On the 10th August 1792, French revolutionary troops stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris. Referred to by some historians as ‘the Second Revolution’ the events of the 10th August suspended the monarchy under King Louis XVI.
The royal family had lived in the Tuileries since the October Days of 1789 saw them brought back to Paris from Versailles. Louis and his family were virtually imprisoned, as proved when crowds barred them from moving to their summer residence in April 1791. This may have influenced Louis to carry out the failed Flight to Varennes two months later, after which the family were more officially held under house arrest in the Tuileries Palace.
The relationship between the royal family and the people of Paris continued to decline throughout 1792. The king did himself no favours by vetoing a range of decrees passed by the Legislative Assembly, but the situation grew worse with the threat of invasion from foreign armies. By the time of the Brunswick Manifesto on 1st August that lent foreign support to the royal family, the crowds of Paris held Louis and the concept of monarchy in absolute contempt.
On the morning of the 10th August, crowds massed outside the Tuileries. With Louis opting to take shelter in the Legislative Assembly building, his Swiss Guard who were left to defend the palace were eventually overrun after they ran out of ammunition. Approximately 800 people on the king’s side were killed, and Paris was put in the hands of the revolutionaries while the royal family were sent to the Temple prison.
French aviator Louis Charles Joseph Blériot made the first flight across the English Channel in a heavier-than-air aircraft.
After graduating from the prestigious École Centrale in Paris, Blériot quickly established himself as a talented engineer, and launched his own company to sell the world’s first practical car headlamp. The success of this business provided him with the funds to begin developing his own aircraft.
Having started with ornithopters and gliders, by 1905 Blériot had moved on to developing powered aircraft in partnership with Gabriel Voisin. After this business was dissolved the following year, Blériot went on alone and created a number of working aircraft by the time Lord Northcliffe of the Daily Mail announced a cash prize for the first powered flight across the Channel.
Blériot was not the only person to express interest in the competition, but he was the first to complete the crossing from Calais after the high winds that had grounded the competitors dropped at dawn on 25 July 1909. Piloting his Blériot XI monoplane without the aid of a compass, he drifted slightly east of his intended course. Blériot landed clumsily near Dover Castle as a result of the windy conditions 36 minutes and 30 seconds after departing France.
Having neglected to visit Dover beforehand to identify an appropriate landing site, Blériot touched down where the journalist Charles Fontaine from the French Le Matin newspaper stood waving a large Tricolour.
The Daily Mail correspondent, meanwhile, was on the other side of the town as he had expected the competitors to land on beach. He quickly took a car to meet Blériot, whose achievement turned him into an instant celebrity.
On the 24th July 1927, the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing was unveiled in the Belgian city of Ypres. The memorial is one of four memorials to missing British and Commonwealth soldiers from the First World War in the area around the Ypres Salient, and features more than 54,000 names. Every evening at 8pm the Menin Gate is the location for a ceremony in which buglers from the city’s fire brigade sound the Last Post.
Ypres occupied a strategic position throughout the First World War that came about as a result of its location on the route of Germany’s Schlieffen Plan. Although the Allies successfully defended the city during the First Battle of Ypres in autumn 1914, they were surrounded on three sides and suffered artillery bombardments throughout the rest of the war that virtually flattened the city. Meanwhile the surrounding area was the location for four more major battles including the Second Battle of Ypres where Germany successfully used poison gas for the first time, and the Battle of Passchendaele.
After the war Ypres was rebuilt using reparations money from Germany, while the Commonwealth War Graves Commission constructed the memorial. The Menin Gate lies on the east side of the city, close to the route that allied soldiers would have taken in order to reach the front.
The fact that the memorial was too small to contain the names of all the missing demonstrates the scale of the destruction. The 34,000 missing soldiers killed after the arbitrary cut-off of 17th August 1917 are inscribed on the Tyne Cot Memorial 10km away.
The Franco-Prussian War began with a declaration of war by the French emperor, Napoleon III.
The Franco-Prussian War marked the culmination of a long period of declining relations between France and the German state of Prussia. Prussia had defeated Austria in the Seven Weeks’ War three years previously, and France was concerned that the established balance of power within Europe was at risk.
