Little Bits of History

July 14

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 14, 2017

1789:  The citizens of France storm the Bastille. King Louis XVI led the county into an economic crisis, in part because France intervened on behalf of the fledgling country, America, in their quest for freedom from the British Empire. This was exacerbated by a regressive system of taxation, a system which imposed a greater burden on the poor who could ill-afford it than on the rich, who had more power in the creating of systems. In May and June, the Estates General met with the three “estates” represented. The First Estate was the clergy, the Second was the nobility, and the Third represented the commoners. The Second Estate invoked protocols which brought the meeting to a standstill and the commoners instead, reformed themselves into the National Assembly, giving themselves the task of creating a constitution.

The King was not amused and at first opposed the efforts. However, the commoners were not to be deterred. They formed a National Guard, sporting the three-colored cocardes of blue, white, and red – a combination of the red and blue of Paris and the white of the king. Paris was close to insurrection and supported the Assembly. Tensions rose during the early days of July and the masses broke into the prisons of the Abbaye and released French guards who had been incarcerated for, as rumor went, not firing on crowds of Parisians. They demanded the King pardon the guards and now the guards themselves were considered by the crown to be unreliable.

On July 11, Jacques Neker, the finance minister sympathetic to the common man, was fired and banished. News leaked the next day, a Sunday, and the people of Paris felt a coup was about to take place and locals feared an amassing of troops at Versailles. Conflicts, both armed and unarmed began on July 12 and continued as misinformation and panic spread through Paris. While the King tried to gain some control, the troops under his command were not entirely trustworthy. The streets of Paris were flooded by angry over-taxed citizens confronting any face of authority. The Bastille, a fortress inside Paris, was used as a prison but by this time, was only holding seven men.

The crowd still thought of the building as a symbol of royal tyranny and the public stormed the fortress after calls for surrender were ignored. The fortress was held by 82 regular troops plus 32 grenadiers who had arrived a week earlier. There were fewer than 1,000 people outside. Around 1.30 PM, the crowds broke in and confusion reigned. Soldiers fired into the mob. By 5.30 they had taken control of the Bastille. Less than 100 died in the actual fighting, 98 attackers and one defender. The King learned of the event the next day and asked if it was a revolt and received the answer, “No sire, it’s not a revolt; it’s a revolution.”

Rien. Nothing. – King Louis XVI’s diary entry for this day

Do with me what you will, it is the last sacrifice. – (At the guillotine)

I die perfectly innocent of all the pretended crimes laid to my charge – I forgive all those who have had any hand in my misfortunes, and I pray that my blood may be of use in restoring happiness to France – And you, unhappy people! – pleading for his life

I die innocent of all the crimes imputed to me. I pardon the authors of my death, and pray God that the blood you are about to shed will never fall upon France. – King Louis XVI’s last words


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