Thursday, 14 July 2011

‘Les Vainqueurs de la Bastille?’ - Just blame Britain & the birth of the U.S. of A.

Just 222 years ago today on the 14th July 1789 at around 1.03pm – a little under 1000 angry, desperate & hungry citizens of pre 'Gay Paris' gathered outside the walls of the formidable multi towered Bastille prison with its tall and imposing five foot thick walls, and thus in the bloody events that were to unfold there in a matter of just a few short hours time, these Vainqueurs de la Bastille’, led mostly by one Amaria Cahila were to become permanently etched into French folklore as a direct result of their brave, sacrificial and impassioned actions during the now famous ‘Storming of the Bastille’ episode.

This watershed event in French 18th century history signaled the beginning of the end of the ruling Monarchy of King Louise XVI and his celebrated but infamous wife Marie Antoinette, the igniting of the French Revolution and later the fearsome 'la Terreur'…and thence within a short space of time, heralded the very birth of the modern French Republic and their national motto:

Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité " - Liberty, Equality, Fraternity (Brotherhood)
Today is therefore 'La Fête Nationale' (The National Celebration) - 'Bastille Day'

In the summer of 1789 Monarchist France was economically on its knees, and ordinary French men and women were by then, impoverished, weary and starving. Much of this had been fuelled by France’s recent money haemorrhaging intervention in the American War of Independence and a similarly colossal amount of expenditure wasted on Louis XVI unrealised plans to bring about a mass military invasion of Britain. Add to this now fast melting pot, a regressive taxation system coupled with a hopelessly outdated set of protocols and governing rules, under the control of the woefully indifferent aristocracy and noble classes of the second estate, and you have a country sized powder keg of a crisis just waiting for a spark to explode it all to Hades.

To cut a much longer historical story short here - come the morning of 14th July that year, a growing mob of buoyed up third estate common citizens and a military contingent of French Guards, sympathetic to the peoples cause, had already elected to meet a call to arms and a very real and impending threat of massacre from the defiant Kings army camped just over the River Seine, which itself was largely made up of dispassionate German and Swiss mercenaries who had no care or affections for the peoples plight.

Images courtesy - Flickr
   Led by Amaria Cahila, the Vainqueurs de la Bastille stormed into the Hôtel des Invalides to gather up some 29 - 32,000 muskets, but unfortunately missing the critical powder and shot to render them of any use. The next stage in the day’s proceedings was to march on the Bastille prison itself, as it was known that a sizable store of gunpowder, shot and other weaponry were encased within the cellars below. In fact, there were some 13,600 kilograms of gun powder alone being kept under close guard in the bowels of the prison fortress and yet only about 550 kilograms of prisoners - all seven of them in fact, one of whom was so loopy froggy loo that he truly believed he was Julias Caesar.

Imagine their collective surprise and bewilderment then as the victorious Vainqueurs later stumbled across this crazy long haired old man ranting out the Bards imortal lines, having just been freed from his cell - 

"Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears…I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him!" 

One of the elements I love about this particular video is the way the performer briefly pops back into frame right at the very give the salute. Marvelous stuff.

"Aux armes, citoyens, To arms, citizens, Formez vos bataillons, Form your battalions, Marchons, marchons ! Let's march, let's march! Qu'un sang impur That a tainted blood Abreuve nos sillons ! Water our furrows!"

The crowd gathered outside the Bastille walls around mid-morning, calling for the surrender of the prison, the removal of the canon guns and the release of the arms and gunpowder to the Vainqueurs. The Governor of the prison – the arrogant Bernard-René de Launay – said “Non!” but agreed to parlez with a couple of the peoples representatives inside the Bastille itself. At about 1.13pm the Vainqueurs patience had reached expiry point and thus with no sign of emergence from their compatriots within the walls, they presumed they’d been royally duped…and so kicked off, properly and noisily by scaling the outer perimeter walls. 

The subsequent fighting and heavy losses to the peoples army continued, until at around 3.09pm the attackers were reinforced by mutinous ‘Gardes Françaises’ and other deserters from among the regular troops, along with two field cannon. The substantial force of Royal Army troops encamped on the nearby Champs de Mars did not intervene as had been expected from the previous day. 

