Louis XVI (French pronunciation: [lwi sɛːz]; 23 August 1754 – 21 January 1793), born Louis-Auguste, was the last King of France before the fall of the monarchy during the French Revolution. He was referred to as
The first part of his reign was marked by attempts to reform the French government in accordance with Enlightenment ideas. These included efforts to abolish serfdom, remove the taille (land tax) and the corvée(labour tax), and increase tolerance toward non-Catholics as well as abolish the death penalty for deserters. The French nobility reacted to the proposed reforms with hostility, and successfully opposed their implementation. Louis implemented deregulation of the grain market, advocated by his economic liberal minister Turgot, but it resulted in an increase in bread prices. In periods of bad harvests, it would lead to food scarcity which would prompt the masses to revolt. From 1776, Louis XVI actively supported the North American colonists, who were seeking their independence from Great Britain, which was realised in the 1783 Treaty of Paris. The ensuing debt and financial crisis contributed to the unpopularity of the Ancien Régime. This led to the convening of the Estates-General of 1789. Discontent among the members of France's middle and lower classes resulted in strengthened opposition to the French aristocracy and to the absolute monarchy, of which Louis and his wife, Queen Marie Antoinette, were viewed as representatives. Increasing tensions and violence were marked by events such as the storming of the Bastille, during which riots in Paris forced Louis to definitively recognize the legislative authority of the National Assembly. Louis XVI was initiated[when?] into masonic lodge Trois-Frères à l'Orient de la Cour.[Cite book verification needed]
Louis's indecisiveness and conservatism led some elements of the people of France to view him as a symbol of the perceived tyranny of the Ancien Régime, and his popularity deteriorated progressively. His disastrous flight to Varennes in June 1791, four months before the constitutional monarchy was declared, seemed to justify the
In a context of civil and international war, Louis XVI was suspended and arrested at the time of the Insurrection of 10 August 1792; one month later, the absolute monarchy was abolished; the First French
Louis-Auguste de France, who was given the title Duc de Berry at birth, was born in the Palace of Versailles. One of seven children, he was the second surviving son of Louis, the Dauphin of France, and the grandson of Louis XV of France and of his consort, Maria Leszczyńska. His mother was Marie-Josèphe of Saxony, the daughter of Frederick Augustus II of Saxony, Prince-Elector of Saxony and King of Poland.
Louis-Auguste was overlooked by his parents who
When his father died of tuberculosis on 20 December 1765, the eleven-year-old Louis-Auguste became the new Dauphin. His mother never recovered from the loss of her husband and died on 13 March 1767, also from tuberculosis. The strict and conservative education he received from the Duc de La Vauguyon, "
On 16 May 1770, at the age of fifteen, Louis-Auguste married the fourteen-year-old Habsburg Archduchess Maria Antonia (better known by the French form of her name, Marie Antoinette), his second cousin once removed and the youngest daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I and his wife,
This marriage was met with hostility from the French public. France's alliance with Austria had pulled the country into the disastrous Seven Years' War, in which it was defeated by the British and the Prussians, both in Europe and in North America. By the time that Louis-Auguste and Marie-Antoinette were married, the French people generally disliked the Austrian alliance, and Marie-Antoinette was seen as an unwelcome foreigner.For the young couple, the marriage was initially amiable but distant. Louis-Auguste's shyness and, among other factors, the young age and inexperience of the newlyweds (who were near total strangers to each other: they had met only two days before their wedding) meant that the 15-year-old bridegroom failed to consummate the union with his 14-year-old bride. His fear of being manipulated by her for imperial purposes caused him to behave coldly towards her in public. Over time, the couple became closer, though while their marriage was reportedly consummated in July 1773, it did not actually happen until 1777.
