What Is Bastille Day? Here's The History Behind This Huge French Holiday
If you're a fan of all things France, are part-French, or simply love holidays, you might have heard of Bastille Day before, which is celebrated every July 14. But what is Bastille Day? And why are Americans also embracing this historical holiday?
Back in 1789, a bunch of upset Parisians stormed the Bastille prison, as a protest against the power of the king. In a way, it's kind of similar to our Independence Day, as this marked the very beginning of the French Revolution, which started the French Republic. The Bastille, located in Paris, was built approximately around 1370, and originally served as a fortress that defended the city during the 100 Years War, which focused around the conflict between the kingdoms of France and England. The war ended in 1453, and afterward, the Bastille was used as a prison that notably held many of King Louis XVI's enemies under somewhat unfair conditions.
King Louis XVI was definitely dealing with tough times — prices were rising on food, and taxes were getting higher and higher. By 1789, the Bourbon monarchy was almost bankrupt, and the civilians weren't happy. It was on July 12 that King Louis XVI heard about the outcry, and in response, he famously asked the Duque of Rochefoucauld, "Is this a revolt?" The Duque of Rochefoucauld, someone he trusted quite highly, responded with "No Sire, this is a revolution." Two days later, the Bastille attack took place.
Around 300 revolutionaries stormed the Bastille in search of guns and ammunition, both of which were stored inside. Once the guards refused, things became violent — the small amount of prisoners were released (seven, total) and in the process, the governor was violently killed. And while violence is never truly the answer, this response definitely led to a lot of positive change for France.
A lot changed about a month after this monumental attack. France banned feudalism, an act which pretty much stated that peasants and serfs would constantly serve the nobles and provide labor and hard work in exchange for protection on their land, and started supporting the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which read a lot like our Declaration of Independence, penned just 13 years prior. As for King Louis XVI? Well, based on the riots, they had to move out of the Palace of Versailles over to Tuileries, where he was protected. He didn't take well to these orders, and actually tried to flee to Austria, the native country of his wife, Marie Antoinette. News of his fleeing spread quickly, and he and his family were ultimately caught. Of course, this act made him even more heavily targeted, and he ended up being arrested in 1792. Accused of high treason and crimes against the state, he was sent to the guillotine on Jan. 21, 1793. Nine months later, his wife suffered a similar fate. His death was definitely a visual representation of better times ahead.
Americans tend to love Bastille Day for a few reasons — for one, America and France have been allies for quite some time. Come to think of it, we even share the same flag colors. A poll by Gallup in 2015 estimated that 87 percent of Americans think of France quite favorably, which is huge. Secondly, since the act is vaguely a bit like Independence Day, we feel as if we can relate. And third, because when our friends have such a big milestone, we can't help but celebrate along with them.
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