In June 1870 Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, a relative of King Wilhelm I of Prussia, was offered the vacant Spanish throne. Leopold accepted the offer, but Napoleon III complained that the appointment would mean France was surrounded by Prussian influence. In the face of France’s hostility, Wilhelm I persuaded Leopold to withdraw his candidacy.
Count Benedetti, the French Ambassador to Prussia, met Wilhelm shortly afterwards to demand a promise that the candidature would not be renewed. Wilhelm saw this as questioning his honour as a King, and refused to give the promise. He informed Bismarck of the meeting by telegram, and on 14 July the minister released an edited version – known as the Ems Telegram – in which he changed the tone of the conversation to give the impression that Wilhelm had offended the French Ambassador.
This pushed Napoleon, persuaded by the media and his wife, to declare war on Prussia on 19 July 1870. Prussia quickly secured the support of the South German states and, aided by superior military planning and rail links, mobilised quickly. France was defeated decisively within 4 weeks, and Emperor Napoleon III himself was taken prisoner. Although the Siege of Paris prolonged the conflict, the French government signed the Peace of Frankfurt in 1871.
The Battle of Castillon, considered to be the last battle of the Hundred Years’ War, was fought between France and England.
After more than a century of conflict, by the end of 1451 the French under King Charles VII had captured almost all the remaining English possessions in France. Charles’ army had driven the English out of the remaining regions of Guyenne and Gascony but the locals, who had been English subjects for almost three centuries, requested liberation by Henry VI. The English king obliged in October 1452 by sending the military commander John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, who seized the area around Bordeaux with little difficulty.
Frustrated by the loss of the territory, Charles spent the winter preparing a large army for a counter-attack. When the French forces advanced in the summer of 1453 the 6,000 English troops were outnumbered. The French were also supported by the powerful artillery of Jean Bureau who prepared a heavily fortified camp to besiege the English-held city of Castillon on the Dordogne River.
Keen to relieve Castillon, Shrewsbury left Bordeaux in early July and successfully routed a small detachment of French archers a few miles outside the city. Bolstered by this success, and having heard reports that the French in the main camp were retreating, Talbot ordered his troops to continue without waiting for reinforcements.
The French artillery inflicted huge losses on the ill-prepared English army, repeating the devastation as waves of reinforcements arrived. Shrewsbury himself was killed in the battle, and before long the remaining English troops began a desperate retreat to Bordeaux. Castillon surrendered to the French the next day and, although Bordeaux survived a siege until October, the Battle of Castillon was the last military engagement of the Hundred Years’ War.
Napoleon Bonaparte voluntarily surrendered to British Captain Maitland on board the Royal Navy ship HMS Bellerophon.
Napoleon’s return from exile on the island of Elba in March 1815 heralded the start of the Hundred Days which saw Napoleon seek to re-establish his position as Emperor of the French. On 18 June his army was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo by British and Prussian armies of the Seventh Coalition, prompting Napoleon to abdicate two days later.
Having been warned to leave Paris, Napoleon moved first to the Château de Malmaison and then to the southwestern port of Rochefort from where he hoped to escape to the United States. By this time, however, British Royal Navy warships had begun a blockade of French ports to prevent Napoleon leaving. Consequently unable to either remain in France, or flee across the Atlantic, Napoleon was forced to surrender to the British.
On 14 July Captain Maitland of HMS Bellerophon was informed that Napoleon would surrender on board his ship the next day. The former Emperor duly boarded the brig Épervier on the morning of 15 July and made his way to the Bellerophon. In order to avoid Napoleon being received by Vice-Admiral Henry Hotham on board HMS Superb, which was also off the coast of Rochefort, Maitland sent a barge to meet him.
Shortly before 7am Napoleon and his General Henri Gatien Bertrand arrived at the Bellerophon and announced that ‘I am come to throw myself on the protection of your Prince and your laws.’ He was subsequently taken to England, from where he was exiled to the remote island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic. He died there on 5 May 1821.
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.
The radical French journalist Jean-Paul Marat was stabbed to death in his bathtub by Charlotte Corday.
