January 21

This Day in History

General Interest

Jan 21, 1793:

King Louis XVI executed

One day after being convicted of conspiracy with foreign powers and sentenced to death by the French National Convention, King Louis XVI is executed by guillotine in the Place de la Revolution in Paris.

Louis ascended to the French throne in 1774 and from the start was unsuited to deal with the severe financial problems that he had inherited from his grandfather, King Louis XV. In 1789, in a last-ditch attempt to resolve his country's financial crisis, Louis assembled the States-General, a national assembly that represented the three "estates" of the French people--the nobles, the clergy, and the commons. The States-General had not been assembled since 1614, and the third estate--the commons--used the opportunity to declare itself the National Assembly, igniting the French Revolution. On July 14, 1789, violence erupted when Parisians stormed the Bastille--a state prison where they believed ammunition was stored.

Although outwardly accepting the revolution, Louis resisted the advice of constitutional monarchists who sought to reform the monarchy in order to save it; he also permitted the reactionary plotting of his unpopular queen, Marie Antoinette. In October 1789, a mob marched on Versailles and forced the royal couple to move to Tuileries; in June 1791, opposition to the royal pair had become so fierce that the two were forced to flee to Austria. During their trip, Marie and Louis were apprehended at Varennes, France, and carried back to Paris. There, Louis was forced to accept the constitution of 1791, which reduced him to a mere figurehead.

In August 1792, the royal couple was arrested by the sans-cullottes and imprisoned, and in September the monarchy was abolished by the National Convention (which had replaced the National Assembly). In November, evidence of Louis XVI's counterrevolutionary intrigues with Austria and other foreign nations was discovered, and he was put on trial for treason by the National Convention.

The next January, Louis was convicted and condemned to death by a narrow majority. On January 21, he walked steadfastly to the guillotine and was executed. Nine months later, Marie Antoinette was convicted of treason by a tribunal, and on October 16 she followed her husband to the guillotine.

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