Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bastille day

 Taking of the Bastille, July 14,1789

   Built as the Bastion de Saint-Antoine the Bastille was originally known as the Saint-Antoine gate. But during the Hundred Years' War, between the years of 1370-1383 during the reigns of Charles VI and Louis XIII, the gate was extended, creating a fortress to defend the east end of Paris and L' Hotel Saint-Pol Palace the Bastion de Saint-Antoine. It was used as a castle and safekeeping of the royal jewels. However, after the Hundred Years' War it became a state prison instead, reputedly in the 17th century, for the upper class. The prisoners were mainly political prisoners, those that had committed high treason or some other kind of offense against either the King or the state. But the Bastille also held religious prisoners (Hugenots), young rakes held at the request of their families, free thinkers and authors of seditious and sexual material. It wasn't until letters of the royal seal, lettre de cachet, that made the Bastille one of the darkest symbols of royal despotism, even though conditions of imprisonment were considered generally comfortable. Visitors were welcomed, servants were brought to them, books, clothes their furniture and a daily ration paid by the state gave them a luxury cuisine.

   But some of that began to change a bit with the reign of Louis XV when the prison began housing more and more common criminals, whose existence was  considerably less comfortable. The commoners were held within a 5-7 storied towers with each prisoner having a room about 15 feet (4.6 m) across with various, if not sparse, furniture. luckily at this time the cachots, rat infested and oozing dungeons, were no longer in use.

  As the result of gunpowder and arms being stored in the Bastille , days of disturbances and the people, whose fears were being raised by a number of rumors, demanded access to these not the freeing of prisoners, as I believe we were taught in school, because there were only a total of 7 prisoners in the Bastille on July 14,1789. The regular garrison consisted of 82 invalides ( veterans who were no longer capable of doing service in the field) with reinforcements of 142 grenadiers from one of the regiments of Swiss mercenary, summoned by the King shortly before July 14. under Governor Bernard-Rene de Luanay. Around mid morning a large crowd had gathered outside the Bastille demanding the gunpowder and the arms, the removal of the guns and the surrender of the prison. Slow negotiations began when two representatives of the mob were invited inside.

  Around 1pm the mob broke into the undefended outer courtyard and the chains on the drawbridge were cut. An exchange of gunfire broke out and in the mid-afternoon the mutinous Gardes Francaises ( the French Guard) of the Royal Army and two cannons, which were originally supposed to help the governor protect the prison. De Luanay ordered a ceasefire and   in spite of his surrender demands being refused, he surrendered. Then the mob swept in to take control of the fortress at around 5:30 pm.

   98 rioters and 1 defender were killed in the storming of the Bastille. De Luanay was dragged toward the Hotel de Ville, but was stabbed to death in the street by the mob and several of his officers were also killed. The Gardes Francaises intervened and protected the invalids of the garrison  and the Swiss soldiers. The leader of the Swiss mercenaries would later prepare a detailed report on the fall of the Bastille and laying the blame at de Luany's feet by reporting on his indecisiveness.

Regimental Flag flown over the Bastille at the time of the Revolution

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