Monday, July 14, 2014

BASTILLE DAY ~ July 14, 1789

Bastille Day is the French national holiday, celebrated on 14 July each year. In France, it is called Fête Nationale ("National Celebration") in official parlance, or more commonly le quatorze juillet ("14 July"). It commemorates the 1790 Fête de la Fédération, held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789; the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille fortress-prison was seen as a symbol of the uprising of the modern nation, and of the reconciliation of all the French inside the constitutional monarchy which preceded the First Republic, during the French Revolution.

Festivities are held on the morning of 14 July, on the Champs-Élysées avenue in Paris in front of the President of the Republic.

The parade opens with many cadets from the École Polytechnique, Saint-Cyr, École Navale, and so forth, then other infantry troops, then motorised troops; aviation of the Patrouille de France flies above. In recent times, it has become customary to invite units from France's allies to the parade; in 2004 during the centenary of the Entente Cordiale, British troops (the band of the Royal Marines, the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, Grenadier Guards and King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery) led the Bastille Day parade in Paris for the first time, with the Red Arrows flying overhead.

The president used to give an interview to members of the press, discussing the situation of the country, recent events and projects for the future. Nicolas Sarkozy, elected president in 2007, has chosen not to give it. The President also holds a garden party at the Palais de l'Elysée.

Bastille Day falls during the Tour de France and is traditionally a day when French riders try to take a stage victory for France, working harder than they might on other days.

Article 17 of the Constitution of France gives the President the authority to pardon offenders, and since 1991 the President has pardoned many petty offenders (mainly traffic offences) on 14 July. In 2007, President Sarkozy declined to continue the practice.

On 5 May 1789, Louis XVI convened the Estates-General to hear their grievances. The deputies of the Third Estate representing the common people (the two others were the church and nobility) decided to break away and form a National Assembly. On 20 June the deputies of the Third Estate took the Tennis Court Oath, swearing not to separate until a constitution had been established. They were gradually joined by delegates of the other estates; Louis started to recognize their validity on 27 June. The assembly re-named itself the National Constituent Assembly on 9 July, and began to function as a legislature and to draft a constitution.

In the wake of the 11 July dismissal of Jacques Necker, the people of Paris, fearful that they and their representatives would be attacked by the royal military, and seeking to gain ammunition and gunpowder for the general populace, stormed the Bastille, a fortress-prison in Paris which had often held people jailed on the basis of lettres de cachet, arbitrary royal indictments that could not be appealed. Besides holding a large cache of ammunition and gunpowder, the Bastille had been known for holding political prisoners whose writings had displeased the royal government, and was thus a symbol of the absolutism of the monarchy. As it happened, at the time of the siege in July 1789 there were only seven inmates, none of great political significance.

When the crowd — eventually reinforced by mutinous gardes françaises — proved a fair match for the fort's defenders, Governor de Launay, the commander of the Bastille, capitulated and opened the gates to avoid a mutual massacre. However, possibly because of a misunderstanding, fighting resumed. Ninety-eight attackers and just one defender died in the actual fighting, but in the aftermath, de Launay and seven other defenders were killed, as was the 'prévôt des marchands' (roughly, mayor) Jacques de Flesselles.

The storming of the Bastille was more important as a rallying point and symbolic act of rebellion than a practical act of defiance.

Shortly after the storming of the Bastille, on 4 August feudalism was abolished and on 26 August, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen proclaimed.

Image &

Dennis and I watched the Bastille Day Parade from the steps of the Madeleine with my sister-in-law Sallie Bell and niece Morgan in 1987. I smiled when Morgan caught the souvenir vendor in the church attempting to cheat her when giving change. He didn't expect a pretty little American girl to speak such perfect French!

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