The guillotine is a device designed for carrying out executions by beheading. It consists of a tall upright frame in which a weighted and angled blade is raised to the top and suspended. The condemned person is secured at the bottom of the frame, with his or her neck held directly below the blade. The blade is then released, to fall swiftly and sever the head from the body. The device is best known for its use in France, in particular during the French Revolution, when it "became a part of popular culture" and it became celebrated as the people's avenger by supporters of the Revolution and vilified as the pre-eminent symbol of the Reign of Terror by opponents." The guillotine continued to be used long after the Revolution and remained France's standard method of judicial execution until the abolition of capital punishment with the backing of President François Mitterrand in 1981.The last person guillotined in France was Hamida Djandoubi, on 10 September 1977.
The guillotine has also been employed in other countries. In Germany, it saw prolific use during the Third Reich and was used once by West Germany in 1949 and by the German Democratic Republic as late as 1966.
Louis XVI (23 August 1754 – 21 January 1793) was King of France and Navarre from 1774 until 1791, after which he was subsequently King of the French from 1791 to 1792, before his deposition and execution during the French Revolution.
The first part of Louis' reign was marked by attempts to reform France in accordance with Enlightenment ideals. These included efforts to abolish serfdom, remove the taille, and increase tolerance toward non-Catholics. The French nobility reacted to the proposed reforms with hostility, and successfully opposed their implementation; increased discontent among the common people ensued. From 1776 Louis XVI actively supported the North American colonists, who were seeking their independence from Great Britain, which was realized in the 1783 Treaty of Paris.
The ensuing debt and financial crisis contributed to the unpopularity of the ancien régime which culminated at the Estates-General of 1789. Discontent among the members of France's middle and lower classes resulted in strengthened opposition to the French aristocracy and to the absolute monarchy, of which Louis and his queen Marie Antoinette were viewed as representative. In 1789, the Bastille was stormed during riots in Paris, and the French Revolution began.
In a context of civil and international war, Louis XVI was suspended and arrested as part of the insurrection of 10 August 1792 just one month before the constitutional monarchy was abolished and a republic declared. He was tried by the National Convention, found guilty of high treason, and executed by guillotine on 21 January 1793 as a desacralized French citizen known as "Citizen Louis Capet", a nickname in reference to Hugh Capet, the founder of the Capetian dynasty – which the revolutionaries interpreted as Louis' family name. In the meantime, the French Republic had been proclaimed 21 September 1792. Louis XVI is the only King of France ever to be executed, and his death brought an end to more than a thousand years of continuous French monarchy.
Some accounts of Louis's beheading indicate that the blade did not sever his neck entirely the first time. There are also accounts of a blood-curdling scream issuing from Louis after the blade fell but this is unlikely, since the blade severed Louis's spine. It is agreed that while Louis's blood dripped to the ground many members of the crowd ran forward to dip their handkerchiefs in it. This account was proven true in 2012 after a DNA comparison linked blood thought to be from Louis XVI's beheading to DNA taken from tissue samples originating from what was long thought to be the mummified head of Henry IV of France. The blood sample was taken from a gourd carved to commemorate the heroes of the French Revolution that had, according to legend, been used to house Louis's blood.