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Saturday, July 14, 2007

JOUR DE LA BASTILLE: LE 14 JUILLET

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All of the planning had been done, all of the arrangements made, and all of the contingencies carefully thought out; everything was ready. As the morning of July 14th 1789 dawned, the mob gathered, heading for the thick, foreboding walls of the hated Bastille. Guarded by eighty-two aging veterans and reinforced by only thirty-two Swiss mercenaries, the besiegers, numbering near a thousand, felt that they could easily overwhelm the political prison.

The defenders of the Bastille, not fearing the onslaught proposed by the attackers, spent the previous week repairing a long since damaged drawbridge, boarding windows, and reinforcing walls. They were not worried, expecting only a mob attack. However, three hundred French soldiers deserted their ranks to join in the attack. Had it not been for these soldiers, the Bastille would not have been taken. As it was, the besiegers quickly broke through the gates, and, despite the threat of 20,000 pounds of gun power igniting, destroying everything in the violent explosion, won the fortified prison.

The storming, and subsequent take over of the Bastille, ushered in the beginning of the French Revolution. No longer were the angry peasants defying local lords, but they were now striking at the symbolic heart of the monarchy. The Bastille, a hated emblem of control and domination, became the war cry for hundreds of thousands of scorned and maltreated revolutionaries. However, the Bastille did not always ring with such discord as it did in the late seventeen hundreds.

Cardinal Richelieu, acting under King Louis XIII, imprisoned any displeasing character for any reason. Prisoners were arrested by a secret warrant issued by the King called a lettres-de-cachet. Not allowed a trail, told what their offense was, or even what their punishment was to be, these enemies of the King were quickly taken away and imprisoned in one of the many high towers of the Bastille.

Famous prisoners include Voltaire, the famous political writer, and Marquis de Sade, a well-known French writer.

When prisoners were released from the walls of the Bastille, they were allowed to go only if they agreed never to tell what they had seen or what had happened inside the feared prison. This lack of knowledge about the Bastille helped to create a mystique of horror and terror that the King could use to coerce certain things out of people. However, the reality of the Bastille was much different than the mystique created by the King.

All of the rooms until the year 1701 were left unfurnished. Wealthy political prisoners were allowed to bring in their own furniture, many even brought their own servants with them. Meals were of generous proportions, and more luxurious meals could be bought if the prisoner was wealthy enough. Most prisoners were docile. They were allowed to walk freely around the fortress, talk with officers and other prisoners and play games. Many had their own personal hobbies, and a few were even allowed to visit the city of Paris on parole. The Bastille was much more comfortable, even homelike, than the horrific rumors that circled around France proclaimed.

In 1789 when the angry mob broke through the walls and stormed the Bastille they found only seven prisoners inside: four forgers, two lunatics, and a young noble. However, it was not to free the prisoners inside that the battle was fought. Instead, it was to bring down the single most important symbol of the King’s power. The Governor of the Bastille, De Launay, had his head cut off and paraded around the streets of Paris on a pike. In the end eighty-three attackers were dead, and seventy-three injured. The guards only suffered one death and three wounded.

Since 1880 July 14th, Bastille Day, has been celebrated to commemorate the storming of the Bastille and the end of the French monarchy and remains an important national holiday in France where the fallen are remembered, the courageous honored, and the heroic deified.

4 comments:

BostonPobble said...

I had No Clue about the conditions inside the Bastille. Or the number of prisoners found the day it was stormed. Ooooo! I do love learning things!

Thanks! :*

RIC said...

«Liberté, Fraternité, Égalité!»

... And then the roaring mob cried:

«Les aristocrates à la lanterne!»

And the Revolution was on the streets, unstoppable!

Merci bien, cher Don!

Nancy said...

I love visiting your blog..you are a wealth of knowledge. I had not idea behind the celebration of July 14th, Bastille Day, and I certainly did not know the dates or fact.
Thanks for sharing, I love the way you present the history.
Did you study history in college? I am jealous and embarrassed that I know so little about our world events.
thanks again

dondon009 said...

Pobble.... I had no clue about some of those facts either and was surprised by both the condition of the rooms in the Bastille and the low number of prisoners.

I noticed that there is a catholic cardinal mixed into this mess. Politics as usual.... things don't change!

Nancy.... I majored in English with a history minor in college but most of what I post is research.... on line when I should probably be washing dishes or doing laundry!

As for Bastille Day, my mother's family emigrated to Canada from Paris, France not long before the storming of the Bastille.

Quite interesting, actually!

DON~