With the possibility of a massacre now all too apparent,  Governor de Launay ordered a cease fire at approx 5.05pm. A letter offering his terms was handed out to the besiegers through a gap in the inner gate. His demands were refused and so de Launay capitulated, as he realised his troops could not hold out for much longer. On opening the gates to the inner courtyard, the Vainqueurs de la Bastille swept in to liberate the fortress at around 5:31pm that same afternoon. Game set and match. Grab the keys to the castle. Job done.

Images courtesy - Flickr
Ninety-eight attackers and one defender had died during the actual fighting. De Launay was immediately seized and dragged towards the Hôtel de Ville in a storm of spitting abuse and harsh language. Outside the Hôtel a discussion as to his fate began. The badly beaten de Launay shouted "Enough! Let me die!" and then quite inexplicably kicked a respected pastry cook named 'Dulait' smack in his jolly old chestnuts.

 Oh dear merde Bernard! Not a good moment to have a bad knee jerk reaction like that one, mon soon to be ex ami. What on 'Bastille Day' were you thinking?!! He was a pastry chef for goodness sake. Duhhh. I would have definitely come up with a better plan than that one bloke! Jeeeze. Bernard-Rene de Launay was then stabbed repeatedly by Dulait's Mother, eight sisters and fourteen cousins, till he finally stopped complaining and lay down on the cobblestone street to take better stock of his predicament. While mulling it over and trying vainly to contrive a better way out, his head was carefully sawn off, kicked rudely around the alleys like a football for a while, before being skewered onto a pike and triumphantly paraded through the streets of the now newly, liberated, Paris. Bernie had clearly shot his last and final bolt then, and is rumoured to have eventually passed away quietly, sometime later that evening.

And so as the flies and dust settled around the Bastille that sultry afternoon, the newly liberated proletariat of France's third estate, together with their numerous representatives from the middle class bourgeoisie, reconstituted themselves as the National Assembly and began a long and eventually even bloodier five year journey away from 100 years of Monarchic French rule and costly feudalism. The foundations of the ‘Republique Francaise’ had been set in stone, a brand new French Constitution would be written, and an awful lot of heads would roll off the guillotines blade, including even those of Louis XVI & Marie Antoinette themselves during 1793, before the arrival of yet another keen and highly ambitious dictator nicknamed ‘The little corporal’…during 1799.  

Note: The above video is the whole 30 minute firework display of the Paris 'Bastille Day'
celebrations, as they played out on 14th July 2011.  Spectacular stuff and well worth a view,
as well as a listen, to the lively orchestral soundtrack that accompanies this freshly baked
from 'La Boulangerie' video. Don't forget to click on the 'Full Screen' video button.

Funny that, although in truth it’s not in the least bit funny at all –but what is it about all these young ‘corporals’ that end up bringing Europe to its knees for generations. About 130 years later, didn’t Herr Hindenburg refer to Hitler as "der bohmische Freiter,"… the Bohemian Corporal?

'La Colonne de Juillet' -  'The July Column'  
The commercial memento potential and publicity
 value of the Bastille was quickly seized upon by the entrepreneur Pierre-François Palloy who didn't waste any time at all in establishing a claim to the site, by organising a labour force of some 500 men on the 15th July 1789 – the very next day. Now that’s what I call keen. He then managed to procure a demolition license from the Permanent Committee at the Hotel de Ville, along with a sizable fund of Francs to enable him to secure complete control of the now famous site, as well as hire another 500 or so labourers to speed up the daunting task of dismantling the Bastille altogether.

During the four months that followed, 'Boy Palloy' profited well from the steady and sizable hordes of visitors who flocked in increasing numbers to see the building, having turned the whole area into a paying attraction show, with a vast array of souvenirs on sale as well as the selling of pieces of Bastille rubble, each with an official certificate of authenticity. This guy was clearly one very shrewd chestnut. Imagine if they’d had EBay back then. The site would have crashed with the weight of about 10,000 tonnes of rubble being auctioned off during the following couple of weeks.

The area where the Bastille prison used to stand is now a square called La Place De La Bastille, at the center of which stands the Bastille monument - 'La Colonne de Juillet'

Thinks?   You know…that’s not a bad idea. I mean does anyone actually know of anyone who claims to still have a pile of Bastille rubble locked away in their safety vaults?

Thought not.

