Louis XVI (Louis-Auguste; French pronunciation: ; 23 August 1754 – 21 January 1793) was the last King of France before the fall of the monarchy during the French Revolution. He was referred to as Citizen Louis Capet during the four months just before he was executed by guillotine.
Louis XVI, the last king of France (1774–92) in the line of Bourbon monarchs preceding the French Revolution of 1789. The monarchy was abolished on September 21, 1792; later Louis and his queen consort, Marie-Antoinette, were guillotined on charges of counterrevolution.
- Who Was Louis XVI of France?
- Early Life
- King Louis XVI of France
- King Louis XVI and The French Revolution
- Louis XVI’s Execution
- Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI’s Children
Louis XVI was the last Bourbon king of France who was executed in 1793 for treason. In 1770 he married Austrian archduchess Marie Antoinette, the daughter of Maria Theresa and Holy Roman Emperor Francis I. After a slew of governing missteps, Louis XVI brought the French Revolution crashing down upon himself. Louis was guillotined, followed by Marie Antoinette nine months later.
Louis XVI was born on August 23, 1754, in the Palace of Versailles. Named Louis Auguste de France, he was given the title Duc de Berry signifying his junior status in the French Court. Louis XVI was the third son of Louis, Dauphin of France and grandson of Louis XV of France. His mother, Marie-Josephe of Saxony, was the daughter of Frederick Augustus II of Saxony, also the King of Poland. Louis XVI’s great-great-great grandfather was Louis XIV of France(also known as the “Sun King”). Louis XVI grew up strong and healthy, though very shy. He was tutored by French noblemen and studied religion, morality and humanities. He excelled in Latin, history, geography and astronomy and achieved fluency in Italian and English. With his good health, Louis enjoyed physical activities including hunting and wrestling. From an early age, he enjoyed locksmithing, which became a lifelong hobby. Louis' parents paid little attention to him, instead focusing on his older brother, the heir apparent, Louis...
On May 10, 1774, Louis Auguste became Louis XVI upon the death of his grandfather, Louis XV. Only 20 years old at the time, Louis XVI was immature and lacked self-confidence. While Louis XVI wanted to be a good king and help his subjects, he faced enormous debt and rising resentment towards a despotic monarchy. His failure to successfully address serious fiscal problems would dog him for most of his reign. Louis lacked sufficient strength of character and decisiveness to combat the influence of court factions or give support to reformers in their efforts to improve France's government.
Louis XVI’s policy of not raising taxes and taking out international loans, including to fund the American Revolution, increased France’s debt, setting in motion the French Revolution. By the mid-1780s the country was near bankruptcy, which forced the king to support radical fiscal reforms not favorable with the nobles or the people. When the pressure mounted, Louis XVI reverted to his earlier teaching of being austere and uncommunicative, posing no solution to the problem and not responding to others who offered help. By 1789, the situation was deteriorating rapidly.
Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were executed for treason. Louis had failed to address France's financial problems, instigating the French Revolution that eventually descended upon him. He made matters worse by often escaping to more pleasurable activities like hunting and locksmithing. Modern historians attribute this behavior to a clinical depression that left him prone to paralyzing indecisiveness. In the final two years of Louis’ reign, events moved rapidly. In the fall of 1791, Louis XVI tied his hopes on the dubious prospect of war with Austria in hopes that a military defeat would pave the way for a restoration of his authority. War broke out in April 1792. Suspicions of treason led to the capture of the royal palace and the temporary suspension of the king’s powers. On September 21, 1792, the Legislative Assembly proclaimed the First French Republic. That November, proof of Louis XVI's secret dealings and counter-revolutionary intrigues was discovered, and he and his family w...
At age 15 (in May 1770), Louis married the 14 year-old Habsburg Archduchess Maria Antonia (Marie Antoinette), his second cousin once removed, in an arranged marriage. She was the youngest daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Francis I and Empress Maria Theresa. The marriage was met with some skepticism by members of the French court, as they remembered a previous alliance with the Habsburgs pulled France into the Seven Years War. Though initially charmed by her personality, the French people eventually came to loathe Marie Antoinette, accusing her of being promiscuous and sympathetic to French enemies. The first few years of marriage for Louis and Marie were amicable but distant. His shyness kept him distant from her in private, and his fear of her manipulation made him cold to her in public. It is believed the couple did not consummate their marriage for some time, having their first child eight years after their wedding. Historians debate the cause, but most likely, Louis suffered from...
