20 History-Shattering Times Subjects Overthrew their Monarchies

“Louis XVI, King of France and Navarre, wearing his grand royal costume in 1779”, by Antoine-François Callet (c. 1789). Wikimedia Commons.

18. The French Revolution saw the overthrow and eventual execution of Louis XVI of France in 1793

Following costly failure in the Seven Years’ War, which saw the loss of France’s North American colonies, the royal family grew increasingly unpopular domestically. Whilst Louis XIV had emboldened the people and overseen great victories, Louis XV presided over general decline and was widely mocked for his sexual excesses. Following his passing in 1774, the reign of his grandson, Louis XVI, only served to worsen the situation. Bankrupting the nation aiding the Americans in their War of Independence whilst simultaneously failing to embrace the Industrial Revolution, he was eventually forced to accept radical political reforms in a desperate bid to maintain power.

Upsetting the nobility, Louis sought to roll back these changes. However, by 1789, following a harsh winter resulting in food shortages, the French people had endured enough. Launching the French Revolution, first the feudal privileges of the Ancien Régime were torn down before, in 1791, the absolute monarchy that had ruled France for 948 years was limited to a constitutional function. Insufficient to satisfy public anger and discontent, on September 21, 1792, the French First Republic was proclaimed, followed swiftly by the execution of Louis XVI on January 21, 1793. Spawning the “Reign of Terror” under the Directory, France would endure twenty-five years of reform and dictatorship before the eventual restoration of its monarchy in 1815.