- Historical event
- 14 July 1789
- Before the revolution, the Bastille was a quite small and insignificant prison, which guarded only seven prisoners. The mob did not break into the Bastille to free its prisoners. The real reason was gunpowder. Namely, the Bastille guarded an incredible amount of about 13,600 kg of gunpowder.
This day is a national holiday in France because it commemorates the events which symbolically marked the beginning of the French Revolution. To be precise, the Paris fortress-prison Bastille was attacked on that day.
Despite heroic stories that were told about the incident, the reality was actually much more straightforward. Before the revolution, the Bastille was a quite small and insignificant prison, which guarded seven prisoners.
Out of these seven, four were forgers, two were mentally ill and one was an aristocrat, Count de Solages, who was imprisoned at the insistence of his own family.
Interestingly the eighth prisoner – the famous Marquis de Sade – was moved from Bastille just 10 days before it was attacked and was placed in the Charenton asylum, shown in the film “Quills”.
Marquis de Sade was in good conditions in that mental hospital, thanks to its administrator Abbé du Coulmier, a humane priest portrayed in the film by Joaquin Phoenix.
So, the mob did not storm the Bastille to free its prisoners. The real reason was gunpowder. In fact, earlier in the day Paris mob broke into an armory in Paris and took nearly 32,000 muskets.
The problem was that there was no gunpowder for that weapon in the armory. Bastille, on the other hand, guarded an incredible amount of about 13,600 kg of gunpowder.
The crowd therefore set foot towards the Bastille and demanded the surrender of the fortress together with gunpowder. The commander of the Bastille, Marquis Bernard-René de Launay, did not agree to that.
About 1:30 PM on this day, the mob broke into the fortress and first victims fell during the fighting. About hundred people were killed.
The commander of the Bastille, Bernard-René de Launay, was captured by the crowd, beaten and dragged through the streets.
When he shouted: “Enough! Let me die”, they killed him, cut off his head and impaled it on a pike. Thus began the French Revolution, which will last, less or more intense, for the next 10 years, until Napoleon Bonaparte’s coming to power.