Louis XVI, king of France, grandson and successor of the preceding, born in Versailles, Aug. 23, 1754, guillotined in Paris, Jan. 21, 1793. He was the third son of the dauphin Louis and of Maria Josepha, daughter of Frederick Augustus, king of Poland and elector of Saxony, and became heir presumptive on the death of his father in December, 17G5. He had a vigorous physical constitution, and his features were not without dignity; but he was awkward, reserved, taciturn, and without decision of character, and in public his diffidence prevented him from doing justice to himself. He was industrious, quick of comprehension, and had an extraordinary memory; but was intentionally kept from acquaintance with affairs of state, though while dauphin he read much and wrote somewhat on historical matters, and was familiar with geographical and chronological details. He had a fondness for mechanical pursuits, learned the trade of a locksmith, and took much interest in the mechanical part of printing. He printed himself, in 1766, 35 copies of Maximes morales et poli-tiques tirees de Telemaque, which he had collected from Fenelon's romance; and he made also a translation of some portions of Gibbon's " "Decline and Fall," which was published under the name of Le Clerc de Sept-Chenes, who was his reader.
On May 16, 1770, he was married to Marie Antoinette, archduchess of Austria; and on May 10, 1774, he became king by the death of his grandfather Louis XV. He appointed the aged count de Maure-pas his minister of state, and Turgot minister of finance. Sartine, Malesherbes, and the counts of Vergennes and Saint-Germain were also made members of the cabinet. Various reforms were introduced, chiefly through the exertions of Turgot, and the most offensive feudal services and imposts were abolished in spite of a strong opposition on the part of the nobility. The people were conciliated by the recall of the parliaments, Nov. 12, 1774. The king set the example of economy and retrenchment by reducing his household expenses and the number of his guards. An edict declaring the internal trade in grain free, and the occurrence of a partial famine at the same time, produced serious riots, in the suppression of which several hundreds were killed by the military. The king on this occasion, though at first irresolute, showed at length both vigor and prudence, and the disturbances were quieted by the amnesty of May, 1775. In the following year the opposition to reform, supported by the queen, succeeded in effecting the withdrawal of Turgot from the cabinet; and after various changes the finances were at length intrusted to the celebrated Necker, from whose skill and talent the highest expectations were entertained.
When the war of the American revolution broke out, and the agents of the United States, Franklin and Deane, arrived in Paris to solicit aid for the struggling colonies, Louis, though sympathizing with the Americans, was averse to embarking in war on their account; but his pacific inclinations were at length overcome by the urgency of his ministers and of the queen, and by the enthusiasm of the court and people, and on Feb. 6, 1778, he concluded the treaty of alliance with the United States, which in a few months resulted in the declaration of hostilities between France and Great Britain. The war cost France about 1,400,000,000 livres; and besides the irreparable deficit it produced in the already disordered finances, it tended greatly to weaken the monarchy by diffusing republican and revolutionary ideas. Necker became by his attempts at reform so obnoxious to the court and the aristocracy that he was obliged to resign in 1781. He was succeeded, after some changes, by Calonne, whose extravagance was unbounded. The queen and the court gave themselves up to gayety and profusion, excepting the king, whose tastes were simple and moderate, and who refused himself expensive indulgences which he granted to the queen and the princes.
In 1785 a swindling trick by which, in the name of the queen used without her knowledge, a jeweller of Paris was defrauded of a diamond necklace of immense value, created much excitement, threw great scandal on the queen and court, and disgraced the throne in popular estimation. (See Lamotte-Valois.) At length the king was persuaded to convene the assembly of the notables or principal nobility of the kingdom, for the purpose of devising some means of raising money, the deficit in the finances having reached the sum of 140,000,000 livres. The notables met in February, 1787, but rejected the proposal of a universal taxation which should embrace both the nobles and the clergy, upon which Calonne resigned. His successor, Lomenie de Brienne, was not more successful in grappling with the difficulties which beset the state, and was compelled to resign at a time when the scarcity of money had become so great that all cash payments were suspended and a state bankruptcy appeared inevitable. Necker, who was exceedingly popular, was recalled to the ministry in 1788; and the states general, which had not met since 1614, were summoned, and assembled at Versailles, May 5, 1780. An order of the king fixed the number of noble and ecclesiastical members at about 300 each, and that of the third estate or citizens at about 600. A quarrel broke out between the three estates at their first sitting, the main question at issue being whether the estates should vote separately or all together.
