Saturday, July 14, 2012


He was already an impotent figurehead of all the injustices wrought by those who came before him, yet in May of 1789, Louis XVI sat before the Estates-General to hear their grievances against the monarchy. At the time, France was divided into three ranks…The First estate represented the Catholic Church, the king and his court comprised The Second Estate and the Third Estate—the largest of them all—represented the people, most specifically the poor. Simply stated, the revolution was incited by the hundreds of years of oppression of the Third Estate by the Second, by the lack of representation, by the inability to better one’s station, and at the end, fueled most ferociously by the economic crisis that hurtled even more of the population into poverty.

Could Louis and the Second Estate have avoided the inevitable? Possibly. He did, during the Estates-General meeting, to institute taxes upon the Second Estate, an act never before attempted. His efforts failed epically; his nobility turned their back on him. Louis XVI was, at heart, a weak leader, an insipid person, who had neither the courage nor the inclination to fight the nobility or undo what had been done by the many Louis’ that had come before him. Though inevitably, it was this laissez-faire attitude which sealed his fate. Before he could lose all power, Louis canceled the assembly. He could not have instigated more acrimony with one act had he intended to do so.

The power behind the Revolution, men by the name of Robespierre (pictured), Mirabeau and Sieyes, gathered in an assembly of their own, a makeshift meeting inside an indoor tennis court in the city of Versailles. There, on June 20,1789, the Tennis Court Oath, was taken by 576 of the 577 members of the Third Estate proclaiming "not to separate, and to reassemble wherever circumstances require, until the constitution of the kingdom is established". Powerful in language and its meaningful implication unto itself, it was the first time in the country’s history that the French people stood in political opposition to Louis XVI. It was THE turning point, but July would prove to be the hottest month of all.

On the 12 of July, the king dismissed Jacques Necker, the very popular Minister of Finances. On the 13th, a scurrilous rumor spread through the streets of Paris that Louis planned to attack the newly proclaimed parliamentarians.

The Bastille, once a fortress, for centuries a dark, imposing structure that symbolized in its guise as a prison, for all that was injustice in France. It was at the base of this fortress that on the morning of July 14 a group of craftsmen and merchants stool 28,000 rifles, but there was no powder to be found. The guards—no more than 30 in all, comprised of veterans and Swiss grenadiers—were unimpressed. Their leader, one Marquis de Launay, hoping to hold off the revolutionaries until the expected rescue team could arrive, invited representatives of the gathering in to the Bastille. Negotiations ended as members of the mob charged the prison. The meager group of guards fired, killing hundreds. Yet how very disappointed the Marquis must have been when the rescue team arrived…only to stand with the revolutionaries. With their numbers, their power, and their canons, it was but a matter of hours before they asserted victory over the guards.

By 4 in the afternoon the Marquis surrendered, but it was not an act that would save him. Though only seven prisoners were freed—those constituting the entirety of the prison population at the time—all the guards were killed and the Marquis himself were beheaded. The Bastille itself died later that night when more than 800 hundred men destroyed it.

When, years later, King Louis XVI’s diary was found by historians, his only notation for the day read, ‘nothing,’ in reference to his success at the day’s hunt.

“Is this a revolt?” Louis asked the Duc de Liancourt when the noble informed the king of the day’s events at the Bastille.

“No, Majesty,” the Duc replied. “It is a revolution.”

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