Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

The birth of King Louis XVI

Today is the 260th anniversary of the birth at Versailles of the future King Louis XVI in 1754. He was the third son of Louis, Dauphin of France and Maria Josepha of Saxony, but the eldest one to survive childhood. His father died in 1765 and his mother in 1767, which brought him to prominance as Dauphin and heir, but at an early age. This was followed by his succession to the throne aged 19 in 1774.


King Louis XVI at the age of 20


There is an online biography here, which gives some pointers both to his genuine mental abilities and also his profound shyness as a youth and young man, and also to the influence of tutors which may not have proved altogether helpful advice in the face of the mounting catastrophe he had to face after 1789.

The young King Louis XVI


If in some ways he was perhaps a late developer  he was a man who was well intentioned, the promoter of humane values in his kingdom, and not opposed to reform. He was undoubtedly a good man, kind and caring for his family and for his subjects.

It is perhaps unclear how well he was prepared for his task, which was becoming ever more difficult with the need for reform, yet the system was too complex, with its inbuilt checks and balances, jealously defended by sectional and regional interests, to be other than tinkered with safely. The case for putting the Monarchy in the forefront of reform and seizing the advantage was a good one - attempted by his grandfather and his ministers in 1770, but then abandoned. Whether such a policy was possible is one question. Another is whether it could have actually worked in France in the ways that similar reforms were working in other European monarchies in the 1780s, including Austria, Spain and, indeed, after 1783, Britain.

King Louis XVI is sometimes derided for his hobby of making and repairing locks. However locks are complex mechanisms, requiring skill and attention. The King's tragedy, and that of his realm, was not that he could not solve or repair the complex mechanism of making the governance of the realm work, but that seemingly no-one could without smashing the whole to pieces.

With the often doubtful benefits of hindsight he has attracted criticism from both left for being incapable of seizing the initaitive for reform - or indeed for simply being King, and struggling to maintain his position - and from the right for irresolution and vacillation. Neither seem fair to a man placed in an uneviable position by events.


King Louis XVI receives the homage of the Knights of the Order of the Saint-Esprit after his coronation at reims in 1775


Like King Charles I in England he attained full maturity and nobility in the way he faced his death.

A blood relic of the King has recently been analysed as can be seen from the article which can be viewed  here.

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