Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Never Call it "Bastille Day", It's Quatorze Juillet

July 14:
A mob even larger than the day before meets at the Bastille, a 14th century medieval fortress turned prison. The gunpowder needed to fuel the King’s munitions is hiding there, behind the eight stone towers and eighty foot (25 meter) walls. The Bastille has long been associated with the worst abuses of the Monarchy’s power and les citoyens hate it!

Armed with canon and guns stolen from Les Invalides as well as with scythes, clubs, pikes, even stones – anything that can be used as a weapon – the mob demands the fortress guards to give them the King's gunpowder and to free their prisoners. The guards refuse. They allow no one anyone inside. They prepare to defend the Bastille with rooftop canon.

No one knows who actually fires first. But after a standoff lasting many hours, a gun blast is suddenly heard, startling both sides out of a tense and eerie quiet. The mob, thinking it is under attack, storms the fortress. Members of the new Revolutionary police force, the National Guard, join them.

They chop off the head of the chief guard and stick it on a pike. They hold the dripping head up for everyone to see. The mauraders go wild, tearing the Bastille apart, stone by ancient stone, until their fingers bleed. They free the prisoners being held there (there are only seven). They steal the King’s gunpowder and immediately train the King’s arms on the King's Royal troops.

A violent, more radical side of the French Revolution has been unleashed, like an angry genie given unexpected freedom. It will be years before the bottle is corked once again.

At Versailles, when told the news, the King asks, "is it a revolt?"

"No, Sire," comes the response, "it is a revolution."

But the Revolution is still not won. What will be the King's reaction? Stay tuned for tomorrow's thrilling conclusion. And remember, the French never call their independence day "Bastille Day". They call it, le quatorze juillet, July 14th.

18th century engraving of The Bastille before its destruction, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
"The Taking of the Bastille," courtesy of http://chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/.
"The Taking of the Bastille," by Jean-Pierre Houël, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Towle, Sarah B. Time Traveler Paris Tours: Beware Madame La Guillotine. In development.

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