Louis XVI: Wikis


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Louis XVI
Louis XVI by Antoine-François Callet
King of France and Navarre
Reign 10 May 1774 – 1 October 1791
Coronation 11 June 1775
Predecessor Louis XV
Successor Himself as King of the French
King of the French
Reign 1 October 1791 – 21 September 1792
Predecessor Himself as King of France and Navarre
Successor Monarchy abolished
National Convention
ruling legislative body of the French First Republic
Louis XVII as De jure successor and heir.
Next reigning monarch in France was Napoleon I starting 1804.
Spouse Marie Antoinette
Marie-Thérèse Charlotte de France
Louis-Joseph, Dauphin of France
Louis-Charles, future titular Louis XVII
Sophie Hélène Béatrice de France
Full name
Louis-Auguste de France
Father Louis, Dauphin of France
Mother Marie-Josèphe of Saxony
Born 23 August 1754(1754-08-23)
Palace of Versailles, France
Died 21 January 1793 (aged 38) (executed)
Paris, France
Burial Saint Denis Basilica, France

(21 January 1815, at time of Bourbon Restoration)

Louis XVI of France (23 August 1754 – 21 January 1793) ruled as King of France and Navarre from 1774 until 1791, and then as King of the French from 1791 to 1792. Suspended and arrested during the Insurrection of 10 August 1792, he was tried by the National Convention, found guilty of treason, and executed by guillotine on 21 January 1793. He was the only king of France to be executed.

Although Louis was beloved at first, 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. After the abolition of the monarchy in 1792, the new republican government gave him the surname Capet, a reference to the nickname of Hugh Capet, founder of the Capetian dynasty, which the revolutionaries wrongly interpreted as a family name. He was also informally nicknamed Louis le Dernier (Louis the Last), a derisive use of the traditional nicknaming of French kings. Today, historians and French people in general have a more nuanced view of Louis XVI, who is seen as an honest man with good intentions, but who was probably unfit for the herculean task of reforming the monarchy, and who was used as a scapegoat by the revolutionaries.[1]



Louis-Auguste de France, who was given the title of duc de Berry at birth, was born in the Palace of Versailles in France. Out of eight children, he was the third son of the Dauphin Louis-Ferdinand, and thus the grandson of Louis XV of France and of his consort, Maria Leszczyńska. His mother was Marie-Josèphe of Saxony, the daughter of Frederick Augustus II of Saxony, Prince-Elector of Saxony and King of Poland.

Louis-Auguste had a difficult childhood because his parents neglected him in favor of his bright and handsome older brother, Louis, duc de Bourgogne, who died at the age of ten in 1761. A strong and healthy boy, although 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 manual activities such as hunting with his grandfather, Louis XV, and rough-playing with his younger brothers, Louis-Stanislas, comte de Provence, and Charles-Philippe, comte d'Artois. 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.[2]

Upon the death of his father, who died of tuberculosis 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.[3] The strict and conservative education he received from the duc de La Vauguyon, "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 he was to inherit in 1774 at the death of his grandfather.

Family life

Marie Antoinette Queen of France with her three oldest children, Marie-Thérèse, Louis-Charles and Louis-Joseph. Princess Sophie Hélène Béatrix of France, originally in the cradle, was painted out after her death. By Marie Louise Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun

On 16 May 1770, at the age of sixteen, Louis-Auguste married the 14-year-old Habsburg Archduchess Maria Antonia (better known by the French form of her name, Marie Antoinette), his second cousin once removed and the youngest daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I and his wife, the formidable Empress Maria Theresa.

