Joyeux Quatorze Juillet!

14 Jul

It’s Bastille Day, everybody! Like Independence Day, only more fun. From wikipedia (the foremost expert on French history, obvs):

On 5 May 1789Louis XVI convened the Estates-General to hear their grievances. The deputies of the Third Estate representing the common people (the two others were clergy and nobility) decided to break away and form a National Assembly. The assembly re-named itself the National Constituent Assembly on 9 July, and began to function as a legislature and to draft a constitution.

…The people of Paris, fearful that they and their representatives would be attacked by the royal military, and seeking to gain arms for the general populace, stormed the Bastille, a prison which had often held people jailed on the basis of lettres de cachet, arbitrary royal indictments that could not be appealed. Besides holding a large cache of arms, the Bastille had been known for holding political prisoners whose writings had displeased the royal government, and was thus a symbol of the absolutism of the monarchy. As it happened, at the time of the siege in July 1789 there were only seven inmates, none of great political significance.

When the crowd (legend says it was organised by descendants of the Knights Templar)— eventually reinforced by mutinous gardes françaises — proved a fair match for the fort’s defenders, Governor de Launay, the commander of the Bastille, capitulated and opened the gates to avoid a mutual massacre. However, possibly because of a misunderstanding, fighting resumed. Ninety-eight attackers and just one defender died in the actual fighting, but in the aftermath, De Launay and seven other defenders were killed, as was the ‘prévôt des marchands’ (roughly, mayor) Jacques de Flesselles.

The storming of the Bastille was more important as a rallying point and symbolic act of rebellion than a practical act of defiance.

Shortly after the storming of the Bastille, on 4 August feudalism was abolished and on 26 August, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen proclaimed.

If ever you’re going to visit Paris, make sure you do so on Bastille Day. They shoot fireworks off of the Eiffel Tower. They sell large bags of gummy candy. They are not American fearmongers, so small children run around with large explosives. Everyone is feeling rebellious, so you get to see a lot of craziness and police who just don’t feel like dealing with it. Best. Holiday. Ever.

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