Louis XVI

(August 23 1754- January 21 1793)

Louis XVI
Louis XVI

Louis XVI ruled France from 1774 to 1792. Born Louis-Auguste, on August 23, 1754, he was a sickly child who was described as "good rather than particularly bright". At the age of eleven he became heir to the throne which he took at the age of 20. He lived a life of luxury with his wife, Marie Antoinette, and was hidden from the real life and problems of the French people who resented his life of luxury and careless spending of the already heavily in debt France's money. France was in a major financial crisis due to the non taxation of the nobles and the clergy, the two wealthiest classes in all of France, and the financing of the American Revolution. France was poverty-stricken and burdened with debts, and heavy taxation had resulted in widespread misery among the French people. The French public grew to detest him for his indecisiveness, especially about his refusal to take a side in the revolution, and his lack of ability to get objectives done. The French revolted against the government and eventually arrested the King on December 11, 1792 after his infamous "flight to Varennes" in June of that year which left the already irritated France suspicious. The newly formed National Convention tried Louis of high treason against France and sentenced him to death by guillotine. He was guillotined on January 21, 1793. The French King had ruled for 18 years before his death at the age of 39.

"He will be the ruin of France and of himself, but at any rate I shall not live to see it." Louis XV (Durant 845)

Table of Contents
I- Early Life
II- Early Revolutionary Rule
III- The Third Estate
A.Cahiers de Doleance
IV- Execution and Trial
V- Dates
VI- Bibliography

I. Early Life

Louis XVI was born August 23 1754 as the future heir to the French throne. Louis was the only son his father who was the son of Louis XV. Louis XVI died at the age of thirty five, before he could ever take the French throne, when Louis was just 9. Louis XVI was the oldest surviving son out of eight children, three of whom died early in there youths. He had a difficult childhood because his parents for the neglected him, favoring his older brother Louis Duc de Bourgogne, who died at the age of ten in 1761. This caused his parents to turn their back on Louis even more. Louis was a strong child, but he was shy and excelled in school. His grandfather Louis XVI, failed to teach Louis vital lessons about becoming King and dealing with the pressure that comes with an extremely difficult duty. On May 16, 1770 at the age of fifteen, Louis married the fourteen year old Austrian princess, Marie Antoinette who was fourteen at the time. The marriage was very distant and the two and polar personalities. Louis was shy and quiet, while Marie was very out going and independent. This gave Marie Antoinette the ability to do what ever she pleased and spend money on anything. This gave her a horrible reputation among the people. With the nation in an economical crisis, the French people used Marie as a scape goat for the crisis which helped lay the foundation for the revolution.

II. Early Revolutionary Rule

During the early stages of the French Revolution, Louis XVI ruled a nation which was heavily and universally taxed. Louis selected districts with intendants used to collect taxes from each sect. These administrators could add or diminish taxes based on the individual at their leisure. No man was free from this form of taxation but based on your relationship with these administrators, your tax could be significantly changed. "He was often swayed by his selfish courtiers, who opposed any financial reforms." (http://www.angelfire.com/va/frenchrev/LouisXVI.html) Often, the poor were taxed heavily and the nobility had a smaller one due to their connections with administrators in their sect. These taxes were from military expenses, but not exclusively, most of the taxes came from the finances of the French monarchy. Due to this heavy and unjust tax, a minority of the population began smuggling expensive goods, mainly salt. In response to this smuggling, Louis appointed port authorities to protect the expensive goods and the laws on taxation. This is when the poorer land owners and merchants began to revolt.
"In passing through many of the French provinces, I was struck with the various and heavy complaints of the farmers and little proprietors of the feudal grievances, with the weight of which their industry was [burdened]; but I could not then conceive the multiplicity of the shackles which kept them poor and depressed. I understood it better afterwards." (Arthur Young)

III. The Third Estate

In response to the revolting of his country, Louis created an idea for the less important population which would allow for these people to voice their concerns or concepts for a more satisfied France. The Third Estate of Versailles created a way for those in the less important population to communicate their thoughts to their king.

