Louis XVI of France (August 23, 1754 – January 21, 1793) succeeded his grandfather (Louis XV of France) as King of France on May 10, 1774; he was crowned on June 11, 1775. His father, the dauphin, had died in 1765.
On May 16, 1770 he married Marie Antoinette, daughter of Francis I of Austria and Empress Maria Theresa , a Habsburg. They had four children:
Marie-Therese Charlotte (December 20, 1778 – October 1851);
Louis-Joseph-Xavier-FranÃ§ois (October 22, 1781 – June 4, 1789);
Louis-Charles (March 27, 1785 – 1795);
Sophie-Beatrix (July 9, 1786 – June 19, 1787).
The government was deeply in debt, the radical reforms of Turgot and de Malesherbes disaffected the nobles (parlements) and Turgot was dismissed and de Malesherbes resigned in 1776 to be replaced by Jacques Necker. Louis supported the American Revolution in 1778, but in the Treaty of Paris (1783) the French gained little except an addition to the country’s enormous debt. Necker had resigned in 1781 to be replaced by de Calonne and de Brienne before being restored in 1788. A further taxes reform was sought, but the nobility resisted at the Assembly of Notables (1787).
In 1788 Louis ordered the first election of an Estates-General (Ã‰tats GÃ©nÃ©raux) since 1614 in order to have the monetary reforms approved. The election was one of the events that transformed the general malaise into the French Revolution, which began in June 1789. The Third Estate had been admitted to the assembly and had proved radical, Louis’ attempts to control them resulted in the Tennis Court Oath (Jeu de Paume, June 20) and the declaration of the National Assembly. In July , an act which provoked the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789. In October the royal family were forced to move to the Tuileries palace in Paris.
Louis himself was very popular and not unobliging to the social, political and economic reforms of the Revolution, but the bad influence of his wife in politics caused him to reject the principles of the Revolution. This caused his popularity to drop dramatically and the mistrust against him grew, thus undermining his position as monarch. Other persons who had bad influence on him were his brothers, the comte d’Artois and the comte de Provence. Especially Artois had much influence on Louis’ reactionary tedencies.
On June 21, 1791 Louis attempted to flee secretly from France to Germany with his family, but on the way they were recognized at Varennes and captured by the revolutionaries. He was returned to Paris where he remained as constitutional king until 1792. In August 1792 the National Assembly abolished the office of King. Louis was arrested (August 10), tried (from December 11) and convicted of treason before the National Assembly. He was sentenced to death (January 17) by guillotine with 361 votes to 288, with 72 effective abstentions.
King Louis XVI was beheaded in front of a cheering crowd on January 21, 1793. On his death, his eight-year-old son, Louis-Charles de France, automatically became to royalists the de jure King Louis XVII of France, the ‘lost dauphin’.
His wife, Marie Antoinette, followed him to the guillotine on October 16, 1793.