Louis XVI of France

Louis XVI of France

Overview
Louis XVI was a Bourbon
House of Bourbon
The House of Bourbon is a European royal house, a branch of the Capetian dynasty . Bourbon kings first ruled Navarre and France in the 16th century. By the 18th century, members of the Bourbon dynasty also held thrones in Spain, Naples, Sicily, and Parma...

 monarch who ruled as King of France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 and Navarre
Kingdom of Navarre
The Kingdom of Navarre , originally the Kingdom of Pamplona, was a European kingdom which occupied lands on either side of the Pyrenees alongside the Atlantic Ocean....

 until 1791, and then as King of the French from 1791 to 1792, before being executed
Execution of Louis XVI
The execution of Louis XVI by means of the guillotine took place on 21 January 1793 at the Place de la Révolution in Paris. It was a major event of the French Revolution...

 in 1793.

Succeeding his unpopular grandfather
Louis XV of France
Louis XV was a Bourbon monarch who ruled as King of France and of Navarre from 1 September 1715 until his death. He succeeded his great-grandfather at the age of five, his first cousin Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, served as Regent of the kingdom until Louis's majority in 1723...

, Louis XVI actively supported the Americans
France in the American Revolutionary War
France entered the American Revolutionary War in 1778, and assisted in the victory of the Americans seeking independence from Britain ....

, who were seeking their independence from Great Britain
American Revolutionary War
The American Revolutionary War , the American War of Independence, or simply the Revolutionary War, began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen British colonies in North America, and ended in a global war between several European great powers.The war was the result of the...

, which was realized in the 1783 Treaty of Paris
Treaty of Paris (1783)
The Treaty of Paris, signed on September 3, 1783, ended the American Revolutionary War between Great Britain on the one hand and the United States of America and its allies on the other. The other combatant nations, France, Spain and the Dutch Republic had separate agreements; for details of...

. The example of the American Revolution
American Revolution
The American Revolution was the political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break free from the British Empire, combining to become the United States of America...

 and the financial crisis which followed France's involvement in the war were two of the many contributing factors to the French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

, which abolished the absolute monarchy in France
Absolute monarchy in France
France's political system of absolute monarchy was first initiated in the 16th century. After the period of the reformation monarchy which was mainly based on the political consensus between monarch, social classes and the submissive’s league, absolute monarchy slowly emerged in the 16th century...

 and proclaimed a constitutional monarchy in 1791.

While Louis XVI, as a constitutional king
Constitutional monarchy
Constitutional monarchy is a form of government in which a monarch acts as head of state within the parameters of a constitution, whether it be a written, uncodified or blended constitution...

, enjoyed broad popularity among the population, his indecisiveness and conservatism led some elements of the people of France to eventually view him as a symbol of the perceived tyranny of the Ancien Régime and his popularity deteriorated progressively.
Discussion
Ask a question about 'Louis XVI of France'
Start a new discussion about 'Louis XVI of France'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Unanswered Questions
Encyclopedia
Louis XVI was a Bourbon
House of Bourbon
The House of Bourbon is a European royal house, a branch of the Capetian dynasty . Bourbon kings first ruled Navarre and France in the 16th century. By the 18th century, members of the Bourbon dynasty also held thrones in Spain, Naples, Sicily, and Parma...

 monarch who ruled as King of France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 and Navarre
Kingdom of Navarre
The Kingdom of Navarre , originally the Kingdom of Pamplona, was a European kingdom which occupied lands on either side of the Pyrenees alongside the Atlantic Ocean....

 until 1791, and then as King of the French from 1791 to 1792, before being executed
Execution of Louis XVI
The execution of Louis XVI by means of the guillotine took place on 21 January 1793 at the Place de la Révolution in Paris. It was a major event of the French Revolution...

 in 1793.

Succeeding his unpopular grandfather
Louis XV of France
Louis XV was a Bourbon monarch who ruled as King of France and of Navarre from 1 September 1715 until his death. He succeeded his great-grandfather at the age of five, his first cousin Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, served as Regent of the kingdom until Louis's majority in 1723...

, Louis XVI actively supported the Americans
France in the American Revolutionary War
France entered the American Revolutionary War in 1778, and assisted in the victory of the Americans seeking independence from Britain ....

, who were seeking their independence from Great Britain
American Revolutionary War
The American Revolutionary War , the American War of Independence, or simply the Revolutionary War, began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen British colonies in North America, and ended in a global war between several European great powers.The war was the result of the...

, which was realized in the 1783 Treaty of Paris
Treaty of Paris (1783)
The Treaty of Paris, signed on September 3, 1783, ended the American Revolutionary War between Great Britain on the one hand and the United States of America and its allies on the other. The other combatant nations, France, Spain and the Dutch Republic had separate agreements; for details of...

. The example of the American Revolution
American Revolution
The American Revolution was the political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break free from the British Empire, combining to become the United States of America...

 and the financial crisis which followed France's involvement in the war were two of the many contributing factors to the French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

, which abolished the absolute monarchy in France
Absolute monarchy in France
France's political system of absolute monarchy was first initiated in the 16th century. After the period of the reformation monarchy which was mainly based on the political consensus between monarch, social classes and the submissive’s league, absolute monarchy slowly emerged in the 16th century...

 and proclaimed a constitutional monarchy in 1791.

While Louis XVI, as a constitutional king
Constitutional monarchy
Constitutional monarchy is a form of government in which a monarch acts as head of state within the parameters of a constitution, whether it be a written, uncodified or blended constitution...

, enjoyed broad popularity among the population, his indecisiveness and conservatism led some elements of the people of France to eventually view him as a symbol of the perceived tyranny of the Ancien Régime and his popularity deteriorated progressively. His disastrous flight to Varennes
Flight to Varennes
The Flight to Varennes was a significant episode in the French Revolution during which King Louis XVI of France, his wife Marie Antoinette, and their immediate family attempted unsuccessfully to escape from Paris in order to initiate a counter-revolution...

 seemed to justify the rumors that the king tied his hopes of political salvation to the dubious prospects of foreign invasion. The credibility of the king was deeply undermined and the abolition of the monarchy
Abolished monarchy
Throughout history, monarchies have been abolished, either through revolutions, legislative reforms, coups d'état, or wars. The twentieth century saw a major acceleration of this process, with many monarchies violently overthrown by revolution or war, or else abolished as part of the process of...

 and the establishment of a republic became an ever increasing possibility.

Suspended and arrested as part of the insurrection of 10 August 1792, he was tried by the National Convention
National Convention
During the French Revolution, the National Convention or Convention, in France, comprised the constitutional and legislative assembly which sat from 20 September 1792 to 26 October 1795 . It held executive power in France during the first years of the French First Republic...

, found guilty of high treason
High treason
High treason is criminal disloyalty to one's government. Participating in a war against one's native country, attempting to overthrow its government, spying on its military, its diplomats, or its secret services for a hostile and foreign power, or attempting to kill its head of state are perhaps...

, and executed by guillotine
Guillotine
The guillotine is a device used for carrying out :executions by decapitation. It consists of a tall upright frame from which an angled blade is suspended. This blade is raised with a rope and then allowed to drop, severing the head from the body...

 on 21 January 1793 as a desacralized French citizen known as "Citoyen Louis Capet", a nickname in reference to Hugh Capet, the founder of the Capetian dynasty
Capetian dynasty
The Capetian dynasty , also known as the House of France, is the largest and oldest European royal house, consisting of the descendants of King Hugh Capet of France in the male line. Hugh Capet himself was a cognatic descendant of the Carolingians and the Merovingians, earlier rulers of France...

 – which the revolutionaries interpreted as Louis' family name. In the meantime, the French Republic had been proclaimed the 22 September 1792, bringing to an end more than a thousand years of continuous French monarchy. Louis XVI is the only King of France ever to be executed.

