French Monarchy and its abolishment: Is Louis XVI at fault?

The French monarchy was one of the longest political periods in the history of France and its abolishment was not a sudden movement. Louis XVI was the last king of France; by being in power last, was he the only cause for the end of the French Monarchy? Louis XVI was definitely an additional factor for the fall of the monarchy but it can certainly be shown that other kings of France contributed to its fall also. Louis XIV in particular left France in an enormous economic debt, a dept that his two following successors tried to solved throughout their reign. Monarchy also had a terrible time due to new political ideas rising about government through philosophes along with a shift in public opinion and the power that came with it. The fall of monarchy triggered a social and a political revolution which was a lead of up of many different factors combined and not solely due to one king.

France before its revolution was in the middle of modernization and undergoing large changes in economic and culture. The period of enlightenment was also a movement which extremely influenced the changing of attitudes towards the monarchy. It can be represented as a new way of thinking about mankind and the environment. Interestingly enough philosophes such as Montesquieu, who wrote long before the reign of the king Louis XVI already debated the politics behind absolute monarchy – along with later philosophes such as Voltaire, who challenged the view of social classes. Both intellectuals believed that it was possible for men to uncover laws which regulated society, politics, the economy and even morality in France – the distastes for monarchy therefore started before the reign of the king Louis XVI and can only be partially responsible for its failure.

Monarchy was badly hurt by the predecessors of Louis XVI, his grand-father “Le Roi Soleil”: Louis XIV and his father Louis XV who also contributed to the fall of it.  Louis XIV was one to have made the biggest impact on French society. He changed the political organisation of the French monarchy which led to unfortunate consequences on the next two generations of kings. Louis XV came to power with a good reputation but tarnished it with his ill-advised financial policies and damaged the power of France. He weakened the treasury and discredited the monarchy – a major impact how it portrayed monarchy to the population and the intellectuals at the time.

Public opinion and its growing influence also helped to tarnish the views on monarchy.  Public opinion and its power on French society along with the increase of publicising what the French population were thinking throughout the 17th century really shaped a negative opinion towards monarchy.  Initial thoughts of disapprovement towards monarchy emerged way before the reign of Louis XVI. However, they did not become apparent to the population until he came to power which can lead to a misunderstanding that he was the only cause for the abolishment of the monarchy.  – This picture portrays class solidarity towards the disapproval of monarchy – an enlightenment for the peasantry as its opinion towards absolute monarchy can be revealed through famous papers and actually have an impact in the broader sense of society.

Social factors also altered the opinion of the French towards the monarchy. One of the main social factors has to be inequality within social classes. Voltaire is one of the main philosophes to support the argument that it was mainly a social problem which influenced the abolishment of the ancient regime – in his book ‘Candide’ there is a meaningless illustration of social class; how it can be easily challenged and reversed also.

Many social, political and economic conditions led to the French revolution which then proceeded to abolish absolute monarchy and therefore blaming it solely on Louis XIV would be just too easy of an answer.  These conditions included dissatisfaction among the lower and middle class, interest in new ideas about government, the increase of public opinion but in particular the power it played on the revolutionary movement. The reign of Louis XVI undoubtedly influenced the abolishment of the French monarchy, but he cannot be blame for the entire crisis. Many factors contextualised the abolishment of the French monarchy – which is probably a good thing for the French today.


2 comments on “French Monarchy and its abolishment: Is Louis XVI at fault?

  1. tashturner13 says:

    I found your piece really interesting, I have a fascination with Tudor England so this project did call out to me a bit. Your analysis on the abolishment of the monarch in France was fantastic as you provide scope to consider various factors and not just the behaviours of Louis himself. It is apparent from your research that seeds were already planted in the public’s mind that the existence of monarchy was irrelevant to society, so it is easy to see how this, combined with the circumstances around Louis reign (and his predecssors) contributed to the revolution. It also didn’t help that he left his people starving on the street while the Mrs. had lavish parties!

    Fantastic job on a really interesting topic!

  2. kristyhulm85 says:


    Very interesting topic. I agree that the fall of the French monarchy could not be blamed solely on Louis XVI. The fact that the price of bread around the time of the collapse of the monarchy was immensely high and Louis XVI did not appear too worried would have attributed to the decline of popular support. Just as Tash pointed out, Louis XVI did not assist in bettering his declining public support whilst allowing his wife Marie Antoinette to dress in immensely expensive clothing and spend large amounts of money when she saw fit. Louis XVI might not have been able to end the French economic crisis but the way he responded would have directly affected the support and future of the French monarchy.

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