On the 14th of July, 1789, the citizens of France struck their first blow against the regime of King Louis XVI and his wife, Queen Marie Antoinette, by storming the medieval fortress and prison, the Bastille. Despite the Bastille only holding seven prisoners at the time, the idea that the citizens of Paris could take down what was seen as a symbol of the monarchy inspired many to take up arms against what they saw as a country ruled by the wealthy. By the time of the French Revolution, the amount of poverty in France was increasing exponentially, so much so that many were starving on the streets. Eventually, bread began running out, and other attempts by the likes of Marie Antoinette and the monarchy failed, as Louis XVI tried to stem the increasingly resentful population. This was to no avail, as the movement to overthrow the monarchy picked up speed and power, as more and more realized that it was time for France to change.
“I was a queen, and you took away my crown; a wife, and you killed my husband; a mother, and you deprived me of my children. My blood alone remains: take it, but do not make me suffer long.”
-Marie Antoinette, before her execution
Marie Antoinette’s statement antagonized the population, as the separation between the level of wealth and opulence she and others enjoyed and the poverty most of the population endured became increasingly obvious. After the Bastille fell early in the morning, the situation spread out of the monarchy’s control, and Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were captured and then later executed by January and September 1792, respectively. What ensued was a decade of chaos, violence, and murder, as the population of France deeply distrusted the governing body, and executed officials frequently. From this time of trouble, Napoleon rose to power, and the French enjoyed a brief time of success, but after his defeat the French restored the monarchy under Louis’s son, Louis XVII, although this second monarchy would not stay for long, as the French eventually restored their republic, which would stay until World War Two.
Today, the Storming of the Bastille is celebrated as a national holiday, much like America’s Fourth of July. The ideals of the American Revolution inspired much of the French Revolution, and started a wave of nationalism and anti-monarchy movements all across Europe, leading to large-scale wars between the great powers of the time, as ideologies shared by monarchs formed new bridges.
“Peoples do not judge in the same way as courts of law; they do not hand down sentences, they throw thunderbolts; they do not condemn kings, they drop them back into the void; and this justice is worth just as much as that of the courts.”
– Maximilien de Robespierre