Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
THE TAKING OF THE BASTILLE
 IN May 1789 the States-General met at Versailles, and the king appeared before it
"with simple dignity, without pride, without timidity, wearing on his features the
impress of the goodness which he had in his heart."
But although the States-General had met, for weeks it was impossible to do anything,
for the nobles and clergy were thwarted in all they wished to do by the deputies of
the people, called the Third Estate. The deputies had come to Versailles determined
that their voice should be heard and obeyed.
In the midst of the trouble caused by the Third Estate the dauphin died, and for a
little while the king and queen forgot the strife of nobles and deputies alike,
while they grieved for the loss of their first-born son.
Even in his grief the king could not escape from the cares of his kingdom. The Third
Estate sent demanding to see him, before his child was buried. Louis sobbed as he
asked, "Are there no fathers among these rough men, that I may not be left alone at
such a time?"
Among the deputies of the people was Mirabeau, a noble who had flung aside his title
that he might sit with the commons and help the cause of the people.
Mirabeau was a great orator, that is, he had the gift of speech, so that when he
spoke he swayed people this way or that as he wished.
It pleased him now to persuade the Third Estate to openly split up the
States-General by giving itself a new name.
 Henceforth the deputies of the people should be called the National Assembly,
and without their consent the nobles and clergy of the States-General should be
unable to pass any measure. On the day of its birth the National Assembly was joined
by more than a hundred of the clergy.
When Louis XVI. and his nobles heard of the new title which the Third Estate had
adopted, they were startled. The National Assembly had an ominous sound to their
ears. The deputies, led by Mirabeau, were growing too bold. It was time that they
were taught a lesson. So the king ordered that the great hall in which the Third
Estate had met should be closed, and none of the members allowed to enter.
Although the deputies had heard the king's order, they went at the usual time to the
hall, not quite believing that they had been turned out.
The first thing they saw was carpenters at work putting up a platform, and the
deputies were told that no one save the president and secretaries could be admitted,
and they only to take away their papers.
As it happened, it was a cold damp morning, and the new National Assembly wandered
about, getting ever more wet and more angry.
Courtiers looking out of the palace windows laughed as they watched the dejected
deputies walking aimlessly hither and thither in the rain.
At length their president, aided by a Dr. Guillotine, whose name was soon to become
famous, found in a forsaken tennis-court of Old Versailles an empty, unfurnished
building. To this rough shelter the National Assembly hastened out of the cold and
Here the deputies took an oath, known as the "Oath of the
Tennis-Court," by which
they declared that they would never separate until they had done the work the people
had sent them to do. This work was to reform the government of France.
 A great crowd of people had followed the banished deputies to the
tennis-court, and as they took the oath the cheers of the multitude rang out upon
the chilly air.
The National Assembly was loyal in its attitude, for they did not believe it was
Louis, but his foolish advisers, who had turned them out. So now, in their
enthusiasm, they shouted, Long live the king!" while the people answering, cried.
Long live the king!"
A few days later Louis himself went to meet the National Assembly. Among the members
there were now a few nobles as well as clergy. These were led by the Duke of
Orleans, who treacherously hoped to be raised to the post of Lieutenant-General of
the Kingdom, and wrench all power from the hands of Louis XVI.
Near Mirabeau, whose harsh and ugly face wore a look of strength, sat the Marquis de
La Fayette, who had fought but lately in the American War, and who had much to do in
the struggle that had now begun between the king and his people. There sat also a
small man, with smiling, unpleasant face, whose very name before long filled all who
heard it with dismay. This was Robespierre.
When the king visited the Assembly, which so lately he had turned out into the rain,
he found himself forced to grant all its demands. Having done so, however, he
ordered the members to go home and never to meet again as the National Assembly.
At Louis's words the nobles cheered, but not a sound came from the deputies, and
when the king and his nobles left the hall, the Third Estate did not move.
Soon a messenger from Louis arrived, and seeing the Assembly still seated, said
sharply, "You heard the king's orders?"
Then Mirabeau, the orator with the ugly face which yet had power written on every
line of it, jumped to his feet, and his voice rang clear and stern as he
answered, "Go tell those who sent you that we are here by the will of the
 people, and that we will only be driven out at the point of the bayonet."
The king's messenger hastily withdrew, and the National Assembly continued to meet,
clergy and nobles from the States-General joining them at different times.
Louis XVI. was not strong enough to oppose so resolute an assembly long, and in June
1789 the three orders were, with his consent, united as one body.
Paris went wild with excitement. At Versailles men ran about in the dark with
torches, shouting and cheering the king, the queen, and the dauphin. The people were
sure that at last their troubles were over, and that soon there would be bread
enough and to spare.
But the people rejoiced too soon. The queen, as well as many of the nobles and
clergy, hated the deputies, and they soon convinced the king that he had been
foolish to yield to their demands.
If he wished to keep any power at all he must use force, said Marie Antoinette, and
Louis, weaker now than in the early days of his reign, yielded to the queen's
advice. Soldiers were sent to seize Paris.
The Parisians could scarcely believe their eyes when they saw the soldiers. Still
less could they believe that they had heard aright when it was whispered that the
king meant to take no notice of the National Assembly, that he meant to rule
himself, with the help of the nobles.
The nobles were, as you know, hated by the people, and among them all none was more
hated than Foulon, who, when he was told that the people were hungry, brutally said,
"Let them eat grass."
Was it any wonder that the people were on fire with anger at the thought of being
ruled by Foulon and such as he?
"To arms! to arms!" they shouted, and rushing to the Town Hall they speedily found
for themselves pikes and muskets. Then, tearing up the pavements, they barricaded
the city against the king's troops, and paraded the streets
 wearing ribbons of
red, white and blue, which the women were hurriedly sewing into cockades.
These colours soon became known as the Tricolour, the emblem of the French Republic.
News travelled quickly to Versailles. The king heard that the Parisians had flown to
arms, but knowing that his troops were not to be trusted, he sent no orders to
disperse the mob. Many, indeed, of the royal troops had joined the people.
On July 14, 1789, as soon as day dawned, the mob, which had wandered restlessly
through the streets all night, set out for the Bastille, the chief fortress and
prison of Paris.
The Bastille seemed to the excited people a visible sign of the king's power. They
made up their minds to destroy it.
"To the Bastille! to the Bastille!" The cry grew, until at length thousands of armed
men were on their way to the grim old fortress.
The Governor of the Bastilie was brave but old, and not quite sure what to do
against such a fierce and armed force.
After some hesitation he ordered the cannon to be turned upon them, but this only
added to the fury of the crowd.
Then the governor, changing his mind, ordered the cannon to cease firing, and
foolishly opened the great gates of the Bastilie, hoping to treat with the leaders
of the mob.
But the crowd saw its opportunity, and rushing in at the gates began to destroy the
huge building. In a short time it was in ruins.
The governor and his officers were ruthlessly murdered, and then the mob, mad with
excitement, placed the heads of the hapless men on pikes, and carried them in
triumph through the streets.
At Versailles nothing was known of what was being done at Paris. Only when all was
over a noble rushed into the king's apartments and told him the terrible events of
"Why, that is a revolt," said the bewildered king.
"Sire," answered the courtier, "it is a revolution."