Reflections on Bastille day

Catherine Delors gives us a look at the reasons behind the storming of the Bastille. You may find her blog here...

First let's put things in context. In 1789 France had been for decades in the grips of a budget crisis. It was due to the country's absurd tax structure, and had recently been aggravated by the French support of the American Independence War.

King Louis XVI, in order to implement new taxes, had called a meeting of the Etats-Generaux, the Estates General, on May 5, 1789.

For the King and his entourage in Versailles, the Estates General were simply an ad hoc gathering of elected representatives of the Clergy, Nobility and Third Estate (the commoners) of France, with one specific mission: resolving the budget deficit. It was also an occasion to display the pageantry of the monarchy.

For the rest of the country, it was a call to reform all that was rotten in the kingdom. Within weeks, the representatives of Third Estate, soon joined by members of the nobility and the clergy, styled themselves the "National Assembly" and pledged to give France a written Constitution. In an absolute monarchy where the only rule had been le bon plaisir ("the good pleasure") of the King, that in itself was a Revolution, and people already called it so before Bastille Day.

Louis XVI was a very undecisive statesman. Should we say that he was too kind a man to be a competent politician? He was torn between the hardliners, led by his wife, Queen Marie-Antoinette, and the reformists, led by one of his younger brothers, the Count de Provence. As a result, Louis XVI wavered between contradictory positions during all of the Revolution. How did the King react to the reunion of the commoners, noblemen and clergy into a single National Assembly? At first he strongly opposed it, then he encouraged it. All of this was happening in Versailles, ten miles from Paris.

What about Paris? Something extremely worrisome had happened there: the King had lost any control of law enforcement in his own capital. The city had been regularly racked by hunger riots, always crushed without mercy by a regiment called the Gardes Francaises, the French Guards (unlike much of the French Army, it was not composed of foreign mercenaries.) Some riots had ended with hundreds of casualties among the insurgents. People often ask why the French Revolution was so violent. The response is fairly obvious: it occurred within an already violent society.

Thank you Catherine and a tip of the beret...

Vive Le Roy!


Catherine Delors said...

Belated thanks for the link, Richard!

Brantigny said...

Thank you. Richard