On 14 July 1789, revolutionaries stormed and managed to seize control of the Bastille, a fortress and political prison. The city of Paris had already been in turmoil for several days.
The Bastille was nearly empty and housed just seven prisoners at this time, but as a symbol of tyranny, the fortress still stood strong. Crowds gathered outside the Bastille while negotiators began to arrive. The crowd believed that powder and weapons had been stored in the Bastille, which they wanted in order to arm themselves against “the depredations of the State.”1
The negotiations dragged on, and the crowd soon became restless. Finally, around 1.30 p.m., the crowd made their way into an outer courtyard that had no guards. Soon, gunfire could be heard, and fighting began in its earnest.
After nearly two hours of fighting, the governor ordered the guards to stop firing, and eventually, they capitulated. Around 5.30 p.m., the mob was allowed to take over the Bastille. Around 100 people total from both sides died during the fighting. The governor was dragged outside, where he was repeatedly stabbed until he bled to death.
King Louis XVI did not learn of the storming of the Bastille until the following morning. He asked the Duke de Liancourt if it was a revolt. He answered, “No, sire, it’s a revolution.”2
The storming of the Bastille has been suggested as being the founding point of the French Revolution. Shortly after the storming of the Bastille, several nobles started to flee the country as émigrés, including one of Marie Antoinette’s favourites, the Duchess of Polignac.
Marie Antoinette told her, “I am terrified of everything; in the name of our friendship go, now is the time for you to escape from the fury of my enemies. […] Don’t be the victim of your attachment to me and my friendship for you.”3