Published on August 19th, 2016 | by Joshua Chanin0
Depression, Stress, Revolution: The Sexual Frustrations of Louis XVI
It was the custom back in the early ages of Europe that when a king would marry, he would consummate his marriage immediately (preferably the night of the special occasion) in order to produce an heir to the throne and continue the royal blood line. King Louis XVI was an unfortunate king who would not consummate his marriage until seven years after his important date. The French king, who ruled the empire of his beloved nation from 1774 all the way to his beheading in 1793, would prove to be a terrible leader. He was weak in giving directions, incapable of handling his money and other royal debts, and totally oblivious to the state of his people in the last years of his rule. On top of his many monarch problems, the personal issues of stress with his body parts, major bouts of depression, and episodes of uncertainty in decision-making during the American Revolution plunged the king into a period of sexual frustration for nearly a decade.
At the young age of fifteen in 1770, Prince Louis-Auguste was wed to the beautiful Maria Antonia (better known in the English-speaking world as Marie Antoinette). The French Prince was very active as a child and was notably involved in many outdoor activities such as archery, hunting and wrestling with younger brothers. Nothing could go wrong with this young strong specimen, who was destined to follow his grandfather’s royal footsteps and rule one of the biggest empires on the planet. His body was perfect and his looks were the most handsome of his time. But by the time of his marriage to his second cousin, something fell flat. The king, who was once regarded as the young boy with good looks and an attractive body, could not seal the deal with his new wife, causing a strain in the precious marriage and raising speculations from the French public that the devils were at work in the baby crib.
As Prince Louis grew older and soon became the king of France in 1774, it became apparent that the young teenager had a few problems with his genitals. Royal doctors were called in and they found that Louis had phimosis, a condition in which the penis is adherent which makes sexual intercourse excruciatingly painful. An Austrian courtier once stated, “nature seems to have refused everything to the dauphin.” The royal couple tried to schedule many surgeries for the young king, despite his reluctance to do so, but none came to be in the first couple of years because apparently Louis was too nervous about the operation. The doctors had recommended that his penis had to be circumcised, which at that pre-anaesthetic time involved a small incision in the foreskin using a knife and delicate hands with little hygiene or medications. Louis bluntly refused to be operated on. The queen, wanting many kids to be produced from her marriage would lay beside her husband every night and waited for something to happen. And nothing would happen. She grew restless, the king moved out and into his own apartment, and the marriage slowly began to strain. The public grew impatient and the royal line looked to be at a sharp end. The years slowly rolled past and no child was in sight for the young couple. It was finally the persuasion of the queen’s older brother, the Holy Roman Emperor, Joseph II who wrote letters to the monarch and explained how the surgery would help the country, as well as the continuity of the European royal families. According to the British author, Antonia Fraser, the Emperor said of the king that “this is incomprehensible, because with all that, he sometimes has nightly emissions, but says plainly that what he does, he does from a sense of duty but never from pleasure.” We now know that the king had well-conditioned erections after his surgery, as he was finally able to have proper sexual intercourse in 1777, but still had difficulty finding happiness during the ordeal.
King Louis XVI also suffered from bouts of severe depression during his short life. In the early years of his reign, France was going through a period of reform, as many considered that increasing tolerance towards non-Catholics was a good idea. Riots and violence in the streets were to follow nationwide. When poor harvests in the summers of 1773 and 1774 led to an increase of grain prices, the public took to the streets in a series of violent outbursts against the national government and the king. Louis retreated back into the dark chambers of his many palaces, fearing destruction of his crown and family. He was sad and unstable. He did not have the happiness or excitable energy to perform any sexual acts with his wife. It was reported by servants and guests that he would not exit his chambers for days at a time. The king was always timid about the outside world during his reign, and often stayed around those whom he trusted on his life, ignoring those who really needed his help. This ignorance would later bite the monarch, and become one of the factors to the king’s downfall, when the starving peasants would take action against the royal family during the French Revolution.
The violence in North America, which turned into the American Revolution, started to escalate from the beginning of 1770 in the aftermath of the Boston Massacre and continued through most of King Louis’ reign. As the former British colonies had no money, supplies, and a weak infrastructure and government to support them, they were constantly badgering their oldest allies, the French, to help them out in their struggle for independence. They even sent over their own foreign ambassadors, such as Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. Much of the general public wanted to get revenge on Britain and take back the North American lands their nation had lost due to the French defeat in the Seven Years’ War (1763). Louis was in favor of this at first, but held back on his decision until the late 1770s. It was reported that Louis held back for so long because he did not want to get his country into another war with Britain, considering that France itself was in debt and lacked the man and naval power it once had. The king felt that his forces would be no match for the power-hungry island, who at that time boasted the world’s biggest navy. This difficult decision added to the king’s crippling stress over the sexual problems and depression he already had, leaving the monarch scared and alone in his chambers on many nights. In the end, after much decision and debate, the American souls were saved by the French, who in 1778 decided to take part in the American Revolution, and overpower the British. As the song, “the world turned upside down” was played, the British finally gave in and surrendered to the North American forces after the Battle of Yorktown in October 1781. The future had changed for the Americans because of one bold decision made by King Louis XVI, who missed out on the celebrations because he was stuck in an endless, ferocious cycle of stress.
King Louis XVI and Queen Maria Antonia would eventually consummate their marriage seven years after their wedding date, breathing a sigh of relief for the French public who had originally thought that their royal family was cursed with a devil of some sorts, and for the king’s family who now knew that the line of succession was alive and well. Marie-Thérèse Charlotte was born in December of 1778, followed by three other children who all lived through infancy. Princess Charlotte would be the only one of the immediate family to survive the French Revolution (1789-1799).
By the time of his horrific death in 1793, in which his fellow countrymen betrayed his family and placed them on death row, King Louis XVI had grown out of his fit, boyish charms into an obese, ugly man, incapable of handling life or the problems his nation faced. The monarch had the potential to carry on his family line smoothly, but fate plagued the poor soul as his marriage was stalled to a near-stoppage due to sexual frustration. In addition to pains and problems in his frontal parts, the king suffered from deep depression and realized that the burden of his country was too much for his incapable shoulders to handle. The tiresome and difficult decision he made on joining the colonists in their fight for independence soon after the sudden defeat of the French in North America brought harm to his mind and body; he indirectly steered his country and his own impending death towards the bells of individual liberties. Through harrowing pains and selfish service, Louis XVI was a very unlucky man, troubled by the times he was living in and bestowed with a sickly body. When events started to lighten up with births and celebrations, his life would suddenly be brutally taken away from him, and his legacy in time would recall that as a chief architect for American independence, he also was a thief of French liberties and wealth.
Fraser, Antonia. Marie Antoinette: The Journey. New York City, New York: Anchor Publishing, 2002.
Harrison, Dennis (translator). “History of Circumcision: The Truth about Louis XVI’s Marital Difficulties.” Progres en Urologie 12 (2002): 132-137.
McGasko, Joe. “Wedded, Unbedded, and Beheaded: The Human Side of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.” Biography.com, January 21, 2014. http://www.biography.com/news/king-louis-xvi-and-marie-antoinette-execution-anniversary.
This article was translated in French by Sandrine Sweeney and proofread in English by Aubrey Wadman Goetsch.