When reenacting or acting as a historical interpreter, its good to have a few historical dates and stories to share. This series will publish a few.
July 14, 1789 – BASTILE DAY: The crowd gathered outside the Bastille, a medieval armory, fortress, and political prison near the center of Paris, calling for the surrender of the prison, the removal of the cannon and the release of the arms and gunpowder. The prison contained only seven inmates at the time but was seen as a symbol of the monarchy’s abuse of power.
In the summer of 1789, Paris was at a boil. The people had been suffering from food shortages and the weight of taxes used to pay King Louis XVI’s vast debts. And they found themselves in the midst of unprecedented political turmoil caused by the opening of the Estates General, France’s Parliament, for the first time in more than one hundred years. Many Parisians were also angered by the dismissal of the popular minister Jacques Necker on 11 July. But what really stirred them was the fact that, since the beginning of June 1789, Louis XVI had concentrated troops around Paris.
The sense of menace that the militarization of the city caused provoked a march to the Hôtel des Invalides, where they looted approximately 3,000 firearms and five canons. The weapons, however, required gunpowder, which was stored in the Bastille.
After arriving at the prison and negotiating with its governor, marchers burst into an outer courtyard and a pitch battle erupted. By the time it was over, the people of Paris had freed the prisoners held in the Bastille and taken the governor captive (the governor and three of his officers would soon be killed and then beheaded by an infuriated crowd, their heads paraded through the streets atop pikes). The cost was steep: nearly one hundred citizens and eight prison guards were killed.
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