LOUIS XVI of FRANCE

The king who brought about the birth of a republic.
How is he represented in civic statuary in France and in the USA ?

A short survey by Laure MacMillan, member of the Rochambeau chapter of the DAR in France, and Jacques de Trentinian, NSSAR Vice-President-General (European district).

Louis XVI was an enigmatic king whose historical reputation is one of weakness. The truth is that although he was not well prepared for leadership, he always acted most scrupulously. It is, for instance, relatively unknown that he reinstated civic status to Protestants, telling even to the Councillor in charge of the project: "Mr de Malesherbes after implementing a status for the Huguenots, it is time you do the same for the Jews."

As his last biographer Jean-Christian Petitfils mentions, the French Revolution rejected this "revolutionary" king, who would have been an excellent constitutional monarch. His interests often have been caricatured, such as locksmith and hunting. And too often overlooked was his more historically significant passion and mastery of maritime affairs. This passion was instrumental in procuring independence for America. At the accession of Louis XVI, the French navy was in very bad shape. Under the influence of his ministers Sartine and his successor Castries, numerous reforms were undertaken to overhaul the French Navy.

According to historian Etienne Taillemite in his work: " Louis XVI, the still navigator" although Louis XVI was a pacifist, it was his final decision, taken after long consideration, that led to the French-American alliance treaty of February the 8th 1778. This was the beginning of a long commitment for the French nation and navy to a conflict that would be fought over five years and over all the oceans, and without which, thirteen young colonies in revolution might have remained for decades under British control.(*)

Let's have a closer look at the modest recognition of the United States toward this mysterious king. At the commemoration of the second centenary of Louis XVI's execution at the "place de la Concorde" in Paris, HE. Mr. Walter Curley, the ambassador of the United States came himself to pay honor. On this occasion he recalled that the expenses resulting from the American war were a source of great difficulties for the Royal Treasury, and led the country to events that became fatal to the King.
In France, there exist only very few monuments dedicated to king Louis XVI.
In Nantes, there is a statue of Louis XVI by Molknecht, located in one of the most important squares. This work was commissioned in 1785, and finished later under the Restoration period (1814-1830). (*) "Louis himself emerges as the principal author, even accelerating France's commitment to the Insurgents once the policy was decided: here at least, his reputation for indecision is unjustified" Hardman and Munro preface to Louis XVI and comte de Vergennes correspondence Voltaire Foundation; Oxford, 1998
There is also a marble obelisk in Port-Vendres, a calm safety harbour which was transformed upon the Sovereign's impulsion into the youngest modern military port in France. Four bronze bas-reliefs recall the King's greatest achievements, among which is American independence. Port-Vendres is twinned with Yorktown (VA).


At Soreze, in the Tarn area, a statue of Louis XVI reminds us that he decentralized, in twelve different cities like Soreze, the previously centralized Military College, with an in-depth transformation of the education programs.
How about in the United States?

Louisville, largest city in Kentucky, famous for its Derby, the most important horse race in North America, and location of the NSSAR head offices, was named after Louis XVI in gratitude for French aid in the American Revolution. It is the name George Rogers Clark gave when he heard of the Alliance Treaties to the settlement at the Falls of the Ohio.
The 12 feet high marble statue which stands outside the Jefferson County Courthouse in downtown Louisville was commissioned by the King's daughter and originally unveiled in the 1820's in Montpel li er (France). It was presented as a gift of friendship by Montpellier to Louisville in 1967 a few years after the two towns became sister cities.

The contribution of Louis XVI to the independence of the United States of America was also commemorated there in a surprising clock mechanism. About ten years ago the crowds in downtown Louisville could admire the 40-foot-tall timepiece featuring statues of historical figures important to the city and the nation. At noon every day, a race started, placing in competition the Louis XVI, Thomas Jefferson, explorers George Rog ers Clark and Daniel Boone, all running around a circular track. The 30-year-old clock was damaged by weather, and it currently is being restored. A group of nostalgic-minded civic leaders, led by the children of the late original creator, Barney Bright, is mobilizing for the clock's restoration and placement back in a significant public space in downtown Louisville. If the project succeeds, might we see in it a new tribute to King Louis XVI?
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Page initiated 20 April and revised 12 May 2014.