Wednesday, July 14, 2010

July 14, 1789 – Storm at the Bastille Leads to Calm in France

For two days since the dismissal of Jacques Necker, the Third Estate had been on the warpath through Paris. Soldiers (many of whom were foreign) had been organized in Versailles by the king, which only increased stresses with peasants fearful of a mercenary force enslaving the people in their own land. After the Gardes Françaises infantry had sided with the rebellious populace, the nobility did not know whether to trust the rest of the soldiers. They left Paris to boil in its own juices, which would only allow leaders to rise to the top.

Rioters became organized, and the people began to plunder stores of food, guns, and ammunition. Some 30,000 muskets were seized the Hotel des Invalides, and more than 600 rebels now headed for the Bastille, a large medieval fortress used as a prison, often known for its duties as a political prison. At the time, there were only seven inmates, and it was scheduled to be shut down as overly costly in the tough economic times. Mainly, it was used as storage for gunpowder.

Eighty-two invalides (wounded veteran soldiers) served as the garrison, and they had been reinforced by 32 Swiss. Attackers arrived at mid-morning, calling for surrender. Negotiations began, but the crowd rioted after hours of waiting and began to storm the fortress. When the gunfire began, the already mad mob turned madder in a seemingly unending onslaught. Mutinous soldiers and deserters joined in the fight on the side of the populace, adding skill to the weight of the attack, only lengthening the ordeal. Governor de Launay, commander of the Bastille, began to suspect complete massacre and then to contemplate surrender to spare the lives of his men as well as the poorly armed people they cut down.

In late afternoon, the order finally went out to the Royal Army on the Champs de Mars to intervene. Soldiers formed ranks and marched against the rioting people, and the bloodbath was ended. Seeing that troops were still willing to carry out commands, the king called for order in the streets, and the soldiers at Versailles were put to organize curfew and end the rioting.

On the morning of July 15, the air in Paris was clear. People returned to their homes, taking the Bastille as a symbol of the fastidiousness of the royal order. The king set about clearing the National Assembly and forcing the Estates General into solving the country's dire financial situation. He threatened to remove the protection of his soldiers from estates in the countryside of uncooperative nobles, which would allow the Third Estate to loot as they pleased. Gradually, the country came back to order.

Through the next few decades of peace, Europe would grow and spread their colonial powers. The United States of America would have a second war with Britain over border disputes, and the mother country would take back its wayward colonies in a brutal war. Though the experiment of republicanism had failed, new ideals would cause of the 1848 revolutions, which weakened the stranglehold of absolute monarchists but could not defeat it. As technology flourished, the people became more educated and desirous of justice, leading to the great upheaval of the Workers' Rising in 1899 that would cause an end to nearly every kingdom and empire in Europe. The resulting new social order would have its share of birth-pains, but fair socialism would finally spread throughout the world.

In reality, the order for intervention was never given, and the soldiers at the Champs de Mars did nothing as the Bastille was taken by revolutionaries. Governor de Launay would be executed along with several of his guards, and the Storming of the Bastille would serve as a great rally for the Third Estate, forcing the king to recognize the National Assembly and dismiss his soldiers. While the Revolution would eventually lead to the rise of Napoleon as an emperor, for the time, the French people had freed themselves.

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