Austria, Emperor Leopold II, Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia, Holy Roman Empire, Leopold II, Louis XIV of France, Louis XVI of France, Marie Antoinette, Tuileries Palace
Despite the Kings flight from the Palace the Legislative Assembly still favored a constitutional monarchy. After a new Constitution was written and Louis agreed to swear an oath to uphold it, there was still a chance the monarchy could survive. What most people often think is that that the Enlightenment ideals were against a monarchy because the French Revolution came so quickly on the heels of the American Revolution where the former British Colonies said “No” to being ruled by a king. That is not the case. The Enlightenment ideals supported many types of government as long as it was the will of the people and that they had a say in the process of government. While an absolute monarchy, which was the type Louis XVI inherited, was not congenial to Enlightenment principles but a constitutional or limited monarchy was favorable because it limited the powers of the monarch and allowed for elected officials that represented the populace.
However, it seems with what transpired next, it wasn’t so much that a constitutional monarchy was against the Enlightenment or the Revolution, it seems that those in the French government grew tired of Louis. One of the events that lead to the toppling of Louis and his crown was the war between France and the Holy Roman Empire in April of 1792. At this time Marie-Antoinette’s brother, was Leopold II, the Holy Roman Emperor. Leopold, along with King Friedrich-Wilhelm III of Prussia and French Émigrés issued the Declaration of Pillnitz, which declared that in the interest of the all European monarchs of Europe that the well-being of Louis and his family was essential, and threatened vague but severe consequences if anything should befall them. Shortly after this deceleration the Legislative Assembly, with the support of Louis, ironically, declared war on the Holy Roman Empire.
This war solidified many factions within the Revolution. To these revolutionaries this war was not about the protection of the Royal Family but against French sovereignty itself. When the leader of the Prussian-Austrian army Prince Carl-Wilhelm-Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick issued a proclamation called the Brunswick Manifesto on July 25, 1792, written by Louis’s émigré cousin, Louis Joseph de Bourbon the Prince de Condé, declaring the intent of the Austrians and Prussians to restore the king to his full powers and to treat any person or town who opposed them as rebels to be condemned to death by martial law, this was the final blow for Louis.
Paris mobs had reached their boiling point. With foreign powers threatening to give Louis his full absolute powers and threatening French sovereignty, Paris mobs marched on the Tuileries Palace where both the Royal Family and the monarchist members of the Legislative Assembly had taken refuge. On August 13, 1792 Louis XVI and his family were formally arrested. The Legislative Assembly was replaced by a National Assembly which formally abolished the Monarchy on September 21, 1792.
It is difficult to evaluate Louis’ actions and figure where did he go wrong? One of Louis’ problems was that he was a kind man yet indecisive. If he had been a powerful presence would the outcome have been the same? I really don’t know. It seems even with a powerful ruler the Revolution was larger than one man. In the light of the revolution many of Louis’ actions are understandable.
As a prisoner in the Tuileries Palace he had but little choice but to go along with the revolutionary government. I don’t think all of his actions with the government were insincere. While he was an absolute monarch at heart he did show some level of willingness to work with the government. I do not really think Louis would have objected to a role as a Constitutional monarch. I do see the radical nature of the Revolutionary assemblies as having much to do with Louis’ downfall. It was not all of his fault.
He did, however, play a role. The two largest issues seem to be his flight from the Tuileries Palace and his plotting with foreign powers to end the revolution and to be restored to his full powers. I do think those were the two major points that brought Louis down. However, I can have empathy for him. I do not blame him for trying to regain power. Who wouldn’t have under those circumstances? Plus after a couple of years being a prisoner in his own palace, I can’t blame him for trying to flee that condition.
For myself, I think the larger problem was the absolute monarchy itself. The seeds were sown and the threads for its downfall were laid in the times of Louis XIV. His hunger for power, territory and war was something his successor Louis XV strived for. In some lesser extent so did Louis XVI. Another key ingredient was by placing the court at Versailles and isolating the King from his people, the monarchy lost touch with the common man and his sufferings. That was the true issue that brought down the monarchy.