In the early years of his reign, Louis XVI focused on religious uniformity and foreign policy. On the homefront, he invoked an edict that granted French non-Catholics legal status and the right to openly practice their faith. Louis XVI's early foreign policy success was supporting the American colonies' fight for independence from France's archenemy Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War.
- Early Life
- Marriage to Marie Antoinette
- Early Reign
- Weak Ruling from The Start
- War and Calonne
- Open to Reform
- Louis XVI and The Early Revolution
- Attempts at Reform
- Forced Back to Paris
- Flight to Vergennes and Collapse of The Monarchy
Louis-Auguste, the future Louis XVI, was born on August 23, 1754. His father, Louis, Dauphin of France, was the heir to the French throne. Louis-Auguste was the oldest son born to his father to survive childhood; when his father died in 1765, he became the new heir to the throne. Louis-Auguste was a keen student of language and history. He excelled at technical subjects and was deeply interested in geography, but historians are unsure about his level of intelligence.
When his mother died in 1767, the now-orphaned Louis grew close to his grandfather, the reigning king. At age 15 in 1770, he married 14-year-old Marie Antoinette, daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor. For uncertain reasons (possibly related to Louis’ psychology and ignorance, rather than a physical ailment), the couple did not consummate the marriage for many years. Marie Antoinette received much of the public's blame for the lack of children in the early years of their marriage. Historians postulate that Louis' initial coolness to Marie Antoinettewas due to his fear that she might have too much influence over him—as her family actually desired.
When Louis XVdied in 1774, Louis succeeded him as Louis XVI, aged 19. He was aloof and reserved, but possessed a genuine interest in the affairs of his kingdom, both internal and external. He was obsessed with lists and figures, comfortable when hunting, but timid and awkward everywhere else (he watched people coming and going from Versailles through a telescope). He was an expert on the French Navy and a devotee of mechanics and engineering, although this may be overemphasized by historians. Louis had studied English history and politics and was determined to learn from accounts of Charles I, the English king who was beheaded by his parliament. Louis restored the position of the French parlements (provincial courts) which Louis XV had tried to reduce. Louis XVI did so because he believed it was what the people wanted, and partly because the pro-parlementary faction in his government worked hard to convince him it was his idea. This earned him public popularity but obstructed royal...
Louis was unable to unite his court. Indeed, Louis’ aversion to ceremony and to maintaining a dialogue with nobles he disliked meant that court took on a lesser role and many nobles ceased to attend. In this way, Louis undermined his own position among the aristocracy. He turned his natural reserve and tendency to be silent into an act of state, simply refusing to reply to people with whom he disagreed. Louis saw himself as a reforming monarch but took little lead. He allowed the attempted reforms of Turgot at the start and promoted the outsider Jacques Necker to be finance minister, but he consistently failed to either take a strong role in government or to appoint someone like a prime minister to take one. The result was a regime riven by factions and lacking a clear direction.
Louis approved support of the American revolutionaries against Britain in the American Revolutionary War. He was eager to weaken Britain, France's longtime enemy, and to restore French confidence in their military. Louis was determined not to use the war as a way of grabbing new territory for France. However, by refraining this way, France accrued ever greater debts, which dangerously destabilized the country. Louis turned to Charles de Calonne to help reform France's fiscal system and save France from bankruptcy. The king had to call an Assembly of Notables in order to force through these fiscal measures and other major reforms because the traditional cornerstone of Ancien Regime politics, the relation between the king and the parlement, had collapsed.
Louis was prepared to turn France into a constitutional monarchy, and in order to do so, because the Assembly of Notables proved to be unwilling, Louis called an Estates-General. The historian John Hardman has argued that the rejection of Calonne’s reforms, which Louis had given personal backing, led to the king's nervous breakdown, from which he never had time to recover. Hardman argues that the crisis changed the king’s personality, leaving him sentimental, weepy, distant, and depressed. Indeed, Louis had so closely supported Calonne that when the Notables, and seemingly France, rejected the reforms and forced him to dismiss his minister, Louis was damaged both politically and personally.
The gathering of the Estates-General soon turned revolutionary. At first, there was little desire to abolish the monarchy. Louis might have remained in charge of a newly created constitutional monarchy if he had been able to chart a clear path through the momentous events. But he was not a king with clear, decisive vision. Instead, he was muddled, distant, uncompromising, and his habitual silence left his character and actions open to all interpretations. When his eldest son fell ill and died, Louis divorced himself from what was happening at key moments. Louis was torn this way and that by court factions. He tended to think long about issues. When proposals were finally put forward to the Estates, it had already formed into a National Assembly. Louis initially called the Assembly “a phase.” Louis then misjudged and disappointed the radicalized Estates, proving inconsistent in his vision, and arguably too late with any response.
