The Role of King Louis XVI in Seven Years War

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A prominent debate in the history of the French revolution is whether King Louis XVI can in fact be seen as a tyrant or a victim of his time. Reflecting on the series of events that culminated in the French revolution, I find it intriguing to see how easily facts of the events can be interpreted in defense of both sides of this debate. Louis XVI had indeed inherited France at a tumultuous socio-political time. With his ascent being relatively unexpected, some may say that he did the best he could in his capacity. Conversely, while he may be seen as having made efforts to uplift the French society, these were no doubt overshadowed by the recklessly lavish lifestyle his wife promoted. I have chosen this topic in an attempt to challenge myself to understand both sides of the debate in as unbiased a manner as possible, however at the outset my opinion rests firmly on the belief that Louis XVI can be seen as nothing other than incompetent to have led the French Monarchy.

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Louis-Auguste, born August 1754 was second son to the Dauphin (a French term meaning first in line for the thrown). he was described as possessing a shy reserved temperament even as a young child. He never expected to be King so he threw himself into studying with particular interests in history and cartography. In 1770 he married Marie Antoinette, a duchess from Austria which was an arranged marriage.

During 1715- 1774, France was ruled by King Louis XV (grandfather of Louis XVI). Most notably he is known for leading France through a war that lasted seven years with Britain and Prussia during 1756-1763 where they lost prestige, profitable trading contracts and colonies in the Americas and India. Louis XV’s foreign policies had weakened the French economy. Under his rule, France was left bankrupt from the cost of war and luxury way of life of its royalty. On the other hand, French society had become split into three estates: the first being the clergy, the second were the nobles and the third were the common people.

The Clergy held the highest position in society next to the monarch. They managed Christian and educational institutions, and were not required to pay tax. They led excessively lavish lifestyles and exploited the commoners. The Nobility were also not required to pay tax and enjoyed luxurious lifestyles while turning a blind eye to the plight of people that were common. Sweepers, cobblers and farmers were among the common people. They were forced to pay taxes such as the Taille, Tithe and Gable. While doctors, lawyers and businessmen held wealth and social status, the clergy and nobles influenced the monarchy to still regard them as common people. They later became known as the Bourgeoisie and enlightened the other common people about their rights, ultimately inciting them towards the revolution. When Louis XVI ascended the throne in 1764, he was faced with these unresolved issues that his grandfather had left behind.

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