The trial and execution of King Louis XVI, or “Louis the Last,” was a major event in the French Revolution. Louis’ monarchy was ended by the revolution on August 10, 1792 when the people stormed the royal palace of the Tuileries after he broke his promises to abide by the new constitution.
The Convention Assembly put the king on trial for treason and he met the guillotine on January 21, 1793. A common historical view of Louis is as a tragic figure or martyr. He is widely remembered as merely a man who arrived at the wrong place at the wrong time. Many overlook the fact that this king committed treasonous acts against the country and people he ruled. Louis XVI was a trader and his punishment was fitting.
Louis Capet ascended the throne at age twenty and ruled France for nearly twenty years. The country was nearly bankrupt when he came to power in 1774. Compounding matters, there was a terrible crop failure in 1778, driving the price of bread and other foods sky-high. Combined with other factors, these events marked the beginning of the French Revolution, and ultimately the demise of the king. It is unquestionable that Louis’ reign came at an inopportune time. The country, along with the rest of Europe, was going through major changes during this age of enlightenment. The 17th Century marked the beginning of the modernization of government. Those who defend Louis do not hold him accountable for his treasonous actions because they argue that the events that occurred during his reign were far beyond his control. The king was not an evil ruler, or even an evil man, but he was an incompetent ruler. One of his fatal flaws was that he was heavily influenced by others. Queen Marie-Antoinette and his courtiers often dictated the actions he took. However, Louis must be held responsible for his actions he took, regardless of the circumstances. Had any other Frenchman committed just one of Louis’ several acts of treason, they would undoubtedly have been sent to the guillotine.
France’s National Assembly began work on a new constitution in the summer of 1789. The king’s powers would be severely limited. Louis vehemently opposed the impending changes. As it became clear the Royal authority would never be the same, Louis unsuccessfully attempted to flee the country with his family on June 20, 1791. Prior to the attempted flight, the king sent money to Austria. He was to return to his country with an Austrian invasion in a last-ditch effort to eventually reclaim the throne. He knew that Austria’s professional army could easily conquer his people, and in turn restore his power. This was a desperate man who could not be trusted by his people. As young firebrand revolutionary Louis-Antoine de Saint-Just said, Louis should be treated as an “enemy alien” since he turned on his own people. Saint-Just stated, “We have not so much to judge him as to fight him” (67).
Louis was forced to uphold the country’s new constitution on September 14, 1791. Discovered documents verified the expected; the king opposed and worked against the constitution from the very beginning. Louis was put on trial on December 11, 1792. Of the 745 deputies of the Convention, 693 voted that he was guilty of treason. Only 380 out of 690 voted for the death sentence. It is ridiculous that the latter vote took place considering treason is punishable by death.
Louis’ attempts to flee France and employ Austria’s assistance to regain his power makes it absolutely clear that he was not considering the best interests of France. He truly believed that a monarchy was the ideal form of rule, but he was willing to march on his own people to achieve his goals. His fate is without question justified by the fact that through his actions and intentions, he was a threat to the French people. He was willing to allow his people to perish by the hands of foreign invaders in order to restore the monarchy. Considering the country was in a time of revolution, Louis needed to be eliminated for the greater good of France.
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