Demandez à n’importe qui au hasard (ask anyone randomly): “C’est quoi le 14 Juillet (what is the 14 of July)?”, and you’re likely to hear the answer “C’est la fête nationale!” (It’s the national celebration!) Mais encore? (What else?) “It’s to celebrate a singular event in l’histoire de France: la prise de la Bastille (the storming of the Bastille.)”�
And for you, personally, what does the 14 juillet mean, and what does it stand for you?
La fête et la musique dans les rues de France?
Le défilé du quatorze juillet?
The question we ought to ask is: What happened exactement in that particular day of July 14th, 1789?
And why should it matter to us, today, more than two centuries ago?
Furthermore, does the importance of this day solely matter to the French and their own history?
To help us bring an answer to these questions, and to put matters into their accurate perspective historique, we will turn to an eyewitness of the storming of the Bastille, a brilliant, towering figure of French literature, Chateaubriand [picture below].
Concerning the events that took place on the 14th of July, Chateaubriand identifies one -quote- “lying and cynical revealer of the corruption of the upper classes“, whom he holds responsible for the horrendous massacres he witnessed that day.
But before we go further, and again, for the sake of clear perspective, it is important to remember that the French Revolution came in the aftermath of another major revolution outre-atlantique (on the other side of the Atlantic), namely la Révolution américaine, when the French, through another figure marquante of French literature, Beaumarchais, as well as the Marquis de Lafayette [picture below], entre autres (among others), delivered a crucial and thoroughly decisive assistance to the American troops in their war against la Grande Bretagne.
The Révolution américaine a donné naissance (gave birth) to les États-Unis. With the drafting of its remarkable Constitution of the United States, it was to yield une profonde influence on the French minds and hearts, inciting a group of French friends of Benjamin Franklin, and chief amongst them was the returning Lafayette (who named one of his sons George Washington), to follow the footsteps of les Pères fondateurs des États-Unis (the Founding Fathers of the United States.) Their set objective was to create their own constitutional version: une Constitution française, that would mirror the same principles upheld by the American Constitution, sans effusion de sang (with no bloodshed.)
Washington and Lafayette in Valley Forge
Unfortunately -and this is a very important point to keep in mind- the leadership of la Grande Bretagne, who suffered the recent loss of its North American colonies at the hands of Washington and Lafayette, was understandably not too thrilled at the prospect of seeing le modèle américain emulated anywhere else, which undoubtedly would have threatened the vast hegemony of its global colonial Empire, “sur lequel le Soleil ne se couche jamais” (“on which the sun never sets.“)
The threat of anti-colonial republican proliferation reaching France was even more alarming, a country perceived by the highest circles of the British establishment as lying in “their own backyard”, only a few miles across the English Channel, with which their Empire maintained an age-old rivalité (rivalry) in the economic and geopolitical spheres.
One can therefore picture, *dans les grandes lignes* (in the broad lines), without a risk of oversimplification, the two following groupes d’acteurs déterminants (the two determining groups of actors) who stood at the forefront of la Révolution française:
1- Le groupe du modèle américain: Centered around the veteran hero of the American Revolution La Fayette, as well as other personal friends of the “most French” of all the Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin, such as the renown scientist Lavoisier [picture below], a pioneering figure of modern chemistry, who is also known for his maxim “Rien ne se perd, rien ne se crée, tout se transforme” (“nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed”), a maxim later to be known as the “law of the conservation of mass.”
2- Le groupe anti-modèle américain (or pro-britannique): The leader incontesté of this group was none other than the dear cousin of the King Louis XVI, the Duc d’Orléans [picture below], who never concealed his feverish anglomanie, especially after sojourning in England for a while, where he is known to have fallen under the through control of the British Minister, Nathaniel Parker-Forth (Parker-Forth, in a coïncidence amusante, is the great-great-great-grand father of News Corporation-owner Rupert Murdoch, of which Fox News is a subsidiary.) Not surprisingly, the Duke nurtured obvious ambitions to replace his cousin, the French King, by any means if necessary, and pour cette raison (for this reason), he specifically devoted his Palais-Royal in Paris to further his schemes, turning it into a “jacobin” nest of intrigues, and allying himself with three Swiss figures, whom we shall call here “les 3 SUiSSES” (“The 3 Swiss.”)
