To what extent was the French monarchy both the main cause and the main victim of the French Revolution?

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rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is little doubt that the Bourbon monarchy was among the victims of the French Revolution. Louis XVI and his wife lost their heads, the king's son perished after a stay in prison, and the monarchy would only return for an extended period after the downfall of Napoleon (who admittedly proclaimed himself Emperor, but not the heir of the Bourbons.) Whether the Bourbons were responsible for causing the Revolution is more complex. By the time Louis XVI came to the throne, France suffered from a number of fiscal issues related to an activist foreign policy (which Louis XVI continued) and serious structural deficiencies in French government that inhibited reform. Prior to 1789, Louis's attempts at reform were blocked by nobles, acting through the Parlement of Paris, and it is entirely possible that even the more sweeping reforms would have failed to avert the problems that led to the Revolution, particularly the economic crisis that gripped peasants and urban workers. On the other hand, his decision-making during the crisis of the late 1780s was almost uniformly poor, and he consistently sought to avoid making difficult decisions. In short, historians differ as to the role of the king in causing the Revolution, with some citing insurmountable difficulties facing Louis and others pointing to his incompetence.

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