Storming the Bastille – 14th July 1789
This period of uncertainty did little to calm the populace who became fearful both of martial clampdowns and of higher taxes.
The next month the king dismissed his finance minister and this was seen as the first step of the crown wishing to reassert its authority. Rumours abounded and the threat of a military coup sparked off an insurgency in Paris. Seeking ammunition and arms a group stormed the Bastille on 14th July. This is usually cited as the start of the French Revolution.
At the time the old fortress and prison had just seven inmates and was scheduled to be closed anyway, but it still represented a major symbol of royal oppression.
The ‘people’ formed a National Guard that wore a cockade, or rosette, using the red and blue of the Paris commune and white for the king; the origin of the tricolor now used in the flag of France. The storming was achieved by around 1,000 people with the loss of around 100, the defenders were just 114 strong but they had artillery; they lost one man in the storming and a further six after their surrender.
This storming was by no means a decisive moment but it did push the king into withdrawing troops that had been poised to attack the citizenry of Paris.
The keys to the Bastille – It was at the moment of the ‘storming’ that Madame Tussaud fled France to London and took with her a key to the main gate of the Bastille; it is on show in her London Waxworks.
The Marquis de Lafayette had served with George Washington in the US War of Independence and had been involved in the final stages of the Estates General in France. In 1790 Lafayette sent a key to the west portal of the Bastille to George Washington; it is on show at Washington’s home at Mount Vernon.
Another key was presented by Lafayette to the Masonic Lodge of Alexandria, Virginia; today it is held at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Alexandria.