Louis XVI by Antoine-François Callet
|King of France and Navarre|
|Reign||10 May 1774 – 1 October 1791
( 17 years, 144 days)
|Coronation||11 June 1775 (aged 20)|
|Successor||Napoleon Bonaparte (Monarchy Abolished)|
|King of the French|
|Reign||1 October 1791 – 21 September 1792|
|Born||23 August 1754
Palace of Versailles, France
|Died||21 January 1793 (aged 38)
|Burial||21 January 1815
Royal Basilica of Saint Denis, France
|Issue||Marie Thérèse, Duchess of Angoulême
Louis Joseph, Dauphin of France
Louis XVII of France
|House||House of Bourbon|
|Father||Louis, Dauphin of France|
|Mother||Marie Josèphe of Saxony|
Louis XVI (August 23, 1754 - January 21, 1793) was King of France and Navarre from 1774 to 1791 and 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 and the last French Monarch.
Louis XVI was born to Louis Ferdinand, Dauphin of France and grandson of Louis XV and his wife, Marie Josephe of Saxony, in 1754. His father died early in Louis's life and Louis XVI became the dauphin. His parents liked his older brother more than Louis and were upset when Louis's brother died at ten. Louis's parents turned against him and he became a shy boy. When Louis was 15, he married Marie Antoinette. At first, he and Marie did not consummate the marriage. At last, they did in 1773.
However, they failed to produce children for several years after that. This made the marriage strained. The situation was made worse when obscene pamphlets called libelles were published. These libelles mocked their failure to produce children. One questioned, "Can the King do it? Can't the King do it?" In the end, he and Marie Antoinette had four children:
At Versailles, King Louis XVI could scarcely believe the storming of Bastille, but the National Assembly took it in stride. It was a victory for the people, and bloodshed was natural in revolution. But this was an important turning point for France. There was no longer any possibility for reform—the movement had organically become a revolution.
On October 5, 1789, an agitated assembly of women demanding bread marched to Versailles. They surged effortlessly past the palace guards and thundered into the queen's bedroom mere minutes after she fled. The mob wanted the royal family to come with them to Paris, and the ever-faltering Louis at last acquiesced to the people's demands. With a heavy heart, Louis added his signature to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and loaded his family into the royal carriage.
Exile and Escape
But Louis wouldn't be content as puppet king for very long. Even though he was imprisoned by the people in the Tuileries Palace, he had allies beyond France's borders who wanted to see him regain the throne. They planned an escape and broke from the Tuileries on the night of June 21, 1791, under the guise of servants. The royal family was close to the Austrian border when its carriage was apprehended at the town of Varennes. When Louis and his family were brought back to their quarters at the Tuileries, they were kept under heavier watch. Suspicions against the royal family continued to mount, including founded or unfounded beliefs that Marie Antoinette was writing to her family about confidential military maneuvers. In an act of misguided duty to the monarchies of Europe, Prussia's Duke of Brunswick wrote “ We will destroy Paris into the ground if anything happens to our royal majesty, the king and queen.”
Arrest and Execution
Louis' cousin, the Duke of Orleans was the one responsible for spreading rumors about Louis' wife which caused people to get very angry. Louis was officially arrested on 13 August and sent to the Temple, an ancient Paris fortress used as a prison. On September 21, the National Assembly declared France to be a republic and abolished the monarchy.
Louis was made to go on trial as an ordinary citizen, and he was quickly proclaimed guilty. Louis Capet had no allies in the Convention, but the Girondins at least wanted to spare his life. The Jacobins wouldn't hear of it; Louis must die. Robespierre convinced the people that the monarch must die for the republic to live. For the last time, he was reunited to his family and promised to come back the next morning but he did not. On his way to the guillotine, Louis Capet ominously prophesied, "I trust that my death will be for the happiness of my people, but I grieve for France, and I fear that she may suffer the anger of the Lord" but his speech was drowned out by a roll of drums. On January 20, 1793, the man they had once called “King” was no more. Marie Antoinette, the Queen, was executed months later.
Louisville, Kentucky is named for Louis XVI. In 1780, the Virginia General Assembly present this name in honor of the French king, whose soldiers were aiding the American side in the American Revolution. The Virginia General Assembly saw the King as a noble man, but many other continental delegates disagreed.
Images for kids
Louis-Charles, the dauphin of France and future Louis XVII. By Marie Louise Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun.
Louis XVI receives the ambassadors of Tippu Sultan in 1788, Voyer after Emile Wattier, 19th century.
Louis XVI giving La Pérouse his instructions. By Nicolas-André Monsiau.
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."
Memorial to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, sculptures by Edme Gaulle and Pierre Petitot in the Basilica of Saint-Denis.
Louis XVI of France Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.