Louis XVI’s reign began in 1774 amidst general rejoicing. It ended tragically after a short experiment with constitutional monarchy at the start of the  Revolution. During that period, the traditional regime, of the patriarchal and aristocratic type, had to cope with difficulties that proved insurmountable because of the King’s character  and his adviser’s personalities. Traditional types of opposition were made bolder by the power structure’s weakness, the financial crisis and the constantly growing deficit which rose to an intolerable level due to the enormous costs of French participation in the American Revolutionary war. Above all, there were profound changes in public opinion, which demanded the right to monitor state activities, abolition of the prohibitions and privileges that split society into groups with contradictory interests, and greater freedom. All this gradually forced Louis XVI  to call on the Estates General to cooperate with him in reforming institutions to save the country from bankruptcy, even though, in the rush of events in 1789, this reform was actually made against his interests.

Popular Sovereigns

France was tired of Louis XV’s reign, and the kingdom breathed a sigh of relief  when the King died on May 10th 1774. The King left a country in good, vigorous health. The last years of his reign had brought some substantial reforms and the minister Maupeou, had crushed the parliamentary opposition that threatened the crown’s authority and blocked any kind of change. However, public opinion paid more attention to the vagaries of Louis XV’s love life than to his efforts to improve the way France was governed. . People had high hopes for the new reign. They were already fond of their new  sovereigns, the debonair and charitable Louis XVI and the young and pretty Marie Antoinette, whose gaiety and mischievous disposition  delighted her subjects. People talked about the young couple’s kind actions and felt they were likely to succeed. They were expected to do wonders for the country and to usher in a new golden age.

The King had announced some large spending cuts, above all in his own household, in order to lower taxes. He demanded that the people be able to buy bread for two sous. He had even given up his right to a gift from the people to mark his accession to  the throne in order to spare his subjects.The King’s behaviour did honour to his wisdom in a France that was becoming more bourgeois. He had no scandalous involvement with women. People were glad to note the disappearance of the reign of ruinous “favourites” who were held responsible for all the state’s misfortunes. There was every indication that the new reign would mark the start of a period of peace and prosperity.


However Louis’ XVI’s first act was a grave mistake, though it increased his popularity since public opinion generally favoured such a move. He recalled the parliaments, thus arousing a type of opposition that was very dangerous to his authority  and to the required modernisation of the state, which that opposition was going to fight stubbornly ( as it had done before) by using the great resources available to it. At the outset minister Turgot undertook reforms such as freeing the grain trade and doing away with royal statute labour and other restrictions that paralysed the various trades.He resigned in May 1776 and was replaced by Necker.

Jaques Necker had to find money, especially since the American war was a major drain. He resorted to borrowing , and the government debt spiraled out of control. Despite some progress in the

field of tax collection, Necker did not want to transform the tax system and did not touch privileges  and immunities., a step that would have improved the public finance. He had to step down in 1783 after revelations of the income of courtiers and was replaced  by Calonne, who decided to submit tax reform measures to an “Assembly of Noteables” in 1787. Due to opposition from people who did not want to lose their “privileges” he was removed by the King’s suggestion.

France now moved into a very turbulent period during which attempts to reform, opposition on the part of of princes and parliamentarians, and demands expressed by ever  more aggressive public opinion led to state paralysis and a pre-revolutionary crisis.


Wind of Freedom

French participation in the American War of Independence had resulted in consequences and dangers of which the minister had not realised the extent. Aid sent to the rebels had worsened the royal finances and compromised the chances of recovery. Moreover, the monarchy had supported the rebels against their legitimate king, meaning that people could rebel against a king with the approval of the French monarchy. The fighters, La Fayette and Rochambeau’s army had come back from America strengthened in the views that had led them to embark for the New World than they would have, if they not gone off to defend the cause of freedom and tolerance and would have reflected the views of many courtiers and of wide segments of public opinion.

The Americans had been victorious, thanks to France. After their return to Europe, the fighters used their prestige to serve their ideal, freedom and republican equality, which they had admired in the young United States. La Fayette and Rochambeau and their officers had covered themselves with glory and became the young peoples idols. They had borrowed the Americans simplicity and democratic ways. They praised the beneficial effects of American institutions and  indulged in republican remarks and behaviour patterns unlike the French monarchy’s old fashioned pomp. The idea was not to overthrow it, but rather to tune it to the concepts of freedom and equality New aspirations came into being in ever more extensive segments of the population under the influence of philosophy and the Enlightenment.

The desire for equality got a receptive welcome from the Third Estate and the liberal nobility. The middle class was no longer willing to tolerate the humiliation it suffered from a society of orders and it struggled for recognition of its right to hold any civilian or military jobs that had been reserved to  the privileged classed up to that time. The state was on the verge of bankruptcy and had neither enough energy nor the imagination needed to resolve the crisis, reassure the people living on private incomes and satisfy an impatient public opinion.