Childhood


Louis Auguste de France, who was given the title Duc de Berry at birth, was born in the Palace of Versailles
Palace of Versailles
The Palace of Versailles , or simply Versailles, is a royal château in Versailles in the Île-de-France region of France. In French it is the Château de Versailles....

. Out of seven children, he was the third son of Louis, the Dauphin of France, and thus the grandson of Louis XV of France
Louis XV of France
Louis XV was a Bourbon monarch who ruled as King of France and of Navarre from 1 September 1715 until his death. He succeeded his great-grandfather at the age of five, his first cousin Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, served as Regent of the kingdom until Louis's majority in 1723...

 and of his consort, Maria Leszczyńska
Maria Leszczynska
Marie Leszczyńska was a queen consort of France. She was a daughter of King Stanisław Leszczyński of Poland and Catherine Opalińska. She married King Louis XV of France and was the grandmother of Louis XVI, Louis XVIII, and Charles X. In France, she was referred to as Marie Leczinska...

. His mother was Marie-Josèphe of Saxony, the daughter of Frederick Augustus II of Saxony, Prince-Elector
Prince-elector
The Prince-electors of the Holy Roman Empire were the members of the electoral college of the Holy Roman Empire, having the function of electing the Roman king or, from the middle of the 16th century onwards, directly the Holy Roman Emperor.The heir-apparent to a prince-elector was known as an...

 of Saxony
Saxony
The Free State of Saxony is a landlocked state of Germany, contingent with Brandenburg, Saxony Anhalt, Thuringia, Bavaria, the Czech Republic and Poland. It is the tenth-largest German state in area, with of Germany's sixteen states....

 and King of Poland.

Louis-Auguste had a difficult childhood because his parents neglected him in favour of his, said to be, bright and handsome older brother, Louis, duc de Bourgogne
Louis of France (1751-1761)
Louis Joseph Xavier de France, Duke of Burgundy was a French Prince du Sang of the House of Bourbon.-Life:...

, who died at the age of nine in 1761. After his brothers death Louis XVI became close with his grandfather Louis XV who was the king right before him. They began to hunt together which they hadn't done before because his older brother disliked outdoor activities. "The old Dauphin hated out door exercise and had ceased to hunt all together after accidentally killing one of his grooms." Do to his lack of out door activities he only started learning how to ride a horse at 13 years old. After a while hunting became very important to him, he immersed himself going five times a week. All of the new activity outside helped him recover after taking care of his brother. A strong and healthy boy, but very shy, Louis-Auguste excelled in his studies and had a strong taste for Latin, history, geography and astronomy, and became fluent in Italian and English. He enjoyed physical activities such as hunting with his grandfather. Also rough-playing with his younger brothers, Louis-Stanislas, comte de Provence
Louis XVIII of France
Louis XVIII , known as "the Unavoidable", was King of France and of Navarre from 1814 to 1824, omitting the Hundred Days in 1815...

, and Charles-Philippe, comte d'Artois
Charles X of France
Charles X was known for most of his life as the Comte d'Artois before he reigned as King of France and of Navarre from 16 September 1824 until 2 August 1830. A younger brother to Kings Louis XVI and Louis XVIII, he supported the latter in exile and eventually succeeded him...

. From an early age, Louis-Auguste had been encouraged in another of his hobbies: locksmithing, which was seen as a 'useful' pursuit for a child.

Upon the death of his father, who died of tuberculosis
Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis, MTB, or TB is a common, and in many cases lethal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body...

 on 20 December 1765, the eleven-year-old Louis-Auguste became the new Dauphin. His mother, who had never recovered from the loss of her husband, died on 13 March 1767, also from tuberculosis. The strict and conservative education he received from the Duc de La Vauguyon
Paul François de Quelen de la Vauguyon
Paul François de Quelen de La Vauguyon or Paul François de Quélen de Stuer de Caussade, duc de La Vauguyon was a French nobleman. He was governor of Cognac, after having been involved in the last campaigns of the Seven Years' War...

, "gouverneur des Enfants de France" (governor of the Children of France), from 1760 until his marriage in 1770, did not prepare him for the throne that he was to inherit in 1774 after the death of his grandfather, Louis XV.

Family life





On 16 May 1770, at the age of fifteen, Louis-Auguste married the fourteen-year-old Habsburg Archduchess Maria Antonia
Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette ; 2 November 1755 – 16 October 1793) was an Archduchess of Austria and the Queen of France and of Navarre. She was the fifteenth and penultimate child of Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa and Holy Roman Emperor Francis I....

 (better known by the French form of her name, Marie Antoinette), his second cousin once removed
Cousin
In kinship terminology, a cousin is a relative with whom one shares one or more common ancestors. The term is rarely used when referring to a relative in one's immediate family where there is a more specific term . The term "blood relative" can be used synonymously and establishes the existence of...

 and the youngest daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I
Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor
Francis I was Holy Roman Emperor and Grand Duke of Tuscany, though his wife effectively executed the real power of those positions. With his wife, Maria Theresa, he was the founder of the Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty...

 and his wife, the formidable Empress Maria Theresa
Maria Theresa of Austria
Maria Theresa Walburga Amalia Christina was the only female ruler of the Habsburg dominions and the last of the House of Habsburg. She was the sovereign of Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, Mantua, Milan, Lodomeria and Galicia, the Austrian Netherlands and Parma...

.

This marriage was met with some hostility by the French public. France's alliance with Austria had pulled France into the disastrous Seven Year War
Seven Years' War
The Seven Years' War was a global military war between 1756 and 1763, involving most of the great powers of the time and affecting Europe, North America, Central America, the West African coast, India, and the Philippines...

, in which France was defeated by the British, both in Europe and in North America. By the time that Louis-Auguste and Marie-Antoinette were married, the people of France generally regarded the Austrian alliance with dislike, and Marie-Antoinette was seen as an unwelcome foreigner. For the young couple, the marriage was initially amiable but distant – Louis-Auguste's shyness meant that he failed to consummate the union, much to his wife's distress, while his fear of being manipulated by her for Imperial purposes caused him to behave coldly towards her in public. Over time, the couple became closer, though while their marriage was reportedly consummated in July 1773, it was not in fact really so until 1777.

Nevertheless, the royal couple failed to produce any children for several years after this, placing a strain upon their marriage, whilst the situation was worsened by the publication of obscene pamphlets (libelles
Libelle (literary genre)
A libelle is a political pamphlet or book which slanders a public figure. Libelles held particular significance in France under the Ancien Régime, especially during the eighteenth century, when the pamphlets’ attacks on the monarchy became both more numerous and venomous...

) which mocked the infertility of the pair. One questioned, "Can the King do it? Can't the King do it?"

The reasons behind the couple's initial failure to have children were debated at that time, and they have continued to be so since. One suggestion is that Louis-Auguste suffered from a physiological dysfunction, most often thought to be phimosis
Phimosis
Phimosis , from the Greek phimos ), is a condition where, in men, the foreskin cannot be fully retracted over the glans penis...

, a suggestion first made in late 1772 by the royal doctors. Historians adhering to this view suggest that he was circumcised
Circumcision
Male circumcision is the surgical removal of some or all of the foreskin from the penis. The word "circumcision" comes from Latin and ....

 (a common treatment for phimosis) to relieve the condition seven years after their marriage. Louis's doctors were not in favour of the surgery – the operation was delicate and traumatic, and capable of doing "as much harm as good" to an adult male. The argument for phimosis and a resulting operation is mostly seen to originate from Stefan Zweig
Stefan Zweig
Stefan Zweig was an Austrian novelist, playwright, journalist and biographer. At the height of his literary career, in the 1920s and 1930s, he was one of the most famous writers in the world.- Biography :...

.

