Fall of the Bastille

The Bastille prison was largely considered to be a symbol of royal authority and indeed, despotism. It was a state prison which held and imprisoned those who had been issued lettres de cachet which were arbitrary royal orders that forced imprisonment without any justification.

Following the King’s capitulation about the existence of the National Assembly, there was a general atmosphere of fear as many worried that Louis XVI would reverse his decision. This fear also stemmed from the 18,000 troops which surrounded Paris by royal order, as well as the King dismissing Necker, a widely popular Comptroller-General for the second time on 11 July 1789 due to his open sympathies towards the Third Estate.

In rebellion to this pressure imposed by the monarchy, Desmoulins urged the general populace “to arms, to arms” on 12 July 1789.

On 14 July 1789, around 600 Parisian urban workers and bourgeois seized arms from the Hotel des Invalides and marched upon the Bastille prison. There, they launched a full offensive, destroying the Bastille prison, which only had 7 prisoners inside at the time, and clashing violently with the gardes francaises, some of who ended up siding with and fighting for the demonstrators.  During the attack, 98 people were killed and 78 wounded, ultimately leading the Governor of the Bastille, de Launay to surrender amidst the bloody attack. However, the demonstrators killed de Launay along with 6 of his soldiers.

In the aftermath, the city council of Paris was now constituted of bourgeois, where it had been nobles previously, with Bailly as the Mayor. On 15 July 1789, Lafayette was named commander of the National Guard.

Overall, the storming of the Bastille was considered the manifestation of the revolution, and essentially saved the National Assembly and legitimised this marked shift in power towards the Third Estate. This further weakened and destabilised royal authority, with Louis XVI reinstating Necker and withdrew all troops from Paris. Many historians, among them Fenwick and Anderson, consider the storming of the Bastille to be the first revolutionary journée and a clear display of Parisian urban worker power.


See Also

Louis XVI