At the Crossroads

Ministers, paralysed by the parliamentary opposition, decided to change things, and to neutralise it by a sharp attack. In May 1788, the King deprived Parliament of the bulk of its judicial powers and of its right of legislative and fiscal monitoring. Public opinion’s anti-absolutism led it to come down on parliament’s side. On occasions, in the Dauphine, revolt turned to revolution. There were some deaths on the “Day of the Tiles”, and the provincial estates met and made demands on the King; a meeting of the Estates General, a doubling of the third Estate, and individual voting. The King had to give way, recall Necker, and announce a meeting of the Estates General in 1789. Necker recalled the parliaments, which revealed their true goals, immediately demanding that the Estates obey the old rules, each order having one vote. That would mean that the privileged classes would win out over the Third Estate. Public opinion then veered away from parliament and sought new leaders. A national party came into being, drawing members from throughout the kingdom. In December, the King decided that the number of Third Estate deputies would be doubled. That move upgraded the monarchy's prestige, but France was demanding reforms..

Louis XVI and his ministers had so far tacked blindly between authority and surrender, between the use of force and weakness. Would they be able to make a skilful response to the dire threats piling up, to be brought to a peak by the economic crisis? Would they be able to make the right choice between the inevitable reforms and the siren songs of conservatism? The year 1689, with its dramas and quickly dashed hopes, brought a quick and violent answer!




Louis XVI

Despotism charge enrages King


Versailles, 17 January 1788.

In its 4 January decree, the Paris parliament firmly condemned the system of sealed royal orders which allows the King arbitrarily to imprison unruly subjects. The crisis between parliament and the King, which has been dragging on for months, seems to have reached a point of no return.

This time the magistrates have no qualms about accusing the King  of despotism. Outraged by such audacity, Louis today summoned a parliamentary delegation  to

explain what he sees as a calumny. “The legitimate freedom of my subjects is as dear to me as it is to themselves. But I will not permit  my parliament to denounce the use of power which I have the sweet satisfaction of believing to have exercised with more moderation than any of my predecessors”, the King airily told the federation.

It is in fact difficult to see a tyrant in this easy-going monarch who spends  more time hunting than dealing with the affairs of the kingdom.


The Rise and Rise of Paris

April 1788.

Paris is outgrowing itself! City limits, set by Louis XIII in order to avoid the enlargement of the capital becoming a threat to its security, are constantly being pushed further back. Brightness and sanitation are the order of the day in the new districts: the streets are wide and the new aligned houses tall.


The old houses of Port-du-Change over the Seine river have been torn down, the ossuary at the Saints Innocents, which was polluting the central area, has been transferred to the catacombs and the in sanitary Chalet prison, by the Petit Pont, has been destroyed but progress is not the only reason for all of these changes.

For the past few years, Paris, a city of 600,000 inhabitants, wealthy capital of the arts, of trade, pleasure and finance, has been in the grip of speculation fever.


King crushes opposition

Versailles 8 May 1788

Parliament is rejecting judicial reform? Who cares! Disregarding protests from the magistrates, the King has just registered the decrees of his Lord Chancellor, Lamoignon, using the “bed of justice” procedure.


Within 3 days, Louis XVI has crushed parliamentary opposition. During the night of may 4-5, he gave orders for the arrest of Goislard de Montsabert and Duval d’Epremesnil. They had written the parliamentary decrees of April 29 and may 3 which strongly criticised the reforms of the Breinne ministry. However the two fiery councillors escaped from the police and rushed to seek refuge with other parliamentarians at the law courts. After a night under siege the two turned themselves in The King has once again shown he is determined to break the parliamentary revolt. Despite this, opposition to the King has not been entirely broken and has won public sympathy.  


Street fighting in Grenoble

7 June 1788

On this Saturday morning the usual market day activity in the capital of the Dauphine turned into a riot. The city’s population, helped by peasants from the nearby mountains, rushed to nail the towns doors shut when they heard the alarm bells ring.

The people of Grenoble wanted to stop their parliamentarians from being sent into exile. Disregarding royal orders, these magistrates had gathered to criticise the forced registration of the May decrees on Lamoignon’s judicial reforms. Reprisals were quickly taken : the rebels were ordered to  return to their homes, but they had no intention of admitting defeat. Royal troops sent in to remove the magistrates were met by a hail of roofing tiles and stones thrown by an angry mob from the cities rooftops.

Blood was already flowing freely when the Duc de Clermont Tonnerre, who commanded the garrison, decide to give in. Wearing their robes of office, the parliamentarians could then return in triumph to the law courts.