However, it is agreed amongst most modern historians that Louis had no surgery – for instance, as late as 1777, the Prussian envoy, Baron Goltz, reported that the King of France had definitely declined the operation. The fact was that Louis was frequently declared to be perfectly fit for sexual intercourse, confirmed by Joseph II
Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor
Joseph II was Holy Roman Emperor from 1765 to 1790 and ruler of the Habsburg lands from 1780 to 1790. He was the eldest son of Empress Maria Theresa and her husband, Francis I...

, and during the time he was purported to have had the operation, he went out hunting almost every day, according to his journal. This would not have been possible if he had undergone a circumcision; at the very least, he would have been unable to go out hunting for a few weeks after. Their consummation problems have now been attributed to other factors, around which controversy and argument still enshroud today.

In the long run, and in spite of all their earlier difficulty, the Royal couple became the parents of four children:
  • Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte
    Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte of France
    Marie Thérèse de France was the eldest child of King Louis XVI of France and his wife, Queen Marie Antoinette...

     (19 December 1778 – 19 October 1851)
  • Louis-Joseph-Xavier-François, the Dauphin (22 October 1781 – 4 June 1789)
  • Louis-Charles
    Louis XVII of France
    Louis XVII , from birth to 1789 known as Louis-Charles, Duke of Normandy; then from 1789 to 1791 as Louis-Charles, Dauphin of France; and from 1791 to 1793 as Louis-Charles, Prince Royal of France, was the son of King Louis XVI of France and Queen Marie Antoinette...

     (the future titular King Louis XVII of France) (27 March 1785 – 8 June 1795)
  • Sophie-Hélène-Béatrix
    Princess Sophie Hélène Béatrix of France
    Marie Sophie Hélène Béatrice de France, Fille de France, Madame Sophie was a French princess, daughter of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI of France.-Biography:...

    , who died in infancy (9 July 1786 – 19 June 1787)

The absolute monarch of France, 1774–1788



When Louis XVI succeeded to the throne in 1774, he was not yet 20 years old. He had an enormous responsibility, as the government was deeply in debt, and resentment to 'despotic' monarchy was on the rise. Louis also felt woefully unqualified for the job. The King, his brothers and Marie Antoinette became fellows of the masonic lodge
Masonic Lodge
This article is about the Masonic term for a membership group. For buildings named Masonic Lodge, see Masonic Lodge A Masonic Lodge, often termed a Private Lodge or Constituent Lodge, is the basic organisation of Freemasonry...

 Trois Frères à l'Orient de Versailles.

He aimed to earn the love of his people by reinstating the parlement
Parlement
Parlements were regional legislative bodies in Ancien Régime France.The political institutions of the Parlement in Ancien Régime France developed out of the previous council of the king, the Conseil du roi or curia regis, and consequently had ancient and customary rights of consultation and...

s. While none doubted Louis's intellectual ability to rule France, it was quite clear that, although raised as the Dauphin since 1765, he lacked firmness and decisiveness. In spite of his indecisiveness, Louis was determined to be a good king, stating that he "must always consult public opinion; it is never wrong." Louis therefore appointed an experienced advisor, Jean-Frédéric Phélypeaux, comte de Maurepas
Jean-Frédéric Phélypeaux, comte de Maurepas
Jean-Frédéric Phélypeaux, comte de Maurepas was a French statesman.He was born at Versailles, the son of Jérôme Phélypeaux, secretary of state for the marine and the royal household...

 who, until his death in 1781, would take charge of many important ministerial functions.

Radical financial reforms by Turgot and Malesherbes
Guillaume-Chrétien de Lamoignon de Malesherbes
Guillaume-Chrétien de Lamoignon de Malesherbes , often referred to as Malesherbes or Lamoignon-Malesherbes, was a French statesman, minister, and afterwards counsel for the defence of Louis XVI.-Biography:...

 angered the nobles and were blocked by the parlements who insisted that the King did not have the legal right to levy new taxes. So, in 1776, Turgot was dismissed and Malesherbes resigned, to be replaced by Jacques Necker
Jacques Necker
Jacques Necker was a French statesman of Swiss birth and finance minister of Louis XVI, a post he held in the lead-up to the French Revolution in 1789.-Early life:...

. Necker supported the American Revolution
American Revolution
The American Revolution was the political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break free from the British Empire, combining to become the United States of America...

, and he carried out a policy of taking out large international loans instead of raising taxes. He attempted to gain public favor in 1781 when he had published the first ever statement of the French Crown's expenses and accounts, the Compte rendu au roi.This allowed the people of France to view the king's accounts in modest surplus. When this policy failed miserably, Louis dismissed him, and then replaced him in 1783 with Charles Alexandre de Calonne
Charles Alexandre de Calonne
Charles Alexandre, vicomte de Calonne was a French statesman, best known for his involvement in the French Revolution.-Rise to prominence:...

, who increased public spending to "buy" the country's way out of debt. Again this failed, so Louis convoked the Assembly of Notables
Assembly of Notables
The Assembly of Notables was a group of notables invited by the King of France to consult on matters of state.-History:Assemblies of Notables had met in 1583, 1596–97, 1617, 1626, 1787, and 1788. Like the Estates General, they served a consultative purpose only...

 in 1787 to discuss a revolutionary new fiscal reform proposed by Calonne. When the nobles were informed of the extent of the debt, they were shocked into rejecting the plan. This negative turn of events signaled to Louis that he had lost the ability to rule as an absolute monarch, and he fell into depression.

As power drifted from him, there were increasingly loud calls for him to convoke the Estates-General
French States-General
In France under the Old Regime, the States-General or Estates-General , was a legislative assembly of the different classes of French subjects. It had a separate assembly for each of the three estates, which were called and dismissed by the king...

, which had not met since 1614, at the beginning of the reign of Louis XIII
Louis XIII of France
Louis XIII was a Bourbon monarch who ruled as King of France and of Navarre from 1610 to 1643.Louis was only eight years old when he succeeded his father. His mother, Marie de Medici, acted as regent during Louis' minority...

. As a last-ditch attempt to get new monetary reforms approved, Louis XVI convoked the Estates-General on 8 August 1788, setting the date of their opening at 1 May 1789. With the convocation of the Estates-General, as in many other instances during his reign, Louis placed his reputation and public image in the hands of those who were perhaps not as sensitive to the desires of the French public as he was. Because it had been so long since the Estates-General had been convened, there was some debate as to which procedures should be followed. Ultimately, the parlement de Paris agreed that "all traditional observances should be carefully maintained to avoid the impression that the Estates-General could make things up as it went along." Under this decision, the King agreed to retain many of the divisionary customs which had been the norm in 1614, but which were intolerable to a Third Estate buoyed by the recent proclamations of equality. For example, the First and Second Estates proceeded into the assembly wearing their finest garments, while the Third Estate was required to wear plain, oppressively somber black, an act of alienation that Louis would likely have not condoned. He seemed to regard the deputies of the Estates-General with at least respect: in a wave of self-important patriotism, members of the Estates refused to remove their hats in the King's presence, so Louis removed his to them.

This convocation was one of the events that transformed the general economic and political malaise of the country into the French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

, which began in June 1789, when the Third Estate unilaterally declared itself the National Assembly
National Assembly (French Revolution)
During the French Revolution, the National Assembly , which existed from June 17 to July 9, 1789, was a transitional body between the Estates-General and the National Constituent Assembly.-Background:...

. Louis's attempts to control it resulted in the Tennis Court Oath
Tennis Court Oath
The Tennis Court Oath was a pivotal event during the first days of the French Revolution. The Oath was a pledge signed by 576 of the 577 members from the Third Estate who were locked out of a meeting of the Estates-General on 20 June 1789...

 (serment du jeu de paume), on 20 June, and the declaration of the National Constituent Assembly
National Constituent Assembly
The National Constituent Assembly was formed from the National Assembly on 9 July 1789, during the first stages of the French Revolution. It dissolved on 30 September 1791 and was succeeded by the Legislative Assembly.-Background:...

 on 9 July. Within three short months, the majority of the king's executive authority had been transferred to the elected representatives of the people's nation. The storming of the Bastille
Storming of the Bastille
The storming of the Bastille occurred in Paris on the morning of 14 July 1789. The medieval fortress and prison in Paris known as the Bastille represented royal authority in the centre of Paris. While the prison only contained seven inmates at the time of its storming, its fall was the flashpoint...

 on 14 July served to reinforce and emphasize this radical change in the mind of the masses.