A-The solution to this problem was to create a book of complaints which the king would read called the Cahiers de Doleance (book of grievances). The first and second articles of the Cahiers de Doleance touch on the choices and speech of the people; law making decisions and all decisions that would effect the nation should come from both the king and the people. To make this happen and to get a larger percentage of the population involved, the Third Estate felt that it would be in the country's best interest to elect representatives (with votes by the people) to come to a conclusion on an issue. Another issue which was prominently discussed was the issue of taxation which had been an issue since the early years of the French Revolution. Taxes that were not payed by every person, no matter what their stance, should be abolished. Also according to the Third Estate, taxes should not me legitimate unless they are approved by the representatives of the people. The taxes should be collected equally by the administrators selected by the king. A tax should have a date of expiration and after that date had passed, no administrator should be permitted to collect regardless of their relationship with those who were forced to pay the tax. There should be no sudden increase in taxes for those who are forced to pay it. The people of the Third Estate focussed on the injustices which were presented through taxes because this was the Louis's source of control and power within the Third Estate.

IV. Execution and Trial

Louis XVI Execution
Louis XVI was arrested for high treason against France on August 13, 1792. The newly formed National Convention had decided to try him of a crime which was punishable by execution. "The Convention brought Louis XVI to trial on the charge of conspiring with foreign countries for the invasion of France." (http://www.angelfire.com/va/frenchrev/LouisXVI.html) The National Assembly wanted a new system of government in France, and if Louis the XVI would be killed, it would signify the end of an absolute monarchy in France. Louis was considered indecisive and conservative during his reign as King of France, which gave him an awful reputation amongst the French public. Almost a month after Louis XVI was arrested, the National Assembly announced France as a republic, abolishing the monarchy government which had been in place for centuries. The King's trial began on December 11, 1792 and lasted well over a month. The many members of the convention swayed back and forth on whether he should be executed or sentenced in a less harsh manner. On January 21, 1793, Louis XVI was found guilty of high treason by a slim margin. 361 to 360 was the final vote which found him not only guilty of treason, but sentenced him to death. The new republic of France stripped Louis of all honor he previously had. The same day he was sentenced, Louis XVI was guillotined in front of a crowd that cheered of joy as the King was executed. "Citizens, the tyrant is no more. For a long time the cries of the victims, whom war and domestic dissensions have spread over France and Europe, loudly protested his existence. He has paid his penalty, and only acclamations for the Republic and for liberty have been heard from the people." (Proclamation of the Convention to the French People) The execution of Louis XVI symbolized the death of an absolute monarchy in France, and introduced the new reign of government, the Republic of France.

V. Dates

-Born August 23, 1754
-Louis father died December 20, 1765
-Married Marie Antoinette May 16, 1770
-Louis called the Estates General, May, 1789
-Tennis Court Oath, June 20, 1789
-Declaration of National Assembly, July 9, 1789
-Storming of Bastille, July 14, 1789
-Louis XVI arrested August 13, 1792
-Louis XVI executed January 21, 1793

VI. Bibliography

1. Higgins, E.L.. "The Trial and Execution of Louis XVI." The History Guide. 13 05 2004. 6 Dec 2007

2.Gulyas, Aaron. "Cahier of 1789." Hanover Historical Text Project. 1997. 6 Dec 2007 <http://history.hanover.edu/texts/cahiers3.html>.

3. Koeller, David. "Aruthur Young, Travels During the Years 1787, 1788, 1789." Then Again. 13 05 2004. 6 Dec 2007 <http://www.thenagain.info/Classes/Sources/Young.html>.

4.Durant, Will, and Ariel Durant. Rousseau and Revolution. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967. 845-872.

5. "Louis XVI." Angel Fire. 5 Dec 2007 <http://www.angelfire.com/va/frenchrev/LouisXVI.html>.