King Louis XVI of France, born Duc de Berry, was born on August 23, 1754 at the Palace of Versailles in France. When Louis’ father died when he was twelve, he became the new heir to the throne. He married Marie Antoinette when he was fifteen. The couple eventually had four children together.
Louis became king in 1774 at twenty years old. His education from 1760-1770 had not prepared him for his kingly duties. France was already in debt when he took the throne, so he was instantly off to a bad start. In addition, Louis was very indecisive, which was not a good quality for a king. Still, he was determined to succeed. (“Historical Figures: Louis XVI (1754-1793).” BBC.co.uk.)
Throughout his reign, King Louis had several different advisors who came up with different financial reforms, all of which failed. One reform was formed by Charles Alexander de Calonne. Alexander tried to increase the spending of the citizens in order to buy France’s way out of debt. After this failed, Louis called forth the Assembly of Notables to discuss another reform. The nobles learned of the extent of debt that France was in and rejected the plan, proving to Louis that he had lost authority as an absolute monarch and sending him into depression.
Louis was forced to call on the Estates General, which hadn’t been summoned since 1614. The group was the only legislative body who could approve the new taxes. The third class members of the Estates General became angry because they didn’t feel like any progress was being made, so they formed the National Assembly. With the meeting of the Estates General on May 4, 1789, the French Revolution began. The French people were not pleased with the country’s economy, and the third class revolted. On July 14, 1789 the storming of the Bastille Prison took place – a symbol of the uprising nation. This day is known in France as La Fête Nationale (meaning The National Celebration) and is commonly called le quatorze juillet (the fourteenth of July).
On October 5, 1789 the Palace of Versailles was invaded by an angry mob of Parisian women who attempted to kill the queen. The crisis was averted, but the royal family moved to Tuileries Palace in Paris. There, Louis was able to attend more to the social, economic, and political reform of the revolutionaries. Still, the revolution was getting out of hand and the monarchy was becoming less powerful in comparison to the new democratic government.
Louis became fed up with this treatment. When he was pressured to accept terms from the National Assembly that he did not agree to, he decided he wanted to stop the revolution. He and Marie made plans to leave France and, with assistance from other countries, come back to recapture France.
The family was caught before they left France and sent back to Tuileries Palace, where they were put under house arrest. In July 1792, a proclamation called the Brunswick Manifesto was issued that declared that Austria and Prussia were fighting to restore King Louis to power and anyone against this would be condemned to death. The Manifesto did more harm than good when, on August 10, a group of Parisians invaded the Tuileries Palace. The royal family took shelter with the Legislative Assembly.
King Louis XVI was arrested on August 13, 1792 and sent to an ancient fortress in Paris called the Temple. On December 11, he was officially indicted for high treason and crimes against the State. On January 16, 1793, 380 deputies (the majority) of the National Convention voted for his death. (“Louis XVI of France.” wikipedia.org.)
King Louis XVI was beheaded on January 21, 1793 at what is today known as the Place de la Concorde. His death was met by shots of “Vive la Republique!” (The Execution of Louis XVI, 1793.” Eyewitnesstohistory.com.) The next day, the National Convention announced to the people, “He has paid his penalty, and only acclamations for the Republic and for liberty have been heard from the people.” (Steven Kreis, “Proclamation of the Convention to the French People”, Historyguide.org) His death was a relief to the people of France.
Louis was nicknamed “Louis le Dernier” by the French people, meaning “Louis the Last”. Louis XVI symbolizes the end of an era and the beginning of another – the transition from absolute monarchy to the French republic
“Louis XVI of France.” wikipedia.org. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Sept. 2010. Web. Sept. 2010.
“The Execution of Louis XVI, 1793.” Eye Witness to History, http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com (1999). Web. Sept. 2010
Kreis, Steven. “The Trial and Execution of Louis XVI.” The History Guide. n.p. 13 May 2004. Web. Sept. 2010.
“Historical Figures: Louis XVI (1754-1793).” BBC.co.uk. BBC, n.d. Web. Sept. 2010.
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