Church severs old ties with the Throne

Paris 15 June 1788

The church has broken the old alliance between the alter and the throne. It is now backing the revolt of the old nobility. This became apparent during the assembly that has just been held. The clergy sent a series of remonstrances to the King in which they criticised the fiscal reform plans of Lomenie de Brienne.


The minister had been planning to entrust the future provincial assemblies with the task of evaluating church property on the same basis as the kingdom’s other resources. It had traditionally been the church itself that handed over part of its income to the King in the form of a “free donation”. There are close family ties between the high clergy and the nobility.

Extravagance and profligacy rule court

Versailles June 1788

Festivities at the court may be less ostentatious than they used to be, but the royal couple’s palaces continue to swallow up vast sums of money.

Huge numbers of people work there,  but most of them are not needed. Despite the hundreds of jobs scrapped in 1780, some of which dated back to the Middle Ages,far too many people are still employed at the palaces. Is it really necessary to pay high wages to a “royal business chair carrier”? The court’s financial situation is getting worse every day.


Troops called out as Paris unrest mounts

Paris, 6 July 1788

Some twenty thousand workers of the Saint Antoine suburb are out of work and the cost of bread is rising all the time.

Fearing unrest, the government has called in ten thousand troops which have been deployed around the city. The move has, however, added to unrest in the poorer districts, which are always ready to rise up. A marble mason had resolved to assassinate the King, whom he blamed for all the problems facing the poor.

The chief minister badly shaken by the incident, has called for security measures to be strengthened but nothing has been done to help the capital’s unemployed.


Queen’s infidelity sends Louis hunting

Versailles Aug. 1788

Several days ago during a hunting party, the King was found by his equerries weeping over some poison pen letters criticising the relationship between the Queen and Hans Axel Fersen. To forget his marital problems, the King has become increasingly involved in his favourite pastime: hunting. The violent sport helps him to forget all his worries and concentrate on his quarry. Some hunts go on for so long that he often spends the night at Ramboullet, arriving there late in the evening in a state of complete exhaustion. The Queen has spoken to her husband in an attempt to calm his fears: if he insists, she will stop seeing de Fersen, although is he not their most faithful friend and the only one they can rely on.



France goes bankrupt

Versailles 16 August 1788

The state has stopped making payments! The news has spread like wildfire through Paris. Furious and terrified savers have been rushing to the savings bank demanding that the royal bonds be reimbursed right away. They are even prepared to sell them at a loss.

As from tomorrow, the state will only pay back in cash small sums as well as two fifths of its major debts. The remaining three fifths will b e converted into a new obligatory loan, and nothing guarantees its value. Having failed to convince the financiers to provide new funds to the treasury, Lomenie de Brienne has decide  on a partial suspension of payments, but this has destroyed its creditors confidence once and for all. The Geneva born banker Necker is to be recalled  to the government.


Parliament reassembles in triumph

Paris 24 Sept. 1788

The crowds of paris have overcome the abuse of royal power. Yesterday a statement by Louis XVI announced that the judicial reforms have been dropped and the traditional role of parliaments been restored.


Fire at the Pont du Neuf

Parliament’s    reassembly sparks






The King has capitulated, disowning his ministers, Brienne and Lamoignon, who have been dismissed. Today’s new parliamentary session was held amid violent unrest which has been rocking Paris for the past month. The public rejoicing that has marked Necker’s recall and Lamoignon’s departure on September 14 turned into rioting two days later On the Place Dauphine and at the Palais Royal fireworks were still blazing when a group of men armed with sticks and torches rushed towards the residencies of the hated former ministers.



Axel returns to his Marie Antoinette

Versailles 7 Nov. 1788

The first thing that de Fersen did this morning was to rush to Versailles where Marie Antoinette was impatiently waiting for him. He had just returned from a lengthy stay in Finland and Sweden, where he had travelled with King Gustav III. The Queen is no longer trying to hide her feelings for the handsome Swede. She had shown an obsessive interest in him as soon as he arrived  at the French court in 1778, and their relationship has become even closer since he returned from America.. He always remains discreet with the Queen in public.


The Third Estate












Third Estate

Louis XVI agrees to double

Third Estate

 27 December 1788

The aristocrats are becoming  worried. They have not been able to win the King over to their conservative policies. After the Council meeting held today, Louis XVI agreed to grant the Third Estate double

Representation at the Estates General. The decision came after lengthy hesitation and despite the advice of the Assembly of Notables. The move was based on Necker’s urging. For the past two months municipal petitions have been coming in from all over the kingdom calling for an increase in the number of Third Estate deputies, voting by head and joint debate by the three orders.


Aristocracy remains blind to hardship.

Paris, January 1789

The famine, unemployment and unrest that have been stalking the kingdom have no efect on the quiet life led by most aristocrats, and not least by the Comte de Segur. Last night at his residence a young and unknown poet, Marie Joseph Chenier, read out his new tragedy named Charles IX . The play is set at the time of the Saint Bartholomew massacres. The play did not move its audience.


