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The Bastille, originally known as the Bastille Saint-Antoine, was first built on April 20th, 1357 in Paris France by King Charles V to protect the city walls from The English Army during the 100 years war. However, It was not until Charles V reign and under the Paris provost, Hugues Aubriot, that construction finally occurred in 1370. The Bastille had an innovative design with eight towers contrasting to its initial two and protected the strategic gateway of the Port, Saint-Antoine, which was located on Paris’s eastern edge. However, by 1417, the Bastille was no longer considered a fortress with the 100 years war over as it was soon declared a state prison.
The Bastille as a prison to hold primarily political prisoners or citizens held as request by their families in order to ensure no harm was inflicted on their family name. Louis XIV began to use the Bastille to hold upper-class members of society who opposed or angered him. Prisoners included French Protestants after the October 1685 Edict of Fontainebleau revoked the April 1598 Edict of Nantes, an edict that granted the Huguenots the right to practice their religion without persecution from the state. By the mid 1600s, many streets and even a moat were built around the Bastille. The entrance to the prison was designed on the right side and included a guardhouse which stationed guards both day and night. Additionally, the Bastille contained drawbridges that led to a great gate and a lesser gate. These gates led to a building known as the court of l’Hotel du Gouvernement that was separated from the great Court by barriers.
Moreover, to get to the entrance of the great Court, a person had to pass two drawbridges, five gates, and three guardhouses that had guards stationed at all times. Louis XV who came to power in 1722, and Louis XVI who came to power in 1774, held prisoners of various backgrounds at the Bastille during their reigns. However, during the time of Louis XVI’s reign, the Bastille came to represent more than just a prison. Surrounding the prison were two areas, one filled with French nobles and aristocrats and the other housing the common working class. The Bastille served to separate these two groups. Nobles and aristocrats lived in the fashionable quarter frequented by tourists and the wealthy and on the opposite side was Saint-Antoine, a working class district that was densely populated and filled with the workshops of the middle class people. Although as the treatment of the lower classes in France started to get worse and worse, the people sought justice from their King. And even though an angry riot had been running ramped throughout Paris, the true start of the French Revolution was sparked by the storming of the Bastille on July 14th 1789.
For a long time, common French citizens were suffering from food shortages and the increase in taxes put upon them by King Louis XVI. Furthermore, many Parisians were also angered by the dismissal of their beloved minister, Jacques Necker just a few days before. But what really angered them was the fact that since June 1789, King Louis XVI had concentrated troops around Paris. The immense amount of military in the area provoked the march where French citizens stole over 3,000 firearms to fight against the King and his army. However, these weapons required gunpowder, which was known to be held at the Bastille. After arriving at the prison, marchers ran into an outer courtyard and a battle erupted. When no ammunition was found, the mob demolished the Bastille brick by brick. By the time it was over, the people of Paris had freed every prisoner held in the Bastille and taken the governor captive. The governor and three of his officers were then killed and beheaded by an infuriated crowd, their heads paraded through the streets on spikes. However, the cost was steep: nearly one hundred citizens and eight prison guards were killed.
All of this happened on July 14, which has been known in France and all over the world as “Bastille Day” ever since. Hearing that the Bastille had fallen, Louis XVI asked the duke de La Rochefoucauld: “Why, this is a revolt?” To which the duke retorted: “No, Sire, it’s a revolution!”(Class Notes). This important event is not only the spark of the revolution, but it demonstrates the French people slowly taking the King’s power away from him. Because the Bastille represented the King’s absolute power, the storming and ultimate destruction of the Bastille shows how the citizens of France were finally able to stand up to their king and ultimately overflow him. Furthermore, this event made it clear to the king that he could not long trust his people, and that in order for him to stay in power, he had to start signing their requests. Overall, the Bastille played a very important role in protecting France and serving as a symbol of the destruction of King Louis XVI’s power.
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