Foreign policy




French involvement in the Seven Years War
France in the Seven Years War
France was one of the leading participants in the Seven Years' War which lasted between 1754 and 1763. France entered the war with hopes of achieving a lasting victory both in Europe against Prussia, Britain and their German Allies and across the globe against their major colonial rivals...

 had left Louis XVI a disastrous inheritance. Britain's victories
Great Britain in the Seven Years War
The Kingdom of Great Britain was one of the major participants in the Seven Years' War which lasted between 1756 and 1763. Britain emerged from the war as the world's leading colonial power having gained a number of new territories at the Treaty of Paris in 1763 and established itself as the...

 had seen them capture most of France's colonial territories. While some were returned to France at the 1763 Treaty of Paris
Treaty of Paris (1763)
The Treaty of Paris, often called the Peace of Paris, or the Treaty of 1763, was signed on 10 February 1763, by the kingdoms of Great Britain, France and Spain, with Portugal in agreement. It ended the French and Indian War/Seven Years' War...

 a vast swathe of North America was ceded to the British.

This had led to a strategy amongst the French leadership of seeking to rebuild the French military in order to fight a war of revenge against Britain, in which it was hoped the lost colonies could be recovered. France still maintained a strong influence in the West Indies, and in India maintained five trading posts, leaving opportunities for disputes and power-play with Great Britain.

Concerning the American Revolution



In the spring of 1776, Vergennes, the Foreign Secretary, saw an opportunity to humiliate France's long-standing enemy, Great Britain, as well as recover territory lost during the Seven Years' War
Seven Years' War
The Seven Years' War was a global military war between 1756 and 1763, involving most of the great powers of the time and affecting Europe, North America, Central America, the West African coast, India, and the Philippines...

, by supporting the American Revolution
American Revolution
The American Revolution was the political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break free from the British Empire, combining to become the United States of America...

. Louis XVI was convinced by Pierre Beaumarchais
Pierre Beaumarchais
Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais was a French playwright, watchmaker, inventor, musician, diplomat, fugitive, spy, publisher, arms dealer, satirist, financier, and revolutionary ....

 to secretly send supplies, ammunition and guns from 1776, sign a formal Treaty of Alliance
Treaty of Alliance (1778)
The Treaty of Alliance, also called The Treaty of Alliance with France, was a defensive alliance between France and the United States of America, formed in the midst of the American Revolutionary War, which promised military support in case of attack by British forces indefinitely into the future...

 in early 1778, and go to war with Britain. Spain and the Netherlands soon joined the French in an anti-British coalition.

France's initial military assistance to the American rebels was a disappointment with defeats at Rhode Island
Battle of Rhode Island
The Battle of Rhode Island, also known as the Battle of Quaker Hill and the Siege of Newport, took place on August 29, 1778. Continental Army and militia forces under the command of General John Sullivan were withdrawing to the northern part of Aquidneck Island after abandoning their siege of...

 and Savannah
Siege of Savannah
The Siege of Savannah or the Second Battle of Savannah was an encounter of the American Revolutionary War in 1779. The year before, the city of Savannah, Georgia, had been captured by a British expeditionary corps under Lieutenant-Colonel Archibald Campbell. The siege itself consisted of a joint...

. In 1780 France sent Rochambeau
Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau
Marshal of France Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau was a French nobleman and general who participated in the American Revolutionary War as the commander-in-chief of the French Expeditionary Force which came to help the American Continental Army...

 and de Grasse
François Joseph Paul de Grasse
Lieutenant Général des Armées Navales François-Joseph Paul, marquis de Grasse Tilly, comte de Grasse was a French admiral. He is best known for his command of the French fleet at the Battle of the Chesapeake, which led directly to the British surrender at Yorktown...

 to help the Americans, along with large land and naval forces. The French expeditionary force
Expédition Particulière
Expédition Particulière was the code name given by the French government for the plan to sail French land forces to North America to support the American rebel forces against Britain in the American Revolutionary War. In English they were known as the Special Expedition.The expedition of 5,000...

 arrived in America in July 1780. The appearance of French fleets in the Caribbean was followed by the capture of a number of the sugar islands, including Tobago
Tobago
Tobago is the smaller of the two main islands that make up the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. It is located in the southern Caribbean, northeast of the island of Trinidad and southeast of Grenada. The island lies outside the hurricane belt...

 and Grenada
Grenada
Grenada is an island country and Commonwealth Realm consisting of the island of Grenada and six smaller islands at the southern end of the Grenadines in the southeastern Caribbean Sea...

. French intervention proved decisive in forcing a British army under Lord Cornwallis
Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis
Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis KG , styled Viscount Brome between 1753 and 1762 and known as The Earl Cornwallis between 1762 and 1792, was a British Army officer and colonial administrator...

 to surrender at the Battle of Yorktown
Siege of Yorktown
The Siege of Yorktown, Battle of Yorktown, or Surrender of Yorktown in 1781 was a decisive victory by a combined assault of American forces led by General George Washington and French forces led by the Comte de Rochambeau over a British Army commanded by Lieutenant General Lord Cornwallis...

 in 1781.

The Americans gained their independence, and the war ministry rebuilt the French Army
French Army
The French Army, officially the Armée de Terre , is the land-based and largest component of the French Armed Forces.As of 2010, the army employs 123,100 regulars, 18,350 part-time reservists and 7,700 Legionnaires. All soldiers are professionals, following the suspension of conscription, voted in...

. However, the British defeated the main French fleet in 1782
Battle of the Saintes
The Battle of the Saintes took place over 4 days, 9 April 1782 – 12 April 1782, during the American War of Independence, and was a victory of a British fleet under Admiral Sir George Rodney over a French fleet under the Comte de Grasse forcing the French and Spanish to abandon a planned...

 and successfully defended the island of Jamaica
Jamaica
Jamaica is an island nation of the Greater Antilles, in length, up to in width and 10,990 square kilometres in area. It is situated in the Caribbean Sea, about south of Cuba, and west of Hispaniola, the island harbouring the nation-states Haiti and the Dominican Republic...

. France gained little from the Treaty of Paris (of 1783) that ended the war, except the colonies of Tobago and Senegal. Louis was wholly disappointed in his aim of recovering Canada from Britain. The war cost 1,066 million livres, financed by new loans at high interest (with no new taxes). Necker concealed the crisis from the public by explaining only that ordinary revenues exceeded ordinary expenses, and not mentioning the loans. After he was forced from office in 1781, new taxes were levied.

Concerning India


Louis XVI also wished to expel the British from India. In 1782, Louis XVI sealed an alliance with the Peshwa
Peshwa
A Peshwa is the titular equivalent of a modern Prime Minister. Emporer Shivaji created the Peshwa designation in order to more effectively delegate administrative duties during the growth of the Maratha Empire. Prior to 1749, Peshwas held office for 8-9 years and controlled the Maratha army...

 Madhu Rao Narayan
Madhavrao II
Madhavrao II , also Madhu Rao Narayan, was Peshwa of the Maratha Empire in India, from a young age. He was known as Sawai Madhavrao...

. As a consequence Bussy
Marquis de Bussy-Castelnau
Charles Joseph Patissier, Marquis de Bussy-Castelnau was the Governor General of the French colony of Pondicherry from 1783 to 1785. He servied with distinction under Joseph François Dupleix in the East Indies, receiving the Order of Saint Louis...

 moved his troops to the Île de France (Mauritius
Mauritius
Mauritius , officially the Republic of Mauritius is an island nation off the southeast coast of the African continent in the southwest Indian Ocean, about east of Madagascar...

