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Friday, July 14, 2017

REVOLUTION | July 14 – Bastille Day

Storming of the Bastille (Artist unknown)
This day in 1789 the French Revolution began in Paris with the storming by an angry crowd of the Bastille,  a 14th century medieval fortress long used as a prison, especially for opponents of the royal family.

The Parisian mob wanted to commandeer the ammunition that Bernard-René Jordan de Launay, the military governor of the Bastille, had just brought into the Bastille — 250 barrels of gunpowder.

The origin of France's problems was the financial stress from supporting the American colonies' war of independence (a fact that Americans sometimes forget when they remember American help to France during the two World Wars).

Higher taxes provoked questions from French citizens about their government and its finances. Rebellions occurred in different parts of France. Louis XVI relied on Jacques Necker, finance minister and effectively prime minister, for answers. Necker tried to negotiate his way to some solutions, organizing the return of the Estates-General, an assembly consisting of clergy, aristocrats, and commoners (the "Third Estate"), for the first time since 1614.

The Estates-General came to no agreement. Necker either did not fully appreciate that political reforms were required or decided that the King wouldn't agree to them. On July 11, Louis dismissed Necker, unleashing mob violence.

The fighting at the Bastille, three days later, lasted several hours, with nearly a hundred attackers killed and one guard. The mob broke in only to find just just seven prisoners to liberate. They killed the governor of the Bastille, de Launay, and paraded his head around the city on a pike.

When the King returned that evening from a day of hunting, a duke told him the story of the day's events at the Bastille. Louis asked, "So this is a revolt?" The duke replied: "No, Sire, this is a revolution!"

King Louis was executed in January 1793 as was his wife Marie-Antoinette ("Let them eat cake") and during the next few years tens of thousands of the nobility who had not fled. Shortly afterwards, The Third Estate was  reborn as the National Assembly.

While the day is celebrated as the birth of the French Republic, not all French people celebrate the day. They may remember ancestors who had their heads removed by a guillotine during the years following the taking of the Bastille, or they may have left France. The defeat of the French Navy at Trafalgar is attributed by some to the lack of experienced naval officers, who before the revolution had to be "four quarters" nobility (all four grandparents).