Let’s try another one then – Anyone know precisely what a pile of aged and seasoned Bastille rubble actually looks like now?

Take that as a big ‘no’ then too.


Now I know that they used a lot of the Bastille stone to help construct the Pont de la Concorde, just over the Seine River, but I bet there’s not that many French Hawkeyes that could tell you precisely where they actually used it anymore.

So…what’s to stop someone – like me – sneaking down the local quarry at night for the next few months and bish bosh bashing up a few big lorry loads of….

”And I’m afraid that’s all we have time for tonight folks, so it’s ‘Goodnight from Him’…and a big ‘Bon Nuit from me’

"Ta Tahh !!"

Images courtesy - Flickr

P.S. - As an interesting historical footnote to this story:

France is America's oldest ally. It was only through French military intervention, led by the Marquis de Lafayette and Count de Rochambeau, that General George Washington's troops were able to eventually defeat the British. The key to the one time Bastille now resides in George Washington's residence of Mount Vernon.

It was sent to him by Lafayette in 1790…as a peace offering.


"Go on then Mme Fly, I double dan dare you...lash out a few modern references to that then? !!


Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Walls of the Bastille, pieces of the Berlin Wall, lumps of moon rock.....they all turn up on ebay eventually, so have patience, mon ami!

We absolutely LOVED the video. Clearly the performer was so taken up with the impassioned mood of it all that he quite forgot his hat. C'est la vie!

A wonderful post!

Steve said...

Tell you what, matey, how's about we does a swap? You give me some of your Bastille rubble and I'll give you a genuine piece of Stonehenge roof slate what used to keep all those druids dry on a rainy day thousands of years ago.

John Going Gently said...

then he inexplicably kicked a pastry cook named Dulait in the testicles.

I loved that bit phil

now I am not a lover of French history ( though I loved Les Miserables.. but I am a middle aged gay man so of course I would!!!!)

but I really enjoyed your amble around the Bastille....


Valerie said...

Merci for the refresher d'histoire. Like everything else I learned in my French class over 30 years ago, I forgot ... except for how to order in a restaurant and that a trashcan & window are both feminine nouns. Back to my bottle of Rose' - wait, it's only 8AM - I mean coffee. Yes. Coffee.

Am also pleased I was allowed to comment today - your Sprinklersaurus wanted nothing to do with my commentary yesterday - I promise I was going to be all nice. I thought that was a sharp piece of writing - not to be confused with a piece of the bastille...or Stonehenge...

the fly in the web said...

O.K. Phil...I'm going to be French about this.....I surrender!

My Maginot Line has been outflanked, my army has fallen victim to the archers of Agincourt, Blind King John has been led off the field, Joan of Arc is smouldering and Blucher has just arrived on the field of battle.......
I'm trying to get through the picket lines to get a flag from the white flag factory.....while avoiding any pastry cooks with lots of mothers, sisters, cousins and aunts...

But in the meantime, a puzzle has now been solved.
I wondered who it was who had been hacking off bits of my house....but as it's you, that's all right.
Just cut me in on the proceeds.

I laughed so much at the clip of La Marseillaise that I thought I'd have to send out for incontinence pads! Between wondering if the wig would fall off, astonishment at the gestures...and his wonderful return to the scene, it was all too much.

My best memory of Bastille Day celebrations in Paris was the year that Sarkozy invited European troops to participate, so we had, once again, the spectacle of the German Army marching up the Champs Elysee....but this time they were't playing jingling jimmies as they did in 1940.

Ah...and while I think of it....down at Rochefort they were building a replica of the frigate - the Hermione - that took Lafayette to America to stir up trouble.
They started the project over ten years ago...might finish it in time for the tercentenary of the American War of Independence at this rate.
By which time America will belong to China.

Bish Bosh Bash said...

Hello és üdvözlet "Budapest". Thanks for tunneling under my own blog wall here Jane & Lance. Just sorry I was out earlier when you called by. We could have tried ’out strudelling’ each other over coffee. I have no doubt I would have ceded to you guys though.

There’s a business in there somewhere isnt there – trading in antique wall rubble. Bet the Japanese would hoover it up. ’Authentic Historic Wall & Planet Rubble Tradings & Investment Brokers Ltd’, ’’ and so on. No, okay then.

