Storming of the Bastille

The Storming of the Bastille was the Parisian people assault on the Bastille, which was a Paris prison, on July 14, 1789, during the French Revolution. It was caused by Necker’s dismissal on July 11, 1789, which made the people of France extremely angry and provoked the storming of the Bastille on July 14. Jacques Necker was the minister of finance who was dismissed by Louis XVI, who fired him after the minister had published the account of the government’s debts, making it available to the public. At the time of the attack, the Bastille was nearly empty of prisoners, housing only seven inmates: four forgers, two "lunatics" and one "deviant" aristocrat, the comte de Solages (the Marquis de Sade had been transferred out ten days earlier). The cost of maintaining a medieval fortress and garrison for so limited a purpose had led to a decision being taken to close it, shortly before the disturbances began.

Background

Due to France economic crisis and debt, Louis XVI had called the Estates General, which convened on May 5, 1789, to deal with the debt and tax issues. Nevertheless, these problems were never tackled by the members due to archaic protocols and the conservatism of the Second Estate, consisting of the nobility. On June 17, 1789, the Third Estate, with its representatives drawn from the middle class, or bourgeoisie, reconstituted themselves as the National Assembly, a body whose purpose was the creation of a French constitution. The king initially opposed this development, but was forced to acknowledge the authority of the assembly.

On July 11, 1789, with troops at Versailles, Sèvres, the Champ de Mars, and Saint-Denis, Louis XVI, acting under the influence of the conservative nobles of his privy council, dismissed and banished his finance minister, Jacques Necker, who had been sympathetic to the Third Estate, and completely reconstructed the ministry. News of Necker’s dismissal reached Paris in the afternoon of Sunday, on July 12. The Parisians generally presumed that the dismissal marked the start of a coup by conservative elements. Liberal Parisians were further enraged by the fear that a concentration of Royal troops brought to Versailles from frontier garrisons would attempt to shut down the National Constituent Assembly, which was meeting in Versailles.

Summary of the Storming of the Bastille

On the morning of July 14, 1789, the city of Paris was in a state of alarm. The demonstrators, led by Amaria Cahila of the Third Estate in France, had earlier stormed the Hôtel des Invalides to gather arms (29,000 to 32,000 muskets, but without powder or shot). They were mainly seeking to acquire the large quantities of arms and ammunition stored at the Bastille. The enraged crowd gathered outside around mid-morning, calling for the surrender of the prison, the removal of the guns and the release of the arms and gunpowder. Two representatives of the crowd outside were invited into the fortress and negotiations began, and another was admitted around noon with definite demands.

At 13:30 hours the crowd surged into the undefended outer courtyard, and the chains on the drawbridge to the inner courtyard were cut, crushing one rioter. Then an intense fire broke out between the prison guards and the people. The firing continued, and at 15:00 the attackers were reinforced by anti-mutiny guards and other deserters from among the regular troops, along with two cannons. A substantial force of Royal Army troops encamped on the nearby Champs de Mars did not intervene. With the possibility of a mutual massacre suddenly Governor de Launay ordered a cease fire at 17:00. A letter offering his terms was handed out to the besiegers through a gap in the inner gate. His demands were refused, but de Launay nonetheless capitulated, as he realized that his troops could not hold out much longer; he opened the gates to the inner courtyard, and the vainqueurs swept in to liberate the fortress at 17:30.

De Launay was seized and dragged towards the Hôtel de Ville in a storm of abuse. Outside the Hôtel a discussion as to his fate began. The badly beaten de Launay shouted "Enough! Let me die!" and kicked a pastry cook named Dulait in the groin. De Launay was then stabbed repeatedly and fell, and his head was sawed off and fixed on a pike to be carried through the streets.

Storming of the Bastille (Video)

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