King Louis XVI Biography and Facts

BIOGRAPHY OF LOUIS XVI – The last king of the French absolute monarchy was guillotined by the people. Coronation, reign, death .

Short biography of Louis XVI

Born August 23, 1754 in Versailles, Louis XVI is the last king of the French absolute monarchy. His temperament, far from the virtues of leader and reformer, struggles to engage France in the path of modernity and leads the kingdom towards a political, economic and social crisis which takes part in the birth of the French Revolution . King from 1774 to 1792 and victim of a power he did not control, Louis XVI was one of the martyrs of the French Revolution. Judged by the convention, he died in the guillotine on January 21, 1793 in Paris.


Louis Auguste was born on August 23, 1754, in Versailles. He is the son of Dauphin Louis of France and his second wife Marie-Josèphe de Saxe. Until the death of his father on December 20, 1765, he carried the title of Duke of Berry. He was brought up in a strict religious education and trained in conservative principles under the tutelage of the Duke of La Vauguyon. A studious student, he is passionate about several scientific disciplines and in his spare time reveals a hidden talent for blacksmithing. After the death of his elder brother the Duke of Burgundy and of his father, the Dauphin, son of King  Louis XV , he presented himself as the heir to the throne of France.

Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette

In 1770, Louis married the Archduchess of Austria Marie Antoinette , younger daughter of Emperor François I and Empress Marie-Thérèse. This union is the realization of an alliance aimed at improving relations between the Kingdom of France and Austria. From their union will be born four children. 

The coronation of Louis XVI

On May 10, 1774, at the age of 19, Louis Auguste became Louis XVI, King of France and Navarre. He was sacred in Reims on June 11, 1775 . Little prepared for the royal function, Louis XVI is presented as a sickly shy king who appreciates solitary activities such as hunting, the pleasures of the table and who cares about the well-being of the population. His insecure personality earned him the support and affection of the people during the first years of his reign.

The reign of Louis XVI

Louis XVI surrounded himself with a team of recognized ministers such as Turgot and  Malesherbes . At the same time, he comes up against the aristocratic opposition and recalls the Parliament, via the ordinance of November 12, 1774. This body plays an important role in the decisions of the country. Economic reforms, which promote a new fiscal vision and seek to facilitate trade, find themselves in jeopardy. Some ministers are fired or resign, plunging the country into a wait-and-see situation. In terms of foreign policy, the King of France is much more skillful and allows France to regain its prestige. France reiterates its support for the Americas through a treaty on February 6, 1778. , Louis XVI brings military aid to the United States. With the American War of Independence, France, already weakened by court spending, plunged into a dangerous economic situation.

Louis XVI and the French Revolution

The ensuing economic crisis plunges France into a political and social crisis. The bourgeoisie and the peasantry rose up against the injustice of taxation and the scandals of state spending. Parliamentarians are slowing down a tax reform aimed at reducing the lifestyle of the privileged. The challenge of the third estate is growing. On July 9, 1789, a constituent assembly was formed. Despite this progress, the king struggles to accept the constitutional monarchy. He refuses to abolish privileges and ratify the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizens. Not taking the people’s demands seriously, Louis XVI came up against several riots, the most important of which ended with the Storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789.. On October 5 and 6, 1789, a second riot broke out, during which Parisians went to the Palace of Versailles and demanded bread.

The death of Louis XVI

The king’s unpopularity reached its end when he was arrested on June 21, 1791, during his famous flight from Varennes, while he was trying to escape abroad with his family. The parliament tries to disguise this episode as a kidnapping, but Louis XVI is totally disowned in the eyes of the people. The king was sworn in on September 14, 1791, before the National Constituent Assembly. He is no longer the king of France, but becomes the king of the French. This change of title symbolizes the transfer of sovereignty to the people. The lull is short-lived. On August 10, 1792, the arrest of the king and his family put an end to the royalty. The king’s trial opens on December 3. Despite three prestigious lawyers (Desèze,  Malesherbes, Tronchain), “Louis Capet” is found guilty and sentenced to the guillotine. He was executed on the present Place de la Concorde on January 21, 1793 .


August 23, 1754: Birth of Louis XVI

Son of Dauphin Louis of France and his second wife Marie-Josèphe de Saxe, Louis Auguste was born on August 23, 1754 in Versailles. At his birth, Louis Auguste obtained the title of Duke of Berry. His father died when he was only 11 years old and his mother died two years later. He will accede to the royal function on May 10, 1774, under the title of Louis XVI, King of France.

December 20, 1769: The death of the Dauphin of France

Louis of France is more commonly referred to as the Dauphin Louis. Son of Louis XV, he keeps away from politics. His death, on December 20, 1769, proclaimed his son Louis Auguste as the heir to the throne of France to the succession of Louis XV. Under the name of Louis XVI, the latter will accede to the throne of France on May 10, 1774

May 16, 1770: Louis XVI marries Marie-Antoinette

Marie-Antoinette, daughter of Emperor François I of Lorraine and Marie-Thérèse of Austria, and the Dauphin Louis, grandson of Louis XV, get married in Versailles. They are 14 and 16 years old respectively. Minister Choiseul thus hopes to strengthen the alliance with Austria and contain the aggressiveness of Prussia and England. But anti-Austrian resentment will regain the upper hand and Marie-Antoinette will quickly be pejoratively nicknamed the “Austrian”. The two spouses, victims of the Revolution, will be guillotined in 1793.

