Today on January 21, 1793, King Louis XVI was beheaded by the guillotine in the Place de la Revolution in Paris.
The execution of King Louis XVI marked the pinnacle of the long and bloody French Revolution. The uprising began four years earlier with the storming of the bastille in Paris. France had a long history of being governed by tyrannical and absolutist monarchs. In 1774, Louis XVI ascended to the throne and inherited a kingdom in serious financial trouble. His reckless and indulgent great-great-grandfather King Louis XIV (nicknamed the Sun King) had wasted away much of the state’s coffers. Along with his wife Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI continued the tradition of living a lavish lifestyle. The couple often resided far away from their people at the luxurious Palace of Versailles. Disinterested in governing the country, their leadership pushed the French people to the brink.
By 1789, a widespread rebellion erupted across the country. On October 5, 1789, thousands of starving Parisian women marched on Versailles demanding bread and food to eat. Louis managed to quell the riot but only temporarily. Meanwhile, other constitutional monarchs tried to convince him that concessions needed to be made to save his crown. But the king outwardly refused any such reforms. Within two years it was clear that any hope of suppressing the rebellion was lost. Louis and his wife attempted fleeing to Austria. While riding through Varennes, the royal couple was caught and apprehended. King Louis XVI was sent to the Tour de Temple (an ancient fortress in Paris). Stripped of all his titles and honors, Louis reluctantly signed a new constitution, reducing himself to a mere figurehead.
The next year, a group of radical Parisians suddenly imprisoned Louis and Marie. Next, the newly formed French National Convention formally abolished the monarchy entirely. In November, rumors of a counter-revolution supported by Austria were spreading across the capital. The anti-monarchists grew fearful of royalist uprising that would reinstate the king. As a result, Louis was immediately put on trial for treason and promptly found guilty. On January 21, 1792, King Louis XVI was beheaded by the guillotine in the Place de la Revolution. As he mounted the scaffold, he appeared dignified and resigned to his fate. Louis delivered a short speech proclaiming his innocence before being cut off by a general in the National Guard. Some accounts suggest his neck did not severe on the first attempt. Queen Marie Antoinette was also beheaded nine months later.