The Storming of the Bastille

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DVD dramatic recreation of the Storming of the Bastille
part of the Shaping of the Western World Series

The Bastille: A History of a Symbol of Despotism and Freedom 1997

by Hans-Jurgen Lusebrink


The Bastille was a medieval fortress with 8 towers, which at the time of the French Revolution housed only a few common criminals. Taken from the French word ‘bastide’, meaning fortress, the Bastille was constructed to defend the eastern wall of Paris in 1382. But because it had previously been used to house political prisoners, it had long been a symbol of royal tyranny. Cardinal Richelieu, acting for King Louis XIII, had imprisoned enemies of the king. Prisoners were arrested by a secret warrant issued by the King called a lettres-de-cachet. They were not given a trial, nor informed of the charges, but simply held in secret. If they were released they were instructed not to reveal any thing they had seen or experienced inside the prison. This was long before the reign of Louis XVI, but the mystique of secrecy and terror made it a focus of the anger of the Parisian mob.

Storming of the Bastille
The Storming of the Bastille", Visible in the center is the arrest of Bernard René Jourdan, Marquis De Launay 1789, Jean-Pierre Houël (1735-1813)

On July 14, 1789, the Paris mob was able to get hold of 3000 rifles and a few cannon. They went to the Bastille in search of more weapons and ammunition. The fortress was only weakly guarded with 30 Swiss Guards and 85 Invalides. The mob, joined by some of the King's soldiers, stormed the Bastille. The commander Marquis De Launay tried to surrender, but the mob would not accept it. He was killed as they poured through the gates. No guard was left alive

Later in the day the prisoners were released. There were only seven: two were convicted forgers; one was a loose-living aristocrat put in prison by his own father. Nevertheless it was a great symbolic event, one which is still celebrated in France every year.

liberation of the prisoners of the Bastille
liberated prisoners parading later in the day

Part of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité: The French Revolution Exhibit

The French Revolution

The French Revolution Primary Sources

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