Friday, 15 June 2018

The Riding Accident of the Duc de Berry

Charles de Bourbon was the youngest son of the Grand Dauphin; like the majority of men in his family he enjoyed a good hunt. It was quite normal for foreign dignitaries and visitors to accompany the royal family on their daily excursions. In 1714 the Elector of Bavaria came to visit Versailles and the Duc de Berry went hunting as usual. 

However, during the hunt an accident occurred. Charles' horse slipped from underneath him and he immediately attempted to pull it back to its feet. Unfortunately, during this attempt Charles allegedly his body was slammed against the pommel. The effect was not long in coming. Soon after the Duc began spitting up blood and was immediately brought back to Versailles. On 30 April fever set in and he was overtaken by shivers. His grand-father, Louis XIV, paid him a visit and witnessed the doctors bleed him. Their opinion was that the blood was "bad"; at any rate it was darker than usual. Some attributed this to a portion of hot chocolate served earlier. 

What they did not know yet was that the impact had resulted in internal bleeding. According to the Saint-Simon they were quite far from the actual cause. One of the apothecaries, Boulduc, declared that he suffered from the same illness that had struck down the Duc and Duchesse de Bourgogne. However, the couple had died of a type of measles - quite different to what was then plaguing the Duc de Berry. It did have one direct consequence: the doctors were sceptic about his recovery from the start. One even went so far as to proclaim that he would not survive on the very first day.

While the doctors were sceptic, the Duc de Berry appeared to have retained some good humour at the end of this first day of illness. He remarked that his only wish was that he had been injured in the army rather than on a hunt. Several sources - including the Marquis de Dangeau - noted how patient and calm the Duc de Berry was during his misfortune. 

Billedresultat for charles duc de berry
Charles de Bourbon

The last night of April was not a pleasant one for Charles. His fever continued to rage and the doctors decided to bleed him again at 7 o'clock the following morning. Sadly for Charles, this second day was full of the "cures" the doctors of the day happily prescribed. Besides bleeding, he was given emetics twice as well as manna. It is hardly a wonder that the following night was not much better. 

On the second day of May the bleeding began again. The doctors reopened the wound on the foot and later opened another one on his arm. Meanwhile Charles continued to vomit up dark blood. The plan had been to administer the communion but since the vomiting seemed unending it was put off. According the Saint-Simon he was given something called Robel water but with little effect. While the Duc was suffering in his sick-room a rather amusing scene played out outside his doors.
His wife, Marie Louise Élisabeth d'Orléans, had arrived and asked permission from the king to go see her husband. The king found this rather irritating especially because the patient - not exactly fond of his spouse - had never asked for her. In the end, Louis XIV asked the Duc and Duchesse d'Orléans to prevent her from going.

For a brief while toward the end of the day the Duc's condition was briefly improved. However, once night fell it plummeted and vomiting continued worse than before. When the morning came the doctors conferred and reached the agreement that a vein in his stomach had burst. His condition was very unstable. One minute he was positively choking on his own blood and the next he was somewhat recovered and could utter his opinion that he would be well again. Sadly, this illusion only lasted a short while before he was taken so violently ill that his confessor urged him to think of nothing but god. 

On 3 May the confessor sent for the sacrament which had conveniently been prepared immediately following the accident. It was brought to the patient who received it in the presence of the king. There was no more talk of recovering.

The following day Charles had a brief conversation with his confessor; the latter could inform the anxious court that "his mind was beginning to wander". It would be the last conversation the Duc de Berry ever had. As the day progressed he lost the ability to speak entirely; he died at four o'clock in the morning of the 4 May 1714.

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