The marriage was met with hostility by the French public. France's alliance with Austria had pulled France into the disastrous Seven Years War, in which they were soundly defeated by the British. By the time Louis-Auguste and Marie-Antoinette were married, the people of France regarded the Austrian alliance with intense dislike, and Marie-Antoinette was seen as an unwelcome foreigner.[4] 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, whilst his fear of being manipulated by her for Imperial purposes caused him to behave coldly towards her in public.[5] Over time, the couple became closer, and the marriage was consummated in July 1773.[6]

Nonetheless, the couple failed to produce children for several years after that, placing strain upon the marriage,[7] whilst the situation was worsened by the publication of obscene pamphlets (libelles) which mocked the infertility of the pair. One questioned, "Can the King do it? Can't the King do it?"[8]

The reasons behind the couple's initial failure to have children were vigorously debated even at the time, and have continued to be so since. One suggestion is that Louis-Auguste suffered from a sexual dysfunction,[9] perhaps phimosis (a tightness of the foreskin that inhibits erection and ejaculation in sufferers), a suggestion first made in late 1772 by the royal doctors.[10] Historians adhering to this view suggest that he was circumcised (the common cure for phimosis) to relieve the condition seven years after the marriage. Louis's doctors were not in favor of it—the operation was delicate and traumatic, and capable of doing "as much harm as good" to an adult male. As late as 1777, the Prussian envoy, Baron Goltz, reported that the King had definitely declined to be operated upon.[11]

Louis XVI at the age of 20

Historical evidence further suggests that the King was not operated on. The Dauphine's doctor, Jean-Marie Lassonne, examining the Dauphin in 1773, found him 'well made', and judged that the problem was one of 'clumsiness and ignorance'.[10] This incident was followed several months later by the above-mentioned consummation of July 1773.[6] In addition, there is no record of the king being operated upon, or of him spending several weeks convalescing, as would have been necessary; the fact that his hunting journals show no such break, despite the impossibility of sitting in a saddle for several weeks after such an operation, strongly suggests that he did not in fact have it.[12]

It has also been suggested, although her mother Maria-Theresa insisted otherwise, that the biological hindrance lay with Marie-Antoinette. Medical correspondence of the time stated that, though inexperienced, Louis was simply "too much of a gentleman" to force himself on his young and slender wife. Some sources suggest that it was Marie-Antoinette who underwent some minor surgical operation, which then enabled the royal couple to conceive.[13]

The true cause of the couple's infertility may have been revealed in a letter written by Marie-Antoinette's brother, Joseph II, to another brother, Leopold II. Joseph in April 1777 visited Louis and Marie-Antoinette in France, and had a frank talk with both of them regarding sexual matters; from this, he discovered that the King slept with his wife from a sense of royal duty rather than for pleasure. There was no problem with the King's sexual organs: Joseph wrote, "he has strong perfectly satisfactory erections", and "he sometimes has night-time emissions"; the problem was that when the King and Queen slept together, "he introduces the member, stays there without moving for about two minutes, withdraws without ejaculating but still erect, and bids goodnight...when he is inside and going at it...[ejaculation] never happens." In the Emperor's opinion, the pair were "two complete blunderers", who had nothing wrong with them aside from lack of sexual knowledge and desire.[14]

Joseph, it would appear, remedied the couple's ignorance during his 'talks' with the pair; by August, the marriage was finally consummated, and the pair had thanked him for his advice, to which they attributed the consummation.[15]

Subsequently, the Royal couple had four children:

Absolute Monarch of France, 1774-1789

Louis XVI by Antoine-François Callet, 1786

When Louis XVI succeeded to the throne in 1774, he was 20. He had an enormous responsibility, as the government was deeply in debt, and resentment towards 'despotic' monarchy was on the rise. Louis also felt woefully unqualified for the job. He aimed to earn the love of his people by reinstating the parlements. While none doubted Louis' intellectual ability to rule France, it was quite clear that, although raised as the Dauphin since 1765, he was indecisive and not firm enough to rule. In spite of his indecisiveness, Louis was determind to be a good king, stating that he "must always consult public opinion; it is never wrong."[16] Louis therefore appointed an experienced advisor, Jean-Frédéric Phélypeaux, comte de Maurepas who, until his death in 1781, would take charge on many important ministerial decisions.

