential matches.

Verification through DNA analysis

In recent years, advances in DNA analysis have played a critical role in confirming the identities of historical figures. In 2000, a team of scientists used mitochondrial DNA analysis to compare DNA samples from the remains of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette with samples from living members of their family. The results provided conclusive evidence of their identities.

Final resting place

Following the identification process, the remains of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were transferred to the Basilica of Saint-Denis, the traditional burial site of French monarchs. In 1816, they were laid to rest in a grand ceremony, finally finding their rightful place among their ancestors.


The identification of the bodies of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in their unmarked graves is a testament to the meticulous work of historians, investigators, and scientists. Through a combination of historical research, physical examination, and modern DNA analysis, the remains of the ill-fated monarchs were finally located, identified, and given a dignified final resting place. This remarkable journey unraveled the mysteries surrounding their deaths and brought closure to a chapter of history that continues to fascinate and captivate the world.


How were the bodies of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette identified in their unmarked graves?

The bodies of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were identified through a combination of historical records and scientific examination.

After their executions during the French Revolution, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were buried in unmarked graves in the cemetery of the Madeleine in Paris. Over time, the exact location of the graves was lost and the cemetery was eventually destroyed, leaving the royal remains unaccounted for.

In the 19th century, during the reign of Louis XVI’s grandson, King Louis-Philippe, a search was undertaken to locate the royal remains. Historical documents and memoirs were consulted to determine the likely location of the tombs, and in 1815, workers began digging in the area where the royal cemetery was believed to be located.

In 1817, workers discovered several mass graves containing the remains of dozens of individuals, including what were believed to be the remains of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. The identification of the remains was confirmed by a series of scientific tests.

The bodies of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette had been buried in quicklime, a substance that accelerates the decomposition of organic matter. However, some bone fragments and teeth were found and these were used to identify the royal remains. The bones were compared to portraits and descriptions of the king and queen, and were also subjected to forensic analysis.

The scientific investigation revealed that the bones belonged to two individuals, a male and a female, who were approximately the same age as Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette at the time of their deaths. Based on this evidence, it was concluded that the remains were those of the king and queen. The remains were then reburied in the Basilica of Saint-Denis, the traditional burial place of French royalty.

Was Marie Antoinette buried in an unmarked grave?

Marie Antoinette’s body was initially buried in an unmarked grave in the Madeleine cemetery in Paris, near the body of her husband, Louis XVI, who was also executed during the French Revolution. After two decades, her body was exhumed and moved to its current location in the royal necropolis of the Basilica of St. Denis in 1815. Marie Antoinette is now buried in the Royal Necropolis in the Basilica of St. Denis.

What happened to the bodies during the French Revolution?

The bodies of those killed during the French Revolution were disposed of in a variety of ways, depending on the circumstances. In some cases they were buried in mass graves, while in others they were burned or thrown into rivers. In some cases, their bodies were also subjected to post-mortem dissection.

The revolutionaries often removed the bodies of their victims from the place of execution and disposed of them in remote locations to avoid a public spectacle. In the case of mass executions, the bodies were piled up and then burned or thrown into a river.

The bodies of those killed during the Reign of Terror were often sent to medical schools to be used as cadavers in the practice of anatomy and other related medical studies. This was not a new practice, as cadavers had been used for medical research since the early 17th century.

In some cases, the victims of the revolution were buried in mass graves, usually in the presence of members of the clergy. The clergy often recited a requiem for the dead and offered a prayer for their souls.

Ultimately, the disposal of bodies during the French Revolution was a difficult, often chaotic process determined by a variety of factors. In most cases, the bodies of the victims were treated with little or no dignity or respect.

Where are the remains of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette?

Their remains are in the crypt in Saint-Denis, (map of the crypt in Saint-Denis). The praying statues of the husband and wife, Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, were completed in the late 1830’s.

How did they find Marie Antoinette’s body?

Marie Antoinette’s body was not found as a separate and identifiable entity, but rather as a collection of remains along with those of many others.

After Marie Antoinette’s execution by guillotine on October 16, 1793, her body was taken to the Madeleine Cemetery in Paris and buried in an unmarked grave. The cemetery was eventually destroyed and the exact location of the tomb was lost.

In 1815, during the Bourbon Restoration, Louis XVIII authorized an investigation to locate the remains of his brother Louis XVI and other members of the royal family who had been executed during the French Revolution. Based on historical records, memoirs, and other sources, investigators believed that the royal remains were buried in a mass grave in the cemetery where Marie Antoinette had been buried.

In 1817, workers began excavating the area where the cemetery was believed to be located. They eventually uncovered several mass graves containing the remains of dozens of people. The remains were examined by a team of medical and scientific experts who attempted to identify them through a variety of means, including physical characteristics, dental records, and fragments of clothing.

Among the remains found were several pieces of fabric identified as belonging to Marie Antoinette’s dress. Based on this evidence, and the fact that the remains were consistent with the queen’s age and sex at the time of her death, it was concluded that these were likely her remains. It should be noted, however, that the identification process was not definitive and remains a subject of debate among historians and experts today.

The remains of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were later interred in the Basilica of Saint-Denis, the traditional burial place of French royalty.

What happened to the bodies of the French kings?

To hasten the decomposing of their bodies, they were buried in open coffins. In the same year the French desacrated the Royal Tombs at St. Denis. They opened the tombs and took out the bodies, which were dumped in two large pits nearby.

Did they ever find Marie Antoinette’s body?

The bodies of Louis XVI and Marie were discovered during the restoration of the monarchy in France in the early 19th century. Their remains were properly reburied at the Basilica of St Denis on 21 January 1815.

What happened to Marie Antoinette’s head?

Lamballe refused to take an oath against the monarchy, and on September 3, 1792, she was delivered to the hands of a Parisian mob; they cut off her head and paraded it on a pike outside Marie-Antoinette’s windows.

What was Marie Antoinette’s last words?

Found guilty, she was condemned to death and was guillotined on 16 October 1793. Her last words, after accidentally stepping on the foot of her executioner, were “Pardon, monsieur. I did not do it on purpose” (Fraser, 440). The legacy of Marie Antoinette is of a tragic figure, a victim of her time and circumstance.

What did they do with the bodies from the guillotine?

Historians have long believed that the remains of nearly 500 people guillotined during the French Revolution—including Maximilien Robespierre, engineer of the Reign of Terror—are buried in Paris’ catacombs.

Are there any French royalty still alive?

France is a Republic, and there’s no current royal family recognized by the French state. Still, there are thousands of French citizens who have titles and can trace their lineage back to the French Royal Family and nobility.

Did people watch the guillotine?

Guillotine executions were major spectator events.
People came to the place de la Revolution in droves to watch the guillotine do its grisly work, and the machine was honored in countless songs, jokes and poems.

Did Marie Antoinette bow?

In October 1789, when the palace was mobbed, the guards massacred, and a gathering in the courtyard demanded to see her, Marie Antoinette came to the balcony in her nightgown and stood alone and in silence for 10 minutes while muskets pointed at her face. She then bowed her head and returned inside.

How did Marie Antoinette do her hair?

Marie Antoinette Was a Powder Fiend
Nobody showed up at court without it. The powder applied to posh people’s heads consisted of either potato or rice flower starch (or Cyprus powder, which is made from reindeer moss or another similar lichen). Some powders contained additional perfumes and colors.

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