Louis was never meant to become King, but his father died in 1765, followed by his two older brothers. When his grandfather Louis XV died in 1774, he came to a throne for which he was ill-prepared. Louis and his wife would fail to provide France with an heir for seven years, to the derision of the French people. Even the celebrations of their wedding day would end in tragedy, with the death of one hundred Parisians following a stampede at a fireworks display.
An indecisive man, in the words of one deputy, "the king spent his whole life saying each evening that he was mistaken that same morning." As his younger brother (the future Charles X) would say, not without irony: "Trying to get Louis to hold to a position was like trying to hold greased billiard balls together."*
* Amazing that phrase never caught on, really. But then trying to get a phrase to catch on is like oiling a hammer and expecting a cat to marry it.
You can use that one, if you like.
His 19-year reign would become increasingly agitated since the Court was incapable of reform. Louis XV had merely covered up the nation's problems without actually resolving anything. His heir wished to be called "Louis the Severe" to contrast with the permissiveness and debauchery of his grandfather. But as far as public opinion was concerned, he would be "Louis the Weak". ***
*** Never mind "Louis the Weak". There were so many men called Louis around you could have had a "Louis of the Week".
What decisions he actually managed to make turned against him. The war with England, to support Franklin and Washington, would ruin the kingdom, and by 1789, debt-ridden France had reached a state of virtual bankruptcy. This situation was exacerbated by the trade treaty with London: the British, who were way ahead of the French technologically, inundated France with their industrial products, spelling ruin for French artisans. Some of these products would even be used in the revolutionary riots.
While food shortages were due to bad crops and weather, those who were hungry blamed them on the rich. Meanwhile, pampered and pensioned in Versailles far away from their roots, the nobility had become another adversary that would further undermine the system. The same went for the lower orders of the clergy, who shared the general misery of their flock. The king didn't see it coming. The nobles would bring about a revolution to which they too would fall victim.
In summer of 1791, with the revolution heating up, Louis approved the perilous plan to secretly flee from Paris to the supposedly loyal troops in the East. The royal family's arrest at Varennes would spell the end of absolute monarchy. On August 10, when the grounds of the Tuileries were invaded, Louis took refuge in the National Assembly, but the damage was done. Shortly thereafter, he was stripped of his power, arrested, and sent to the medieval fortress of the Temple, and from there, to his doom.
His trial was brief, and ultimately only for show: witnesses who testified in his favor were massacred in two instances, while the documents that could have proved him innocent were not passed on to his defenders. In short, it was a travesty. The judges had all but decided on the verdict from the onset. The "absolute" monarch - who didn't even reign over his court - was influenced by all those who surrounded him. "What should I do?" he asked the reactionary French writer Rivarol in September 1789. "Act like a king!" came the reply. If only. Louis, who had a passion for geography and great exploration, and whose hobbies were locksmithing and carpentry, was simply not cut out for the job. ****
**** In my experience, you should never trust a man who lists his hobby as locksmithing.