Louis XVI

Louis XVI was the absolute divine right monarch of France during the Revolution, and was a descendant of the Bourbon monarchy. He succeeded his grandfather, Louis XIV – the Sun King, to the throne in 1774, at the age of 20. Louis XVI was considered to be someone with little ability to rule effectively, being someone who preferred to hunt and locksmith rather than engage with politics and government in any meaningful way. According to historian Francois Furet, Louis XVI “was too weak to lead his kingdom”1.

His absolute power began to diminish with the Assembly of Notables, with his royal authority directly challenged by the Notables for the first time. It subsequently waned further with the Paris Parlement declaring his lits de justice as invalid, the King acquiescing to popular demands for an Estates-General to be convened, and the creation of the National Assembly. Nevertheless, during this period, it was still agreed upon by the general populace that France needed a King, with most blaming the failings of the ancien régime on the Ministers rather than the King himself.

However, Louis XVI effectively lost all his authority with his Flight to Varennes, seen as an act of betrayal to the Revolution. It was further lost with the Second Invasion of the Tuileries, where the whole royal family was imprisoned, which further radicalised the Revolution. This concretised the general sentiment that the King no longer had any legitimate role in French government.

This radicalisation was consolidated with the execution of Louis XVI on 21 January 1793, following a notional trial of ‘Citizen Louis Capet’ with all royalty stripped from his person.

See Also



  1. Fenwick & Anderson, Liberating France, p.265