Tomorrow is French National Day. Rising taxes and food shortages caused dissatisfaction with the tyrannical Bourbon monarchy among the lower classes and this led to the French revolution. It took place on July 14, 1789 amid a deep economic and political crisis, concerning their out-of-touch ruler king Louis XVI, who was more interested in enjoying a lavish life style than governing his country. The Bastille was a medieval fortress and prison in Paris, which held many political dissidents and troops eventually stormed the Bastille. The peasant class, thought of the Bastille as a symbol of the hypocrisy and corruption of the aristocratic government, because it was controlled mostly by nobility and clergy. The holiday is a way to celebrate the establishment of a constitutional monarchy in France.
Following the king’s dismissal of the progressive minister of finance, Jacques Necker a Swiss banker who became a French statesman, and the concentration of Royalist troops in the capital, liberal Parisians feared a coup against the National Constitutional Assembly. Necker supported the American Revolution and he wanted to help finance it, so he cooked the books to show a surplus of 10,000,000 livres in the hope of concealing an actual deficit of 46,000,000, however the opposition was alerted to his deceit and eventually the queen Marie Antoinette, forced him to resign.
Violent conflict between Royalist and anti-Monarchist elements broke out across Paris, with the Bastille’s garrison eventually finding themselves surrounded by an armed mob. Two days after the revolution started, a group of Parisians stormed the Bastille Fortress to free political prisoners of influence and arm themselves with captured ammunition against the French military. Shortly after, King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette took refuge in Versailles as the violent peasants pillaged and burned buildings and destroyed records. After hours of negotiation and increasing frustration, the mob numbering just under 1,000 broke into the fortress. Following hours of fighting, they took the castle at the cost of nearly 100 assailants’ lives and one defender’s. Nearby Royalist troops had chosen not to intervene and disperse the mob.
Ironically, at the time the prison was stormed, there were only seven elderly prisoners who proved to revolutionaries left in the Bastille. The prison was completely destroyed within five months and now a monument stands on the site in the middle of a cobbled square. This revolutionary act demonstrated that ordinary people would no longer accept the absolute power of the king and signaled the start of the French Revolution which forced the creation of the modern French Republic. There are many ways to celebrate this holiday and most people watch fireworks like the USA does on our Fourth of July. You could also invite Donald Trump over to discuss world politics, but my favorite way of celebrating this holiday is by eating some cake. Marie Antoinette, wife of King Louis XVI, is often mistakenly credited with the quote, “Let them eat cake!”. She is supposed to have said this when she was told that the French were dying of hunger. So if I don’t indulge in some cake tomorrow, perhaps I will try some French pastry.