The couple's failure to produce any children for several years placed a strain upon their marriage, exacerbated by the publication of obscene pamphlets (
The reasons for the couple's initial failure to have children were debated at that time, and they have continued to be debated since. One suggestion is that Louis-Auguste suffered from a physiological dysfunction, most often thought to be phimosis, a suggestion first made in late 1772 by the royal doctors. Historians adhering to this view suggest that he was circumcised (a common treatment for phimosis) to relieve the condition seven years after their marriage. Louis's doctors were not in favour of the surgery – the operation was delicate and traumatic, and capable of doing "as much harm as good" to an adult male. The argument for phimosis and a resulting operation is mostly seen to originate from Stefan Zweig's 1932 biography of Marie Antoinette.
Most modern historians agree that Louis had no surgery – for instance, as late as 1777, the Prussian envoy, Baron Goltz, reported that the King of France had definitely declined the operation. Louis was frequently declared to be perfectly capable of sexual intercourse, as confirmed by Joseph II, and during the time he was supposed to have had the operation, he went out hunting almost every day, according to his journal. This would not have been possible if he had undergone a circumcision; at the very least, he would have been unable to ride to the hunt for a few weeks afterwards. The couple's sexual problems are now attributed to other factors. Antonia Fraser's biography of the queen discusses Joseph II's letter on the matter to one of his brothers after he visited Versailles in 1777. In the letter, Joseph describes in astonishingly frank detail Louis' inadequate performance in the marriage bed and Antoinette's lack of interest in
Eventually, the royal couple became the parents of four children. According to Madame Campan, Marie Antoinette's lady-in-waiting, the queen also suffered two miscarriages. The first one, in 1779, a few months after the birth of her first child, is mentioned in a letter to her daughter, written in July by empress Maria Theresa. Madame Campan states that Louis spent an entire morning consoling his wife at her
Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were the parents of four live-born children:
- Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte (19 December 1778 – 19 October 1851)
- Louis-Joseph-Xavier-François, the Dauphin (22 October 1781 – 4 June 1789)
- Louis-Charles, Dauphin after the death of his elder brother, future titular king Louis XVII of France (27 March 1785 – 8 June 1795)
- Sophie-Hélène-Béatrix, died in infancy (9 July 1786 – 19 June 1787)
In addition to his biological children, Louis XVI also adopted four children: "Armand" Francois-Michel Gagné (c. 1771-1792), a poor orphan adopted in 1776; Jean Amilcar (c. 1781-1793), a Senegalese slave boy given to the queen as a present by Chevalier de Boufflers in 1787, but whom she instead had freed, baptized, adopted and placed in a pension; Ernestine Lambriquet (1778-1813), daughter of two servants at the palace, who was raised as the playmate of his daughter and whom he adopted after the death of her mother in 1788; and finally "Zoe" Jeanne Louise Victoire (born in 1787), who was adopted in 1790 along with her two older sisters when her parents, an usher and his wife in service of the king, had died.
Of these, only Armand, Ernestine and Zoe actually lived with the royal family: Jean Amilcar, along with the elder siblings of Zoe and Armand who were also formally foster children of the royal couple, simply lived on the queen's expense until her imprisonment, which proved fatal for at least Amilcar, as he was evicted from the boarding school when the fee was no longer paid, and reportedly starved to death on the street. Armand and Zoe had a position which was more similar to that of Ernestine: Armand lived at court with the king and queen until he left them at the outbreak of the revolution because of his republican sympathies, and Zoe was chosen to be the playmate of the Dauphin, just as Ernestine had once been selected as the playmate of Marie-Therese, and sent away to her sisters in a convent boarding school before the Flight to Varennes in 1791.
When Louis XVI acceded to the throne in 1774, he was nineteen years old. He had an enormous responsibility, as the government was deeply in debt, and resentment of despotic monarchy was on the rise. He himself felt woefully unqualified to resolve the situation.
As king, Louis XVI focused primarily on religious freedom and foreign policy. While none doubted his intellectual ability to rule France, it was quite clear that, although raised as the Dauphin since 1765, he lacked firmness and decisiveness. His desire to be loved by his people is evident in the prefaces of many of his edicts that would often explain the nature and good intention of his actions as benefiting the people, such as reinstating the
Among the major events of Louis XVI's reign was his signing of the Edict of Versailles, also known as the Edict of Tolerance, on 7 November 1787, which was registered in the