One of the incidents that led to the fall of the French monarchy was the Storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789. People in Paris were sick of with King Louis XVI’s indifference to the financial crisis, and they were also fed up with the growing cost of staples like bread. Despite agreeing to a Constituent Assembly, the king nonetheless gathered soldiers between Paris and Versailles. Then he fired Peter Necker, the reforming finance minister who had garnered widespread support. Protesters in the Tuileries began making their voices heard on July 12. Blood was spilled to put down the protest.
The protesters, hungry from the night before, spend the following day looking for food supplies. The uprising had been planned and ammunition was needed for the rioters. On the morning of July 14, they sacked the Les Invalides (The Disabled) and made a mad dash for the Bastille. Finally, this representation of monarchical rule fell.
With the execution of the Bastille governor De Launay by the Revolution leader Pierre-Augustin Hulin, the French Revolution had begun. A year later, in 1790, this event was was commemorated during the Festival of the Federation (Fête de la Fédération) and Louis XVI accepted the principle of constitutional monarchy. However, the king committed a number of mistakes that ultimately led to his death by guillotine in 1793.
Why did the Storming of the Bastille take place?
In May of 1789, when the Estates General first convened, society and the economy were in flux. The monarchy was living large while France was on the edge of insolvency and widespread starvation. The National Assembly took an oath at the Jeu de Paume to create a new French constitution. King Louis XVI of France had to accept the authority of the delegates. Yet he continued to quietly mass an army at the city gates.
The National Assembly informed and requested their dispersal. But Louis XVI said no and fired his reform-minded Minister of Finance, Necker. When the news broke on July 11, it served as the spark that quickly lit the social fire. Inciting the Parisian mob to topple the royal government was Camille Desmoulins. They took firearms from the Les Invalides early on the morning of July 14 but ran out of ammunition. They went to the Bastille in hopes of obtaining some.
Storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789
As a result of the chaos that ensued in the capital on July 12 and 13, 1789, grain storage facilities were ransacked. The French Guard disregarded the king’s orders. At the Hôtel de Ville, an insurrectionary committee had formed. In the early hours of July 14, 1789, rioters searched the looted Les Invalides for weapons. The Bastille, a state prison in the east of Paris, was a notorious building in its day. After being assigned to Governor de Launay’s watch, it came under assault by the revolutionary mob. The lengthy conversations played out in front of the public. A blast went off in the early afternoon. When the rebels thought they were being attacked, they assaulted the Bastille in an act of desperation. On the evening of July 14, 1789, at about 5:00 p.m., de Launay surrendered. They took the Bastille and slaughtered the defenders within.
What was the role of Louis XVI during the Storming of the Bastille?
Louis XVI took the throne in 1774 and inherited a country in ruins. He attempted various monetary changes, but to no avail. He engaged in ambivalent gaming with the Estates General’s representatives in 1789, just before the Storming of the Bastille. He agreed to their assembly’s terms, but then covertly called in armed soldiers and fired the minister, Jacques Necker. On July 14, the king had gone hunting in Marly. On the morning of July 15th, he found out about the Storming of the Bastille.
The soldiers Louis XVI had stationed between Versailles and Paris were recalled, but it was already too late. Louis XVI essentially acknowledged the National Assembly’s legitimacy by speaking to it that day. Jacques Necker returned to work on July 16. In the midst of the uprising on July 17, Louis XVI visited the Hôtel de Ville in Paris. The king was eventually pressured into accepting constitutional rule. In 1791, Louis XVI attempted to depart France in an effort to gain the backing of European kingdoms but was apprehended in Varennes. Louis XVI was guillotined on January 21, 1793, after his trial.
The aftermath of the Storming of the Bastille
Although the French Revolution technically started with the convening of the Estates General on 5 May 1789, its popular conception as commencing with the Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789 persists. In retrospect, the Storming of the Bastille was a pivotal moment that had far-reaching effects on France. First, the Third Estate made its first major intervention during the Revolution on July 14, 1789, and assessed its strength. Three weeks after the fall of the Bastille, the National Constituent Assembly declared the end of the feudal system and all of its privileges. The rural populace had joined the uprising, and they had assaulted the lords. However, the gathering did not end there. Declaration of the Rights of the Man and of the Citizen was ratified on that day in 1789. The French people won their freedom.
The history and meaning of the 14th of July 1790
Exactly one year after the Storming of the Bastille, a massive celebration of the Federation was arranged under the leadership of La Fayette. Historians estimate that as many as 400,000 individuals witnessed the event on the Champ de Mars. Louis XVI then took the oath of office in front of the Nation, which included citizens, elected officials, regional delegates, and hundreds of priests in a distinctive tricolor cassock. Louis XVI was now the constitutional monarch of France and king of all French citizens. It wasn’t until 1792 that a second Festival of the Federation was held, although it lacked the previous year’s enthusiasm. Despite its significance, the 14th of July did not become a national holiday in France until 1880.
The symbols of the Storming of the Bastille
The neighborhoods of Paris’ working class that stormed the Bastille were reeling after the disastrous crop of 1788. This castle from the Middle Ages represented the unchecked authority of the King. It just took a seal of a letter from the King to throw someone in jail. Governor de Launay’s execution was the last step in the people regaining control of the government. His severed head was proudly displayed on the bayonet pike for everyone to see. The blue, white, and red cockade is another emblem of this brand-new period. On July 17 in Paris’s Hôtel de Ville, it was handed to King Louis XVI and instantly became a symbol of the French Revolution.
KEY DATES OF THE STORMING OF THE BASTILLE
July 14, 1789: Storming of the Bastille
The discord began when the revolutionary rioters came in large numbers to the Bastille to express their frustration with the king’s inability to save the country from its current predicament. There were probably less than twenty convicts, and the Bastille castle was guarded by a tiny garrison. While it seemed that the rioters looting Les Invalides for firearms wanted gunpowder at first, the situation quickly deteriorated as the arguments between the parties became heated.
July 6, 1880: July 14 declared a national holiday
To celebrate the fall of the monarchy and the Storming of the Bastille, the Fête de la Fédération was celebrated on July 14, 1790. The 14th of July did not become a national holiday for all French people until Raspail’s proposed legislation was passed on July 6, 1880. Both the Storming of the Bastille in 1789 and the unification of the Nation in 1790 were the symbols of this festival.
- William Doyle. 1984. Origins of the French Revolution. JSTOR.
- Gregory Fremont-Barnes. 2011. The French Revolutionary Wars. Amazon.
- T.C.W. Blanning. 1996. The French Revolutionary Wars 1787–1802. Amazon.