Palace of Versailles


The Palace of Versailles

The Palace of Versailles was the official residence of the Kings of France from 1682 until 1790. It was originally a hunting lodge, but was expanded by Louis XIV beginning in 1669. The French classical architecture was complemented by extensive gardens.

The palace was stripped of most of it's furnishings during the French Revolution, and Tuileries in Paris became the royal residence. Versailles is now a national museum.


The Bastille

"The wands of smoke are rising
From the walls of the Bastille ..."

The Bastille was a fortress and prison in Paris. When construction was started in 1370 it was intended to augment the city's defenses. By the 17th century, however, is was being used as a prison. It was rumored to house hundreds of political prisoners, including Voltaire and the Marquis de Sade.

On July 14, 1789 a mob gathered outside the Bastille, demanding the munitions stored there. The Marquis de Launay refused to surrender, and the building was stormed. Only 7 prisoners were found inside, and the Bastille was destroyed soon after.


The King

"The Kings have all departed
Their servants are nowhere ..."

In October 1789 a mob forced the royal family to leave Versailles for Paris. A Constituent Assembly followed the court, and worked on developing a new constitution until September 1791.

The king, horrified by many of the changes that were taking place, attempted to flee the country in June 1791. He, and his family, were stopped at Varennes and brought back to Paris.

Louis XVI was condemned to death for treason, and was executed on January 21, 1793.


Robespierre, Maximillion Marie Isadore (1758 - 1794)

"We burned out all their mansions
In the name of Robespierre ..."

Robespierre is considered to be one of the most important leaders of the French Revolution.

Robespierre fought for universal suffrage, unrestricted entry into the national guard and public offices, and he opposed the royal veto. He also defended actors, Jews and Negro slaves.

When the Convention first sat in September 1792 Robespierre was accused of dictatorship by the Girdonist faction. He intervened 11 times during the trial of Louis XVI, and his speech on December 3 rallied those who were hesitant to take action against the king.

On July 27, 1793 he became a member of the Committee of Public Safety. While his colleagues were either away on assignments or otherwise occupied, Robespierre assumed control of the committee. His actions helped intensify the Reign of Terror.

French military victories lessened the popularity of his regime, and he was overthrown. He was arrested on July 28, 1794. He attempted suicide, but was guillotined the next day.


The Assemblies

"Inside the midnight councils
The lamps are burning low ..."

The National Assembly decreed the abolition of the feudal regime and the tithe on the night of August 4, 1789. On August 26 it introduced the "Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen".

The Constituent Assembly furthered these reforms, proclaiming the revolutionary idea that people had the right of self determination.

In September 1792 a new assembly, the Convention, met. It proclaimed an end to the monarchy and established the republic. The convention introduced governmental limitations on prices, declared that education should be free and compulsory, imposed taxes on the rich and made other economic and social "reforms". Opposition was broken by the Reign of Terror. More then 300,000 people were arrested, and more then 17,000 were executed.


Boneparte, Napoleon (1769 - 1821)

"And Boneparte is coming
With his army from the south ..."

Napoleon Boneparte's rise to power was in large part due to the military skills demonstrated during the French Revolution. In early writings ("Souper de Beaucaire") he called for united action by urging republicans to rally around the Jacobins and the Convention of Paris.

At the end of August 1793 the Convention's armies, under the command of J.F. Carteaux had taken Marsailles, but they were stopped before Toulon. The royalistshad called in British forces to assist them.

The commander of the Convention's artillery was wounded, and a friend of Napoleon's family got the post for him on September 17. He was promoted to "chef de battalion" on September 29, and adjutant general, head of brigade on October 7.

On December 17 the British, harassed by artillery, evacuated Toulon. French troops entered the town on December 19, and Napoleon was promoted to brigadier general on December 22.

Commissioner to the army Augustine Robespierre wrote to his brother Maximillien praising Napoleon. On February 7, 1974 Boneparte was appointed commandant of the artillery.

Royalists attempted to seize power in Paris, but the attempt was put down by Napoleon Boneparte and his troops on October 5, 1795.


Marat, Jean Paul (1743 - 1793)

"Marat your days are numbered ..."

Marat was born in Switzerland. He studied medicine in France, Holland and Britain before settling in Paris to become a physician. He hoped to win wider fame with philosophical and scientific writings, but had little success.

From September 1789 on, his newspaper (L'Ami du Peuple) called for many executions and the appointment of a temporary dictator. He was forced to seek refuge in England twice because of his writings. He was very popular in Paris, however, because his compassion for the poor and his concern for social justice was real.

Although he was never a member of a formal political group, his sympathies lay with the radical Jacobins. The more moderate Girondists attempted to discredit Robespierre by associating him with Marat.

In 1793 he was sent to the Revolutionary Tribunal for inciting "patriots". He was acquitted and reinstated in the National Convention on April 24.

On July 13, 1793 he was stabbed to death in his bath by Charlotte Corday, a supporter of the Girdonists.

The Jacobins exploited the assassination of Marat, using it to lay the groundwork for the Reign of Terror which followed.