) and later contributed to the French effort in India in 1783. Suffren
Pierre André de Suffren de Saint Tropez
Admiral comte Pierre André de Suffren de Saint Tropez, bailli de Suffren , French admiral, was the third son of the marquis de Saint Tropez, head of a family of nobles of Provence which claimed to have emigrated from Lucca in the 14th century...

 became the ally of Hyder Ali
Hyder Ali
Hyder Ali was the de facto ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore in southern India. Born Hyder Naik, he distinguished himself militarily, eventually drawing the attention of Mysore's rulers...

 in the Second Anglo-Mysore War
Second Anglo-Mysore War
The Second Anglo-Mysore War was a conflict in Mughal India between the Sultanate of Mysore and the British East India Company. At the time, Mysore was a key French ally in India, and the Franco-British conflict raging on account of the American Revolutionary War helped spark Anglo-Mysorean...

 against British rule in India, in 1782–1783, fighting the British fleet along the coasts of India and Ceylon.

Concerning Vietnam and Indo-China



France also intervened in Vietnam
Vietnam
Vietnam – sometimes spelled Viet Nam , officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam – is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and the South China Sea –...

 following Mgr Pigneau de Behaine
Pigneau de Behaine
Pierre Joseph Georges Pigneau , commonly known as Pigneau de Béhaine, also Pierre Pigneaux and Bá Đa Lộc , was a French Catholic priest best known for his role in assisting Nguyễn Ánh to establish the Nguyễn Dynasty in Vietnam after the Tây Sơn...

's intervention to obtain military aid. A France-Vietnam alliance was signed through the Treaty of Versailles of 1787
Treaty of Versailles (1787)
The Versailles Treaty of 1787 was a treaty of alliance signed between the French king Louis XVI and the Vietnamese Prince Nguyễn Ánh, the future Emperor Gia Long....

, between Louis XVI and Prince Nguyễn Ánh. As the French regime was under considerable strain, France was unable to follow through with the application of the Treaty, but Mgr Pigneau de Behaine persisted in his efforts and with the support of French individuals and traders mounted a force of French soldiers and officers that would contribute to the modernization

Concerning world exploration


Louis XVI also encouraged major voyages of exploration. In 1785, he appointed La Pérouse
La Perouse
La Perouse may refer to* Jean-François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse, a French naval officer and explorer,and the following places which were named after him:* La Perouse, New South Wales, a suburb of Sydney...

 to lead a sailing expedition around the world.

Revolutionary constitutional reign, 1789–1792



On 5 October 1789, an angry mob of Parisian working women was incited by revolutionaries and marched
The March on Versailles
The Women's March on Versailles, also known as The October March, The October Days, or simply The March on Versailles, was one of the earliest and most significant events of the French Revolution. The march began among women in the marketplaces of Paris who, on the morning of 5 October 1789, were...

 on the Palace of Versailles
Palace of Versailles
The Palace of Versailles , or simply Versailles, is a royal château in Versailles in the Île-de-France region of France. In French it is the Château de Versailles....

, where the royal family lived. During the night, they infiltrated the palace and attempted to kill the queen, who was associated with a frivolous lifestyle that symbolized much that was despised about the Ancien Régime. After the situation had been defused, the king and his family were brought by the crowd to the Tuileries Palace
Tuileries Palace
The Tuileries Palace was a royal palace in Paris which stood on the right bank of the River Seine until 1871, when it was destroyed in the upheaval during the suppression of the Paris Commune...

 in Paris. The reasoning behind this forced departure from Versailles was the opinion the king would be more accountable to the people if he lived among them in Paris.
Initially, after the removal of the royal family to Paris, Louis maintained a certain level of popularity by acquiescing to many of the social, political, and economic reforms of the revolutionaries. Unbeknownst to the public, however, recent scholarship has concluded that Louis began to suffer at the time from severe bouts of clinical depression, which left him prone to paralyzing indecisiveness. During these indecisive moments, his wife, the unpopular queen, was essentially forced into assuming the role of decision-maker for the Crown.

The revolution's principles of popular sovereignty, though central to democratic principles of later eras, marked a decisive break from the absolute monarchical principle that was at the heart of traditional French government. As a result, the revolution was opposed by many of the rural people of France and by practically all the governments of France's neighbors. As the revolution became more radical and the masses became more uncontrollable, several leading figures in the initial formation of the revolution began to doubt its benefits. Some like Honoré Mirabeau secretly plotted with the Crown to restore its power in a new constitutional form.

Beginning in 1791, Montmorin
Armand Marc, comte de Montmorin
Armand Marc, comte de Montmorin de Saint Herem was a French statesman. He was Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Navy under Louis XVI....

, Minister of Foreign Affairs, started to organize covert resistance to the Revolutionary forces. Thus, the funds of the Civil List (la Liste civile), voted annually by the National Assembly
National Assembly (French Revolution)
During the French Revolution, the National Assembly , which existed from June 17 to July 9, 1789, was a transitional body between the Estates-General and the National Constituent Assembly.-Background:...

 were partially assigned to secret expenses in order to preserve the monarchy. Arnault Laporte
Arnaud II de La Porte
Arnaud II de La Porte French statesman, Minister of the Marine, Intendant of the King's Civil List .-Early life and career:...

 was in charge of the Civil List and he collaborated with both Montmorin and Mirabeau. After the sudden death of Mirabeau, Maximilien Radix de Sainte-Foix
Maximilien Radix de Sainte-Foix
Maximilien Radix de Sainte-Foix, born Charles-Pierre-Maximilien Radix de Sainte-Foix , was a noted French financier and politician. He held the position of Superintendent of Finance for Comte d'Artois. Later, he headed the secret council of advisers for Louis XVI, while the latter was being...

, a noted financier, took his place. In effect, he headed a secret council of advisers to the King that tried to preserve the Monarchy; these schemes proved unsuccessful, and were exposed later as the armoire de fer
Armoire de fer
L'armoire de fer refers to a hiding place at the apartments of Louis XVI of France at the Tuileries Palace where some secret documents were kept. The existence of this iron cabinet, hidden behind wooden panelling, was publicly revealed in November 1792 to Roland, Girondin Minister of the Interior...

 scandal.

Mirabeau's death, and Louis's indecision, fatally weakened negotiations between the Crown and moderate politicians. On one hand, Louis was nowhere near as reactionary as his brothers, the comte de Provence
Louis XVIII of France
Louis XVIII , known as "the Unavoidable", was King of France and of Navarre from 1814 to 1824, omitting the Hundred Days in 1815...

  and the comte d'Artois
Charles X of France
Charles X was known for most of his life as the Comte d'Artois before he reigned as King of France and of Navarre from 16 September 1824 until 2 August 1830. A younger brother to Kings Louis XVI and Louis XVIII, he supported the latter in exile and eventually succeeded him...

, and he repeatedly sent messages to them requesting a halt to their attempts to launch counter-coups. This was often done through his secretly nominated regent, the Cardinal Loménie de Brienne
Étienne Charles de Loménie de Brienne
Étienne Charles de Loménie de Brienne was a French churchman, politician and finance minister of Louis XVI.-Life:...

. On the other hand, Louis was alienated from the new democratic government both by its negative reaction to the traditional role of the monarch and in its treatment of him and his family. He was particularly irked by being kept essentially as a prisoner in the Tuileries, where his wife was being humiliatingly forced to have revolutionary soldiers in her private bedroom watching her as she slept, and by the refusal of the new regime to allow him to have confessors and priests of his choice rather than 'constitutional priests' pledged to the state and not the Roman Catholic Church.