Despite this, Louis was able to publicly accept developments like the "Declaration of the Rights of Man" and his public support increased when it appeared he would allow himself to be recast in a new role. There is no proof Louis ever intended to overthrow the National Assembly by force of arms—because he was afraid of civil war. He initially refused to flee and gather forces. Louis believed France needed a constitutional monarchy in which he had an equal say in government. He disliked having no say in the creation of legislation and he was only given a suppressive veto that would undermine him every time he used it.
As the revolution progressed, Louis remained opposed to many of the changes desired by the deputies, privately believing that the revolution would run its course and the status quo would return. As general frustration with Louis grew, he was forced to move to Paris, where he was effectively imprisoned. The position of the monarchy was further eroded and Louis began to hope for a settlement that would mimic the English system. But he was horrified by the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, which offended his religious beliefs.
Louis then made what would prove to be a major mistake: He attempted to flee to safety and gather forces to protect his family. He had no intention, at this moment or ever, of starting a civil war, nor of bringing back the Ancien Regime. He wanted a constitutional monarchy. Leaving in disguise on June 21, 1791, he was caught at Varennes and brought back to Paris. His reputation was damaged. The flight itself did not destroy the monarchy: Sections of the government tried to portray Louis as the victim of kidnapping to protect the future settlement. His flight did, however, polarize people’s views. When fleeing, Louis left behind a declaration. This declaration is often understood as damaging him; in fact, it gave constructive criticism on aspects of the revolutionary government that deputies tried to work into the new constitution before being blocked.
Louis was born at Versailles on 23 August 1754. In 1770, he married Marie Antoinette, daughter of the emperor and empress of Austria, a match intended to consolidate an alliance between France and ...
- Louis XVI had a passion for locksmithing. Contrary to his predecessors, Louis XVI was very curious about the crafts and inventions of his time. Passionate about mechanical arts, Louis XVI loved locks and how they functioned.
- Louis XVI’s mother in law helped the royal couple in their sex life. Like all kings, Louis XVI had a duty to ensure the continuity of the Dynasty, and give an heir to the country.
- Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette’s wedding ended with a deadly stampede. When he married Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI was still the Dauphin – that is the future king, heir to the throne.
- The king was voluntarily inoculated with smallpox. In addition to crafts and mechanical arts, Louis XVI also cared a lot about medicine. Medicine in the 18 century had little to do with ours.
One day after being convicted of conspiracy with foreign powers and sentenced to death by the French National Convention, King Louis XVI is executed by guillotine in the Place de la Revolution in Paris.
Louis ascended to the French throne in 1774 and from the start was unsuited to deal with the severe financial problems that he had inherited from his grandfather, King Louis XV. In 1789, in a last-ditch attempt to resolve his countrys financial crisis, Louis assembled the States-General, a national assembly that represented the three estates of the French peoplethe nobles, the clergy, and the commons. The States-General had not been assembled since 1614, and the third estatethe commonsused the opportunity to declare itself the National Assembly, igniting the French Revolution. On July 14, 1789, violence erupted when Parisians stormed the Bastillea state prison where they believed ammunition was stored.
In August 1792, the royal couple was arrested by the sans-cullottes and imprisoned, and in September the monarchy was abolished by the National Convention (which had replaced the National Assembly). In November, evidence of Louis XVIs counterrevolutionary intrigues with Austria and other foreign nations was discovered, and he was put on trial for treason by the National Convention.
The next January, Louis was convicted and condemned to death by a narrow majority. On January 21, he walked steadfastly to the guillotine and was executed. Nine months later, Marie Antoinette was convicted of treason by a tribunal, and on October 16 she followed her husband to the guillotine.
- American Revolutionary War
- Financial Crisis in France
- Storming of The Bastille
- Forced to Move to Paris
- Attempted Escape to Austria
- Monarchy Abolished
- Trial and Execution
After his grandfather’s death on 10thMay 1774, Louis XVI ascended the throne of France. The defeat of France in the Seven Years’ War against Great Britain had caused a financial crisis and left Louis XVI with a terrible inheritance. In 1776, Louis XIV saw an opportunity to humiliate Britain and recover the lost French territories in the Seven Years’ War by supporting the United States in the American Revolutionary War. Deciding in favor of war, despite the huge financial crisis France was facing, proved to be a grave error. Though the United States and the French won the war, the British defeated the main French fleet in 1782 and successfully defended Jamaica and Gibraltar. France gained little from the war except the colonies of Tobago and Senegal.
