Liberty, Equality, Fraternity – A History of Bastille Day

Bastille Day

Every year on July 14, France celebrates their national holiday, known to English speakers as Bastille Day. Across the country, people celebrate by attending parades and parties, and of course eating plenty of delicious food.

So just what is Bastille Day all about? Here’s a little background.

The Storming of the Bastille

In 1789, France was in an economic and political crisis. The country faced food shortages and high taxes, and people were becoming increasingly unhappy with their King, Louis XVI.

Tensions in France escalated when the King dismissed Jacques Necker from his duties as Minister of France on July 11, 1789. A progressive, Necker was very sympathetic to the struggles of the commoners, and his ousting angered many.

Furthermore, an increasing number of Royal troops had begun to assemble in Paris, and people were taking note. Many Parisians began to fear that they and their other representatives might face an attack from the Royal Army.

To protect against any threats from the King, citizens sought to gain ammunition and gunpowder for the general public. On the morning of July 14, an angry mob of citizens formed around the Bastille, a medieval fortress, arsenal and prison. To many, it was also a symbol of tyranny and oppression.

After hours of increasing frustration, the mob of just under 1,000 Parisians stormed the Bastille. They released political prisoners (at the time, just seven), and stole weapons and ammo that was stored inside. The Bastille had been successfully captured.

What Was the Significance?

The storming of the Bastille was significant in that is provided unstoppable momentum to the French Revolution. It proved to the people across Paris and the rest of France that the power of the King was minimal at best. Revolutionaries could see that the King had little control over his armed forces, and the event ultimately became a catalyst for revolutionary ideas to spread.

In 1792, the monarchy would eventually dissolve. The next year, King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette faced the guillotine for treason.

A National Holiday

In 1790, on the anniversary of the storming, the first Bastille Day celebrations took place on the Champ de Mars, where the Eiffel Tower stands today. People danced and partied in the street. The French flag was flown with pride.

Bastille Day came to symbolize the end of monarchy, and the beginning of a modern republic. It served as a recognition that power can be held by the people, and doesn’t have to come from a king or authoritarian.

In 1880, Bastille Day became official after a politician named Benjamin Raspail proposed that July 14th should become a national holiday in France.

Bastille Day Today

Today, Bastille Day is less of a time to commemorate the storming of the Bastille itself, and more of a holiday to celebrate all things that symbolize France. People show off their patriotic pride, and it is common for the national motto of France to be heard in the streets – liberté, égalité, fraternité (liberty, equality, fraternity).

To celebrate, many people attend large public events, including parades, performances and firework displays. People also might indulge in some traditional French cooking, or go to parties in the street.

What’s more, the festivities are not just limited to France. Bastille Day celebrations take place throughout the world, including many cities in the United States. Not really surprising, considering Americans know all about standing up to a tyrannical king.

Maybe there is a Bastille Day celebration near you? Or maybe you celebrate Bastille Day in your own way? If you do, we’d love to hear about how you celebrate in the comments below. And while you’re at it, why not play a few quizzes and earn yourself this nifty Bastille Day Badge?

Mark Heald

Mark Heald is an Associate Product Manager and Sporcle Admin. He enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, and bemoaning the fact the Sonics left Seattle.

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Mark Heald
About Mark Heald 131 Articles
Mark Heald is an Associate Product Manager and Sporcle Admin. He enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, and bemoaning the fact the Sonics left Seattle.