Moving on then... That video is a national treasure in itself isnt it. You could almost allow yourself to think it was made at the end of the 18th century, instead of the dawn of the 20th. It is reported to have been made in 1907, which is very possible as short films of theater, opera, and ballet excerpts were presented at the Paris Exposition in 1900. These appear to be the first publicly exhibited films with projection of both image and recorded sound, so it would make complete sense that the many French sound & vision pioneers contrived their national anthem for the later exhibitions.

Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre, Théâtroscope & Phonorama were the ‘must have’ brands at the turn of the 19th century. A real bit of original phono cinema history then. He gets all my Baftas. Thank you for leaving your coat of arms on my blogette here. I will try to remain worthy of your scrutiny and support from time to time. I’ll be back over to Budapest on the next available pogo stick, and I promise to book into a nearby hotel this time, so I can actually read and digest your posts properly. Best wishes from south coast UK.

The bike shed said...

All that Thomas Voekler still in the yellow jersey on Bastille Day - that's what really matters to the French I reckon.

Bish Bosh Bash said...

Stevie: Ummm…not sure about that. My parole officer just said that sounded like a dodgy deal, cos my French prison rubble is a lot newer than your manky two thousand year old slatey druid stuff. I think he’s got a point. Anyway, how do you know it’s gen? You still got the original receipt then? I’ll settle for a skip load of Hadrian’s wall though, if you wanna off load it anytime. I gotta Chinky customer who’ll pay good Merican dolla wonga for that stuff. Say’s it looks just the same as his Chinky great wall stuff. He does all the repairs see.

Bish Bosh Bash said...

“By George John Boy…I think you’ve got it!” It’s all supposed to be ‘fact’ not fiction is that too, which I can believe to a point because there was a great deal of accurate written reportage on the whole episode at the time, and it all sounds so basic and darkly comedic in contrast to all the serious horror that must have been going on, that you kind of imagine that part was probably true. He must have really wanted to end it all there and then though, cos no sane Frenchman would ever dare to harm a pastry cook. Sacre Bleu. They get more respect than the Pope. “Ta”.

Bish Bosh Bash said...

Valerie: “Maam Yes Maam!” – (Oh boy, I so hope you find that line irritating now) (Hrmph). Re: “A trashcan & window are both feminine nouns.” (?) Cripes & Whoa there Valerie…you sure you were in a restaurant? (!) Sounds more like to moi, that you’d been out marathon wine bar crawling just one day too many in a row there. You sure that wasn’t a ‘Home Depot Store’ you were trying to splur your food order to? Were you slouched on your own in their patio furniture display, hanging on to the edge of the table for dear life by any chance?

Thanks for your gander at the Sprinklersaurus postette. Sorry you’ve had trouble with that nasty old comment box there? I’m at a bit of a loss as to what’s happening with it, so If anytime you can let me know briefly what is happening when you try to comment, I’ll obviously look into it poste haste. I can confirm that I just lobbed an ‘anon’ comment to myself in there, from some French bloke of dubious behaviour, and it stuck just fine. But then it would if it’s home generated. If it happens again, please let me know, cos you’re not the first to mention this Valerie. Thanks for your words though. Funny, but that post was the first time I actually managed to stitch together a more sensible length of narrative, with just one solitary image and no other gongs and whistles on it. I’ve been completely loosing the plot ever since. Mere man syndrome see. We just don’t learn. Duhhh.

Bish Bosh Bash said...

Mme Fly: Ha! Gotcha at last! Never thought I’d ever see the day. Specially as you’re still about twenty and a hundred and four million points ahead of me still. But no fear, I’ll accept your surrender as well as your broken sword, and a casket of your best Banana rum…and a Parrot – cos I’ll only have to give it all back to you next week again.

Sorry about the mess on your roof. I cheated. Couldn’t be bothered to paddle all the way back to B&Q here to pick up some ash felt for the pissoir’s roof. So I nicked a sheet off your belfry roof while you were gone fishing.

Marvelous Marseilles’ Marvin is a national treasure isn’t he. They’ll never ever come close to bettering that one. The French really should adopt and promote it much more than they do. It was probably the first sound and motion performance of their anthem, ever to be produced, and is arguably still their most touching and splendid. (See response above to ‘H’s) It’s the whole body stance, voice and chest posture thing that he does with such conviction and good grace – and then he trots back on like a forgetful little boy at the end and does the salute like that. Epic stuff! Even Morecombe & Wise couldn’t have matched that.