Marat was a well-respected doctor who, despite his wealth and privilege, had a passion for social justice. In the late 1780s he put his career on hold and dedicated his time to writing in favour of political, economic and social reform in his own radical newspaper. This soon adopted the name L’Ami du Peuple (“The People’s Friend”).
Marat’s writings often called for violence against the upper class, members of the government, and enemies of the people. As a result he occasionally had to hide in Paris’ extensive sewer network, where he may have developed the skin condition that saw him confined to a medicinal bath for hours on end.
On the 13th July 1793 Marat granted an audience to the 24-year old Charlotte Corday from Normandy while he soaked in his medicinal bath. Corday presented Marat with a list of names of supposed traitors, but she was actually a moderate Girondin sympathiser. After Marat told her that he would arrange for the execution of the traitors, she pulled out a five-inch kitchen knife and stabbed him once in the chest, severing a major artery and causing him to die almost immediately of massive blood loss.
Corday was guillotined in Paris just four days after killing Marat. She claimed in her trial to be a supporter of Republicanism, and said that she had ‘killed one man to save 100,000’. However, the assassination raised fears of counter-revolution and contributed to the subsequent Terror in which thousands of Frenchmen and women were guillotined on charges of treason.
Marat’s bathtub, and the knife that he was killed with, are now on display at the Musée Grévin waxworks in Paris.
The bikini swimsuit was introduced for the first time, four days after an atomic test at the Bikini Atoll.
Although there is evidence of bikini-like clothing being worn by ancient civilisations, the modern 2-piece swimsuit only appeared in the aftermath of the Second World War. While swimming costumes for women had gradually become less conservative through the first half of the twentieth century, wartime fabric rationing had forced designers to remove excess material which resulted in more form-fitting garments that had less panels covering the wearer’s body.
A minimalist two-piece swimsuit was introduced by French fashion designer Jacques Heim in May 1946. Named the ‘Atome’ after the smallest known particle of matter, the bottom still covered the wearer’s naval. Meanwhile Louis Réard was working on his own design which used even less material.
Réard hired exotic dancer Micheline Bernardini from the Casino de Paris to model his creation, since he couldn’t persuade any of the usual models to wear it. He called a press conference at the Piscine Molitor in Paris on 5 July 1946, four days after an atomic test at the Bikini Atoll that inspired the swimsuit’s name. Here he stated that, ‘like the [atom] bomb, the bikini is small and devastating’.
Despite receiving enormous media interest, the public reaction to the bikini was initially one of shock. Even in the late 1950s some magazines were still writing disapprovingly of the fashion, with Modern Girl Magazine declaring ‘it is inconceivable that any girl with tact and decency would ever wear such a thing’. Yet while there was a conservative reaction from some quarters, photographs of celebrities wearing bikinis soon brought mainstream acceptance that has turned the 2-piece swimsuit into an $800 million business.
British naval ships attacked the French Navy at Mers-el-Kébir in Algeria during the Second World War.
On 22 June 1940 France and Nazi Germany signed the Second Armistice at Compiègne. This signalled the end of the Battle of France, and Britain was concerned that the significant naval force of the Marine Nationale would now pass to the pro-Nazi Vichy government. If these ships were used by the Axis powers, they would secure a significant advantage in the Battle of the Atlantic.
Winston Churchill received reassurances from Admiral François Darlan, commander of the French Navy, that the ships would remain under French control. However, Churchill and the War Cabinet were unwilling to risk the possibility that they might change hands.
Having decided that it was necessary to neutralise the French fleet, Operation Catapult was launched on 3 July. French ships in British ports were captured, while those at Mers-el-Kébir were offered an ultimatum by Force H under the command of Admiral Sir James Somerville. If the French didn’t surrender their ships or move them away from the reach of the Axis, they would be sunk.
Negotiations continued for much of the day, but at 5:54pm Churchill ordered the British ships to open fire in the first Anglo-French naval exchange since the Napoleonic Wars. The French were anchored in a narrow harbour that made them an easy target for the British guns. 1,300 French sailors were killed in just a few minutes, while one battleship was sunk with five more seriously damaged.
Churchill later recalled the ‘hateful decision, the most unnatural and painful in which I have ever been concerned’ but, in the context of the war, the attack at Mers-el-Kébir proved to the world that Britain was determined to keep fighting.