Louis XVI was born Aug. 23, 1754 in Versailles, France. He was the second eldest surviving son of his parents, Louis, Dauphin of France and Marie-Josèphe of Saxony. He was the last king of France before the French Revolution of 1789.
He was well loved by his people at first, but was not built to be a great leader. He was known as a shy, reserved young man who was happier in the company of his hunting dogs than with people. As his reign went on, people began too loose faith in his ability to lead France out of the terrible debt it was in. Eventually he was overthrown.
Born Louis-Auguste, the young prince was neglected by his parents who were very open about preferring his older brother. Still, he was a bright young man, and he excelled in his studies as well as his pet hobbies; hunting and lock making.
As he had an older brother, nobody thought he would ever be a king – nobody prepared him for the role. Sadly, he lost his older brother when he was nine and his parents just a few years later to tuberculosis. This left Louis as the Dauphin; he was next in line to the throne of France.
Marriage to Marie Antoinette
When he was just fifteen years old, Louis XVI married Marie Antoinette of Austria to seal the alliance between their countries. Marie Antoinette herself was only fourteen.
Austria had been at war with France for a very long time before the marriage so Marie Antoinette was seen as quite an unwelcome foreigner to the Royal Court of France. Even Louis was afraid of the influence his wife might have and was very distant towards her for the first few years of their marriage.
Louis XVI, King of France
Louis officially became King of France and Navarre in 1774 when his grandfather, Louis XV, died of smallpox. By this time, France was deeply in debt. Louis appointed many consultants to help him recover France’s finances but many wealthy courtiers opposed the reforms Louis was suggesting. He dismissed many of the advisers who could have actually gotten him out of trouble.
During his reign he and Marie Antoinette produced four children, though sadly one son died when he was still a baby. Louis and his wife eventually grew to be quite close. He was often found seeking out her advice on state matters. Sadly, this may not have been to his best interests for, although charming and kind as Marie Antoinette was, her interests were not in political matters.
As the national debt skyrocketed, Louis was at last forced to give up absolute rule and consult the Estates-General in an attempt to save his country.
When French citizens stormed Versailles palace in 1789 out of anger for the price of bread (bread was almost the only food available to the common people and even that was getting too expensive to afford; many people were dying of hunger.) Louis and his family were brought from Versailles to live among the people at the Tuileries Palace in Paris.
Louis was initially still popular enough to have a place in the new government but Louis, never comfortable in the seat of power, quickly grew depressed.
He was given several opportunities to escape and launch a counter-coup, but his indecisive nature ultimately failed him. His eventual escape attempt in 1791 but was unsuccessful; he and his family were caught and sent back to Paris under house arrest.
This escape attempt was seen by some radical members of the new government as high treason – a crime punishable by death.
Louis died beneath the guillotine’s blade in January 1793, the only French king ever to be executed.