Even though the city of New York has already celebrated the French national day two days ahead, it’s officially on July 14th that you can crack open the champagne.
Every year in France it’s the same schedule: from 8 AM to 12 PM, you get to see the military parade on TV (or for real if you happen to be on the Champs-Elysées in Paris). This défilé du 14 juillet has been held since 1880 and is the oldest and largest one in the world. Among the participants, you can notice some foreign troops (this year, the Indian Army will be parading) and cadets from French military schools like Polytechnique or Saint-Cyr. The rest of this national holiday is an opportunity for towns and cities to celebrate in their own way: local troops parade, concerts – the big final is, of course, the fireworks on the Eiffel Tower and in every town.
However, this special day celebrated around the world like in the United States, South Africa or even Hungary wasn’t that prominent when it took place in 1789. In fact, it’s not even the storming of the Bastille this day commemorates. It’s only in 1880 that deputy Benjamin Raspail decided July 14th should become the French National Day to celebrate la Fête de la Fédération which had taken place in 1790 on the very same day. This huge feast all over the country had been organized to mark the one-year anniversary of the storming of the Bastille and the end of absolutism. So in 1880, French saw this day as a light-hearted celebration just like in 1790 and definitely not the sanguinary battle of 1789.
Indeed, on July 14th 1789, an enormous crowd of 40 000 to 50 000 people surrounded Les Invalides. The army, unready to fire on the Parisians, gave them way. They rushed into the caves and took the 40 000 rifles but they didn’t find any black powder. They heard a rumor about the Bastille being full of ammunition. In whole, 4 delegations would present themselves at the Bastille to ask for bullets but none succeeded in obtaining any. Finally, 61 guards arrived with 5 canons ready to fire. The Bastille capitulated. The rioters eventually found the ammunition and freed 7 prisoners. On their way out, the Bastille director was massacred by the crowd and his head shown-off on a pike. At 6 PM, still ignoring what had just occurred, Louis XVI ordered his troops to evacuate Paris but the order would only find a recipient at 2 AM.
The next day, at Versailles, the duke of La Rochefoucault-Liancourt told the King about the terrible event:
- “Is it a revolt ?” asked Louis XVI.
- “No Sir, that’s not a revolt, that’s a revolution.” answered the Duke.
Tagged Bastille Day, Louis XVI.