Radical financial reforms by Turgot and Malesherbes 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. Necker supported the American Revolution, and proceeded with a policy of taking out large international loans instead of raising taxes. When this policy failed miserably, Louis dismissed him, and replaced him in 1783 with Charles Alexandre de Calonne, who increased public spending to 'buy' the country's way out of debt. Again this failed, so Louis convoked the Assembly of Notables in 1787 to discuss a revolutionary new fiscal reform proposed by Calonne. When the nobles were told 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.[17]

As power drifted from him, there were increasingly loud calls for him to convoke the Estates-General, and in May 1789 he did so, summoning it for the first time since 1614 in a last-ditch attempt to get new monetary reforms approved. 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 of 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.[18]

This convocation was one of the events that transformed the general economic and political malaise of the country into the French Revolution, which began in June 1789, when the Third Estate unilaterally declared itself the National Assembly. Louis's attempts to control it resulted in the Tennis Court Oath (serment du jeu de paume, 20 June), and the declaration of the National Constituent Assembly 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 on 14 July served to reinforce and emphasize this radical change in the mind of the masses.

Foreign policy

Surrender of Cornwallis to French (left) and American (right) troops, at the Siege of Yorktown in 1781, by John Trumbull.
Louis XVI receives the ambassadors of Tippu Sultan in 1788, Voyer after Emile Wattier, 19th century.

French involvement in the Seven Years War had left Louis XVI a disastrous inheritance. Britain's victories had seen them capture most of France's colonial territories. While some were returned to France at the 1763 Treaty of Paris 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.[19]

American Revolution

In spring 1776 Vergennes, the Foreign Secretary, saw an opportunity to humiliate France's long-standing enemy, Great Britain by supporting the American Revolution. Louis XVI was convinced by Benjamin Franklin to send financial aid and large quantities of munitions, sign a formal Treaty of Alliance in 1778, and go to war with Britain. Spain and the Netherlands joined the French. France sent Rochambeau, La Fayette and de Grasse, to help the Americans, along with large land and naval forces. French aid proved decisive in forcing the main British army to surrender at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781.[20]

The Americans gained their independence, and the war ministry rebuilt the French army. However, the British sank the main French fleet in 1782 and France gained little from the Treaty of Paris (1783) that ended the war,[21] but 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.[22]


Louis XVI wished to expel the British from India as well.[19] In 1782, Louis XVI sealed an alliance with the Peshwa Madhu Rao Narayan. As a consequence Bussy moved his troops to Ile de France (Mauritius) and later contributed to the French effort in India in 1783.[19][23] Suffren became the ally of Hyder Ali in the Second Anglo-Mysore War against British rule in India, in 1782-1783, fighting the British fleet on the coasts of India and Ceylon.[24][25]


Louis XVI giving La Pérouse his instructions

France also intervened in Vietnam following Mgr Pigneau de Behaine's intervention to obtain military aid. A France-Vietnam alliance was signed through the 1787 Treaty of Versailles, between Louis XVI and Prince Nguyen Anh. 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 of the armies of Nguyen Anh, contributing to his victory and his reconquest of the totality of Vietnam by 1802.


Louis XVI also encouraged major voyages of exploration. In 1785, he appointed La Pérouse to lead an expedition around the world.

Revolutionary constitutional reign, 1789–1792

Silver Ecu of Louis XVI, struck 1785
Obverse: (Latin) LUD[OVICVS] XVI D[EI] G[RATIA] FR[ANCIA] ET NA[VARRE] RE[X] or in English, "Louis XVI, By the Grace of God, King of France and Navarre." Reverse: (Latin) SIT NOMEN DOMINI BENEDICTUM 1785, or in English, "Blessed Be the Name of the Lord, 1785."

On 5 October 1789, an angry mob of poor Parisian women were incited by revolutionaries and marched on the Palace of 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 Ancient Regime. After the situation had been defused, the king and his family were brought back by the crowd to Paris to live in the Tuileries Palace. 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 where he and his family could be better monitored.

Tinted etching of Louis XVI, 1792. The caption refers to the date of the Tennis Court Oath and concludes "The same Louis XVI who bravely waits until his fellow citizens return to their hearths to plan a secret war and exact his revenge."

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.

However, Mirabeau's sudden 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[citation needed] and the Comte d'Artois, 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. 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 with his family from Paris to the royalist fortress town of Montmédy on the northeastern border of France.[26] 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’ determination to do what he thought was right for his country beneath his superficial appearance of apathy, although unfortunately it was for this determined plot that he was eventually convicted of treason.[27] 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 shortly after Jean-Baptiste Drouet, postmaster of the town of Sainte-Menehould, 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 upon their return to the Tuileries.

