Louis XV., 1715-1774
Domestic Policy
France 1789-1792
Domestic Policy
Louis XVI., 1774-1789
the Economy

France 1774-1789 : Domestic Policy

LOUIS XVI., grandson of Louis XV., was born in 1754, inherited the crown of France in 1774. Personally he disliked politics and court life, often devoting himself to mechanics, studies of nature, to the hunt. For government he relied on ministers etc., whom, however, he frequently changed. However, his Queen MARIE ANTOINETTE (1756-1793; they had married in 1770) enjoyed the court at Versailles, which continued to attract the attention of noblemen from all across Europe.
At the beginning of his reign he dismissed the unpopular chancellor RENE NICOLAS DE MAUPEOU and permitted the regional parlements to function as they had before they were dismissed by de Maupeau. The kingdom's finances were in poor shape; a number of suggestions for financial resp. economic reforms were made (TURGOT 1774, NECKER 1781); however they were not materialized.
In other areas Louis XVI. did enact significant reforms, often overlooked; in 1779 he freed the serfs living on royal land; on 1780 he abolished torture, in the 1787 EDICT OF TOLERANCE civil status was granted to French protestants.
The central problem was the kingdom's finances respectively the nation's economy; France had declared bankrupcy in 1777. Yet the expenses of the royal household continued to be excessive, and France joining the WAR OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE just proved too much. In 1788 the king and his ministers, unable to obtain new taxation from the regional PARLEMENTS, saw no option but to call the ESTATES GENERAL to assemble - for the first time since 1615 - in order to debate the king's request for an extraordinary tax. This marks the end of absolutism in France.

Criticism of the government had taken new forms; Queen MARIE ANTOINETTE, popular not only because of her Austrian descent, became the victim of a number of moves to denigrate her name. The first was the DIAMOND NECKLACE AFFAIR of 1785, in which a certain Madame la Motte, impersonated Marie Antoinette and asked the Cardinal de Rohan, an admirer of the queen, to purchase a diamond necklace for her (which she had sold in London). Marie Antoinette, by eliminating jobs in the palace which had little purpose but to provide nobles with an additional income, had made enemies among the nobility. When the people of Paris complained about the lack of bread, Marie Antoinette was quoted to have said "Let them eat cake !" - which she never did. She was the target of a campaign intending to ruin her name.

Biography of R.N. de Maupeau, from infoplease
Tragedy of Louis XVI., timeline, from Tomball College, another one, more detailed, from French Monarchs
Louis XVI., biography, from World Civilizations at WSU
DOCUMENTS French Medals, 18th Century, from Medal Web, Benjamin Weiss Collection

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2001, last revised on November 9th 2004

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