The morning of the 14th July 1789 saw the beginning of the French Revolution when Parisian revolutionaries stormed the Bastille, a large fortress, prison and ammunition store that symbolised everything that was wrong with the monarchy. Despite having earlier legalised the National Assembly following the Tennis Court Oath, King Louis XVI had ordered royal troops to surround Paris and had dismissed his popular finance minister, Jacques Necker. These actions led the Parisian crowd to believe that Louis was preparing to overthrow the Assembly.
Although the Bastille had been a symbol of tyranny for its imprisonment of people without trial, when it was stormed it only contained seven prisoners. One was a deranged Irishman who believed himself to be God and Julius Caesar. In addition there was another so-called ‘lunatic’, four forgers, and the Comte de Solages – an aristocrat who had been imprisoned at the request of his own family for committing incest.
The fortress was not attacked in order to free these prisoners. The mob was much more interested in seizing gunpowder from the Bastille’s stores to use in the 28,000 muskets they had taken earlier that day from the Hôtel des Invalides. The fortress was guarded by 82 French soldiers and a further 32 Swiss mercenaries when the mob arrived. Despite initial attempts to calm the crowd the Bastille’s governor, Marquis Bernard-Rene de Launay, ordered the guards to open fire when around 300 rioters broke into the first courtyard. When a group of deserters from the French army joined the mob, de Launay surrendered. He was later beheaded by the crowd.