Henry Singleton: The Storming of the Bastille, 14 July 1789 (19th century)

(Unknown Location)

Yesterday it was Le quatorze juillet or Bastille Day in France - the French National Day. It commemorates the beginning of the French Revolution with the storming of the Bastille, a medieval fortress and prison in Paris, on 14 July 1789. During the later reign of Louis XVI, King of France, there was an economic crisis in France. Louis XVI summoned the Estates-General of 1789, a general assembly of the French estates of the realm: the clergy (First Estate), the nobles (Second Estate), and the common people (Third Estate), to propose solutions to his government's financial problems. The Estates-General sat for several weeks but couldn't agree on how to vote over the first agenda item. The king wanted to vote by estate (first the clergy, then the nobles and then the common people), giving the first two estates an advantage but the common people wanted to vote all together, giving the Third Estate the advantage. The third estate got angry and formed their own general assembly, the Assemblée nationale, and invited the other two estates to join. The king initially opposed this development but was later forced to acknowledge the authority of this new assembly. A few days later he king dismissed his finance minister, Jacques Necker, who had been sympathetic to the Third Estate. The common people saw this as the start of a royal coup and fighting broke out between French troops in Paris and the common people. On the morning of 14 July 1789, Parisian rioters stormed the Hôtel des Invalides and seized the cannons and muskets stored in its cellars. The group then attacked the Bastille which was seen as a symbol of royal tyranny. Although it was rumored that in the Bastille there were large crowds of people locked up, in reality there were only 7 people: 4 forgers, 2 lunatics and 1 deviant aristocrat (Count de Solages, who had been imprisoned on the request of his family for sexual misdemeanors). The fortress itself was defended by about 100 Swiss Grenadiers and about 30 cannons. After a siege of several hours the commander of the fortress, Bernard René Jourdan, marquis de Launay, realized that his troops could not hold out much longer and capitulated. Bernard René Jourdan and the majority of the Swiss soldiers were massacred by the angry crowd after the surrender. This successful insurrection at Paris spread throughout France and was the start of the French revolution. Two days after the storming, on the order of the National Assembly, the Bastille was burned to the ground. This painting is from the 19th century.