Bastille Day 2019: How a prison riot and the Tennis Court Oath overthrew the Bourbon monarchy


When Louis XVI asked a French duke if the storming of Bastille was a revolt on the evening of July 14 1789, the duke replied by saying, “No, sire. It is a revolution.”

The revolutionary cornerstones of “liberté, égalité, fraternité” have gained notoriety over the last few centuries, representing one of the most successful rebellions in history. 

Yet in just a few years, the French went from a feudal aristocracy to a republic mired by a ‘Reign of Terror’, paving the way for Napolean Bonaparte’s dictatorship.

From how seven political prisoners catalysed the revolution to the rise of a supposedly humane execution device, here is everything you need to know about Bastille Day’s origins.

What is Bastille Day?

Bastille Day, which falls on July 14 every year, marks the storming of the Bastille prison by angry Parisian crowds.

This seismic act demonstrated that ordinary people would no longer accept the absolute power of the king and signalled the start of the French Revolution which forced the creation of the modern French Republic. 

The July 14 “Fête de la Fédération” – which marked the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille – became a French national holiday in 1880 and has been observed ever since. 

What was the Bastille?

The Bastille on the east side of Paris was originally a medieval fortress built around 1370 to defend the city from the English in the 100 Years War. In 1417 it became a state prison and during the reign of King Louis XVI it was used to hold his opponents, who were often kept there for years without trial.


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