Stories of the French Revolution - Walter Montgomery

The Fall of the Bastille

A picture of the Bastille, or State-prison, shows us a great mass of masonry, with round towers. It stood at the east end of Paris, in the street of St. Antoine. It was begun in 1369, and finished in 1383. Its strong walls were surrounded by a wide ditch, which itself was defended on its outer side by a wall thirty-six feet high. The towers had several eight-sided rooms one over another, each with a narrow window. There was no fireplace, and no article of furniture, except an iron grating raised six inches from the floor, and on this the prisoner's bed was laid. The rooms in the walls were more comfortable. The interior consisted of two courts, called the "Great Court" and the "Court of the Well." The prison had a well-paid governor, several officers poorly paid, and a certain number of Invalides and Swiss, who had a small daily allowance, with firewood and candles. One unhappy prisoner was confined in these dreary walls for fifty-four years. Two prisoners, and only two, ever managed to escape. They contrived to make two ladders, which they hid under the floor; and one dark night they climbed up the chimney, cut through the iron gratings, and got on the roof. Thence they descended about one hundred feet to the bottom of the fosse or ditch. Then they made a hole in the wall next the Rue St. Antoine, and so escaped. This was Feb. 26, 1756.

The month of July, 1789, had come. It was now Sunday, the 12th, and, owing to all those movements of troops we spoke of toward Paris and Versailles, the minds of all were in a flutter. Great placards on the walls urged you to keep indoors; but if you did not, you could hardly move without meeting a foreign soldier, "We are to be mown down, then, are we?" asked one citizen of another. Had you been in Paris that Sunday, you might have seen Camille Desmoulins—poet, editor, and speaker—mount a table with a pistol in each hand, and ask the crowd around "whether they were willing to die like hunted hares. The hour is come," cried Camille, "and now it is either death or deliverance forever. To arms!" A thousand voices echoed the last words of Camille, "To arms!" He then said, "My friends, we must have some sign to know each other by; let us wear cockades of green: green is the color of hope!" The multitude then rushed to embrace Camille; and someone handed him a piece of green ribbon, which he pinned in his hat. Next, they went to an image shop, where they got two wax busts,—one of the favorite minister Necker, who had been just dismissed, and the other of the Duke of Orleans, a royal prince who hated the king, and became for a time on that account one of the leaders of the revolution. The multitude now kept moving on and growing in numbers. Armed with all sorts of weapons, they soon came into collision with the foreign troops, who, by order of Prince Lambesc, fired on them, and hacked at them with their sabres. The mob dispersed, but only to reunite in some other place. "To arms! To arms!" resounded all over Paris. The bells were tolled at sunset; the shops of gunsmiths were broken open and rifled; the blood of the great city rose to boiling heat that evening. Around the Hotel de Ville a raging multitude clamored for arms all night; but the authorities knew not what to do, and slipped away as best they could. A few daring spirits took their places, and sat up all night at the Hotel, giving such directions as they thought best, and ordered a Paris militia to be at once enrolled.

Monday morning broke on the restless city. There was no work done in Paris that day, except by the smiths who were making pikes, and by the women who were sewing at cockades. These were not green, however, but red, white, and blue. All shops but those of the bakers and wine-sellers were closed. "Arms! Arms I Give us arms!"—such were the constant cries. About three hundred and sixty firelocks belonging to the old city watch were served out. The Arsenal was broken open, but nothing was found inside except rubbish. Two small Siamese cannon and some swords and armor were snatched from the king's armory. Deserters from the regular army came trooping in. At two in the afternoon more than three thousand good soldiers left their officers and joined the mob. The newly ordered militia of Paris already numbered many tens of thousands, but arms were yet few. Fifty thousand pikes, however, were made in thirty-six hours; so the smiths were busy enough.

It oozed out that in the cellars of the Invalides Hotel there were twenty-eight thousand muskets. The governor there was an old man named Sombreuil, whom we shall hear of again. He, suspecting his old soldiers of siding too much with the rioters, ordered them to unscrew the muskets; but they went to work very unwillingly, and in six hours had done very little. About nine o'clock on Tuesday morning the Invalides Hotel was attacked and broken into, and the arms found, amid great rejoicing; and now, having got so many useful arms, the cry was raised, "To the Bastille! To the Bastille!"

Fall of Bastille


The governor's name was De Launay. He had eighty-two old Invalides in the Bastille, and thirty-two Swiss. His walls were nine feet thick, and he had cannon and powder; but he had only one day's supply of food. About noon a man named Thuriot obtained admittance into the prison. He "found De Launay unwilling to surrender,—nay, he threatened to blow the prison into the air. Thuriot and De Launay went on the battlements, and the governor turned quite pale at the sight of Paris rolling onward against the doomed Bastille. But he would not yield; he would die rather. A second and third deputation tried to move the governor; but his patience waxing thin, he pulled up the drawbridge and ordered his men to fire on the people.

And now began a dreadful scene. Men fell wounded or dying here and there; shouts rose incessantly, mingled with ceaseless volleys of musketry. An old soldier, named Louis Tournay, was seen striking with his axe at the outer chain of the drawbridge: he was aided by another veteran, named Bonnemere; and at length the chain was broken, and, the ponderous drawbridge fell thundering down into the ditch.

Two officers chanced to be in Paris at the time, named Elie and Hulin. These men directed the troops, while a marine, just come from Brest, leveled the Siamese cannon against the walls. Men who were wounded were carried away, and those who were dying entreated the assailants not to cease fighting until the cursed prison was level with the ground. Three fresh deputations arrived from the Hotel de Ville, asking De Launay to surrender, and promising him favorable terms; he, however, could not hear what was said, owing to the great noise, or, if he guessed what they said, did not believe them. And so the furious fight went on, from one o'clock, when it began, until five, when the Invalides made a white flag, and a port-hole was opened, as if someone would hold a parley. A man named Maillard advanced gingerly on a plank toward the port-hole, snatched a letter held out to him by a Swiss, and returned. It ran thus: "The Bastille shall be surrendered, if pardon is granted to all." The promise was given on the word of one of the officers, and the second drawbridge was lowered, and the mob rushed in. The Swiss stood grouped together in their white frocks; and there too were the Invalides, all disarmed. The first comers, who had heard the bargain, meant to be true to their word; but they could not,—for others, mad with vengeance, came up, and in a few moments one of the Swiss soldiers who tried to escape was killed, and an Invalide lost his right hand. The rest were marched off to the Town-hall to be tried for the crime of slaying citizens. De Launay, dressed in a gray frock with a poppy-colored ribbon, was about to stab himself, when some people interfered and bore him off, escorted by Hulin and Maillard, to the Hotel de Ville. On the way, however, the miserable De Launay was torn from the shelter of his escort, and brutally murdered. The only part of him that reached the Town-hall was "his bloody hair queue held up in a bloody hand." One or two others of the garrison were massacred; the rest were saved, though with much difficulty, by the Gardes Francaises. Inside the hotel Elie was busy forming a list of the Bastille heroes. Outside was a perfect forest of spears and bayonets. Along the streets were carried the seven prisoners found in the Bastille, also seven heads on pikes, also the keys of the captured fortress. Through the whole of the following night the stones of which the prison had been built came down with a sound of thunder.

And what of the king's palace? That very evening there was a grand ball in the Orangery. It was "Nero fiddling while Rome was burning," once more. In the dead of night the Duke of Liancourt came to the king's bedside and told him what the Paris mob had done.

"Why, it is a revolt!" said Louis.

"It is more," replied the duke: "it is a revolution!"