In the former case, the house of nobles would have the power of preventing any action displeasing to them; in the latter, the third estate, or commons, themselves forming half of the whole number of members, and who were also sure of the concurrence of many of the clergy of the inferior orders, would have the absolute power in the assembly. After a contest of some weeks the third estate declared itself (June 17) to be the national assembly, and was joined by portions of the other estates. The assembly began immediately a series of financial reforms which excited the greatest enthusiasm throughout France. Necker prepared a plan of a constitution for a limited monarchy like that of England; but the nobility persuaded the king to consent to violent measures, and on June 20 the hall of the assembly was closed by military force. The members, however, met in an adjoining tennis court and unanimously took an oath never to separate until the constitution of the kingdom and the regeneration of the public order were established on a solid basis. On June 23 a royal sitting was held, and Louis from the throne made a speech to the assembly, and proposed various important reforms and the establishment of constitutional rights, securing the liberties and privileges of the people.
His concessions were received with coldness, and after the termination of the sitting he dissolved the assembly. The third estate, however, refused to be dissolved; and one of its most prominent members, Mirabeau, replied to the official who summoned them to obey the king: "Tell your master that we sit hereby the power of the people, and that we are only to be driven out by the bayonet." The king yielded to this resolute resistance, the assembly remained in session, and the nobility and clergy, who had accepted the mandate of dissolution, now returned and took their seats at the request of the monarch. During these proceedings great excitement prevailed among the people of Paris. A national guard was formed, embracing nearly all the citizens capable of bearing arms, with Lafayette for commander, and the government of the city became a democratic municipality with Bailly for mayor. The irresolute king was now persuaded to dismiss Necker and banish him from the kingdom, and to surround Paris with a powerful army commanded by Marshal Bro-glie. Paris, exasperated at these reactionary measures, rose in insurrection and stormed the Bastile on July 14. The king was startled and dismayed, and meditated flight beyond the frontier, though he did not yet fully appreciate the dangers of his position.
The next morning Louis, who had a horror of bloodshed, and would not use the force at his command, made his appearance in the national assembly, which he addressed for the first time by this title. He came without his guards, accompanied only by his two brothers. He made a speech which for a while restored popular confidence, assuring the assembly that its freedom should be saved, though he had with his usual infirmity of purpose already signed the order for the army to advance upon Paris. On July 17, accompanied by the national assembly, he visited Paris, and was conducted through a mob of 100,000 armed men to the hotel de ville, where he showed himself to the people, wearing on his breast the tricolor, which had recently been adopted as the revolutionary emblem. He was then reconducted to Versailles amid the strongest demonstrations of popular attachment. On the day of the king's entry into Paris the princes of the blood, except Monsieur (afterward Louis XVIII.), and the chiefs of the aris-tocratical faction fled from the kingdom. They were followed by large numbers of the nobles and by the ministry, whom the assembly had impeached. At the same time Necker was recalled, conducted to Paris in triumph, and reinstated in his office. From this period the revolution went rapidly onward.
An imprudent outburst of loyal enthusiasm among the officers of the troops stationed at Versailles produced a sudden commotion in Paris, and a furious mob marched (Oct. 5) from that city to Versailles, where they took possession of the royal palace, and after committing great outrages compelled the king, queen, and royal family, who had narrowly escaped massacre, to return with them to Paris, where they were permitted to occupy the Tuileries, which was strictly guarded to prevent their escape, and Louis remained a virtual prisoner till the following year. On July 14, 1790, he took part in the imposing ceremony of the confederation in the Champ de Mars, where in presence of half a million of spectators he swore to be faithful to the constitution which the national assembly was then preparing. After this, however, his situation grew constantly worse. Necker, unequal to the difficulties of his post, retired to Switzerland. Mirabeau, who had been won over partly by bribery to the side of the king, died, and with him fell the last hope of the monarchy. The king, to test the degree of restraint to which he was subject, endeavored in April, 1791, to pay a visit to his palace of St. Cloud, but his departure from the Tuileries was prevented by the mob.
