King Louis Xvi Was the Most Influential Personality of the Reign of Terror

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The French Revolution is arguably the most important event in Western history. It has been said that ‘Never was any such event so inevitable yet so completely unforseen’.” The events prior and during the French Revolution eventuated in the execution of the king and effectively the end of the monarchy as well as radical changes to the French hierarchy and society. Some may reason that King Louis XVI was in fact the most influential personality of the French Revolution. However Louis and his incompetence as a leader was merely the catalyst of the revolution and evidently the Reign of Terror which followed. Louis XVI, the final Bourbon king, and absolute monarch of France reigned from 1765 to 1793, during a time of great discontent in his country. The decision of his forefathers impacted greatly upon the rule of Louis XVI and the opinion of the lower classes. Evidently the people of France revolted against the monarchy which had ruled for over a thousand years and created the French Republic. With the revolution came great cultural, social, political and historical changes; a new national government was developed which stressed the importance of equality and Madame Guillotine was introduced to ensure justice. The revolution also saw a great shift in the hierarchal structure of France; people of the Third Estate, the French commoners and peasants were now highly influential in political decisions. Maximilien Robespierre arose from this Third Estate and effectively became the leader of the Revolution. Robespierre’s influence subsequently has become synonymous with the Reign of Terror and can be seen as the significant influence of French societal change during 1792 to 1795. King Louis XVI ascended the throne in 1774 to a country on the brink of chaos; enlightenment ideals were undermining the authority of the monarchy and the large debts France had sustained as well as the power of the first two estates made it practically impossible for Louis to create any effective reforms. The effects of Louis XVI’s predecessors also contributed greatly to the discontent arising in all of the three estates. It was during the seventy-four year reign of Louis XIV that the problems which led to the French Revolution can be seen to have begun. ‘Under King Louis XIV, the growing wealth from trade increased the power of the king and brought France to an economic, military and artistic peak.’ However it was the monarchy’s failure to establish an effective financial system to support the fruitless wars and the building of the grand palace of Versailles which led the country towards bankruptcy. Louis XV succeeded his great grandfather, Louis XIV at the age of five. Louis XV was nicknamed the well-beloved by his people; though it was his ill-advised decisions and failures as a king that contributed to the crisis of the French Revolution that his succeeder would face. During his reign, he entered numerous wars with strong European countries and suffered great defeats on most accounts, these defeats consequently contributed to France’s significantly large debts and weakening government. Louis XV himself realised the mistakes of his and his forefather reign, as stated in the secondary source, “Two Centuries, A Profile of Modern History” ,“’These things’ he once said ‘will survive our times; but after us, the deluge’”. The deluge came during the reign of his succeeder, Louis XVI. As a nineteen year old, Louis was woefully unprepared to reign over France, the single largest country in Western Europe which required substantial improvements. His decision to support the War of Independence in which France sustained 15 million dollars in debt is but one example of the incompetence of Louis as a leader. The decedent lifestyle that Louis and his wife Marie Antoinette led in Versailles clearly contrasted to that of the Parisians peasants. The geographical isolation of the monarchy at Versailles and the vast difference in its lifestyle to that of the rest of...
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