Priest calls for elected Third Estate

 Paris Jan. 1789

Abbot Emmanuel Sieyes, has just published a provocative pamphlet entitled “What is the Third Estate”? Last November, this brave priest had already lashed out against the nobility’s vanity and selfishness in a pamphlet called Essay on Privileges.

His new work kicks off on a biting note: “What is the Third Estate? Everything. What was it until today? Nothing. What does it want? To become something.”

His statements go to the heart of the political issue of the hour, will voting in the Estates General be by class or by head? Sieyes stresses that the traditional class voting would ignore the wishes of 96% of the population. For him, the Third Estate is the cornerstone of the nation, “the strong man with one arm still in chains”.



Burdened Third Estate


Women declare war....on each other

Brest 24 Jan 1789

Shocked to the core by the effrontery of the Third Estate which dares to send envoys to Versailles to see the King, the city’s noblewomen meet at the home of one of their own, madame Dubosq, to decide what to do. They have drafted a Decree in which they solemnly state that the Third Estate consists only of persons “unworthy of being admitted into the ranks of honest people”. The ladies pledge “on a gentleman’s honour” never ever to have “any dealings with any wives, daughters or kin of these dishonoured persons”.

The solemnly promise to walk out immediately if one of these women has the impudence to show up at the ball at the Comedie. How dare these brazen Third Estate Women rub shoulders with the other classes and transgress the most elementary rules of good taste!


Pressure for change mounts on Louis XVI

Versailles February 1789

Everything is moving too fast for the King. He no longer controls the reins of power. This man who has always had great difficulty in taking the slightest decision finds moves forced upon him of which he does not approve but which he is unable to block. He supports Necker,whose ideas are opposed to his, and is forced t convene the Estates General

In a bid to solve the current financial crisis.

The monarch is afraid of the slightest change and does not trust the nation’s leading figures.

Louis XVI is desperately seeking ways to avoid the gathering of the kingdom’s representatives at a time when the nobility is distancing itself from him and when ther is rumblings among his “good people”. He is discovering the existence of a monster, the nation, led by an elusive force; public opinion. The King is afraid!


Port of Marseilles

Revolt rocks Provence

Aix-en-Provence  27 March 1789

Mirabeau’s skill at defusing the unrest currently rocking Provence has made him a local hero. The people have even dubbed him Provence’s “saviour”. Elected deputy of the Third Estate at Aix

A week ago, he has just mediated in a dispute between local housewives enraged by the rise in the price of bread and the town’s mayor backed by troops.

Mirabeau persuaded the soldiers to withdraw and persuaded the people of Aix to form a militia, as the inhabitants of the nearby port city of Marseilles had done a few days earlier. On the day when Marseilles electors were to meet to choose their deputies an angry and starving mob poured into the city’s  streets attacking the tax collectors house. The mayor and his assistant were forced to flee for their lives.


Tax top complaints of Third Estate

France, April 1789.

Despite their diversity and their sometimes contradictory nature, demands made throughout the kingdom in the run-up to the meeting of of the Estates General tally on several major issues. Even if the nobility is sometimes prepared to accept fiscal equality, it firmly rejects any weakening of provincial privileges in favour of centralised monarchy.

Thus the gentlemen of Aix have stated that “the King of France will simply be known in Provence as a “Comte de Provence” . Clergymen in their Books of Grievances  stress the social gap between the higher and lower clergy. The Third Estate is unanimous in its condemnation of taxation, which it considers monstrously unfair and arbitrary.


Departure of the Three Orders for Versailles

Deputies are presented to the King

Versailles 2 May 1789

The King has finally consented to receive the thousand or so deputies of the three Estates. The palace ceremony is grandiose. Cardinals wear red, archbishops purple, and other members of the clergy in black. Noblemen are dressed in colourful outfits, white stockings, feathered hats and golden stoles.

Beside all this finery, the people of the Third Estate, dressed in black with a simple muslin cravat, look like court bailiffs. They were only told yesterday by the Marquis de Dreux Breze what to wear and had problems finding clothes that fit in time for the ceremony. They were the last to be shown into the great hall. The king does not seem keen to get to know them.


Estates General


The Estates General, a nation’s source of hope, are solemnly opened by the King

5 May 1789.

For the first time since 1614, a King of France is to speak publicly and solemnly to the representatives of the nation. The event has brought a surge of hope to country dwellers and city folk.

The dramatic event follows five months of preparations for the Estates General and the drafting of the Books of Grievances which have given each Frenchman an opportunity to express himself. Gradually, hopes have turned into demands. People have had their fill of unjust taxes, of the iniquitous feudal system: they want their freedoms. There are great expectations. People hope that the King will agree to take the wishes of the Third Estate into account. The members of the Third estate feel they have become the standard bearers for the aspirations and demands of the 27 million people they represent. All eyes are focused on the King.

