Did you know that on the 14th July 1790, France invented the party?

Not that anyone realised that at the time. But every year, come the 14th July, not one person in the land ever forgets. You might know it as Bastille Day.

This is the most celebrated event throughout France.  Heralded every year on the 14th July by Europe’s oldest and largest military parade along the Champs-Elysées in Paris in front of The  President, multiple foreign dignitaries and guests. It was made a National Holiday in 1880. The term Bastille Day is used more by English speaking countries than in France itself. Here, it is more likely known as La Fete Nationale or Le quatorze juillet, (14th July).

We Brits were not left out

In 1940-44, during WW11, the parade was held in London under the command of President Charles de Gaulle although he still said non to the UK joining the Common Market!  There is just no pleasing some people!

France in the 18th century

In 1789 France was split into 3 distinct groups, The Roman Catholic Church, the rich aristocrats and, what was called the ‘Third Estate’, the common people. And above all of them the King whose word was law and power absolute. No prizes for guessing who was bottom of the pile.  The country was in dire economic state due largely to the Kings excessive spending and the poor of France were the hardest hit and starving.  This provided the seed of revolution which germinated with acts of rebellion, particularly in Paris which felt at first hand the excesses of King Louis XV1 and the brutality he imposed.  The holiday is held to celebrate the storming of the Bastille, a small fortress used as a prison and ammunition store. It is considered by the French as the first most important event of the Revolution in 1789 when the people of Paris rose against King Louis XV1 by attacking the fortress and releasing its prisoners in defiance of the Kings army and his abuse of royal power.

Never spoil a good story with the truth

The event is rather more symbolic than actual. Although the emphasis of the insurgence has changed with the telling it was still a pretty big deal. Upset the King and it was likely you would be thrown into jail, maybe never to be seen again. No means of appeal applied or sense of justice considered. You were virtually done for. So, challenging royal authority was a risky business to say the least. The Bastille was not the actual beginning of the Revolution. Many things had started happening due to people’s discontent. A few months before a textile factory close to the Bastille in East Paris were attacked by a few thousand people over the owner’s treatment of his staff. A number of the rioters were shot dead by troops which, understandably, only served to incite the rioters more and further violent incidents followed.

On 14th July a mob of Parisians attacked the army barracks of Les Invalides. The troops were sympathetic to their cause, they opened the doors and let them in. The rioters got away with lots of guns but no ammunition. The Bastille attack was not so much an attempt to release the prisoners there, (7), the real reason was that they needed powder and bullets for the newly acquired guns from Les Invalides.


Rebellion pauses for Lunch

A new approach was tried by the insurgents at the Bastille. A number of them went in to see the commander of the fortress to politely request he hand over the gunpowder and ammunition for their guns. The commander declined but invited the delegation to dine. Even in those days everything stopped for lunch.  After a second delegation failed, impatience grew and the enraged mob forced their way into the prison. The defending troops fired on the rioters killing many of them. The rioters guns had no ammunition and they could hardly fight back but other soldiers, sympathetic to the rebels, came in support with arms and cannons and the Bastille Commander was forced to surrender to avoid a massacre. They did not the treat the Bastille Commander very well. They cut off his head.

Thus party time after that became a somewhat violent affair. The game of guillotining the rich and royal drew huge crowds at every event. The burning and robbing of grand houses and Chateaux was a really hot ticket.

The Bastille prison held seven prisoners, mostly lunatics and criminals. They were released only to be locked up again elsewhere. Except one, a member of the nobility accepted as being a political prisoner.

The King thinks again

It had taken nearly a year for the King to react and call together his Parliament. He listened to the grievances brought by the people, which were many. Top of the list was that the commoners sought a system similar to that in England where parliamentary law was equal too or above the monarchy.

Not surprisingly, getting down to the nitty gritty of government was never going to be easy and they could not agree. When the commoner’s representatives walked out in frustration, deciding to form their own national assembly or parliament, Louis XV1 locked them out. Not one of his most diplomatic decisions. From then on the Revolution gained in violence and ferocity with the burning of chateaus and the killing of the aristocracy and anyone who stood in its way. Many thousands died on the guillotine.

A chip off the whole block

Many of the nobility fled to England, poor but alive. King Louis XV1 met his fate on the 21st January 1793 when he was executed by guillotine, (an English invention). He had been driven, naked, by open carriage to the scaffold at La Place de la Revolution. He tried to make a speech before his death but the cheering and jeering was so loud few could hear him except his executioner. His death was an end to 1000 years of French monarchy. His wife Marie Antoinette followed him to the guillotine nine months later on October 16th 1793

The Party starts

In France on the 14th July 1790, a year after the storming of the Bastille, the countries biggest party was born. In typical French style it starts the day before, on the night of the 13th July with a big bang when thousands of pyrotechnic explosions in every commune of France mingle with the popping of corks and tinkling of beer bottle caps and merriment abounds to celebrate the birth of the Republic of France.

PHOTO CREDITS: Main image: By Yann Caradec from Paris, France – feu d’artifice du 14 juillet 2014 sur le site de la Tour Eiffel à Paris – Fireworks on Eiffel Tower #14juillet #Bastilleday, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34052419 • Storming the Bastille: Jean-Pierre Houël – Bibliothèque nationale de France, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=106405