The American Revolution had come and gone. The people of France had been instrumental in making it possible. The winds of change were blowing strong and anything seemed possible.
The year was 1789, the place was Paris. Discontent had been fermenting for many years and it was about to come to a head. The people were hungry. The winter of 1788/89 had been a devastating one for the grain crops and the price of bread had risen to a point where the average person could not afford to buy it. (A little like the rising gas prices of today). The king had ordered a large number of troops into Paris to protect the National Assembly.
What we had was a wide scale misunderstanding of the situation on both sides. The King, who had never been hungry a day in his life, could not begin to understand the common man. This is where that oft quoted saying of Marie Antoinette’s comes in “Let them eat Cake”. It is doubtful if she ever uttered these words but, if she did, it says a lot about what she knew about the lives of everyday people. She could not conceive of a life where bread would have meant living or dying. She may have really believed that the peasants could buy cake, if there was no bread.
Somehow, all the hatred that the people of Paris felt for the King and the Queen came to a head on July 14th 1789. The crowd went off to free the prisoners at the Bastille which was a prison. If you are picturing hundreds of delighted political prisoners rushing out after the garrison surrendered, you will need to rethink that picture. At that moment, there were seven prisoners in the Bastille. Four were petty criminals, one was a noble child molester and general degenerate, another was a noble who had delusions of grandeur and was clearly insane. Don’t despair yet, there was indeed one political prisoner and I am sure he was grateful to be freed.
What the rabble really wanted however, was the guns and gunpowder that was stored in the Bastille. After the garrison surrendered, the mob took the weapons, killed the Governor, beheaded him and carried his head around Paris on a pike. When told that the Bastille had fallen, Louis XVI asked “Is this a revolt?” He was told no, “It’s a Revolutions” and within four years both he and his queen would suffer a fate similar to the Governor.
Bastille Day, July 14th 1789, was a defining moment in French history. It changed the course of history in Europe for at least a generation. It shocked the rest of the world into taking a look at their forms of government and how they communicated with the people they governed. Life would never be the same again. Within 20 years, the Reign of Terror would be over, Napoleon would be in power and Europe would again be shaken to the core.