Shudder the thought for some of the senior WW2 vets at the sight of German army grey in Paris again. I’ve just finished reading ‘The White Rabbit’ for the second time and the opening scenes from Jean-Pierre Melville’s French resistance film ‘Army of Shadows’ begins with a haunting re-production of that march down the Champs Elysee in 1940.

A big nod of thanks for the ‘Hermione’ frigate heads up. I will certainly be nosing into that one very soon. We need to get hold of the frigate Peter Weir used in the filming of Master & Commander then don’t we. Then we can tack up and down outside Rochefort nearer the launch date, and dare it to make a run for the open sea. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to have command of the poop deck if they did. “Run out the starboard battery Mr Herrick, load with grape shot and chain if you please” “.. and on my command – fire on the uproll, and a guinea to the gun captain who takes down her main” “Let us be about it then, we have the wind in our favour and the Frenchy’s on a lee shore” Bliss!

Thought Merica already did?

Bish Bosh Bash said...

Mark: Re: “ All that Thomas Voekler still in the yellow jersey on Bastille Day - that's what really matters to the French I reckon”. Too right. That guy and his contemporaries has ‘holier than holy’ status out there. I often used to drive on ‘race roads’ across France, where whole large towns were shut down until their godettes had peddled their stuff and passed through. I once caught up with a big race meeting heading into a town near Rennes.

The race marshals instructed me to stay on the road but keep it below 20mph till I was five miles the other side. As I drove into the town at 18mph, the looks and the jeers I was getting from the hordes that lined the streets was quite visceral. I would have pulled over and coffee’d it out in a café somewhere, but I was afraid I might be strung up on the nearest pole. It’s the only time I ever see the French really being French thing. No surprise the ‘Tour’ leg is an integral part of their ‘La Fête Nationale’ now. The French don’t give a stuff about the storming of that ugly old prison fort anymore.

the fly in the web said...

Re appears that the cannon to be fitted will be 'light weight' and 'non functional'...for safety reasons....
So we should be planning what to do with the prize money...

Steve said...

Dunno about Hadrian's wall but I can get you some genuine pebbledashing from that geezer, Tony Robinson's place. That's got to be worth a phonecard or two in the slammer. Whadyasay?

Bish Bosh Bash said...


F.A.O. Post Captain Fly – from ‘The Admiralty’. Eyes Only. Maam: Re your: “So we should be planning what to do with the prize money...”

Oh that really did hit the sweet spot with me over here Maam. Killer line that. Laugh!!

I’ve just got this wonderful vision thing of you doing a really evil “I’ve gotcha now, you little merde’s” snicker over there, with a smugly triumphant, dirty snorting chortle at the prospect of all the chaos and mayhem you’re going to dish up now, to all the poor unsuspecting French government officials & bureaucrat types, who’ve spuriously invested all their ill gotten gains together in financing this historic French warship build project of theirs…and whom we both know, will be on board her in their entirety when she tries to slip out of Rochefort before dawn one morning, and make a run for deeper waters.

I can’t stop chuckling. Thank you!

Don’t know where you get all your ‘intel’ from – and I don’t want to know either!, but “well done you Maam.”

Chapter 1

Okay then, here’s the plan…we’ll send Stevie Weevie up the main mast with a glass, his jester bells and a speaking trumpet – Val gets complete control of the ships colours & signals, the top men lookouts…and the rum ration of course (I just don’t fancy our chances for one minute if we tried to deny her control of the ships grog do you? She’d start a riot and go all John Paul Jones’y on us. Not a good plan) – Mark gets to row the jolly boat to a place of concealment and observation near the entrance to Rochefort harbour – I want John Boyo there to take charge of the cocks, hens and piglets, as well as all the men on the gun deck – The Hattatts should assume complete control of all ‘Intelligence’ gathering activity and the chart room – You Maam, get the Captaincy & thus full command of our most glorious buccaneering frigate, the ships log, the gunpowder and shot room…which will be loaded full to capacity this time with the most heaviest French & European Law books you can find as cannon fodder, plus any other really nasty forms of ammo or weaponry you can nightmare up any time soon, and…your own, personal, parrot – Me…well I get to be executive officer, with total control of the galley, capstan, sail plan, and most important of all…the steering wheel part.