He now determined to make his escape from this disgraceful thraldom, and from the violence, insult, and danger to which he was continually exposed in Paris, and, calling around him at some place on the frontiers such subjects as were yet loyal, make a stand against the tyranny of the assembly and the mob. In concert with the marquis de Bouille, an able and resolute general, who commanded a body of loyal troops in Lorraine, a plan was at length formed for the flight of the whole royal family to Montmedy on the northern frontier, about 200 miles from Paris. It was put in execution June 20, and failed of success chiefly through the obstinacy and want of common sense of the king himself, who could not be persuaded to make use of common carriages, but had a peculiar coach built for his own use, which attracted attention, and who besides did not on his journey take care to keep himself concealed from observation. He was recognized by the assistant postmaster Drouet at Ste. Menehould, stopped by the national guards at Varennes, 150 miles from Paris, and brought back to the capital a prisoner, accompanied by the stern Petion, and by Barnave, who now became a defender of the throne.
On the morning after his return a decree of the national assembly provisionally suspended him from his functions as king, and a strict guard was placed over him and the royal family. In September the new constitution was submitted to him for acceptance, his freedom being previously restored to him. After several days' examination he sent this message to the assembly, Sept. 13: "I accept the constitution; I engage to maintain it alike against civil discord and foreign aggression, and to enforce its execution to the utmost of my power." On the following day he repaired in person to the assembly to declare his acceptance, and on Sept. 29 he attended the closing session of the assembly and delivered a speech in which he said: " Tell your constituents that the king will always be their first and best friend; that he has need of their affection; that he knows no enjoyment but in them and with them; that the hope of contributing to their happiness will sustain his courage, as the satisfaction of having done so will constitute his reward." For a brief period after this Louis had a certain degree of peace and even of popularity; but his vetoes upon the decrees against the emigrant royalists and the priests who would not swear to support the constitution, and his veto of the decree for the defence of Paris against the Austrians and Prussians, caused such irritation that on June 20, 1792, a mob marched from the suburbs to the Tuileries, took possession of the palace, seized the king, and sought by menaces and insults to make him withdraw his vetoes.
He refused with great dignity and firmness, and after several hours of stoical endurance he was rescued by the arrival of the mayor with the national guard. The invasion of France by the Prussians and Austrians, and the insolent manifesto of the duke of Brunswick, their commander, again aroused the Parisians to fury; and on Aug. 10 they rose in insurrection, stormed the Tuile-ries, and massacred the Swiss guards, who had made a gallant defence. Louis with his family sought refuge in the hall of the national assembly, where they passed 16 hours in a narrow closet. The assembly, meantime, passed an act to suspend the royal authority, to place the king and his family under control, to give the dauphin a tutor, and to assemble a national convention. The Temple, an ancient fortress in Paris, erected by the knights templars, was assigned as the prison for the royal family. The national convention assembled, and on Sept. 21 proclaimed France a republic. In December they brought the king to trial on various charges, the substance of which was that he had conspired with the emigrants and the foreigners to overthrow the constitution and restore the ancient order of things.
These charges were supported by documents which had been found in an iron safe concealed in a wall of the Tuileries. Louis, assisted by three advocates, Tronchet, Deseze, and Malesherbes, was brought before the convention on Dec. 11 and 26, and made a dignified and forcible defence, but was found guilty by a unanimous vote, Jan. 15, 1793. After stormy debates between the Girondists and Jacobins, he was condemned on the 20th by a majority of a few votes, and guillotined on the 21st. - Among the special works on the life and reign of Louis XVI. are the histories of Droz, Falloux, and Soulavie, and De Tocqueville's Coup (d'ceil sur le regne de Louis XVI. The Journal de Louis X VI., edited by Louis Nicolardot (Paris, 1873), is a minute diary of his private life in Versailles, devoted chiefly to trivial accounts.