- NAME: Louis XVI
- OCCUPATION: King
- BIRTH DATE: August 23, 1754
- DEATH DATE: January 21, 1793
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Versailles, France
- PLACE OF DEATH: Paris, France
- Full Name: Louis-Auguste de France
- AKA: Louis XVI
- Nickname: "Citizen Capet"
- AKA: Louis Auguste de France
- AKA: Louis XVI of France
- Nickname: "Citoyen Louis Capet"
- AKA: Louis Capet
- AKA: Louis, Duke of Berry (Duc de Berry)
- AKA: Louis, Dauphin of France
- AKA: King Louis XVI
Best Known For
Louis XVI was the last king of France (1774–92) in the line of Bourbon monarchs preceding the French Revolution of 1789. He was executed for treason by guillotine in 1793.
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On May 10, 1774, Louis Auguste became Louis XVI, with the death of his grandfather Louis XV. Only 20 years old at the time, Louis XVI was immature and lacked self-confidence. He wanted to be a good king and help his subjects,
but he faced enormous debt and rising resentment towards a despotic monarchy. His failure to successfully address serious fiscal problems would dog him for most of his reign. Louis lacked sufficient strength of character and decisiveness to combat the influence of court factions or give support to reformers in their efforts to improve France's government.
In the early years of his reign, Louis XVI focused on religious uniformity and foreign policy. On the homefront, he invoked an edict that granted French non-Catholics legal status and the right to openly practice their faith. Louis XVI's early foreign policy success was supporting the American colonies' fight for independence from France's archenemy Great Britain. However, the policy of taking out international loans and not raising taxes increased the debt and drove the country to near bankruptcy by the mid-1780s. This forced the king to support radical fiscal reforms not favorable with the nobles or the people.
When the pressure mounted, Louis XVI reverted to his earlier teaching of being austere and uncommunicative, posing no solution to the problem, and not responding to others who offered help. His failure to address France's problems set in motion the Revolution that would eventually descend upon him. He made matters worse by often escaping to more pleasurable activities like hunting and locksmithing. Modern historians attribute this behavior to a clinical depression that left him prone to paralyzing indecisiveness.
By 1789, the situation was deteriorating rapidly. In May of that year, to address the fiscal crisis, Louis XVI convened the Estates General, an advisory assembly of different estates or socio-economic classes (the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners). The meeting did not go well. By June, the Third Estate declared itself the National Assembly, aligned with the bourgeoisie, and set out to develop a constitution. Initially, Louis XVI resisted, declared the Assembly null and void, and called out the army to restore order. Public dissention grew and a National Guard formed to resist the King's actions. By July 1789, he was forced to acknowledge the National Assembly's authority. On July 14, riots broke out in Paris and crowds stormed the Bastille prison in a show of defiance toward the King.
For a time, it seemed that Louis XVI could mollify the masses saying he would acquiesce to their demands. However, he accepted bad advice from the nobility's hard line conservatives and his wife, Marie Antoinette. He talked of reform but resisted demands for it. The royal family was forcibly transferred from Versailles to Paris on October 6, 1789. Louis ignored advice from advisors and refused to abdicate his responsibilities, and then agreed to a disastrous attempt to escape to the eastern frontier in June 1791. He and his family were brought back to Paris, and he lost all credibility as a monarch.
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Whether by sword, axe or guillotine, death by beheading was historically considered the most humane form of death sentence—as long as the executioner was swift, strong and good at hitting his mark. While the practice was never legally supported in the United States, we do give the method a nod in this country whenever we use the term "capital punishment"; the word "capital" is derived from the Latin "capitalis," which translates to "of the head." Here are some of the most famous victims of this gruesome form of execution.
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