I have always had a soft spot for King Louis XVI of France and Navarre. I am not a fan of capital punishment to begin with and it always seems a sense of injustice for Louis to have loss his head during the french Revolution. Another interesting part of the life of Louis XVI I like to examine is how did he go from King to a prisoner that was executed? What were his faults that led him down that path? Was it all his fault? Once the revolution began was the fall of the monarchy inevitable? Was he a scapegoat? Could he have done something different to have influenced the outcome of his circumstances? Those are some of the things I would like to investigate in this short series.
Louis XVI is an example of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was an absolute monarch who did not posses the abilities for the office for which he was born. Despite lacking the ability to be an absolute monarch he was, by all accounts, a very decent human being who did not deserve the fate that he experienced.
HRH Prince Louis Auguste de Bourbon of France was born August 23, 1754 to HRH The Dauphin (Prince Louis Ferdinand, son of King Louis XV) and his second wife Maria Josepha of Saxony (daughter of Imperial Prince-Elector Friedrich August II of Saxony, King of Poland and HIH Archduchess Maria Josepha of Austria). When Louis was born he had an elder brother ahead of him in the line of succession behind their father the Dauphin. Louis Joseph Xavier, Duke of Burgundy died in at the age of 9 and when Louis XVI was born his other elder brother, Xavier Marie Joseph de Bourbon of France had died that previous previous March 5 months prior to his birth. At his birth the future Louis XVI was created Duke of Berry by his grandfather, King Louis XV.
Because Louis was not the heir upon his birth, he spent the first seven years of his life feeling neglected due to the fact that his parents lavished their attention and affection on his older brother, Louis Joseph Xavier, Duke of Burgundy, until the young dukes death at the age of 9 in 1761. As Louis grew to maturity he excelled in his studies of Latin, history, geography, and astronomy. Other than speaking his native French Louis became fluent in both Italian and English. It was during these formative years that Louis developed his life long, and well know, hobby of being a locksmith. Despite all these successful endeavors Louis was always a shy, hesitant and indecisive individual.
In 1765 Louis’ father, the Dauphin, died from tuberculosis and within two years his mother also died, leaving the young Louis, now Dauphin of France, in the care of his grandfather, King Louis XV. Many historians have theorized that had Louis’ parents lived to mount the French throne, the Revolution of 1789 may have never happened or it would have been delayed. This is another “what if” in history. It is said that the Dauphine, Maria-Josepha, was a very kindly woman who had a compassion for the poor, something that it is said the future Marie Antoinette greatly lacked.
This gives us some background on Louis and it will help to understand some of his later behavior. In Part II I will examine his marriage to Marie Antoinette, Archduchess of Austria, and the early reign of Louis XVI. In Part III I will look at another great “what if” in history and examine where Louis XVI went wrong and where was his point of no return and what could he have done differently to save his throne if he could have done things differently?