May 10, 1774: The reign of Louis XVI begins.
Louis XVI succeeded his grandfather Louis XV as King of France and of Navarre at age nineteen. By this time he had already been married to the Austrian Archduchess Maria Antonia, or Marie Antoinette, for four years; their marriage had, so far, been unfruitful — the couple had failed to produce any children and would not until 1778; in addition to his and his wife’s progenitive problems, the new King was faced with numerous issues which required the immediate attention of a tenacious and resourceful head of state (he was not one), including France’s financial problems (later including the enormous debt accumulated after the American War of Independence), and various social, economic, political problems that the King was in the end unable to fully address, though not due to a severe disinterest or lack of intelligence but rather the feebleness of his character (he was often described, as both a child and adult, as shy and indecisive). Some of his actions were popular with the people, such as his approval of the Edict of Versailles in 1787, which granted certain non-Catholic religious groups the right to openly practice in France; he also reinstated the regional parlements, which decentralized power from the crown but also enabled nobles to block the attempted radical reforms of Terray and Maupeou, who were both dismissed only months after Louis XVI’s ascension to the throne. Tensions between the privileged First and Second Estates and the Third Estate (whose members made up 98% of the country’s population), widespread food shortages, and general unrest and malaise, persisted throughout his reign.
In 1789, the King was forced in his desperation to summon the Estates-General, the first time this assembly had been called in 175 years; this summons, the declaration of the National Assembly, the Tennis Court Oath, and the Storming of the Bastille marked the beginning of the French Revolution, which ended - at least for Louis - in his deposition and execution.