Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Louis XVIII and the Fortune-teller

Wynnstay, 1827.— In the year 1791 Lady Malmesbury heard at Coblentz, from Monsieur (afterwards Louis XVIII.), the following story. He was once tempted to go in disguise, to consult a famous fortune-teller at Paris: after having heard his own fortune told, he asked the woman whether it was true that she could prophesy of those whom she could not see, merely by a view of their portraits.

She answered in the affirmative; and he produced a picture of Louis XVI. in a masquerade dress, without any of the insignia of royalty. She had scarcely seen the picture when she returned it, exclaiming, 'Ah Dieu, le malheureux! il perira sur l’echafaud.' Monsieur left the woman, laughing in his sleeve at the idea of having so completely deceived her and exposed her ignorance; but when he told the story to Lady Malmesbury, he said, 'Depuis que tant d'evenemens se sont passes en France, cela me donne beaucoup a penser.'

At that period (1791) the King had just accepted the Constitution; his popularity was at the greatest height,* and no event appeared less likely than his execution. At the time when the prophecy was made, several years before the Revolution, the event would certainly have been deemed impossible; and it is evident that nothing could have induced the fortune-teller to allude to it if she had known that the picture represented the monarch whose sway was then absolute.

[From Lady Hart, who wrote down the story immediately after hearing it from Lady Malmesbury.']

Editor's note
* He accepted the Constitution (Sept. 18, 1791) three months after the flight to Varennes, and he was under duress at the time. A somewhat similar story is told of Bernini, the sculptor, who was said to have prophesied the unhappy end of Charles I., on seeing his bust.

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