The return of the royal family to Paris on 25 June 1791, colored copperplate after a drawing of Jean-Louis Prieur

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. 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, in consultation with émigrés French nobles, issued the Declaration of Pilnitz, 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, and the concern of members of the National Constituent Assembly about the agitation of émigrés nobles abroad, especially in the Austrian Netherlands and the minor states of Germany.

In the end, the Legislative Assembly, 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. 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.

The Storming of the Tuileries Palace.

While the revolutionary government frantically raised fresh troops and reorganised its armies, a mostly Prussian allied army under Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick assembled at Coblenz on the Rhine. In July, the invasion commenced, with Brunswick's army easily taking the fortresses of Longwy 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, 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 Communebesieged the Tuileries Palace. The king and the royal family took shelter with the Legislative Assembly.

Arrest and execution, 1792-1793

Louis XVI imprisoned at the Tour du Temple, by Jean-François Garneray (1755-1837).

Louis was officially arrested on the 13th of August and sent to the Temple, an ancient Paris fortress used as a prison. On 21 September, the National Assembly declared France to be a republic and abolished the monarchy.

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 Parisian deputies who would soon be known as the Mountain – 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 due process of some sort, and it was voted that the deposed monarch should be tried before the National Convention, the organ that housed the representatives of the sovereign people.

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 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.

Execution of Louis XVI in the Place de la Révolution. The empty pedestal in front of him had supported a statue of his grandfather, Louis XV, torn down during one of the many revolutionary riots.
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On 15 January 1793, the Convention, composed of 721 deputies, voted out the verdict, which was a foregone conclusion – 693 voted guilty, and none voted for acquittal. The next day, a voting roll-call was carried out in order to decide upon the fate of the king, and the result was, for such a dramatic decision, uncomfortably close. 288 deputies voted against death and for some other alternative, mainly some means of imprisonment or exile. 72 deputies voted for the death penalty, but subject to a number of delaying conditions and reservations. 361 deputies voted for Louis's immediate death.

The next day, a motion to grant Louis reprieve from the death sentence was voted down; 310 deputies requested mercy, 380 voted for the execution of the death penalty. This decision would be final. On Monday, 21 January 1793, stripped of all titles and honorifics by the republican government, Citoyen Louis Capet was guillotined in front of a cheering crowd in what today is the Place de la Concorde. The executioner, Charles Henri Sanson, testified that the former King had bravely met his fate.[28]

As Louis mounted the scaffold he appeared dignified and resigned. He attempted a speech in which he reasserted his innocence and pardoned those responsible for his death. He declared himself willing to die and prayed that the people of France would be spared a similar fate. He seemed about to say more when Antoine-Joseph Santerre, a general in the National Guard, cut Louis off by ordering a drum roll. The former king was then quickly beheaded.

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 as the blade severed Louis’s spine. It is agreed however that, as Louis's blood dripped to the ground, many in the crowd ran forward to dip their handkerchiefs in it.[29]

Image and memory

Memorial to King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette, sculptures by Edme Gaulle and Pierre Petitot in the Basilica of Saint-Denis.

The regicide has loomed as a shadow over French history. The 19th-century historian, Jules Michelet, attributed the restoration of the French monarchy to sympathy engendered by the execution. 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. Because Louis XVI was a merciful man, the revolutionaries' passions needed to be balanced by compassion and by less fanatical sentiments. For 20th century novelist Albert Camus the execution signaled the end of the role of God in history, for which he mourned. For 20th century philosopher Jean-François Lyotard 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.[30]

The duchess of Angoulême, daughter of Louis XVI, survived and lobbied 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.

  • Louisville, Kentucky is named for Louis XVI. In 1780, the Virginia General Assembly bestowed this name in honor of the French king, whose soldiers were aiding the American side in the Revolutionary War. The Virginia General Assembly saw the King as a noble man, but many other continental delegates disagreed.

