Massacre on the Field of Mars

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The events that took place on July 17, 1791 on the Paris "field of the Federation", like the field of Mars since the federation festival on July 14, 1790, the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille , are described as bloodbaths or massacres on the Field of Mars has been. The signing of a Republican petition led to unrest that day, which the Mayor of Paris Jean-Sylvain Bailly and the Commander in Chief of the National Guard La Fayette bloodily suppressed.

root cause

The second anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, that symbol of state and monarchical arbitrariness, was overshadowed by ongoing discussions about King Louis XVI's attempted escape to Varennes . in June. Louis XVI had been suspended from office until further notice after his capture in Varennes. From the ranks of the radical Cordeliers , including Hébert , Danton and Marat , demands were made for his permanent removal. On Friday, July 15, however, the National Assembly decided to keep the king in office, a decision that the Jacobins , who had previously discussed a petition against Ludwig, also approved. The Cordeliers, however, did not allow themselves to be dissuaded from their point of view and laid out a republican petition for signature on the Field of Mars on the altar of the fatherland on Sunday, July 17th .


Already in the early morning two voyeurs were found under the altar of the fatherland who had drilled many small holes in the floor planks in order to be able to look under the skirts of the women during the signature campaign during the day. The rumor soon spread that the two had intended to blow up the altar of the fatherland, including the republican petition and the Cordeliers present , with a powder keg . She was taken to the section committee. When they got there, a mob hung them up on a lantern around 7 a.m.

At lunchtime, as the petition was about to be signed, city investigators went to the site and only found unarmed citizens to deal with the signatures. Convinced that nothing there would require the intervention of a law enforcement agency, they withdrew. At the same time, a division of the National Guard and artillery that had been posted in a side street after the morning incident were withdrawn. The troop movements created uncertainty, the heat of the day and the most varied of rumors intensified the situation.

By 6:00 p.m. the crowd had still not dispersed, whereupon a division of the National Guard deployed an artillery train led by General La Fayette. Mayor Bailly accompanied him. They carried the red flag with them, the symbol of an imminent deployment of troops. Suddenly a shot went off and La Fayette's hat was swept from her head. The soldiers responded with heavy gunfire, despite the general's orders to keep calm. Mass panic broke out in the assembled crowd . People crowded from the square on all sides. The soldiers, however, found themselves cornered and fired again.

The information on the actual number of victims varies considerably. While there was previously talk of hundreds of deaths, later studies revealed numbers between a dozen and 50.


La Fayette and Bailly were blamed for the July 17th massacre. They were accused of negligence and mischief . Some even believed they recognized tools of a royalist counter-revolution in them, which would have prevented the king by any means from being deposed by the petition to be signed. Both lost their popularity as a result of the events. At the same time the moderate side, of which they had been the leading representative, was weakened and the radical forces in France continued to gain power. The French Revolution continued.


  • Panon Desbassayns: Diary note about the incidents on the Field of Mars (July 17, 1791) . In: Chris E. Paschold (Ed.): The French Revolution. A reader with contemporary reports and documents . Reclam, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-15-008535-7 .
  • Jacobin memorandum on the massacre on the Marsfeld (August 7, 1791) . In: The French Revolution. A reader with contemporary reports and documents . Reclam, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-15-008535-7 .
  • David Andress: Massacre at the Champ De Mars: Popular Dissent and Political Culture in the French Revolution . Royal Historical Soc, 2000, ISBN 0-86193-247-1 (English).

Individual evidence

  1. - The French Revolution
  2. David Andress, The French Revolution and the people (English)
  3. ^ Albert Mathiez, Le Club des Cordeliers pendant la crise de Varennes et le massacre du Champ de Mars, Paris, Librairie ancienne Honoré Champion, 1910 (French)