The crowd has been gathered since dawn along the Chantiers street to watch the deputies to the Estates General pass by. They had been told to arrive at eight o’clock, and have come in small groups meeting outside the Menus Plaisirs building. The Marquis de Dreux Breze and the other two masters of ceremonies then ushered the deputies into the lobby.

The meeting hall has been carefully prepared to receive over three thousand people. The huge room has been painted light green and white. The gallery is separated from the main hall by a double colonnade. The whole room is focused towards the impressive royal dais draped in purple cloth and decorated with golden fleurs-de-lis.

The stately entrance made by the deputies gives the crowd a chance to observe them closely. Members of the Third Estate dressed in black have aroused a lot of curiosity, since they are largely unknown but much discussed.

Louis XVI left his palace shortly before noon, a s the last few deputies were arriving a the Menu Plaisirs. The princes of the blood were riding in the King’s coach, while the princesses rode in the Queen’s coach. No fewer than 38 coaches drove past the delighted crowd, accompanied by dozens of outriders, grooms, page-boys and trumpeters.

The excitement reached a peak among the deputies when they hear the King is about to arrive at last. They all feel they are witnessing a major historical event.

The King begins to speak in a loud powerful voice. Calling on the nation’s representatives to show harmony, he stresses that wisdom must prevail; but Louis XVI has not shown the slightest sign of being willing to abandon any of his sovereignty or powers. At the end Louis left the hall amid loud cheering, but the cheers did not really mask the deep disappointment felt by a large number of deputies.



Third Estate starts crisis

Versailles 11 May 1789

Debate at the Estates General has been stalled since May 6. Each order was to have checked the mandates of their deputies separately, but the Third Estate has refused, arguing that to do so would be to create a separate assembly and give implicit recognition to class voting. It therefore at all costs had to get each mandate

checked prior to an individual vote. Pushed by deputies from Brittany and the Dauphine, the Third Estate has confirmed that decision and named itself the Commons, like English parliamentarians. This move by the Third Estate has unleashed a crisis. The nobility has rejected individual mandate verification by 188 votes to 46. Today the nobility has declared itself “constituted”. The clergy is even more split. Several dozen priests have met privately to study moves to reconcile the three orders.and their proposal has won nearly half the votes cast including bishops.


Nobility and clergy look down on commoner

Third Estate forms Assembly

Versailles 17 June 1789

A new power is born, independent of the King. The Third Estate Assembly has just approved a  motion by Sieyes supported by Target, by 481 vote to 119 and proclaimed itself a National Assembly.

It has used terms employed by Necker in

his 1788 assembly plan and concepts spread by Abbot Sieyes in his treatise on the Third Estate. After lengthy debate, Sieyes succeeded in getting approval for the term of National Assembly, which had been suggested by le Grand, deputy for Berry. Sieyes stated that the deputies of the Third Estate, representing 96% of the population should “fulfil the wishes of the nation”. Are their mandates not the only ones to have been publicly verified?All of the deputies have sworn to “faithfully fulfil their duties”. It has immediately taken crucial decisions, refusing to give legislative powers to the two other orders or the King to keep the right of veto.


Deputies are sworn in at the “Jeu de Paume”

20 June 1789

The National Assembly deputies were surprised and very annoyed on this rainy morning to arrive at the Menu Plaisirs hall only to find their way barred by locked doors. They were informed that the hall, guarded by sentries, had been closed in preparation for the June 23 royal session, but many deputies believe that this is just another step aimed at the dissolution of the Assembly. They decided that it was vital to find a suitable meeting place quickly in order to avoid falling in to the trap. Dr. Guillotin suggested the nearby royal tennis courts of the Jeu de Paume. Mounier called for the deputies gathered in the large empty room to take the oath, drafted by Target and formally read out by Bailly. All Third Estate representatives with 8 exceptions (7 clergy) signed the oath, thus sealing the unity of the Assembly.


Bailly in the Jeu de Paume


Crowd frees French Guards

Paris 30 June 1789


Common man carries nobility and clergy

Something unusual has happened. Parisians have attacked the Abbaye prison to free some soldiers, while dragoons and hussars refused to intervene. The mob succeeded in freeing French Guards jailed for protesting against their colonel , whom they accused of being too strict. The mob’s action is partly

Due to a friendship which has grown between the capita’s inhabitants and members of this elite unit. Since the French Guards have been posted in Paris, links with the public have been created with lower ranking officers finding they have much in common with artisans and tradesmen.


The King sacks  Necker

Versailles 9 July 1789

The news spread like wildfire: this morning, the King demanded that the highly popular Necker should resign.

