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The Boy in the Temple

Genetic Analysis of a Royal Mystery


Cheryld L. Emmons
Division of Biology
Alfred University


This interrupted case study examines molecular genetic evidence reported in scientific literature to determine the fate of Louis-Charles, son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette of France. Controversy and rumors surrounding the death of Louis-Charles suggested that either he died as a young boy while being held in captivity by the French revolutionaries or he escaped and was replaced by a substitute who died in his place. One individual claiming to be Louis-Charles was Karl Naundorff. Students begin the case by preparing pedigrees for the descendants of Maria Theresa and Francis I, the Holy Roman Emperor, parents of Marie-Antoinette. The pedigrees can be used to introduce the concepts of alleles identical-by-descent and cytoplasmic inheritance patterns. Students then compare mitochondrial DNA sequences and XY chromosome sequences from hair, bone, heart, and blood samples taken from descendants of Marie Theresa, Karl Naundorff and the heart of the boy who died in captivity to determine if the latter was truly Louis-Charles. An optional PowerPoint presentation with clicker questions is available to help guide the classroom activities.


  • Interpret a pedigree for cytoplasmic inheritance.
  • Compare DNA consensus sequences for similarities and differences.
  • Evaluate the molecular evidence for potential relatedness among individuals.


Genetics; mitochondrial DNA; mtDNA; pedigree; cytoplasmic inheritance; identical-by-descent; Louis XVII; Karl Naundorff; Marie-Antoinette; France; Temple

Topical Areas


Educational Level

Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division


PDF, PowerPoint

Type / Methods

Clicker, Interrupted



Subject Headings

Genetics / Heredity  |   Forensic Science  |  

Date Posted


Teaching Notes

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Teaching notes are intended to help teachers select and adopt a case. They typically include a summary of the case, teaching objectives, information about the intended audience, details about how the case may be taught, and a list of references and resources.

Supplemental Materials

The PowerPoint presentation below can be used to guide help structure the classroom meeting as described in the teaching notes.