dauphin dô´fĭn, Fr. dōfăN´ [key] [Fr.,=dolphin], French title, borne first by the counts of Vienne (also called Viennois) and later by the eldest son of the king of France, or, if the dauphin came to die before the king, by the dauphin's eldest son. The origin of the title is rather obscure; it probably was the family name of the counts of Vienne, who adopted the dolphin as their heraldic device (12th cent.). Their territory came to be called the dauphiné, or dauphinate, of Vienne, or simply the Dauphiné . Another dauphinate, that of Auvergne, ruled by a branch of the house of Vienne, came into existence when Auvergne broke up in the 12th cent. The title dauphin passed, with the Dauphiné, to the direct heirs of the French kings when (1349) Dauphin Humbert II of Vienne sold the region to King Philip VI of France. When Philip died (1350) his grandson, later King Charles V, became the first heir to the throne to bear the title. After Louis XI the title was merely honorific. Louis Antoine, duc d'Angoulême (1775–1844), son of King Charles X, was the last dauphin. Louis, eldest son of Louis XIV, was known as the Great Dauphin; he was a competent military leader. Louis XVII is known as the Lost Dauphin.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: French History