Necker has secretly set off for Brussels, as the court is afraid that his dismissal will set off clashes. Both the other liberal ministers, Montmorin and saint Priest, have also been forced to resign.

The new ministry , which Louis XVI has been thinking about for the past few weeks, is headed by the Baron de Breteuil. The conservative Barentin remains lord Chancellor and the Marechal de Broglie, commander of the troops massed around the capital, has taken over from Puysegur at the Ministry of War


Paris burns after two days of rioting

Paris 12 July 1789

Paris has just lived through two days of rioting. There are no signs that the anger which has suddenly seized the people will die down.

At the Palais Royal the crowd has been growing steadily, seeking plans for action. Stepping out of the Foy Cafe, a young man, Camile Desmouolins, leaps onto a table brandishing a sword. He urges the people to rise up against the German troops who, he claims, have come to “butcher” the men and women of Paris. He grabs a leaf from a tree and sticks it in his hat using it as a cockade and the crowd quickly follow this move.

Then the mob rushes to the wax museum to get the  busts of Necker and Duc d’Orleans, carrying them through the streets. The two busts are draped with black crepe as a symbol of the death of Liberty.


The Bastille, symbol of royal absolutism, is seized by the people

Paris 14 July 1789


By taking the Bastille-symbol of arbitrary royal power and feudal regimes - Parisians changed the course of the Revolution. The people rebelled against the secular power of a regime seeking to return to a system which was already seriously threatened  by uprisings and by an elected assembly that had proclaimed itself the National Constituent Assembly. Only a few days ago.

The army is clearly supporting the cause of the people. Will the revolution of July 14 remain a purely Parisian phenomenon, or will it have a nationwide effect? Is the assembly, whose bourgeois leanings are obvious , prepared to back this revolt? Will the King make a last ditch attempt to stop the people?

Around 2a.m., a terrible rumour spread through the capital: 15,000 soldiers have been deployed on the Rue Saint Antoine and they have started butchering people! It was a false alarm. At 7 a.m., there was a new rumour. This time, the Royal German regiment was said to be heading for the Trone toll barrier, the men of the Royal Croatian for the Saint Antoine  district, and other units for la Chapelle. Alarm bells ring out. T arms! An entire population was obsessed by one idea weapons must be found

The Invalides are full of weapons. Yesterday, the governor, Charles Virot de Sombreuil, had prudently refused to hand over any of the thousands of rifles stored there to a delegation of electors, who wanted them to arm the new militia. Quickly a growing crowd headed from the capital’s centre to the sombre Invalides building.

By 6 a.m., several thousand men had gathered on the huge parade ground in front of the Invalides. Sombreuil wanted to talk things over with them, but when he opened the gates the crowd surged into the courtyard, pouring into the buildings even the basement. Systematic looting went on until 2p.m. The demonstrators seized 32,000 rifles - without ammunition - as well as twelve cannons and a mortar. Gunpowder and cartridges were being stored at the Bastille, so the mob decided to rush there.

On the edge of the saint Antoine district there stands a huge eight-towered fortress, which was used as a state prison. There a large crowd had gathered. At dawn several hundred artisans, most of the furniture makers, armed with sticks and tools, had come to the Bastille to demand material needed to make cartridges. The tension rose quickly. People were aware of the fact that the prison’s governor the Marquis Bernard de Launey, had considerably strengthened the defences at the Bastille over the past few days. The crowd became frightened as they cannons aimed at saint Antoine. The assembly of electors were immediately warned and sent a delegation to meet de Launay.

Suddenly around 1.30p.m., first one, then three, then ten youths, who had climbed onto the roof of a perfume shop adjoining the ramparts, jumped down into the Bastille’s courtyard and using axes they break the wooden beams holding the chains that support the  drawbridge. The heavy drawbridge falls killing one man standing beneath. Quickly hundreds of screaming rioters rush into the courtyard. A volley of gunshots rings out.

After a prolonged struggle lasting over 24 hours eventually the garrison of the Bastille capitulate. The invading crowd loots and destroys everything in its path, throwing archives out of the windows. It suddenly finds the prisoners it has been looking for. Among them is an accomplice of the regicide Damiens, held for 30 years, a mad aristocrat and a criminal, as well as four counterfeiters. Shortly afterwards, a shattered de Launay is brought out under heavy escort. Hundreds of enraged Parisians are baying for his blood.


A large procession of the conquerors of the Bastille then marches off, heading for the city hall as it drags the new prisoners along. For their part the freed prisoners of the King are cheered enthusiastically and carried from the Bastille in triumph.. During the march, three officers of the Bastille headquarters, and three of the invalids are killed. De Launay is beaten despite efforts to protect him by Hulin ( a former sergeant of the Swiss Guard), “We must chop his head off”some shout. “Lets hang him”, scream others gathered outside the city hall. A cook rushes up to an already wounded  de Launay. “Let them kill me!”  de Launay shouts, fighting back. He knees the cook, a certain Desnot, in the groin. “Help me!”

