(born Aug. 23, 1754, Versailles, Francedied Jan. 21, 1793, Paris) Last king of France (1774–92) in the Bourbon line preceding the French Revolution. In 1770 he married Marie-Antoinette, and in 1774 he succeeded to the throne on the death of his grandfather, Louis XV. Lacking in power and strength of character, he was unable to give the necessary support to his ministers, including Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot and Jacques Necker, in their efforts to stabilize France's tottering finances. In 1774 he boosted the aristocracy by restoring the powers of the parlements. Aristocratic opposition to the radical economic reforms of Charles-Alexandre de Calonne forced the king to summon the Estates-General in 1788, setting the Revolution in motion. Influenced by the reactionary court faction, he defended the privileges of the clergy and nobility. He dismissed Necker in 1789 and refused to sanction the achievements of the National Assembly. His resistance to popular demands was one cause for the royal family's forcible transfer from Versailles to the Tuileries Palace in Paris. He lost credibility further when he attempted to escape the capital in 1791 and was caught at Varennes and returned to Paris. Thereafter he was dominated by the queen, who encouraged him to a policy of subterfuge instead of implementing the constitution of 1791, which he had sworn to maintain. In 1792 the Tuileries was captured by the people and militia, and the First French Republic was proclaimed. When proof of his counterrevolutionary intrigues with foreigners was found, he was tried for treason. Condemned to death, he went to the guillotine in 1793. His dignity during his trial and execution only somewhat redeemed his reputation.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Louis XVI, visit Britannica.com.
Seen & Heard
What made you look up Louis XVI? Please tell us what you were reading, watching or discussing that led you here.