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King of France: Louis XVI

Louis XVILouis-Augusta was born in Versailles on August 23, 1754, the third son of the Louis-Ferdinand, Dauphin of Viennois and Maria Josepha of Saxony and the grandson of the reigning King of France, Louis XV.

In his early years, he was not expected to inherit the throne. His oldest brother, Louis, duc de Bourgogne (September 13, 1751 - March 22, 1761), took precedence in the training, education, and preparation of being the heir apparent. The second oldest brother, Xavier de France (February 8, 1753 – February 22, 1754) died a year after birth. Only after the death of his own father (December 20, 1765) were there any considerations made in focusing on the needs of the next ruler of France, Louis-Auguste.

He was described as a shy and rather awkward young man. Louis was married in May of 1770 to the Archduchess Marie Antoinette, daughter of the Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa, to strengthen the Franco-Austrian alliance.

Coinage of his rule

Upon meeting his new bride, Marie Antoinette became confused at his lack of interest in her. Unknown to the creators of the royal alliance, Louis was unable to or perhaps unwilling to consummate the royal marriage. It was thought that he suffered from a medical condition known as phymosis, which prevented him from fathering children. The public, knowing nothing of this, blamed Marie Antoinette for her failure to bear heirs to the throne. This fact alone brought a great amount of criticism and mockery down on the monarchy.

In April of 1777, Emperor Joseph came to call on his sister and brother-in-law, the subsequent six-week visit was to some extent ceremonial and to a certain extent an attempt to figure out why their marriage had not been consummated. After talking to the king himself, Joseph was convinced that the king had “satisfactory” erections but that, upon introducing his “member”, didn't stay inside long enough to ejaculate, having no clue as to what else he was supposed to do. It was due to Joseph's intervention that eight months later, in April, it was suspected that the queen was finally pregnant. The following year, Marie Therese Charlotte was born.

Louis XVI and a advisorAt the time of his accession to the throne, Louis was not only young, he was unprepared to govern; educational efforts had focused on his elder brother, who died prematurely. The new monarch's natural qualities: piety, loyalty, sense of duty, curiosity and interest in technology were not the ones required of a king. And his lack of personal presence was in sharp contrast to the majesty of his predecessors. His love for his people (who reciprocated it) could not compensate for his total lack of decisiveness, which proved fatal for the monarchy.

He neglected his royal duties in favor of hunting and working in his locksmith shop. He failed to give consistent support to ministers who tried to reform the outmoded financial and social structures of the country, such as Turgot and Necker. He allowed France to become involved in the War of American Independence, which exacerbated the national debt. Meanwhile, Marie Antoinette's propensity for frivolous conduct and scandal helped to discredit the monarchy.

Conditions in France had deteriorated badly, which made the government weak. The royal treasury was empty. By 1789, the state was bankrupt and Louis XVI had no choice but to summon a meeting of the Estates General. His sole reason for gathering the Estates General was simply to vote on taxes as required. However, the middle class organization had other ideas.


They swore an oath not to dissolve before they had given France a constitution. The French Revolution had begun. Encouraged by the queen, Louis resisted demands for sweeping reforms from the Estates General, now calling themselves the “National Assembly”. During this same time, his oldest son Louis-Joseph died (June 4) at the age of seven of “consumption” in the mist of all the political chaos and upsurge.

The return from Varennes

In October 1789, Louis XVI and his family were brought from Versailles to Paris as hostages of the revolutionary movement. On the night of June 21, 1791, the royal family fled Paris by night and tried to escape through Varennes. The entire trip was plagued by mishaps from delayed guides to their carriage being too large and over loaded for travel. Upon reaching Varennes, the King was recognized from his portrait on his own country's coinage. The royal family was arrested and brought back in humiliation to Paris. Their attempted flight to Varennes branded the royal pair as traitors.

Louis approved reluctantly the new constitution and his moral authority collapsed. In August of 1792, an insurrection suspended Louis' constitutional position and eventually the monarchy was abolished. He was tried before the National Convention for accusation of high treason and crimes against the State for which he was found guilty.

At six o'clock in the morning on January 21, 1793, Louis said his farewell to his wife and family for the last time. The greatest tranquility prevailed in every street through which the procession passed. It was about half past nine when the King arrived at the place of execution, which was in the Place de Louis XV. It was located between the pedestal, which formerly supported the statue of his grandfather, and the promenade of the Elysian Fields.

The beheading of Louis XVI

Louis mounted the scaffold with composure, and that modest intrepidity peculiar to oppressed innocence, the trumpets sounding and drums beating during the whole event. Louis made a sign of wishing to address the multitude and then the drums ceased. He spoke these few words, "I die innocent; I pardon my enemies; I only sanctioned upon compulsion the Civil Constitution of the Clergy…." As he continued to speak the beating of the drums began again drowning his voice in the chaos. At a quarter past ten o'clock, the guillotine's blade took the life of King Louis XVI of France.

Both his body and that of Marie Antoinette were exhumed on January 18, 1815, during the Bourbon Restoration, when the Comte de Provence had become King Louis XVIII. Proper Christian burial of the royal remains took place three days later, on January 21, in the necropolis of French Kings at St. Denis Basilica.

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His Interests
A locket version with a painting of Louis XVI

He had a great love of the hunting field and his locksmith's workshop, quietness and solitude. Louis was not entirely devoid of intellectual interests, particularly in the area of the sciences and geography. He was also a devoted and loving father to his four children.

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