In contrast with what we have learned in history class, the Bastille was never captured by attack. Actually, it was handed out to the rebels in a quite peaceful way. Strictly speaking, French national holiday – 14.th of July, shouldn’t be celebrated for the storming of Bastille, but for handing it to the rebels instead.
Storming of the Bastille, Anonymous
Official historical description of the event is as follows: on the 14.th of July 1789, thousands of rebels marched towards the Bastille, well-known royal fortress in the center of Paris, to protest against tyrannical regime of king Louis XVI, and against the retirement of Jacques Necker, popular French minister of finances.
Guards loyal to the king soon started to shoot into the rebel crowd using cannons and muskets, but yet the rebels, although with heavy casualties, managed to heroically storm and conquer this despicable symbol of the royal power. They freed the suffering prisoners from the dungeons of Bastille, announced the end of despotism and beginning of the better future for the mankind.
In reality, it all happened in a radically different manner.
Firstly, the Bastille was not some sort of gloomy castle in any way. Actually it was quite a luxurious prison for aristocratic delinquents, including famous Marquis de Sade, who had even his own servant and full freedom of movement. In entire Bastille, there were only about 10 people imprisoned, and actually, only very few French citizens outside lived in better conditions as they did.
Marquis de Sade, one of the most prominent prisoners in the Bastille
If we can believe contemporary historians, some prisoners even begged to be allowed to stay in the Bastille after they had been “freed” by the rebels. In addition, majority of the guards were actually war veterans aged 50 years or more.
Secondly, angry mob which rushed to the Bastille on 14.th of July, didn’t intend to protest for or against anything. In addition, the peasants didn’t even intend to storm the Bastille at first. They only intended to capture several cannons stored in nearby warehouse, however, Bernard de Launay, governor of the Bastille, already transported these cannons to the fortress day before. Because of that, the peasants sent a delegation to him to find out what he was up to.
“Nothing”, de Launay answered logically. He didn’t want to hand out cannons to the rebels, but he also didn’t want to attack them, unless he would have no other choice left.
Storming of the Bastille, Charles Thevenin
Meanwhile, peasants who stayed outside the fortress, did exactly the exact thing they shouldn’t do; they opened fire on guards of the Bastille. The guards retaliated, and attackers, surprised by the unexpected resistance, retreated. Feeling like the guards infringed their deal, enraged peansants started to plunder the stables and residential quarters, located outside the fortress itself. Soon, to prevent further destruction, de Launay displayed a white flag on the top of Bastille as a sign of capitulation.
Subsequently, the guards declared they are ready to hand out Bastille to the rebels – this is historical fact. They opened the gates and all of them, including de Launay, gathered in the courtyard to surrender. This happened in the afternoon, at around 5 p.m. By the time, no more than dozen of people died during the plundering.
French rebels carrying the heads of Jordan de Launay (1740-1789) and Jacques de Flesselles (1721-1789) on pikes
However, after the rebel leaders entered the Bastille and accepted the capitulation, they were immediately followed by enraged mob obsessed with revenge. In following minutes, rebels killed majority of guards, took all the weapons inside, ransacked the Bastille, and left with de Launay‘s head on pike.
This did really happen on 14.th of July 1789, a day nobody should be probably proud of.