In films and literature

Louis XVI has been portrayed in numerous films depicting the French Revolution. In Marie Antoinette (1938), he was played by Robert Morley. In Sacha Guitry's Si Versailles m'était conté, he was portrayed by one of the film's producers, Gilbert Bokanowski (using the alias Gilbert Boka), who arguably resembled him. 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 live action film. In Start the Revolution Without Me, Louis XVI is portrayed by Hugh Griffith as a laughable cuckold. Mel Brooks played a comic version of Louis the XVI in The History of the World Part 1, who was portrayed as a libertine who had such a distaste for the peasantry he used them as targets in skeet-shooting.

In the two-part film La Révolution française, Jean-François Balmer gave a critically-acclaimed performance as Louis XVI, whom he portrayed as an insecure, shy, yet decent and intelligent man. In Ridicule, the king was played by Urbain Cancelier. In Jefferson in Paris, Louis XVI was played by Michael Lonsdale who, at 64 years old, greatly exceeded the King's actual age. In Marie Antoinette (2006), he was played by Jason Schwartzman, in a movie known not to be historically accurate because the historical Louis was quite tall and is known to have gained a great deal of weight towards the end of his life. In the 1997 movie Titanic, a necklace called the Heart of the Ocean held a precious, heart-shaped blue diamond, supposedly fashioned from Louis XVI's crown, which disappeared after his execution. The history of the necklace was inspired by that of the Hope Diamond.

In the American supernatural television drama Moonlight, Louis XVI is mentioned as the progenitor of a vampiric bloodline which discovered a temporary cure for vampirism.




  • Baecque, Antoine De. "From Royal Dignity to Republican Austerity: the Ritual for the Reception of Louis XVI in the French National Assembly (1789-1792)." Journal of Modern History 1994 66(4): 671-696. JSTOR.org
  • Burley, Peter. "A Bankrupt Regime." History Today (Jan 1984) 34:36-42. Issn: 0018-2753 Fulltext in EBSCO
  • Doyle, William. Origins of the French Revolution (3rd ed. 1999) online edition
  • Doyle, William. "The Execution of Louis XVI and the End of the French Monarchy." History Review. (2000) pp 21+ Questia.com, online edition
  • Doyle, William (2002). The Oxford History of the French Revolution. UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199252985.  Pages 194-196 deal with the trial of Louis XVI.
  • Doyle, William, ed. Old Regime France (2001).
  • Dunn, Susan. The Deaths of Louis XVI: Regicide and the French Political Imagination. (1994). 178 pp.
  • Hardman, John. Louis XVI: The Silent King (1994) 224 pages, the standard scholarly biography
  • Hardman, John. French Politics, 1774-1789: From the Accession of Louis XVI to the Fall of the Bastille. (1995). 283 pp.
  • Jones, Colin. The Great Nation: France from Louis XV to Napoleon (2002) Amazon.com, excerpt and text search
  • Mignet, François Auguste (1824). "History of the French Revolution from 1789 to 1814". Project Gutenberg. http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext06/8hfrr10.txt.  See Chapter VI, The National Convention, for more details on the king's trial and execution.
  • Padover, Saul K. The Life and Death of Louis XVI (1939) Questia.com, online edition
  • Price, Munro. The Road from Versailles: Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and the Fall of the French Monarchy (2004) 425 pp. Amazon.com, excerpt and text search; also published as The Fall of the French Monarchy: Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and the Baron de Breteuil. (2002)
  • Rigney, Ann. "Toward Varennes." New Literary History 1986 18(1): 77-98. Issn: 0028-6087; JSTOR.org, on historiography
  • Schama, Simon. Citizens. A Chronicle of the French Revolution (1989), highly readable narrative by scholar Amazon.com, excerpt and text search
  • Tackett, Timothy. When the King Took Flight. (2003). 270 pp. Amazon.com, excerpt and text search