On 21 June 1791, Louis attempted to secretly flee
Flight to Varennes
The Flight to Varennes was a significant episode in the French Revolution during which King Louis XVI of France, his wife Marie Antoinette, and their immediate family attempted unsuccessfully to escape from Paris in order to initiate a counter-revolution...

 with his family from Paris to the royalist fortress town of Montmédy
Montmédy
Montmédy is a commune in the Meuse department in Lorraine in north-eastern France.-Citadel of Montmédy:In 1221 the first castle of Montmédy was built on top of a hill by the Count of Chiny. Montmédy became soon the capital of his territory - later it belonged to Luxembourg, Burgundy, Austria and...

 on the northeastern border of France. While the National Assembly worked painstakingly towards a constitution, Louis and Marie-Antoinette were involved in plans of their own. Louis had appointed the baron de Breteuil to act as plenipotentiary, dealing with other foreign heads of state in an attempt to bring about a counter-revolution. As tensions in Paris rose and Louis was pressured to accept measures from the Assembly against his will, the King and Queen plotted to secretly escape from France. Beyond escape, they hoped to raise an "armed congress" with the help of the émigrés who had fled, as well as assistance from other nations, with which they could return and, in essence, recapture France. This degree of planning reveals Louis’ political determination; unfortunately it was for this determined plot that he was eventually convicted of high treason. However, flaws in its plan and lack of rapidity were responsible for the failure of the escape. The royal family was arrested at Varennes-en-Argonne
Varennes-en-Argonne
Varennes-en-Argonne or simply Varennes is a commune in the Meuse department in Lorraine in north-eastern France.Population : 691.-Geography:Varennes-en-Argonne lies on the river Aire to the northeast of Sainte-Menehould, near Verdun.-History:...

 shortly after Jean-Baptiste Drouet
Jean-Baptiste Drouet (French revolutionary)
Jean-Baptiste Drouet was a French politician of the 1789 Revolution, chiefly noted for the part he played in the arrest of King Louis XVI during the Flight to Varennes.-Early life, Varennes, and in the Convention:...

, postmaster of the town of Sainte-Menehould
Sainte-Menehould
Sainte-Menehould is a commune in the Marne department in north-eastern France.The town and its several restaurants pride themselves on serving a local specialty called pied de cochon or pig's trotters....

, had recognised the king from his profile on a golden écu, and had given the alert. Louis XVI and his family were brought back to Paris where they arrived on 25 June. Viewed suspiciously as traitors, they were placed under tight house arrest
House arrest
In justice and law, house arrest is a measure by which a person is confined by the authorities to his or her residence. Travel is usually restricted, if allowed at all...

 upon their return to the Tuileries.
The other monarchies of Europe looked with concern upon the developments in France, and considered whether they should intervene, either in support of Louis or to take advantage of the chaos in France. The key figure was Marie Antoinette's brother, the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II
Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor
Leopold II , born Peter Leopold Joseph Anton Joachim Pius Gotthard, was Holy Roman Emperor and King of Hungary and Bohemia from 1790 to 1792, Archduke of Austria and Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1765 to 1790. He was a son of Emperor Francis I and his wife, Empress Maria Theresa...

. Initially, he had looked on the revolution with equanimity. However, he became more and more disturbed as it became more and more radical. Despite this, he still hoped to avoid war.

On 27 August, Leopold and King Frederick William II of Prussia
Frederick William II of Prussia
Frederick William II was the King of Prussia, reigning from 1786 until his death. He was in personal union the Prince-Elector of Brandenburg and the sovereign prince of the Principality of Neuchâtel.-Early life:...

, in consultation with émigrés French nobles, issued the Declaration of Pillnitz
Declaration of Pillnitz
The Declaration of Pillnitz was a statement issued on 27 August 1791 at Pillnitz Castle near Dresden by the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II and Frederick William II of Prussia...

, which declared the interest of the monarchs of Europe in the well-being of Louis and his family, and threatened vague but severe consequences if anything should befall them. Although Leopold saw the Pillnitz Declaration as an easy way to appear concerned about the developments in France without committing any soldiers or finances to change them, the revolutionary leaders in Paris viewed it fearfully as a dangerous foreign attempt to undermine France's sovereignty.

In addition to the ideological differences between France and the monarchical powers of Europe, there were continuing disputes over the status of Austrian estates in Alsace
Alsace
Alsace is the fifth-smallest of the 27 regions of France in land area , and the smallest in metropolitan France. It is also the seventh-most densely populated region in France and third most densely populated region in metropolitan France, with ca. 220 inhabitants per km²...

, and the concern of members of the National Constituent Assembly
National Constituent Assembly
The National Constituent Assembly was formed from the National Assembly on 9 July 1789, during the first stages of the French Revolution. It dissolved on 30 September 1791 and was succeeded by the Legislative Assembly.-Background:...

 about the agitation of émigrés nobles abroad, especially in the Austrian Netherlands and the minor states of Germany.

In the end, the Legislative Assembly
Legislative Assembly (France)
During the French Revolution, the Legislative Assembly was the legislature of France from 1 October 1791 to September 1792. It provided the focus of political debate and revolutionary law-making between the periods of the National Constituent Assembly and of the National Convention.The Legislative...

, supported by Louis, declared war on the Holy Roman Empire first, voting for war on 20 April 1792, after a long list of grievances was presented to it by the foreign minister, Charles François Dumouriez
Charles François Dumouriez
Charles-François du Périer Dumouriez was a French general during the French Revolutionary Wars. He shared the victory at Valmy with General François Christophe Kellermann, but later deserted the Revolutionary Army and became a royalist intriguer during the reign of Napoleon.-Early life:Dumouriez...

. Dumouriez prepared an immediate invasion of the Austrian Netherlands, where he expected the local population to rise against Austrian rule. However, the revolution had thoroughly disorganised the army, and the forces raised were insufficient for the invasion. The soldiers fled at the first sign of battle, deserting en masse and, in one case, murdering their general.


While the revolutionary government frantically raised fresh troops and reorganised its armies, a mostly Prussian allied army under Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick
Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick
Charles William Ferdinand , Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, was a sovereign prince of the Holy Roman Empire, and a professional soldier who served as a Generalfeldmarschall of the Kingdom of Prussia...

 assembled at Coblenz on the Rhine. In July, the invasion commenced, with Brunswick's army easily taking the fortresses of Longwy
Longwy
Longwy is a commune in the Meurthe-et-Moselle department in north-eastern France.The inhabitants are known as Longoviciens.-Economy:Longwy has historically been an industrial center of the Lorraine iron mining district. The town is known for its artistic glazed pottery.-History:Longwy initially...

 and Verdun. The duke then issued on 25 July a proclamation called the Brunswick Manifesto, written by Louis's émigré cousin, the Prince de Condé
Louis Joseph de Bourbon, prince de Condé
Louis Joseph de Bourbon was Prince of Condé from 1740 to his death. A member of the House of Bourbon, he held the prestigious rank of Prince du Sang.-Biography:...

, declaring the intent of the Austrians and Prussians to restore the king to his full powers and to treat any person or town who opposed them as rebels to be condemned to death by martial law.

Contrary to its intended purpose of strengthening the position of the King against the revolutionaries, the Brunswick Manifesto had the opposite effect of greatly undermining Louis's already highly tenuous position in Paris. It was taken by many to be the final proof of a collusion between Louis and foreign powers in a conspiracy against his own country. The anger of the populace boiled over on 10 August when a group of Parisians – with the backing of a new municipal government of Paris that came to be known as the "insurrectionary" Paris Commune
Paris Commune (French Revolution)
The Paris Commune during the French Revolution was the government of Paris from 1789 until 1795. Established in the Hôtel de Ville just after the storming of the Bastille, the Commune became insurrectionary in the summer of 1792, essentially refusing to take orders from the central French...

 – besieged the Tuileries Palace. The king and the royal family took shelter with the Legislative Assembly
Legislative Assembly (France)
During the French Revolution, the Legislative Assembly was the legislature of France from 1 October 1791 to September 1792. It provided the focus of political debate and revolutionary law-making between the periods of the National Constituent Assembly and of the National Convention.The Legislative...