The latter screams. Suddenly, a man stabs de Launay in the stomach with his bayonet. It is the signal for the butchery to begin. The governor is repeatedly stabbed before being finished off with a bullet as he lies in the gutter. The cook, who has got over his pain, grabs a knife and starts cutting off de Launay’s head as the mob cheers.


La Fayette



La Fayette and Bailly, masters of Paris

Paris 15 July 1789

Loud shouts of “Long live the nation and long live the deputies” greet the Assembly’s delegation, led by La Fayette and Bailly, when it arrives at the capital’s city hall, where electors have set

up a “Commune of Paris”. The electors see the two men as powerful symbols: Bailly represents the historic oath taken at the Jeu de Paume, while La Fayette is the hero of the American Revolution. La Fayette has been named general in command of the bourgeois militia, which has been called the National Guard, while Bailly has been made provost of tradesmen, but a voice of dissent is heard among the crowd,  shouting “No make him mayor of Paris”, and the suggestion is warmly welcomed by all. The bourgeoisie has had a fright and is now counting on these new institutions  to restore order.


The Great Fear

France, July 89

It started in Bourgogne  and Brittany.  The cause was the same everywhere; rumours. At Nantes on July 20th, witnesses reported seeing a detachment of dragoons heading for the town. They were surely coming to put down the recent municipal revolt. Local men rushed to the armouries to grab weapons and set off to meet the soldiers, but peasants saw them as yet another dangerous armed gang. On the 24th, at Rumilly, in Champagne, a herd of cows was taken for a group of bandits! On the 28th, at  

In southwestern France, threats voiced by dissatisfied religious alms collectors were taken very seriously. The peasant’s misery was being made even more unbearable by hunger and unemployment. Growing numbers of drifters were taking to the roads, prepared to do anything to survive.It is difficult to know why this Great Fear spread so quickly. Was there an aristocrat’s plot?Whatever the cause the peasants are now armed, organised and ready to use force to liberate their lands from the nobles


Privileges are abolished amid rejoicing - the Ancien Regime is dead!

Paris Night of 4 August 1789


The Constituent Assembly has done more work in six hours than it has in three months, getting rid of centuries-old traditions. Just one night, marked by great enthusiasm and unanimity, was enough to scrap the social structures of the Ancien Regime. First worried, then terrified by the Great Fear that has been spreading for the past two weeks throughout the countryside, the deputies have decided to take drastic measures. The most hated privileges have been abolished, from . the most costly - such as tithes - to the most oppressive - such as hunting rights. However, in the weeks to come, these decisions in principle will have to be given concrete form.


The deputies gather around eight o’clock under the presidency of le Chaplier. Allowed to speak, the lawyer Target submits the draft decree that was debated yesterday. It is aimed at putting an end to the unrest rocking the countryside. The draft text reminds all citizens that they must respect property and continue to pay rents and taxes. The Assembly had been getting ready to condemn the peasants demands.

THE ABOLISHED PRIVILEGES. First to have been abolished are all the ancient and hated feudal servitude's: mortmain, which made it impossible for serfs to will their own property: serfdom, a status close to that of slavery; the duties  of

Guard and  lookout, which had become an obligation for servants to guard the castle; statue labour, or days spent working for the local lord. Also abolished were the the the despised exclusive hunting rights and the right to breed fowl.

Then the following privileges of the clergy and nobility were abolished after being repurchased: the banalities or the nobilities monopoly over the flour mill, the press house and the bread oven; the champarts, which were the part of the crop owed by dependent peasants to the landowner; taxes paid for authorisation to leave a region. Tithes collected by the clergy also disappear, as do surplice fees charged for christenings, weddings and funerals.

From now on, public office cannot be purchased, since the principle of the venality of office has been abandoned. Every citizen will have access to military and civil posts. Justice now being free, there will in future be no privilege due simply to birth.



Men are born free with equal rights

Versailles 26 August 1789

Man has rights; this is an entirely new concept that is going to change people’s way of thinking radically. After over a month and a half of debate, the Assembly has just approved the final version of the Declaration of human rights and of the rights of the citizen.

It was a matter of both sweeping away the theories of justifying the old privileges and laying down the principles of the new regime that the Constituent Assembly is to set up.  The amount of time  spent in debate  by the deputies is due to the extent of the task

Before them. Malouet did not believe that the people of France were ready to hear this text, while Mirabeau said: “this is a veil that would be dangerous to lift suddenly, it is a secret that must be hidden from the people”. What could the terrible secret contained in the Declaration be?”Ignorance of, forgetfulness or contempt for human rights are the sole cause of the misery of the people and of the corruption of governments,” states the preamble to the text.



