The Dunkelgraf/Dunkelgräfin (French : Comte et Comtesse des Ténèbres; English: Dark Count & Dark Countess), is the nickname given by the locals to a wealthy couple who resided from February 1807 until their deaths in the vicinity of Hildburghausen, Thuringia, Germany, mainly in the castle of Eishausen where they settled in 1810.
Count Vavel de Versay and Sophie Botta
The man presented himself as Count Vavel de Versay and kept the woman’s identity secret, making only clear that they were neither married nor lovers. They led a secretive life, particularly the Countess who ventured out only in a carriage and with a veil covering her face.
At her death, on 28 November, 1837, she was buried very fast, possibly without a religious service, in a tomb in the castle's garden. The Count gave her name as Sophie Botta, an unmarried woman from Westphalia. According to Dr. Lommler, the physician who confirmed her death, she was about 60 years of age.
The Count remained at the castle and died there on April 8, 1845. He was buried in the local cemetery. In the 1920s his identity was found to be Leonardus Cornelius van der Valck, born 22 September 1769 in Amsterdam, and secretary in the Dutch embassy in Paris from July 1798 to April 1799.
Theories and Marie-Thérèse of France
The mysterious couple sparked much interest, and speculations about the identity of the Countess started early on. The most notable – though with very little support from historians – proposes that she would be the true Marie-Thérèse, (daughter of Marie Antoinette and her husband King Louis XVI of France), imprisoned with her family on 13 August 1792, during the French Revolution, in the Temple fortress, and redeemed in 1795 in exchange for French prisoners. According to this hypothesis, Marie-Thérèse, traumatized by her trials or pregnant by rape, would have refused to go back in the world; her half sister, Ernestine Lambriquet, would have taken her place.
The theory of substitution (German: Vertauschungstheorie / French: théorie de substitution) sprang immediately after the wedding of Marie-Thérèse with the Duke of Angoulême in 1799. Pictures of the Duchess of Angoulême look remarkably different from pictures of Marie-Thérèse before 1795 and her social style is said to be very unlike that of the original Madame Royale. Following the theory, it was her half-sister Ernestine Lambriquet ensuring at least a royal lineage. According to her lady in waiting, Mme von Heimbruch, Mary of Hanover believed that she was a Princess of Condé.
As counter evidence are letters of the Dunkelgräfin written in German; Sophie Botta, the name given by the count, was not found in any civil registry in Westphalia; as the Dark Count was later identified as Leonardus Cornelius van der Valck, it looks improbable that an officer fighting against the French monarchy would choose a life of covering a royal member for more than three decades; Ernestine Lambriquet's marriage (1810) and death (1813) certificates were registered in France.
Following the 1828 appearance of Kaspar Hauser, a boy who claimed to have been raised in a darkened room, a suspicion about the residents of Castle Eishausen arose. Paul Johann Anselm Ritter von Feuerbach, president of the Bavarian court of appeals, who was investigating the Hauser case, took the boy to castle to see if he recognised any part of it, but Hauser insisted he had no memory of the place.
The Dunkelgraf/Dunkelgräfin are the theme of numerous historical essays and fictions in German and French.
The derelict Castle Eishausen was torn down in 1887; but the graves of the couple remained.
On 27 June 2012, the City Council (Stadtrat) of Hildburghausen gave permission for the exhumation of Sophie Botta's body, to conduct DNA testing, and facial reconstruction, in a project sponsored by MDR-Thüringen. The grave was opened on 15 October 2013 and skeletal remains removed. The remains were reinterred with a formal public ceremony in early November, 2013.
- "Was Germany's 'Dark Countess' the daughter of executed French royals Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette? Mystery could be solved after grave is exhumed". The Daily Mail. 2013-10-15. Retrieved 2013-12-01.
- "Some Books of the Week". The Spectator. 1929-10-12. Retrieved 2013-12-02.
- Patterson, Tony (2002-07-28). "German grave to unlock 'mystery of the Bourbons'". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2013-12-01.
- Sir Lascelles Wraxall (1863). "The Mystery Of Eishausen". Remarkable adventurers and unrevealed mysteries. Richard Bentley. pp. 19–20. Retrieved 2 December 2013.
- "Toten ein Gesicht geben". MDR-Thüringen. Retrieved 2013-12-02.
- Samuel, Henry (2013-10-15). "'Dark Countess' tomb exhumed to solve 200-year-old mystery". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2013-12-01.
- Spiegel Online, 16. Oktober 2013, Thüringen: Das Rätsel der Dunkelgräfin: http://www.spiegel.de/wissenschaft/mensch/grab-der-dunkelgraefin-von-hildburghausen-in-thueringen-geoeffnet-a-928150.html
- "Gebeine der Dunkelgräfin ruhen wieder im Grab". MDR-Thüringen. Retrieved 2013-12-02.
- Frédéric de Saxe-Altenbourg : L'énigme de Madame Royale, Flammarion, 1954
- Monique de Huertas : Madame Royale, Pygmalion, 1999
- Patrick Ravignant, Pierre Mariel La Comtesse des ténèbres, Éditeur : Encre, 1979, ASIN: B000LUT2MQ
- Noëlle Destremau Madame Royale et son Mystère, Nouvelles Editions Latines, 1991
- Cyr Belcroix Autour de Louis XVII : La comtesse des ténèbres, Le Relais, 1999, ISBN 2-902693-48-6 ISBN 978-2902693481
- Ludwig Bechstein: Der Dunkelgraf. Roman. Meidinger, Frankfurt am Main, 1858
- Richard Boehmker: Das Geheimnis um eine Königstochter. Die Lösung des mehr als 100jährigen Rätsels von Hildburghausen. Helingsche VA, Leipzig, 1937
- Albert Emil Brachvogel: Das Rätsel von Hildburghausen. Verlag Frankenschwelle, Hildburghausen, 1990, ISBN 3-86180-015-2
- Kurt Kluge: Nocturno. Erzählung. Reclam, Stuttgart, 1949
- Helga Rühle von Lilienstern: Dunkelgraf und Dunkelgräfin im Spiegel vor Zeugen und Mitwissern. Verlag Frankenschwelle, Hildburghausen, 2000, ISBN 3-86180-067-5
- Helga Rühle von Lilienstern: Die Unbekannten von Eishausen. Dunkelgraf und Dunkelgräfin im Spiegel zeitgenössischer Veröffentlichungen. Verlag Frankenschwelle, Hildburghausen, 2003, ISBN 3-86180-056-X
- Helga Rühle von Lilienstern u. Hans-Jürgen Salier: Das große Geheimnis von Hildburghausen. Auf den Spuren der Dunkelgräfin. Salier Verlag, Leipzig u. Hildburghausen, 2007, ISBN 978-3-939611-19-6
- Mark de Lannoy: Das Geheimnis des Dunkelgrafen. Books on Demand GmbH, Norderstedt, 2007, ISBN 978-3-8334-6847-6