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French Revolution: The Bastille

Bastille

The Bastille Prison

The Bastille was built between 1370-1383, standing some 100 feet in height and surrounded by an 80 foot wide moat.  At the time of its construction, its purpose was to serve as part of the walled defences of Paris, France.

In the 17th century it became a prison to house political agitators, high ranking officials and spies.  Most never saw the inside of a court; they would be imprisoned by order of the King.

With food shortages in 1789, and resentment by the people towards King Louis XVI, France was on track, heading towards a revolution.

In June, Louis approved the foundation of the National Assembly, and the call of the commoners, for a constitution.  Louis gave false hopes to his people, letting them believe he was prepared to compromise.  Then he dismissed Jacques Necker, the minister who called for reforms, and surrounded Paris with his troops.  In response, mobs rioted in Paris.

On the 7th July thirty-two Swiss mercenary soldiers arrived at the Bastille at the request of Bernard-Jordan de Launay, the military governor of the prison.  Then on the 12th July 250 barrels of gunpowder were delivered to the prison.

On the 13th July, revolutionaries armed with muskets stormed the Bastille’s towers.  On the 14th July, upwards of a thousand revolutionaries gathered around the Bastille.

Launay received two delegations that day, requesting he surrender the fortress and hand over the munitions.  Both requests were denied, yet he promised he would not fire upon the crowd.

Some three-hundred revolutionaries attempted to lower the drawbridge, and one hundred of these rioters were cut down in a hail of fire.  By mid-afternoon, deserters from the French army joined the rioters by removing five cannons and aiming them in the Bastille’s direction.

Launay and his men laid down their arms and were duly arrested.  They were taken to the “Hotel de Ville” the town hall.  Launay was dragged away and murdered by these revolutionaries, for they wanted justice.

The citizens of Paris, half expected a counterattack from the military as they built barricades and armed themselves.

The King could see a revolution was coming, and any military action against the Parisian people would only enhance the situation.  So on the 15th July 1789, military troops concentrated around Paris were withdrawn.

The capture of the Bastille spread across France like wild-fire, which led to minor uprisings in many towns and cities.

The new Revolutionary Government had the Bastille torn down, stone by stone, and the last stone was presented to the National Assembly on the 6th February 1790.

In 1792, the monarchy was abolished, and King Louis XVI of France, along with his wife; Queen Marie-Antoinette were sent to the guillotine on the charge of treason.  King Louis died on the 21st January 1793 and Queen Marie-Antoinette on the 16th October.

The storming of the Bastille, on the 14th July 1789 is remembered each year in France.  These events led to the French Revolution, where many nobles lost their head at the guillotine.

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