When King Louis XIV died in 1775, he left France near bankruptcy. Louis XIV's successors, Louis XV and Louis XVI, proved incapable of dealing with the country's financial and administrative problems.
In 1789 the revolution took place. During the next two years, the National Assembly, dominated by the middle class, established a constitutional monarchy and reduced the power and privileges of the nobility and the Roman Catholic Church.
Under the Legislative Assembly (1791-1792) and the National Convention (1792-1795), the monarchy was abolished, the king was executed, and the revolution passed through the Reign of Terror (1793-1794).
Highlights of the tour include:
•Les Invalides - Revolutionaires stole over 30,000 arms from here in order to attack the Bastille prison
•Conciergerie - the prison overlooking the Seine river where Marie Antoinette was held
•Tuileries Palace - would be located in the current Tuileries Gardens, this also served as a prison for King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette
•Place de la Concorde - site of the beheadings of King Louis VXI and Marie Antoinette, among many others
•Marie Antoinette - the Austrian Queen that may have never uttered the infamous phrase, "... then let them eat cake."
•Louis XVI - the proud king that lost his throne and his head to his beloved countrymen
•Assemblee Nationale - site of the lower house of the French Legislative branch
•Guillotine - the machine that brought quick death (usually) to over 1,000 people
•Reign of Terror - the years following the Revolution that saw chaos, betrayal and murder
•Bastille Prison - the raiding of this prison sparked the Revolution
From 1789, when the citizens of Paris stormed the Bastille prison, to 1799, Napoleon took power, Paris was the stage of the battle cry that would rock France, “Vive la Revolution!” While valiant in its ideology, the fervor of the movement led to terror and bloodshed. Louis XVI and his family were held under house arrest at the Tuilerie Palace. Marie Antoinette and countless others were imprisoned at the Conciergerie. On the Place de la Concorde, the recently invented guillotine beheaded over 1000 people.
The enlightment brought critical analysis and doubt to institutions, the citizens of the United States had gained their freedom from a monarchy (with French help), war and financial crisis had made the French bitter. Revolution was in the air and was officially declared with the storming of the Bastille prison on July 14 1789. Celebrated today as France’s national holiday. The attack on the Bastille prison is famous in French history for its example of the bravery of ordinary citizens to take down such an established emblem as the national prison. However, it is a lesser-known story that made this feat possible…
The Bastille was highly protected and the revolutionaries were poorly armed. At the time, the Hotel des Invalides was used as the cities ammunition depot. Fearless revolutionaries braved the moat and stole over 30,000 weapons from the Hotel des Invalides. This arsenal gave the Revolutionaries the equipment they needed to man their attack that were the attack on the Bastille.
The End of the Monarchy
In the autumn after the fall of the Bastille, King Louis XVI was forced to move his family from Versailles to the Royal Paris home of the Tuileries Palace. The family tried to escape, but were captured on the rue de Varenne and brought back to the palace to live under house arrest. During this time the Revolutionary forces grew and the public demanded their revenge. An angry mob killed the King’s Swiss guards and tried to kill the King, but he was able to safely escape. In 1793 Robespierre declared that « Louis must die so that the country may live. » Louis XVI was tried for crimes against the French people and brought to death under the guillotine by his own former faithful executioner Henri de Sanson. Sanson, a royalist at heart, mourned the day as he escorted his former boss to the guillotine stage. Sanson even hid guns under his clothes, ready to liberate the King if a possible escape plan was in act. No one would save the King, however, and his blood only gave lust to the Reign of Terror to come.
"The revolutionary government owes to the good citizen all the protection of the nation; it owes nothing to the Enemies of the People but death." claimed Robespierre. After the onset of the French Revolution came the Reign of Terror. Killing the King had not squelched revenged but kindled it. Queen Marie Antoinette was moved to the Conciergerie Prison. The Tuileries Palace became the home for the Constituent Assembly, its successor, the National Convention and the Council of 500, which eventually moved to the Palais of Bourbon, today’s National Assembly building. Conflict between rival revolutionary political factions, the Girondins and the Jacobins turned the original valiant ideology of the revolution into bloodlust. Many of the people who had actually been children of the Revolution were now considered enemies depending on what fraction was in power. Royals, whether they were for or against the Revolution, were beheaded. Marie Antoinette, who posed little threat, was guillotined in celebration. The guillotine, or the National Razor as it was called, would execute over 1,000 people during the Reign of Terror on the Place de la Concorde. In the end, even Robespierre, the revolutionary responsible for the Reign of Terror, would meet his death at the guillotine.
The procession to the guillotine was a show! Prisoners were picked up at the Conciergerie and paraded through the city down rue de Rivoli. Crowds of people flocked to the Place de la Condorde, then called Louis VX, to watch as victims cracked, screaming and crying for the crowd’s mercy. Some, like Queen Marie Antoinette, faced their fate with dignity and dry eyes. As the crowd roared slanders, the Queen’s last whisper to her children was, "Courage my darlings, I am going to be with your father"
The end of the Revolution is dated when Napoleon’s came to power in France. Due to the wobbly foundation of such a fractionalized revolution, it would be many years before the nation would become a democracy of the people.
Relive one of the most important events in modern history and the troubled times leading up to the storming of the Bastille, the capture of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, the Reign of Terror and the bloody results of the guillotine on one of our exciting private tours.