Marat launches new daily paper

Paris, 16 September 1789

“L’Ami du Peuple”. Is Dr. Marat’s destiny at last about to be fulfilled? For its fifth edition, his daily newspaper has adopted a more biting tone. His new pamphlet attacking the Assembly, which made the mistake of ignoring him, and the Commune, which did not elect him, will serve his ambition of becoming the herald of the revolution better than his obscure theoretical writings.


Royalist officers trample tricolor

Cockades during Versailles “orgy”

Versailles 2 Oct. 1789

In Paris, rumours of a possible counter-revolution have been rife since last-nights orgy at the Palace of Versailles. The King’s bodyguards had held a banquet at the palace in honour of the Flanders regiment,

 which had been called in recently for use in case rioting should break out in the capital. Made cautious by recent events, the royal couple had not been quite sure whether to attend. The King and Queen’s appearance  at a balcony was, however, greeted by wild cheering. Guardsmen started singing the tune of “O Richard O my King” as officers cheered. Emboldened by the wine they had been drinking, the officers tore off their tricolor cockades  and trampled them underfoot donning white cockades symbolising the monarchy.


After the women’s march on Versailles, King forced to return to Paris

5/6 October 1789

The capital has found its King again and Versailles is deserted. The march by thousands of Parisians has put an end to a century and a half of royal presence in the town of the Sun King. A 17th century revolt by Parisians during the violent clashes of the Fronde had forced a young Louis XIV to settle outside Paris Today, it is another revolt that has brought his descendent back to the Tuileries. The heart of the revolution has moved from Versailles to Paris In just three months Parisians have acted thrice to speed up the pace of the Revolution. Within a few hours the people have disarmed the King’s party and taken control over the monarch. The Assembly which will move to Paris in a few days, must take into account a power  growing each day - the street!


Yesterday at daybreak, around 7 o’clock, as the capital was blanketed by fog, Parisians were on a war footing. The night had not helped to calm the revolutionary ardour, which had been given free reign on Sunday. On the contrary. They wanted to stop the King from fleeing to Metz, as had been rumoured since the arrival of the Flanders Regiment. “Let’s march on Versailles” were the words that galvanised the entire city, which had been living in fear of hunger and of a royalist counter-attack.

Thousands of women urged on by an irresistible force, gathered at the city hall. They were demanding bread and arms. Led by Hulin, the conquerors of the Bastille joined the women. Armed with sticks, pikes and pitchforks, the strange procession set off for the palace of the kings of France. Following on was a second procession consisting of 15,000 National Guard under la Fayette and citizens of Paris This moved off around 1 o’clock in driving rain. At 4 p.m. the first procession arrived at Versailles and headed for the Assembly begging the deputies to take action against food hoarders. The King agrees to see a deputation from the women who are awe struck by the palace surroundings. The king calms things by arranging a distribution of food. The King decides to leave for Rambouilet with his family but is too late. The gate of the royal stables has been torn down and the mob has rushed in taking the horses. By nightfall the mob control the royal town.

It is now October 6th. The day has hardly begun when drums start to beat on Armes Square. As if acting on a pre-arranged signal, tens of thousands of people form tight ranks. They pour into the palace courtyard and head for the rooms of Marie Antoinette. The ladies -in-waiting who have spent the night outside her door rush in and drag her out of bed and into the secret passage leading to the King’s rooms.. The King’s first thoughts are for his family and he, using another secret passage gains the bedroom of the Dauphin, picks up the child and carries him back. The mob now have a blood lust and some palace guards are unceremoniously beheaded. La Fayette comes running into the Cabinet room where the King and his family are gathered and sets off with a group of grenadiers to attack the mob who are demanding that Louis be taken back to Paris. La Fayette begs the royal couple to agree and the King with no alternative agrees. Walking onto the balcony to confirm his decision.  This does not satisfy the mob who are calling for the Queen. Marie Antoinette takes her children by the hand and appears on the balcony. “No children” the mob howls. Calmly, the Queen sends her son and daughter back inside and faces the crowd who were a short time ago calling for her blood. Time seems to stand still. “To Paris!” a voice shouts, and this cry is picked up by thousands of others. Her ordeal over the “Austrian” goes back, barely conscious.

La Fayette immediately gives orders for the King’s departure, as he is too traumatised to deal with preparations himself. The people are triumphant. The King’s carriage, preceded by people bearing the severed heads  of guards stuck on pikes makes slow progress. Ragged, drenched and mud-stained men and women singing and pointing derisively at the royal family they have dubbed “the baker and the baker’s wife”. After a harrowing six hour march, they reach Paris where the mayor Bailly, greets them with a speech of welcome. The royal family then are taken to the Tuileries.



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