In the years leading to the French Revolution, France experienced extreme droughts that caused poor harvests and famine. Thiscaused the price of flour to increase, which in turn raised the price of bread. Bread was the staple food for most French citizens and it has been estimated that the working class of France was spending upwards of 90% of their daily income on just bread. Louis XVI implemented deregulation of the grain market but it resulted in further increasing the bread prices. Due to the pressure of the financial crisis, Louis XVI convoked the Estates-General on 8thAugust, 1788. At this time France was divided into three estates: theFirst was the clergy, theSecond was the nobility, and the Third was therest, which included merchants, lawyers, laborers andpeasants. Though the Third Estate comprised around 98% of the French population, it was exploited by the other two estates. When its voice was not heard, the representatives of the Third Estatedeclared itself the National A...
As the National Constituent Assembly continued to meet at Versailles, soldiers, mostly foreign mercenaries, began to arrive in Paris. Also, Louis XVI dismissed Jacques Necker, director-general of the finances who was considered sympathetic to the common people. The Parisians interpreted these actions as an attempt toward shutting down the National Constituent Assembly. They responded by storming toward the Bastille fortress onJuly 14, 1789, to secure gunpowder and weapons. The troops at Bastille resisted for a few hours before they surrendered to the mob. The Storming of the Bastille is regarded as the start of the French Revolution. It resulted in King Louis XVI withdrawing the royal troops from the French capital and recalling finance minister Jacques Necker.
On 5th October 1789, a large crowd of protesters, mostly women, began to assemble at Parisian markets. They were troubled due to the unaffordable prices of bread. After getting unsatisfactory responses from city officials, the women marched from Paris to the Palace of Versailles. They were convinced that the royal family lived in luxury oblivious to the problems of the common people. They stormed the palace, killing several guards and demanded King Louis XVI to “live among the people”. Louis XVI ultimately conceded to their demands. The next day, he, along with his family and most of the French Assembly, were escorted by the crowd to Paris. The national guard led the procession and some in the crowd even carried pikes bearing the heads of the slaughtered Versailles guards. The royal family moved to the dilapidated Tuileries Palace in Paris. Louis XVI understood the relevance of this event. When asked for his orders, he replied with uncharacteristic diffidence, “Let everyone put hims...
As the French Revolution raged on in France, Louis XVI was engaged in plans of his own. He had a council of advisers who made schemes to preserve the power of the monarchy. He also asked one of his diplomats to negotiate with other foreign heads of state in an attempt to bring about a counter-revolution. However, these schemes were by and large unsuccessful. Louis XVI then made plans to secretly escape along with his family from Paris to Austria. After escaping he hoped to recapture France with foreign assistance. On the night of 20th June 1791, the royal family fled the Tuileries Palace dressed as servants with their servants dressed as nobles. Few people in France had seen the king personally but his image was printed on the currency. Due to this, Louis XVI was recognized the next day. The royal family were arrested at Varennes and returned to Paris. Due to his attempted flight to Austria, the public, which was already against King Louis XVI, now viewed him as a traitor who wanted...
Following the flight to Varennes, Parisians became more and more against the king and wanted the assembly to depose him. The assembly hesitated and onAugust 10, 1792, around 20,000 Parisians marched on the Tuileries Palace and killed the Swiss Guards who were assigned for the protection of the king. In response, the royal family fled to the Assembly for protection. Louis XVI was officially arrested on 13th August 1792 and sent to theTemple, an ancient fortress in Paris that was used as a prison. On 21st September 1792, the monarchy was abolished and France was declared a Republic. Louis was stripped of all of his titles and honors. From this day, he was known as Citizen Louis Capet.
Though the radical revolutionaries argued for immediate execution of Louis, it was voted that the former monarch would be given a fair trial before the National Convention, the first government of the new French Republic. In November 1792, a hidden iron chest had been unearthed at the Tuileries Palace. It contained unmistakable proof of compromising documents and correspondence of Louis. On 15th January 1793, 693 of the 721 deputies found Citizen Louis guilty of treason. 23 abstained from voting and no one voted for acquittal. The next day, a vote was carried out to decide upon Louis’s fate. 288 voted against death; 72 voted for the death penalty, but not instant; and 361 of the deputies voted for immediate execution. Louis was thus condemned to immediate death by a majority of one vote. On January 21, 1793, Citizen Louis was driven through the streets of Paris to a guillotine and decapitated. It is said that he appeared dignified and resigned. He delivered a short speech in which h...
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