Stories of the French Revolution - Walter Montgomery

The Fatal Banquet

Toward the end of September, 1789, the suspicions of the people of Paris became yet more aroused. The question was hotly debated, whether the king was or was not to have the power to "veto"—that is, to forbid—any particular law to be enacted. A certain violent speaker, named Huruge, who went to petition against the king's having this power, was thrown into prison; and General Lafayette and his soldiers had to be very strict in dispersing crowds and putting street-speakers to silence. Several newspaper printers and editors were seized, one of them being the well-known Marat, who was the most advanced republican, and who issued a paper called "The Friend of the People." These things did not please the multitude; and moreover the scarcity of bread seemed to increase, and it was observed that the boat which brought grain from Corbeil paid only one visit to Paris instead of two every day. It was maddening to the mothers, who had children crying for bread in vain, to hear of grand dinners being given at Versailles. This was an aggravation of their own miserable state, and it led to what will be hereafter described as the Insurrection of Women. The grand dinners which went on at Versailles we will now attempt to describe.

Fatal Banquet


On the 23rd of September, then, a dashing regiment, called that of Flanders, marched into the town of Versailles, trailing after them two pieces of cannon. Marat, before he was put in prison, went over to Versailles, and there saw evident signs of the king's doubling his guards and introducing foreign troops for the purpose of putting down the people by force. When the regiment of Flanders had settled itself in the barracks at Versailles, the Royal Body Guards thought it would be only right to invite the newcomers to a dinner; and the date fixed for the repast was Thursday, the 1st of October. But where were they to find a room large enough to dine in? Among the stately buildings which made up the immense palace there was one very seldom used,—the Opera House; and it occurred to some ingenious man that this would be the very place for the grand banquet.

The king readily granted the request, and in the Opera House the feast was held. Now it happened that after the dinner was done, various toasts were drunk; and while the merriment was at its height the low-spirited queen was persuaded to enter the Opera House and look down on the brilliant scene. She therefore did so, with her little son in her arms and her husband by her side.

There was a loud outburst of loyal feeling as the royal family walked round the dinner-tables; and by design or chance the band struck up a tune which went to the words "O Richard! O my king, the whole world is forsaking thee!"

The guests at once saw the fitness of the music to the circumstances of the king, and they became greatly excited. They drew their swords and waved them about; they tore off their tricolor cockades, trampled them under their feet, and replaced them by white ones (the old Bourbon color).

This dinner was followed by other dinners on the 2nd and 3rd of October, when the white cockade was worn by all. These favors were made of a large size, as if to show a greater loyalty to the king and his family. Some wore black cockades, as if they were mourning for the king in his troubles; and several had the courage to appear with them in the streets of Paris. The people felt insulted by these black badges; and one national soldier at the Tuileries parade on Sunday morning, the 4th of October, started from the ranks, and wrenched a black cockade from someone who was wearing it, and trod it angrily in the dirt. Another man who wore a black cockade had it torn off; and when he attempted to replace it, a hundred sticks started up around him, and he was obliged to leave it where it was. Another nearly fell a victim to the lamp-iron, being saved from the rage of the people by the National Guards and General Lafayette.

That same Sunday, the 4th of October, was a very disturbed day in Paris. Tidings of the banquets at Versailles were now being talked about all over the city, and thousands of hungry people were saying, "We are starving; but yonder, at the king's palace, there is plenty and to spare."

For the first time in the French Revolution there was seen, on the evening before, a woman engaged in public speaking. "My husband's tongue has been put to silence," said she, "but I will speak;" and speak she did to a great crowd all the thoughts which filled her heaving bosom, and made it ready to break.

A new idea seemed to strike the women of Paris that same night, and it was nursed all the next day. It was this,—to have a rising of their own. If General Lafayette and his men had silenced and put down their husbands, they would never be such dastards as to pierce women's hearts with their bayonets, would they? This was the thought uppermost in the hearts of the women of Paris—that is, the poor women with hungry children—during that October Sunday in the year 1789. And, as we shall see, the thought became a deed, when, on the Monday following, tens of thousands of women, with an earnest purpose in their minds, marched on the palace of Versailles.