Storm on the Bastille

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Storm on the Bastille
La Prize de la Bastille by Jean-Pierre Houël (1789)
La Prize de la Bastille by Jean-Pierre Houël (1789)
date July 14, 1789
place Bastille , Paris Coordinates: 48 ° 51 ′ 0 ″  N , 2 ° 22 ′ 8 ″  EWorld icon
Casus Belli Victory of the insurgents
Parties to the conflict

Kingdom of France (987–1792)

French Revolution


Bernard-René Jordan de Launay
Charles-Eugène de Lorraine

Pierre-Augustin Hulin
Camille Desmoulins
Georges Jacques Danton

Troop strength
82 Gardes des Invalides
32 Swiss mercenaries from the Régiment de Salis-Samade
30 cannons
~ 688 to 1000 inhabitants from Paris suburbs
61 Gardes-Françaises
5 cannons

114 prisoners
(7 were killed)

98 dead
73 wounded

The storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789 is considered one of the significant events at the beginning of the French Revolution . The Bastille , symbol of the oppression by the Ancien Régime , was surrounded by a crowd and eventually captured.

The siege and surrender of the royal fortress took place at a time of government vacuum, economic crisis and political tension during the meeting of the Estates General and their proclamation by the Third Estate in the Constituent Assembly . The unrest among the Parisians increased after the dismissal of Jacques Necker (announced on July 12th by journalist Camille Desmoulins ) and the presence of mercenary troops on the outskirts.

If its military importance is relatively minor, the event is unprecedented in terms of its general, political, and symbolic implications. The capture of the Bastille had the effect of an earthquake, both in France and Europe up to the Russian Empire . The fortress was defended by about a hundred men (Swiss and Germans) who killed almost a hundred people among the besiegers. 6 died on the side of the besieged, including the commander Bernard-René Jordan de Launay .

The event is considered to be a radical turning point in the course of the events of Parisians and royal power. It marked the dissolution of the royal administration and caused a communal revolution. The capital and then the whole country supported the constituents. In addition, it is immediately supported and celebrated by its followers. The event had a strong symbolic impact on republican political culture.

The federation festival was set on the same date of the following year to celebrate the first birthday of the events. In 1890 July 14th was declared a national holiday .


In July 1789 the people of Paris were in a state of unrest: on the one hand, they had high hopes for the Estates- General convened by the king , on the other hand, they were threatened with hunger by high bread prices. Customs houses around Paris have been set on fire since July 10, in the hope that goods in the city would become cheaper if excise no longer applied.

On July 11th, the king dismissed the popular finance minister Jacques Necker . He had also concentrated troops in Versailles - a clear threat to the National Assembly . On July 12, news of Necker's dismissal reached Paris. Agitators in the Palais Royal heated the mood further. The most famous speaker here was Camille Desmoulins , who asked the patriots to put chestnut leaves on their hats as a sign of identification. The next day there were first violent clashes between demonstrators and the Royal Allemand cavalry regiment .

The storm on the Bastille

Storming the Bastille , engraving by William Nutter, 1789

Arms stores were looted in the following days. On July 14, for example, a crowd of people who had previously obtained weapons from the Hôtel des Invalides besieged the Bastille in order to get at the ammunition stores stored there. The commandant of the Bastille, Bernard-René Jordan de Launay , opened fire on those gathered in front of the drawbridge. More than 90 people were killed.

There was then another parade with improved armament (soldiers, cannons), whereupon the guards capitulated and the crowd stormed the prison. She freed the prisoners: four forgers, two mentally ill and presumably the noble writer Marquis de Sade , whom his family had arrested in the Bastille because of his desolate lifestyle.

De Launay was beheaded by a butcher on the way to the town hall despite the assurance of safe conduct because of his order to shoot, and a guard was also killed. When Jacques de Flesselles , head of the Paris magistrate, tried to save the commandant, he was also beheaded. The heads were then carried on pitchforks through the streets of the capital to the cheers of the population. They were the first noble victims of the revolution.

Follow-up development

Political decisions

The storming of the Bastille prompted the formation of a National Guard under the Marquis de La Fayette so that the National Assembly had troops devoted to it at its disposal. In addition, the royal governor of Paris was deposed. It was replaced by the General Council of the Commune, a body that played a role in the radicalization of the revolution.

Demolition of the Bastille

One of the models of the Bastille in the Carnavalet Museum , Paris

Just two days after the storming, the demolition of the fortress began on July 16, 1789, under the direction of the building contractor Pierre-François Palloy. He had detailed models carved out of stones from the Bastille, which were delivered to the 83 new departmental capitals and inaugurated there with pomp as trophies. From the locks of the cells and the chains and ankle balls of the prisoners, Palloy had around 60,000 medals with freedom motifs minted.


Although no significant prisoners were freed and the military significance of the victory over the guards consisting of veterans and invalids was minor, the storming of the Bastille was subsequently transformed into a myth and a decisive event, which is probably due to the highly symbolic effect of a first victory is due to a fortification of despotism .

The French national holiday on July 14th commemorates the storming of the Bastille and the federation festival of July 14th, 1790, which referred to the popular uprising the previous year.


  • Karl-Heinz Kuhn (Ed.): La semaine mémorable ou Récit exact de ce qui s'est passé à Paris depuis le 12 jusqu'au 17 juillet = The memorable week or more precise report of what is going on in Paris from the 12th to the July 17th occurred. Edited, translated and provided with a timetable by Karl-Heinz Kuhn. Publishing house Dr. Hut, Munich 2011, ISBN 978-3-8439-0111-6 . Digitized
  • Winfried Schulze : July 14, 1789 - biography one day. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1989, ISBN 3-608-91494-3 .
  • Eric Vuillard : July 14th. Matthes & Seitz, Berlin 2019, ISBN 978-3-95757-519-7 .

Web links

Commons : Assault on the Bastille  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ "The cradle of national freedom and the grave of the infamous aristocracy." Honoré-Nicolas-Marie Duveyrier, Procès-verbal des Électeurs de Paris, quoted in Jules Flammermont (ed.), P. XII.