King Louis XVI is a figure of great interest for history buffs, especially those who love a plot twist. He got off to a rocky start as a future king, marrying Marie Antoinette, another controversial figure, and assuming the throne unprepared at a young age. Little did he know that a revolt would occur during his reign and both he and his wife would meet untimely ends, largely because a handful of pivotal decisions that bore unexpected consequences.
A Rough Beginning
Known as Louis Auguste early in life, the future king was never expected to be heir to the throne at all. His parents expected his older brother, Louis duc de Bourgogne, to inherit the throne. But when that sibling at the age of 9 and Louis' father died a few years later, it was clear that the unprepared and unlikely Louis Auguste would be the next king. After his mother died shortly after his father, Louis' tutors did a poor job of training him to be a monarch. He appeared to be shy, socially awkward and slow to make decisions.
Marriage to Marie Antoinette
At age 15, Louis married Marie Antoinette, the daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I and Empress Maria Teresa of Austria. It was a strategic, arranged marriage that would have dangerous implications later in Louis' reign. While she made a good first impression with the French commoners, she developed a reputation for indulgence and promiscuity at a time when many French subjects were suffering. She also was seen as having sympathy for France's enemies, all of which caused problems for both her and Louis.
Louis gained some popularity by supporting the American colonies in the fight for independence against Great Britain. This support, however, came at a great cost. France's financial backing of the American Revolution nearly bankrupted the French government. Louis took some advice from financial advisers that proved to be unpopular with his subjects. The king called a meeting of the largely powerless parliament, a group that had not convened in more than 150 years, in an attempt to raise taxes. To make matters worse, the majority of citizens with the least amount of power were underrepresented in the meeting, increasing social unrest.
The commoners felt more and more marginalized, and sought dramatic changes. They formally created a group known as the National Assembly, which moved toward revolution and the famous storming of the Bastille prison in a show of defiance of the monarchy. Louis moved his family from Versailles to Paris because of the unrest and tried to escape France in 1791. The newly formed constitutional monarchy saw this as further proof of Louis' alleged treason. In 1792, the National Convention declared France a republic, and both Louis and Marie were executed not long after.