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


  1. ^ Pouvait-on réformer la monarchie?
  2. ^ Andress, David. "The Terror", Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2005, p. 12-13
  3. ^ Lever, Évelyne, Louis XVI, Librairie Arthème Fayard, Paris, 1985
  4. ^ Andress, David. "The Terror", p. 12
  5. ^ Fraser, Antonia, Marie Antoinette, pp.100-102
  6. ^ a b Fraser, Antonia, Marie Antoinette, p.127
  7. ^ Fraser, Antonia, Marie Antoinette, pp.166-167
  8. ^ Fraser, Antonia, Marie Antoinette, p.164
  9. ^ Francine du Plessix Gray (2000-08-07). "The New Yorker From the Archive Books". The Child Queen. http://www.newyorker.com/printables/archive/021007fr_archive01. Retrieved 2006-10-17. 
  10. ^ a b Fraser, Antonia, Marie Antoinette, p.122
  11. ^ "Dictionary of World Biography". Author: Barry Jones. Published in 1994.
  12. ^ Fraser, Antonia, Marie Antoinette, p.122, pp.185-186
  13. ^ Andress, David. "The Terror", p. 13
  14. ^ Fraser, Antonia, Marie Antoinette, p.122, pp.186-187
  15. ^ Fraser, Antonia, Marie Antoinette, p.187
  16. ^ Andress, David,(2005) The Terror, pp.13
  17. ^ John Hardman, Louis XVI, Yale university Press, New Haven and London, 1993 p126
  18. ^ Baecque, Antoine de. "From Royal Dignity to Republican Austerity: The Ritual for the Reception of Louis XVI in the French National Assembly (1789-1792)." The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 66, No. 4 (Dec. 1994). p.675
  19. ^ a b c The National Galleries of Scotland
  20. ^ Jonathan R. Dull, The French Navy and American Independence: A Study of Arms and Diplomacy, 1774-1787 (1975)
  21. ^ France gained the colonies of Tobago and Senegal.
  22. ^ On finance see William Doyle, Oxford History of the French Revolution (1989) p 67-74
  23. ^ The influence of sea power upon history, 1660-1783 by Alfred Thayer Mahan p.461 [1]
  24. ^ The History Project, University of California
  25. ^ Britain as a military power, 1688-1815 by Jeremy Black, p
  26. ^ BRAD.ac.uk
  27. ^ Price, Munro. "Louis XVI and Gustavus III: Secret Diplomacy and Counter-Revolution, 1791-1792." The Historical Journal, Vol. 42, No. 2 (June 1999).p.441
  28. ^ Alberge, Dalya. What the King said to the executioner..., The Times, 8 April 2006. Accessed 26 June 2008.
  29. ^ Andress, David, The Terror, 2005, p. 147.
  30. ^ See Susan Dunn, The Deaths of Louis XVI: Regicide and the French Political Imagination. (1994).

External links

Louis XVI of France
Cadet branch of the Capetian dynasty
Born: 23 August 1754 Died: 21 January 1793
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Louis XV
King of France and Navarre
10 May 1774 – 1 October 1791
Succeeded by
National Convention;
eventually Napoléon I
as Emperor of the French
King of the French
1 October 1791 – 21 September 1792
French royalty
Preceded by
Dauphin of France
20 December 1765 – 10 May 1774
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Louis, Dauphin of France
Heir to the Throne
as Heir apparent
20 December 1765 — 10 May 1774
Succeeded by
Louis, Count of Provence
Titles in pretence
Loss of title
King of France and Navarre
1 October 1791 – 21 January 1793
Reason for succession failure:
French Revolution (1789-1799)
Succeeded by
Louis XVII

