Louis XVI becomes King of France (May 10, 1774) - History Key

Louis XVI becomes King of France (May 10, 1774)

Louis-Auguste, duc de Berry became king of France at 20 years old in an unfavourable conjuncture. Unprepared to lead a kingdom in full crisis, he had to rely on specialists for state reform which ultimately led to the Revolution of 1789 and the disintegration of the monarchy. He is also known as the last king of France in the line of Bourbon monarchs.

Louis XVI de France
Louis XVI de France © Antoine-François Callet /Image Source: Wikipedia

The King with no Experience

Louis-Auguste was born in 1754. By the time he was 11 years old, his father Louis-Ferdinand passed away and made Louis a very shy person. His grandfather Louis XV, king of France arranged a marriage between Louis-Auguste and the Austrian Archduke Marie-Antoinette in order to build an alliance between France and the Habsburg Empire. In 1770 the “arranged” child couple married. Louis-Auguste was 15 years old and Marie was 14 years old and they met only two days before the wedding.

Surrounded by members of the royal family who disavowed the meretricious life of Louis XV, Louis-Auguste was educated by with the moral and Christian values. Because of this, Louis-Auguste was never taught by the king how to rule. Therefore, when he became the king of France in May 10, 1774, he didn’t have any practical experience of power. Once he became king, Louis XVI had to reign with full authority. However, the monarch was helped by councils, sovereign courts, provincial states, but they couldn’t restrict his powers. Louis XVI had all the powers what were immeasurable. He was considered the source of all legislation and he wasn’t obligated to respect the laws of his predecessors.

Marie Antoinette Queen of France with her three eldest children
Marie Antoinette Queen of France with her three eldest children © Louise Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun /Image Source: Wikipedia

Louis XVI: a disgrace for France

France financed the English colonies in America and in July 4, 1776 they proclaimed their independence. By supporting the United States of America, England considered it was a rebellion action of France. This action had its costs: the treasury was empty and the support of the American cause deepened the royal deficit which led to bankruptcy.

Louis XVI had the task to rule the most populous kingdom in Europe with a population of 25 million. He had a difficult job because his predecessor led France into a crisis and revealed its blockages. Therefore, Louis XVI was a new hope for France. In order to gain the sympathy of the public, the first government set by the king wanted modernize the monarchy, especially in economic terms. The first measure was to focus on agriculture by adopting on the liberalization of grain trade, but it was a bad timing because the harvest was poor and led to higher prices for bread and wheat. The high prices broke out riots in the country against the king.

The king tried several reforms of his government and during his reign he named three different financial controllers, but the results were never as he expected. France was taking quick steps towards bankruptcy. Therefore, the whole country was against Louis XVI. He tried to run away from France, but he was stopped and returned to Tuileries. For his attempt to run, Louis XVI fell into disgrace of the people.

The revolutionaries agreed on a constitutional monarchy in which the powers of the king were limited by the Constitution adopted in 1791. Louis was no longer “the king of France by the grace of God”, but “the king of France by the grace of God and the Constitution”.

Execution of Louis XVI in the Place de la Révolution
Execution of Louis XVI in the Place de la Révolution © Isidore Stanislas Helman/Image Source: Wikipedia

The execution

Louis XVI was helped by the Austro-Prussian army by intervening in France, as a response after France declared war against Austria. The foreign troops were defeated at the Battle of Valmy in 1792. Later on, the French revolutionaries attacked the Versailles Palace and led to the fall of the kingdom on August 10. Louis XVI was captured and put on trial. His trial began in December 11 and the final judgement was established on January 14. He was found guilty for conspiring against the public freedom and the attack on national security and the death penalty was pronounced.

The king was decapitated in January 21, 1793 in the presence of a huge crowd. The king’s execution hit the kingdom in its traditional and religious prestige: Louis XVI was executed as a common man.

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