(Now sail due south to Chapter 43 below:)

Bish Bosh Bash said...

Chapter 43.

I suggest we contrive our own flag made up of the white ensign, the stars & stripes and …’the jolly roger’ – of course.

I’d just love to be a ‘Fly on their ratlines’ as they slip harbour into close shore waters one morning and witness their combined expressions of total shock and despair, quickly morph into total panic and despair as they hear the shriek from their own lookout up in ‘the tops’ … “ENEMY IN SIGHTT !!” as we spring our surprise, tacking around the headland, heeling right over under the strain of an impressively full and billowing spread of canvas & coat tails glowing brightly in dawns first sunrays – and with Stevie Weevie in his full dress jester suit and shiny new bells, hanging mockingly off the fore top by one hand while trumpeting out the call from above “SAIL OFF THE LAR’BD BOW CAPTAIN!! It’s the Frenchy by the cut of her jib. She’s all in irons by the look of her flailing canvas there and…there’s a whole bunch of landmen types in suits, jumping over the side!!!”

You:- “Thank you Mr Blake. Well spotted. You can return to the gun deck now and go fetch my machete, pens and best dress coat. Jump to it then man and while you’re at it, go wake up Mz Valerie, she’ll be passed out next to the rum locker below, just give her a good swig of fresh black coffee – and the good stuff mind! - then kindly ask her to rustle us all up a double tot of my secret stash of banana grog. Yessss, she knows exactly where I keep it, don’t you worry!”

“Right then Mr Bash…I want the guns double loaded with law book and ink, then you can run out the full starboard battery and wait for my command if you please. You know the signal…when I drop my big raised grouse quill here…yell out the mortal command, and unleash hell…over there!!”

“Now will some other kind sole go and fetch me my parrot please! I have a particularly jaunty spring in my stride this fine, sunny morning, and have every intention of making this a very short, one sided and quite decisive action to all ‘our’ mutual advantage and favour. Hmmm.”

“Right then John Boyo, I need your finest work of gunnery this day please. Just dismast her if you will. Don’t obliterate her damn your eyes, there’s a good chap, and as soon as she strikes her colours, send word to Mr Mark out there to rig a long tow line from her fo'c'sle to our transom here - understand!?”

“Okay Mr & Mrs Hattatt, you can return to the chart room now and set about plotting me a course for the westerly Caribbean coast, because as soon as we’ve dished up our French sailor friends over there, that’s precisely where we’re heading.”

“Hoist the colours then Mz Val. Bring us round to windward Mr Bash, smartly as you can please, and let’s show her all our iron.”

“Steady as you bear then. At the ready! Wait for my signal ….. on the uproll ….Let Fly All !!...”


End of story.

P.S… Ha ha ha!

P.P.S. Now go pour yourself a double tot of rum. And that’s an order!

Bish Bosh Bash said...

Mr Stevio: I’ll pass on that pebble dash from ‘Baldrick Bloke’ there thank you. Last time you burgled me some of that, it was all stuck together with diced carrots and cat food, like one of his blokes had technicolor yawned all over it the previous night after the pubs chucked out. And if I remember rightly…the last time I inserted a phone card up your slammer in the showers – exactly where you told me to by the way – you started making so much wailing and other racket, you woke up all the screws! Duhhh.

Anyway I need you for a whole new sea fairing adventure. Read the plan of action just up north here, then go get a life jacket and a polypropylene rubber jester suit. Take a good dose of sea sickness pills and meet me down our secret shipyard in Falmouth, soon as you can. We’re on a mission at last…an all I can tell you is, it’ll kick off with a bang from the French Atlantic coast, and end up some weeks later just west of the Spanish Maine. Comprendo!

And try an keep it quiet for once will you?!!


the fly in the web said...

My compliments to Mr. Bash and will he request Mr. Blake to keep a weather eye open for any rear admirals of the blue hovering on the horizon waiting for easy pickings from our prize money.

Goodness, Phil, if you make me laugh like that again I'll do myself a mischief!

John Going Gently said...

I keep checking for new posts!

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