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

LOUIS XVI. (1754-1793), king of France, was the son of Louis, dauphin of France, the son of Louis XV., and of Marie Joseph of Saxony, and was born at Versailles on the 23rd of August 1754, being baptized as Louis Augustus. His father's death in 1765 made him heir to the throne, and in 1770 he was married to Marie Antoinette, daughter of the empress Maria Theresa. He was just twenty years old when the death of Louis XV. on the 10th of May 1774 placed him on the throne. He began his reign under good auspices, with Turgot, the greatest living French statesman, in charge of the disorganized finances; but in less than two years he had yielded to the demand of the vested interests attacked by Turgot's reforms, and dismissed him. Turgot's successor, Necker, however, continued the regime of reform until 1781, and it was only with Necker's dismissal that the period of reaction began. Marie Antoinette then obtained that ascendancy over her husband which was partly responsible for the extravagance of the ministry of Calonne, and brought on the Revolution by the resulting financial embarrassment.' The third part of his reign began with the meeting of the statesgeneral on the 4th of May 1789, which marked the opening of the Revolution. The revolt of Paris and the taking of the Bastille on the 14th of July were its results. The suspicion, not without justification, of a second attempt at a coup d'etat led on the 6th of October to the "capture" of the king and royal family at Versailles by a mob from Paris, and their transference to the Tuileries. In spite of the growing radicalism of the clubs, however, loyalty to the king remained surprisingly strong. When he swore to maintain the constitution, then in progress of construction, at the festival of the federation on the 14th of July 1790, he was at the height of his popularity. Even his attempted flight on the 10th of June 1791 did not entirely turn the nation against him, although he left documents which proved his opposition to the whole Revolution. Arrested at Varennes, and brought back to Paris, he was maintained as a constitutional king, and took his oath on the 13th of September 1791. But already a party was forming in Paris which demanded his deposition. This first became noticeable in connexion with the affair of the Champ de Mars on the 17th of July 1791. Crushed for a time the party gained strength through the winter of 1791-1792. The declaration of war against the emperor Francis II., nephew of Marie Antoinette, was forced upon the king by those who wished to discredit him by failure, or to compel him to declare himself openly an enemy to the Revolution. Their policy proved effective. The failure of the war, which intensified popular hatred of the Austrian queen, involved the king; and the invasion of the Tuileries on the 10th of June 1792 was but the prelude to the conspiracy which resulted, on the 10th of August, in the capture of the palace and the "suspension" of royalty by the Legislative Assembly until the convocation of a national convention in September. On the 21st of September 1792 the Convention declared royalty abolished, and in January it tried the king for his treason against the nation, and condemned him to death. He was executed on the 21st of January 1793.

Louis XVI. was weak in character and mentally dull. His courage and dignity during his trial and on the scaffold has left him a better reputation than he deserves. His diary shows how little he understood, or cared for, the business of a king. Days on which he had not shot anything at the hunt were blank days for him. The entry on the 14th of July 1789 was "nothing"! The greater part of his time was spent hunting. He also amused himself making locks, and a little at masonry. Awkward and uncourtly, at heart shy, he was but a poor figurehead for the stately court of France. At first he did not care for Marie Antoinette, but after he came under her influence, her thoughtless conduct compromised him, and it was largely she who encouraged him in underhand opposition to the Revolution while he pretended to accept it. The only point on which he had of his own initiative shown a strong objection to revolutionary measures was in the matter of the civil constitution of the clergy. A devoted and sincere Roman Catholic, he refused at first to sanction a constitution for the church in France without the pope's approval, and after he had been compelled to allow the constitution to become law he resolved to oppose the Revolution definitely by intrigues. His policy was both feeble and false. He was singularly unfortunate even when he gave in, delaying his acquiescence until it had the air of a surrender. It is often said that Louis XVI. was the victim of the faults of his predecessors. He was also the victim of his own.

Having lost his elder son in 1789 Louis left two children, Louis Charles, usually known as Louis XVII., and Marie Therese Charlotte (1778-1851), who married her cousin, Louis, duke of Angouleme, son of Charles X., in 1799. The "orphan of the Temple," as the princess was called, was in prison for three years, ' The responsibility of Marie Antoinette for the policy of the king before and during the Revolution has been the subject of much controversy. In general it may be said that her influence on politics has been much exaggerated. (See Marie Antoinette.) [Ed.] during which time she remained ignorant of the fate which had befallen her parents. She died on the 19th of October 1851. Her life by G. Lenotre has been translated into English by J. L. May (1908).

See the articles French Revolution and Marie Antoinette. F. X. J. Droz, Histoire du regne de Louis XVI. (3 vols., Paris, 1860), a sane and good history of the period; and Arsene Houssaye, Louis XVI. (Paris, 1891). See also the numerous memoirs of the time, and the marquis de Segur's Au couchant de la monarchie, Louis XVI. et Turgot (1910).

For bibliographies see G. Monod, Bibl. de la France; Lavisse et Rambaud, Hist. Univ., vols. vii. and viii.; and the Cambridge Modern History, vol. viii. (R. A.*)

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