Bastille Attacked and Captured

Shopkeepers and Tradesmen Defeat Swiss Guards

Paris:- in July 1789:- On 27. April, eight days before the establishment of the Etats Généraux, the Réveillon wallpaper factory in the rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine was pillaged and set on fire. It was a hot summer in the city and there were many unemployed who had nothing else to do other than read revolutionary tracts. Rumors flew about the city with lightning speed.
invalides.jpg (13k) At the beginning of July, royal troops were reported to be surrounding Paris and there was a rush to the Invalides to get weapons for defense. Many of the little shopkeepers and artisans of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine thought there were more at the Bastille and they went to get them.

When the Bastille was taken, it contained no political or royal prisoners and had ceased serving as an arms depot, although 125 barrels of powder had recently been placed there for storage.

The garrison, commanded by Monsieur de Launay, consisted of 32 Swiss Guards and 82 of the Invalides unit. The fighting and the negotiations took place in the 'Government' courtyard, at the main entrance, by the main drawbridge, which was located on what is now the boulevard Henri-IV; which was therefore not in view of the rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine.

Of the attackers, 83 were killed and 88 wounded. The defenders lost one man, named Fortuné, not counting the six or seven Swiss Guards who were executed immediately afterwards.

The pillage commenced and the archives, records and other documents were thrown into the moat; today the surviving pieces can been seen at the Arsenal Library. Afterwards the jail keys were carried about Paris in triumph. At the end of the day, the cell doors of the only prisoners - four forgers, who had been in for ten years; a lunatic, placed by his family in the Bastille as it was more comfortable than the bughouse; the Count of Solages, in for incest; and a man named Tavernier, who had been there for 30 years - had to be kicked in because the keys were missing, and the prisoners were liberated. The four forgers were rearrested the later the same day.

Later, certificates were given to 863 'Victors of the Bastille.' Of these, only 200 of these were given to Parisians.

The destruction of the Bastille, managed by Citizen Palloy, was ordered. The demolition site became a public attraction for sightseers such as Beaumarchais, Mirabeau and Philipe Equalité's kids.

Tours were conducted by Latude, who had been locked up at age 23 in 1749 - for sending a blackmail bomb threat to the Marquise de Pompadour, with the return address on it - and after being transferred to the tower at Vincennes he escaped in 1750, was recaptured until he escaped again in 1756 using a rope ladder - which can be seen at the Carnavalet Museum - was caught three months later and returned to the Bastille; he pulled yet another escape in 1765 after a transfer to Vincennes. Caught once more, put in Vincennes, transferred in 1775 to Charenton; liberated in 1777. Jailed again, for a swindle, he was freed for the last time in 1784 and he died at 80 in 1805, after spending 35 years of his life in famous prisons.

bastille96.jpg (20k) Nearly 800 workmen took until October to tear the Bastille down to a wall 50 centimetres high. A number of the stones from it were used in the construction of the Pont de la Concorde. The historian, Jacques Hillairet, regretted the destruction of the building, and compared it to the Tower of London as a 'historical souvenir.'

However, Citizen Palloy had 83 models made and distributed to the provinces, 'to perpetuate the horror of the despotism.'

Construction of the Bastille started in 1370, but by the 18th century the fortress-prison was really used as a 'Prison Aristocratique - Prison de Luxe' - mostly for people who had annoyed the king - and prisoners were allowed their own furniture and servant, and were even allowed parties - the Cardinal de Rohan hosted a banquet for 20 while residing in the jail.

Louis XVI only had 19 locked up there during his reign, when the capacity was 50. Maréchal Bassompierre, of the Chaillot 'bottle house' was a prisoner from 1621 to 1643, but the average stay in Louis XVI's time was only four months and Voltaire was locked up in the Bastille more than once.

The taking of the Bastille was seen as a symbol and many cruel acts immediately happened, but the result was the installation of a new municipal government lead by the astronomer Bailly as mayor and the transformation of the bourgeois guard into a national guard.

Parisian action had prevented the dissolution of the elected National Assembly - causing Louis XVI's capitulation without glory - ensuring the success of the Revolution.

In certain quarters at the time, the demolition of the Bastille 'represented a serious economy for the treasury.' The Bastille's lack today, probably represents a serious deficit, which might be used to cover the expense the operation of the Opéra Bastille - but history has its funny little ways.

Vive la Révolution!

The Assembly National - L'Assemblée Nationale

Guided visits, free, for the first 30 to show up at 33, quai d'Orsay, on Saturdays at 10:00, 14:00 and 15:00. You must have identification and the tours last about one hour. There will be open doors on the 'Jours du Patrimoine' on Saturday and Sunday, 14 and 15. September, from 9:30 until 18:00.

Groups can make reservations by calling (1) 40 63 64 08.

Ten places are assured to the public for regular sessions of the Assembly National, same address as above, who are first to arrive before the sessions begin. For this, you must also have personal identification.

The Assembly National also has a boutique around the corner from the quai d'Orsay in the rue Aristide-Briand. You can find useful items here such as revolutionary scarves and copies of the texts of proposed laws and new laws or of the French Constitution, latest version, for six francs - a very good value.

The National Assembly Web site:

assemblee.jpg (9k)

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