After Tariq and Clare posted earlier this week on Sedition Law in England and India, I found myself thinking about revolutions. Naturally the first thing that occurred to me was that today is the anniversary of one of the great events of the French Revolution, the March on Versailles. You can see a contemporary account of the events of that day in the text depicted here at the left. It’s a snapshot from the Gazette Nationale ou Le Moniteur Universel, the principal French newspaper during the years of the Revolution. It also served as the official gazette of the French government. Here is the story:
Early on Monday morning, October 5th, 1789, the women of the marketplaces in the Paris neighborhood of Faubourg Saint-Antoine began to riot over the chronic shortages of bread they were facing and the inflated prices vendors were attempting to charge for it. What followed was not entirely spontaneous. Liberal revolutionary agitators, a mixture of political dissidents and renegade national guardsmen, had been planning to take advantage of the next outbreak of popular disorder to force constitutional change. Seizing the opportunity the riot provided, they guided the crowd toward the royal residence in Versailles. The women marched onward, shouting “Bread! Bread!” and the crowd grew as they continued down the road. Hundreds of women joined them along the way.
When the multitude arrived at the palace, one of the entrance gates was found to be open, and before long, the rioters were charging through its halls, threatening the lives of the royal family. Two royal guards were decapitated; their heads carried about on pikes. The crowd was only dispersed after the Marquis de Lafayette produced the King for an impromptu address to the crowd. The march’s unexpected success and the apparent power dynamic between the crowd and the King made it clear to many for the first time that the ancien regime was now somehow vanquished.
By and large the reformers achieved what they were hoping for. The events of the 5th and 6th of October led to the King’s acceptance of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man as well as a series of sweeping changes that the National Assembly had passed in the wake of that summer’s storming of the Bastille. Chillingly, it is reported that when King Louis was taken back to Paris, he asked to have brought to him a book about the ill-fated King Charles I of England, who had been beheaded by his own people in 1649.