August Decrees and the Women’s March to Versailles

August Decrees

The August Decrees were written on 5-11 August 1789, and provided a concrete representation of the claims of the Night of Patriotic Delirium. They were significant because they symbolically heralded the end of the ancien regime, even though in actual fact the feudal system continued to generally exist in France until 1793, due to the entrenched nature of the system in every domain which made it impossible to abolish overnight. The fundamental principles of the August Decrees, which were mirrored across several other subsequent documents as well, were liberty, equality and popular sovereignty where the people now had a sense of agency and representation.

Women’s March to Versailles

The King was reluctant to sign and pass the August Decrees as they represented a formal dilution of his once-absolute power. However, on 5-6 October, a crowd of hundreds of women armed with knives and pikes, including fishwives, shopkeepers and prostitutes, marched to the Palace, called the Women’s March to Versailles, demanding the King pass the Decrees. This journée was provoked not only by the monarchy’s refusal to accept the Decrees but also rising prices of bread and a celebration at the Palace a day or two before where royal sympathisers had torn and destroyed their revolutionary cockades, thus blatantly opposing the Revolution. The Women’s March placed significant pressure on the monarchy, as they stormed the Palace itself demanding access to the Queen, which ultimately forced the monarchy to ratify the Decrees. The March also forced the royal family to relocate from Versailles to Paris, thus effectively making them into captives of the people. In fact, the March also forced the National Constituent Assembly to move to Paris, thereby making these deputies as much pressured by popular power, as the King and his family.

In general, historians view the Decrees and the period in which they were crafted in different lights. Furet sees it as the destruction of feudal society and a transferral of power to the free individual, limited only by the law. Doyle views it as the King accepting popular power over his authority, which gave agency to the Parisian people in particular. Soboul has a more class-driven perspective, seeing it as a bourgeois revolution propelled by the conflict between the feudal aristocracy and the peasant revolution.

 

See Also

Night of Patriotic Delirium