.

The imprisonment and execution of Louis, 1792–1793




Louis was officially arrested on the 13 August 1792, and sent to the Temple
Temple (Paris)
The Temple was a medieval fortress in Paris, located in what is now the IIIe arrondissement. It was built by the Knights Templar from the 12th century, as their European headquarters. In the 13th century it replaced earlier works of the Vieille Temple in Le Marais...

, an ancient fortress in Paris that was used as a prison. On 21 September, the National Assembly
National Assembly
National Assembly is either a legislature, or the lower house of a bicameral legislature in some countries. The best known National Assembly, and the first legislature to be known by this title, was that established during the French Revolution in 1789, known as the Assemblée nationale...

 declared France to be a Republic and abolished the Monarchy
Proclamation of the abolition of the monarchy
During the French Revolution, the proclamation of the abolition of the monarchy was a proclamation by the National Convention of France announcing that it had abolished the French monarchy on 21 September 1792.-Prelude:...

. Louis was stripped of all of his titles and honours, and from this date was known as simply Citoyen Louis Capet.

The Girondins were partial to keeping the deposed king under arrest, both as a hostage and a guarantee for the future. The more radical members – mainly the Commune and the Parisian deputies who would soon be known as the Mountain
The Mountain
The Mountain refers in the context of the history of the French Revolution to a political group, whose members, called Montagnards, sat on the highest benches in the Assembly...

 – argued for Louis's immediate execution. The legal background of many of the deputies made it difficult for a great number of them to accept an execution without the due process of law of some sort, and it was voted that the deposed monarch be tried before the National Convention, the organ that housed the representatives of the sovereign people.

In November 1792, the Armoire de fer
Armoire de fer
L'armoire de fer refers to a hiding place at the apartments of Louis XVI of France at the Tuileries Palace where some secret documents were kept. The existence of this iron cabinet, hidden behind wooden panelling, was publicly revealed in November 1792 to Roland, Girondin Minister of the Interior...

(French: 'iron chest') incident took place at the Tuileries Palace
Tuileries Palace
The Tuileries Palace was a royal palace in Paris which stood on the right bank of the River Seine until 1871, when it was destroyed in the upheaval during the suppression of the Paris Commune...

. This was believed to have been a hiding place at the Royal apartments, where some secret documents were kept. The existence of this iron cabinet was publicly revealed to Jean-Marie Roland, Girondinist Minister of the Interior. The resulting scandal served to discredit the King.

On 11 December, among crowded and silent streets, the deposed King was brought from the Temple to stand before the Convention and hear his indictment, an accusation of high treason
High treason
High treason is criminal disloyalty to one's government. Participating in a war against one's native country, attempting to overthrow its government, spying on its military, its diplomats, or its secret services for a hostile and foreign power, or attempting to kill its head of state are perhaps...

 and crimes against the State. On 26 December, his counsel, Raymond de Sèze, delivered Louis's response to the charges, with the assistance of François Tronchet and Malesherbes
Guillaume-Chrétien de Lamoignon de Malesherbes
Guillaume-Chrétien de Lamoignon de Malesherbes , often referred to as Malesherbes or Lamoignon-Malesherbes, was a French statesman, minister, and afterwards counsel for the defence of Louis XVI.-Biography:...

.



On 15 January 1793, the Convention, composed of 721 deputies, voted on the verdict. Given overwhelming evidence of Louis's collusion with the invaders, the verdict was a foregone conclusion – with 693 deputies voting guilty, none for acquittal, with 23 abstaining. The next day, a roll-call vote was carried out to decide upon the fate of the King, and the result was uncomfortably close for such a dramatic decision. 288 of the Deputies voted against death and for some other alternative, mainly some means of imprisonment or exile. 72 of the Deputies voted for the death penalty, but subject to a number of delaying conditions and reservations. 361 of the Deputies voted for Louis's immediate death.

The next day, a motion to grant Louis XVI reprieve from the death sentence was voted down: 310 of the Deputies requested mercy, but 380 of the Deputies voted for the immediate execution of the death penalty. This decision would be final. On Monday, 21 January 1793, Louis was beheaded by guillotine
Guillotine
The guillotine is a device used for carrying out :executions by decapitation. It consists of a tall upright frame from which an angled blade is suspended. This blade is raised with a rope and then allowed to drop, severing the head from the body...

 on the Place de la Révolution
Place de la Concorde
The Place de la Concorde in area, it is the largest square in the French capital. It is located in the city's eighth arrondissement, at the eastern end of the Champs-Élysées.- History :...

. The executioner, Charles Henri Sanson
Charles Henri Sanson
Charles Henri Sanson, full title Chevalier Charles-Henri Sanson de Longval was the Royal Executioner of France in the court of King Louis XVI and High Executioner of the First French Republic...

, testified that the former King had bravely met his fate.

As Louis mounted the scaffold he appeared dignified and resigned. He delivered a short speech in which he reasserted his innocence, “I die perfectly innocent of the so-called crimes of which I am accused. I pardon those who are the cause of my misfortunes….” He declared himself willing to die and prayed that the people of France would be spared a similar fate. Many accounts suggest Louis XVI’s desire to to say more to his people when Antoine-Joseph Santerre, a general in the National Guard
National Guard (France)
The National Guard was the name given at the time of the French Revolution to the militias formed in each city, in imitation of the National Guard created in Paris. It was a military force separate from the regular army...

, cut Louis off by ordering a drum roll. The former King was then quickly beheaded by guillotine.
Some accounts of Louis's beheading indicate that the blade did not sever his neck entirely the first time. There are also accounts of a blood-curdling scream issuing from Louis after the blade fell but this is unlikely, since the blade severed Louis's spine. It is agreed that while Louis's blood dripped to the ground many members of the crowd ran forward to dip their handkerchiefs in it.

Legacy


The 19th-century historian, Jules Michelet
Jules Michelet
Jules Michelet was a French historian. He was born in Paris to a family with Huguenot traditions.-Early life:His father was a master printer, not very prosperous, and Jules assisted him in the actual work of the press...

, attributed the restoration of the French monarchy to the sympathy that had been engendered by the execution of Louis XVI. Michelet's Histoire de la Révolution Française and Alphonse de Lamartine's Histoire des Girondins, in particular, showed the marks of the feelings aroused by the revolution's regicide. The two writers did not share the same sociopolitical vision, but they agreed that, even though the monarchy was rightly ended in 1792, the lives of the royal family should have been spared. Lack of compassion at that moment contributed to a radicalization of revolutionary violence and to greater divisiveness among Frenchmen. For the 20th century novelist Albert Camus
Albert Camus
Albert Camus was a French author, journalist, and key philosopher of the 20th century. In 1949, Camus founded the Group for International Liaisons within the Revolutionary Union Movement, which was opposed to some tendencies of the Surrealist movement of André Breton.Camus was awarded the 1957...

 the execution signaled the end of the role of God in history, for which he mourned. For the 20th century philosopher Jean-François Lyotard
Jean-François Lyotard
Jean-François Lyotard was a French philosopher and literary theorist. He is well known for his articulation of postmodernism after the late 1970s and the analysis of the impact of postmodernity on the human condition...

 the regicide was the starting point of all French thought, the memory of which acts as a reminder that French modernity began under the sign of a crime.

His daughter, Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte, the future Duchess of Angoulême, survived the French Revolution, and she lobbied in Rome energetically for the canonization of her father as a saint of the Catholic Church. Despite his signing of the "Civil Constitution of the Clergy", Louis had been described as a martyr by Pope Pius VI in 1793. In 1820, however, a memorandum of the Congregation of Rites in Rome, declaring the impossibility of proving that Louis had been executed for religious rather than political reasons, put an end to hopes of canonization.
  • The Requiem in C minor for mixed chorus by Luigi Cherubini
    Luigi Cherubini
    Luigi Cherubini was an Italian composer who spent most of his working life in France. His most significant compositions are operas and sacred music. Beethoven regarded Cherubini as the greatest of his contemporaries....

     was written in 1816, in memory of Louis XVI.

