Was Louis XVI guilty or innocent?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Louis XVI, the grandson of Louis XV, an unpopular monarch who predicted, "Apres moi, le deluge" [After me, the flood], inherited much of the rancor of the peasants handed down since the reign of Louis XIV, the Sun King, who overtaxed the peasants and left them impoverished.  Their oppression continued through the reign of Louis XV.

inheriting the throne at too young an age, Louis was intelligent enough to reign, but he was much too indecisive, a quality which made him appear weak, and which prevented his effecting real progress.  Under his reign, public spending increased, a condition that led to his unpopularity as debt rose. Also, he knew that his days of absolute rule were ended and he fell into depression.  Consequently, his power was eroded and a call for a convocation of the Estates-General was called. With the increasing numbers in the Third Estate, and their lack of attention, the time was ripe for their assertion. In less than three months, the king's authority was transferred to the elected representatives of the people's nation. so, the storming of the Bastille was more a symbolic gesture.

More debt was incurred with the aid that the French gave in the American Revolutionary War. For, the efforts to regain Canada proved futile and financial loss was substantial. When taxes were raised, the people were already overtaxed and ripe for rebellion.  In addition to the unpopularity of Louis XVI himself, the queen, Marie-Antoinette was very unpopular.  Called "the foreigner" and ''the Austrian," Marie Antoinette could never ingratiate herself with the French.

Although Louis XVI inherited animosity from the people as his grandfather Louis XV was unpopular and his great-grandfather Louis XIV extremely arrogant, his failure at controlling the finances of France and his indecisiveness, along with his very unpopular wife, certainly contributed to the climate that was conducive to the French Revolution. The increasing power and numbers of the Third Estate, however, was beyond his control. 

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