Even during his life, when his subjects generally liked him and exempted him from their harsh and bitter sarcasms, Louis XVI did not know how to sell himself to his people" (Padover, 1939, p. viii)
The nation cried for a king, and it was given an image of a stout man too shy to play to the galleries. Louis XVI built no bridges between himself and his subjects, and the wonder is that he retained their affections as long as he did. Almost to the very end, Frenchmen were attached to the monarchy, but they demanded something more of the monarch than ritualised inertia. In no way, except intentions, did Louis meet the expectations of his people. This interplay of forces, as expressed by what an aroused nation wanted and a slow moving ruler did not offer.
One of the curious ironies in the career of Louis XVI is that his death came to be perhaps more important than his life. From the point of view of the Revolutionary reforms, the king's death was unnecessary because it took place after the Revolution had achieved its program; and from the point of view of French history, the decapitation of Louis XVI was a national tragedy because it tore the country from its traditional moorings and cast it into a sea of violence.
One of the major difficulties Louis XVI faced at succession was that he was a young boy devoid of any social contacts. Initially he was frightened at such a responsibility that he was not expecting. Louis XVI as a bewildered boy had never before had to make decisions or take action on his own. Always there had been somebody mastering him father, mother, brother, or wife but now he was king and absolute lord of the realm, and the entire world expected him to rule and command. Yet he did not have the remotest idea of his specific functions, or any knowledge of finance and legislation, or any awareness of the complex problems that waited solution. He knew how to sign papers submitted by ministers and was of course conscious that his signature implied sanction and compelled obedience. But his distrust of all his grandfather's ministers and functionaries was too deep to allow them to remain in office.
At court there was no one in whom he had confidence. Yet it was essential that he find one man to whom he could entrust himself and the destinies of the state; such a man could serve as prime minister, as royal tutor, and even as a sort of parent-substitute. But where was the king to find such a mentor He had virtually no contact with prominent men, and some of the persons recommended in his father's list 'Maurepas', for example had not been at court in Louis' lifetime. Immensely worried, Louis consulted the one woman he trusted, his clever and haughty Aunt Adelaide, who was his father's sister and who knew everybody. Together they scanned the late dauphin's list of recommendations until by a process of elimination there remained only Machault and Maurepas, both of them past their allotted span of years. But Madame Adelaide was a pious woman, and when her nephew asked her what she thought of Machault, she replied that the former minister of finance, although honest enough, was a Jansenist and therefore a heretic. Louis, accordingly, decided against him. Thus only Maurepas, equally ancient and presumably equally wise, was left in the field. In this way the king chose a minister who was to shape