Why French King Louis XVI was executed by guillotine
King Louis XVI was the last king of France— and he was pretty terrible at it. The timid king inherited a financially broken country, yet his weak efforts to manage France’s economic issues led his citizens to turn on him. Yet, how exactly did trying to implement new taxes lead him to get his head chopped off?
So, Louis XVI didn’t exactly inherit a treasure
King Louis XVI didn’t exactly rise to power in a perfect throne. In 1774, poor Louis took over the French throne from his grandfather, King Louis XV, who left him to clean up a tremendous economic crisis. The financial state of France was in the toilet, and Louis XVI, without any previous political experience, was responsible for fixing it. Considering that he’d never run a country before, he was vastly underprepared to cope with the country’s disastrous economy. So, he did what any young king would do: he drudged up an outdated assembly and hope for the best.
He assembled the States-General, which represented the three tiers of citizens in society: the nobles, the clergy, and the commons. It hadn’t been summoned since 1614. So, why was he getting the gang back together? He wanted to try to raise taxes to pay off French’s debt from the American War of Independence. Unfortunately, Louis XVI didn’t seem to consider the consequences that his decision would have on his citizens. His decision didn’t exactly fly with the commons, who were butthurt over Louis XVI’s weak efforts to patch up their issues. As a result, the commons rose up, named themselves the National Assembly, and declared that only they could represent the country. This kicked off the French Revolution.
Yikes, right? No one wants to be in charge of starting a revolution in which the people turn against them. But Louis XVI wasn’t immediately jarred by the start of the revolution. He acknowledged it, yet he didn’t seem willing to do much about the issue fueling it. Despite his inexperience, he continued to ignore the warnings of monarchists trying to prevent the citizens from continuing to violently rebel against him. Not-so-surprisingly, this didn’t exactly work out in his favor.
Hey, it’s too late now
By the time that the revolution started, it was too late for Louis XVI to clean up the messes he’d walked through. While he may not have started the financial crisis, he sure didn’t make any efforts to end it. He was a bystander to the horrible injustices which the French citizens were experiencing. And when he tried to burden them with the responsibility of fixing the economy, the commons snapped— and their protests quickly turned violent.
Soon, the Parisians violently stormed Bastille, a state prison which they believed was full of ammunition. Of course, after this event, Louis XVI hardly blinked an eye. Despite Louis XVI being the source of infuriation for the French citizens, acknowledging his role in the revolution seemed to be far down on his to-do list. He also wasn’t open to listening to the citizens’ suggestions about how to wrap up the revolution in a non-violent way. Yet, ignoring the voices of his citizens is likely what cost him his life.
Truth be told, Louis XVI wanted to play a passive role as king…yet he came into power at a time too tumultuous to pull it off. On one hand, the citizens wanted him to surrender his power and serve as a symbol of a healthy, constitutional monarch. On the other, royalists wanted him to defend the divine right of kings and queens until his dying breath. Unfortunately, Louis XVI didn’t seem to hold strong to either side; he just wanted to make it through his reign. But by the time that the French Revolution was in full swing, it was too late to make a decision—all he could do was accept his consequences, or run. Can you guess which he chose to do?
Well, you gave it your best shot
You guessed it—Louis XVI decided to flee. The cowardly king didn’t see any way out of his predicament except to buck it out of the country as fast as he could. When his citizens stormed Versailles in 1789, Louis XVI snatched up his extremely unpopular wife, Marie Antoinette, and made a break for Austria where she was from. Unfortunately, their vacation to Marie’s homeland didn’t exactly pan out. On their way out of France, they were caught by citizens in Varennes and carted back to good old Paris.
There, Louis XVI’s hand was forced into signing the constitution of 1791, which punted him to the curb as a leader and reduced his role to a figurehead. However, he wasn’t just knocked down a few notches politically. Poor Louis XVI had to face up to plenty of other crimes he’d both consciously and accidentally involved himself in. In 1792, both Louis XVI and Marie were arrested by the sans-cullottes—and the National Convention (formerly the National Assembly) abolished the monarchy altogether. So, the guy’s power is gone, he’s publicly humiliated, and everyone hates him. How much worse can it get?
Much, much worse. Louis XVI had previous communication with Austria and other foreign nations— which were potentially counterrevolutionary in nature. It was enough to try him with treason. It didn’t take much evidence for the majority of the National Convention to find him guilty and convict him to death. So, timid little Louis XVI was forced out to the guillotine on January 21st, 1793, and executed by his people. Just a year later, Marie was convicted and issued the same punishment. While Louis XVI was widely hated by his death, he didn’t seem to realize how to fix his screwed up country— until it was far, far too late.