May 10, 1774: Louis XVI, King of France

Grandson of Louis XV, who has just died, Louis XVI accedes to the throne of France, in the company of his wife, Marie-Antoinette. He is a good and intelligent king who takes the reins of power. But he suffers from a crippling shyness that prevents him from really asserting himself. After a few years, the kingdom will suffer from a catastrophic financial crisis, notably caused by the American War of Independence, and also attributed to the queen’s capricious spending. The situation worsened, until the outbreak of the French Revolution.

November 12, 1774: The return of parliamentarians

By the bed of justice of November 12, 1774, Louis XVI re-established the parliaments. This decision will slow down several of his reforms and destabilize his powers.

June 11, 1775: The coronation of Louis XVI

Louis XVI is consecrated in Reims by the Archbishop of Reims, Monsignor de La Roche-Aymon.

February 6, 1778: Support for the Americas

France signs a treaty of alliance with the Americas. This treaty was ratified by the King of France, Louis XVI, and the United States Ambassador to France, Benjamin Franklin. The text seals Franco-American friendship and promotes France’s engagement alongside the American insurgents in the American War of Independence.

June 17, 1789: The beginnings of the Constituent Assembly

The assembly was born during the Revolution, June 17, 1789. This institution, created by the third estate, rejects the vote by order and demands “the vote by head”, a representative vote of the French people. Under the pressure of the people, Louis XVI forced the nobility to join the assembly.

July 9, 1789: Proclamation of the Constituent Assembly

The National Assembly, born of the States General convened at Versailles on May 5 by Louis XVI, declares itself constituting. The deputies want to modify the political and social organization of the kingdom and begin the drafting of the Constitution. The Constituent Assembly will sit until September 30, 1791, to make way for the Legislative Assembly.

July 14, 1789: Storming of the Bastille

Exceeded by the restrictions and the immobility of King Louis XVI, the Parisians revolt. In search of weapons, they first invade the Hôtel des Invalides, then rush to the Bastille prison. The governor of Launay, who holds the keys to the fortress, is ordered to hand them over to the insurgents. But some revolutionaries succeeded in entering the enclosure and De Launay ordered to open fire. More than 80 Parisians are killed. At the end of the afternoon, the governor capitulates. He is killed an hour later. The storming of the Bastille marks the starting point of the French revolutionary movement. The symbol of royal arbitrariness has fallen, the Ancien Régime is coming to an end.

October 5, 1789: Parisiennes demand bread

A few thousand women go to the Palace of Versailles at the end of the afternoon. Tired of famine and the excessively high cost of living, they demanded changes from King Louis XVI. On the night of October 5 to 6, he accepted the decrees he had refused until then. The Parisians want to bring the royal family back to Paris and they invade the castle. Forced to comply, the king and queen moved into the Tuileries Palace, where they became prisoners of the French.

June 21, 1791: Louis XVI arrested in Varennes

Louis XVI, disguised as a valet de chambre, Marie-Antoinette, their two children and the governess were arrested in the village of Varennes-en-Argonne. They had fled the Tuileries Palace the day before in order to join the army of the Marquis de Bouillé in Metz. But the royal procession is recognized in Sainte-Menehould by the postmaster Drouet, who gives the alert. The family is brought back to Paris. The people will feel betrayed by the king’s flight. The Assembly temporarily suspends Louis XVI and, to curb the rise of the Republicans, tries to pass off the royal flight as a kidnapping organized by the counter-revolutionaries. But the events will lead to the shooting of Champ-de-Mars, killing about fifty among the population.

September 14, 1791: Louis XVI, King of the French

Following the flight from Varennes, Louis XVI was suspended from his functions for one month. On September 14, 1791, he judged loyalty to the nation before the Constituent Assembly. From now on, he becomes the “King of the French”.

August 10, 1792: Abolition of the French monarchy

The Parisian insurgents storm the Tuileries Palace. The king is accused of treason and made responsible for the disorganization of the army. In a manifesto published in France on August 1, the Duke of Brunswick, head of the Prussian army, threatens to destroy Paris if he is attacked on the life of the royal family. Furious and convinced of the king’s betrayal, the sans-culottes then marched on the Tuileries, massacred the Swiss guards and looted the palace, forcing the king to take refuge with the Assembly. The monarchy falls and the royal family is taken to the Temple prison.

December 3, 1792: The trial of Louis XVI

The king’s trial opens before the Convention. Named upon his arrest Louis Capet, he was defended by Desèze, Malesherbes and Tronchet. During this trial, Louis XVI will be declared “guilty of conspiring against the freedom of the nation and of attacks against the general security of the State”. He is condemned to death with a slim majority.

January 21, 1793: Death of Louis XVI

At 10:20 am, on the Place de la Révolution (now Place de la Concorde), Louis Capet, 39, former King of France, was guillotined. Imprisoned in the Tuileries with his family since August 1792, he was sentenced to death by the revolutionary tribunal. The Convention accuses him of being a traitor to the Nation. His last words: “French, I die innocent; I forgive my enemies; I want my death to be …”. But the end of his words will be obscured by the drum roll announcing his execution. On October 16, his wife Marie-Antoinette will in turn be guillotined in public.

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