Weak authority and unbridled liberty

February 2, 2012

Louis XVI at the Foot of the Scaffold, Painting by Charles Benazech

The architect of his own ruin, Louis XVI proceeded to forge his own chains. The fault lay with the theorists who deluded him, with those men who were forever talking about necessary liberties and forgot indispensable authority; who, when once in power, were compelled to abandon the theories they had held when in opposition. We may truly say, “It is the fate of monarchy in France not to be conquered, but to be betrayed.”

The Louis XV of Madame du Barry, Louis XV himself, decried as he was, would never have been guilty of the faults of his unhappy successor. Maria Theresa, who was thoroughly versed in statescraft at once saw that the old King’s death was a catastrophe. Louis XVI had a sort of presentiment of his own weakness, when on the day of his coronation he said that the crown tired him. Alas! He shattered his crown and his scepter with his own hands, and the time came when he was obliged to exchange his diadem for the hideous red cap. A monarch who renounces his prerogatives descends voluntarily from his pedestal. It is like what is called in Roman Law an abdication of civil rights. He who has been master cannot become servant.

 

Imbert de Saint-Amand, Marie Antoinette and the End of the Old Régime, trans. Thomas Sergeant Perry (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1914), pp. 166-167.

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  • Without a doubt Louis XVI is a martyr of the French Revolution. However, his Fenelonian education gave him a wrong understanding of the role of a king. Consequently he was a weak king, and this weakness, was his undoing and brought down the monarchy. When the French Revolution broke out, he forbade his officers to crush it, since, "he did not wish to shed the blood of a single Frenchman." His misguided softness resulted in the tragic ripping apart of France causing the bloody death of millions.

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