  • The city of Louisville
    Louisville, Kentucky
    Louisville is the largest city in the U.S. state of Kentucky, and the county seat of Jefferson County. Since 2003, the city's borders have been coterminous with those of the county because of a city-county merger. The city's population at the 2010 census was 741,096...

    , Kentucky, is named for Louis XVI. In 1780, the Virginia General Assembly
    Virginia General Assembly
    The Virginia General Assembly is the legislative body of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the oldest legislative body in the Western Hemisphere, established on July 30, 1619. The General Assembly is a bicameral body consisting of a lower house, the Virginia House of Delegates, with 100 members,...

     bestowed this name in honor of the French king, whose soldiers were aiding the American side in the Revolutionary War
    American Revolutionary War
    The American Revolutionary War , the American War of Independence, or simply the Revolutionary War, began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen British colonies in North America, and ended in a global war between several European great powers.The war was the result of the...

    . The Virginia General Assembly saw the King as a noble man, but many other Continental delegates disagreed. (At that time, Kentucky
    Kentucky
    The Commonwealth of Kentucky is a state located in the East Central United States of America. As classified by the United States Census Bureau, Kentucky is a Southern state, more specifically in the East South Central region. Kentucky is one of four U.S. states constituted as a commonwealth...

     was a part of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Kentucky became the 15th State of the United States in 1792.)

  • There are numerous other places named "Louisville", such as Louisville
    Louisville, Alabama
    Louisville is a town in Barbour County, Alabama, United States. At the 2000 census the population was 612.-Geography:Louisville is located at 31°46'49.112" North, 85°33'26.629" West .According to the U.S...

    , Alabama, Louisville
    Louisville, Georgia
    Louisville is a city in Jefferson County, Georgia, United States. It is the former capital of Georgia and is the county seat of Jefferson County. It is located southwest of Augusta on the Ogeechee River, and its population was 2,712 at the 2000 census. The local pronunciation is the Americanized...

    , Georgia, Louisville
    Louisville, Illinois
    Louisville is a village in Clay County, Illinois, along the Little Wabash River. The population was 1,242 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Clay County.-Geography:Louisville is located at ....

    , Illinois, Louisville
    Louisville, Kansas
    Louisville is a city in Pottawatomie County, Kansas, United States. The population was 209 at the 2000 census. It is part of the Manhattan, Kansas Metropolitan Statistical Area.-History:...

    , Kansas, Louisville
    Louisville, Nebraska
    Louisville is a city in Cass County, Nebraska, United States. The population was 1,046 at the 2000 census.-Geography:Louisville is located at ....

    , Nebraska, Louisville
    Louisville, New York
    Louisville is a town in St. Lawrence County, New York, United States. The population was 3,195 at the 2000 census. The town is reportedly named after a French king, but it is pronounced as "Lewis-ville."...

    , New York, Louisville
    Louisville, Ohio
    Louisville is a city in Stark County in the U.S. state of Ohio. The population was 9,186 at the 2010 census. It is part of the Canton–Massillon Metropolitan Statistical Area.Louisville is also known as the "Constitution Town". -Geography:...

    , Ohio and Louisville
    Louisville, Tennessee
    Louisville is a town in Blount County, Tennessee, United States. Its population was 2,001 at the 2000 U.S. census. It is included in the Knoxville, Tennessee Metropolitan Statistical Area.-Geography:Louisville is located at...

    , Tennessee, all located in the United States.

In film and literature


Louis XVI has been portrayed in numerous films. In Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette (1938 film)
Marie Antoinette is a 1938 film produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It was directed by W. S. Van Dyke and starred Norma Shearer as Marie Antoinette...

(1938), he was played by Robert Morley
Robert Morley
Robert Adolph Wilton Morley, CBE was an English actor who, often in supporting roles, was usually cast as a pompous English gentleman representing the Establishment...

. More recently, he was depicted in the 2006 film Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette (2006 film)
Marie Antoinette is a 2006 biographical film, written and directed by Sofia Coppola. It is very loosely based on the life of the Queen consort in the years leading up to the French Revolution. It won an Academy Award for Best Costume Design...

by Jason Schwartzman
Jason Schwartzman
Jason Francesco Schwartzman is an American actor and musician. He is perhaps best known for his roles in the Hollywood films Rushmore, Spun, I Heart Huckabees, Shopgirl, Marie Antoinette, The Darjeeling Limited, Funny People, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World...

. In Sacha Guitry
Sacha Guitry
Alexandre-Pierre Georges Guitry was a French stage actor, film actor, director, screenwriter, and playwright of the Boulevard theatre.- Biography :...

's Si Versailles m'était conté, Louis was portrayed by one of the film's producers, Gilbert Bokanowski, using the alias Gilbert Boka. Several portrayals have upheld the image of a bumbling, almost foolish king, such as that by Jacques Morel in the 1956 French film Marie-Antoinette reine de France and that by Terence Budd in the Lady Oscar
Lady Oscar (film)
Lady Oscar is a 1979 film, based on the manga The Rose of Versailles by Riyoko Ikeda. The film was written and directed by Jacques Demy, with music composed by his regular collaborator Michel Legrand...

live action film. In Start the Revolution Without Me
Start the Revolution Without Me
Start the Revolution Without Me is a 1970 film directed by Bud Yorkin, starring Gene Wilder, Donald Sutherland, Hugh Griffith, Jack MacGowran, Billie Whitelaw, Orson Welles and Victor Spinetti. The comedy is set in revolutionary France where two peasants are mistaken for the famous swordsmen, the...

, Louis XVI is portrayed by Hugh Griffith
Hugh Griffith
Hugh Emrys Griffith was a Welsh film, stage and television actor.-Early life:Griffith was born in Marianglas, Anglesey, Wales, the son of Mary and William Griffith. He was educated at Llangefni County School and attempted to gain entrance to university, but failed the English examination...

 as a laughable cuckold
Cuckold
Cuckold is a historically derogatory term for a man who has an unfaithful wife. The word, which has been in recorded use since the 13th century, derives from the cuckoo bird, some varieties of which lay their eggs in other birds' nests...

. Mel Brooks
Mel Brooks
Mel Brooks is an American film director, screenwriter, composer, lyricist, comedian, actor and producer. He is best known as a creator of broad film farces and comic parodies. He began his career as a stand-up comic and as a writer for the early TV variety show Your Show of Shows...

 played a comic version of Louis XVI in The History of the World Part 1
The History Of The World Part 1
"The History of the World " is a single by The Damned. It was co-produced by the band with Hans Zimmer, later to go to become a noted film composer. The song marked a further move away from the band's raw punk rock roots, with prog rock and gothic influences evident, as well.The single was also...

, portraying him as a libertine
Libertine
A libertine is one devoid of most moral restraints, which are seen as unnecessary or undesirable, especially one who ignores or even spurns accepted morals and forms of behavior sanctified by the larger society. Libertines, also known as rakes, placed value on physical pleasures, meaning those...

 who has such a distaste for the peasantry he uses them as targets in skeet shooting
Skeet shooting
Skeet shooting is one of the three major types of competitive shotgun target shooting sports . There are several types of skeet, including one with Olympic status , and many with only national recognition.- General principles :Skeet is a recreational and competitive activity where...

.

Ancestors





Primary sources

  • Marie Antoinette. Memoirs of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France and Wife of Louis XVI: Queen of France (1910) Books.Google.com, complete edition online

  • Full text of writings of Louis XV in Ball State University's Digital Media Repository
    Digital Media Repository
    Established in 2004, the Digital Media Repository is an innovation of Ball State University Libraries. The DMR is a publicly-accessible collection of more than 130,000 digital artifacts in sixty-four browsable and searchable collections...

    .


External links