Those “3 SUiSSES” are almost forgotten today, despite the fact that they played a key role in the dramatic shift of the French Revolution, from a movement initiated by the pro-American constitution model, modeled on a Platonic conception of la république (the Republic), to an unfortunate, bloodthirsty campaign, which eventually led to what historians dubbed la Grande Terreur, often resulting in the beheading of its very own instigators through la guillotine —Not sparing even one of its main “engineers”, the Duke d’Orléans himself.
The “3 SUiSSES” in question are, namely: Necker (father of the famous Madame de Staël), Marat, and le Baron de Besenval.
At the early stages of the French Revolution, and in spite of the flood of vehement attacks launched by the Swiss journalist Marat, the Lafayette group seemed to gain the upper hand over the Duc d’Orléans and his Swiss partners in crime, achieving a major victory only a few weeks before the storming of the Bastille took place, which occurred with the establishment of the first Assemblée Nationale (National Assembly), as a direct result of what ought to be seen as truly glorious historical event, namely of the “Serment du jeu de paume.“
“Serment du jeu de paume.“ (known in English as the “Tennis Court Oath“) [picture below], held le 20 Juin 1789 (June 20th, 1789), with Lafayette named as its Vice-Président.
Losing political momentum, and with le Roi (the King) Louis XVI dismissing Necker, the “economic hitman” of the three Swiss stooges, *three days* before le 14 juillet, from his post of contrôleur général des finances, and le Duc d’Orléans tactically joining the new Assemblée Nationale, entered in action the Baron de Besenval. The Swiss Baron was in charge of the Gardes Suisses, who function was to ensure the safety of la population parisienne. Instead, he organized the storming of the Bastille, and ordered the killing of several innocent people in the most random fashion, with the clear intent of stirring up enough social unrest so as to force le Roi (the King) to recall Necker. That, unfortunately, happened, seulement trois jours plus tard (only three days later.)
To come back to Chateaubriand, the great French writer used very little flattering words to describe the sinister Baron. In his “Mémoires d’Outre-Tombe” (page 276), as a powerless spectator who witnessed “live” the storming of the Bastille, he portrays the Swiss Baron as follows:
“Le baron de Besenval,
révélateur menteur et cynique des corruptions de la haute société,
mouche du coche des puérilités de la vieille monarchie expirante, ce
lourd baron compromis dans l’affaire de la Bastille, sauvé par M.
Necker et par Mirabeau, uniquement parce qu’il était Suisse: quelle
misère! Qu’avaient à faire de pareils hommes avec de pareils
événements? Quand la Révolution eut grandi, elle abandonna avec dédain
les frivoles apostats du trône: elle avait eu besoin de leurs vices,
elle eut besoin de leurs têtes: elle ne méprisait aucun sang.”
Translated by A. T. De Mattos in English as:
“The Baron de Besenval, the lying and cynical revealer
of the corruption of the upper classes, the fly on the wheel
of the puerilities of the expiring old monarchy; that ponderous
baron, compromised in the affair of the Bastille, and saved by
M. Necker and Mirabeau only because he was a Swiss: the disgrace of it!
What had such men to do with such events?
When the Revolution had attained its full height, it scornfully
abandoned these frivolous apostates from the throne:
it had needed their vices, it now needed their heads;
it disdained no blood.”
* * *
En guise de conclusion (as a conclusion), the 14th of July essentially marked a tragic coup d’état in favor of the Duc d’Orléans and his cohort of the “3 SUiSSES“, and by extension, in favor of the colonial empire of la Grande Bretagne, which was actively prescribing their marche à suivre (procedure), thus deviating the French Revolution off the course of its truly Republican initiators, Lafayette and the pro-American constitution modal forces, towards the radical trajectoire jacobine, in the midst of which the French Duke ended up losing -quite littéralement- his head. The jacobin hijacking of the French Revolution in turn gave rise to the horrors of la Grande Terreur, and paved the way for the transformation of France into un empire colonial (a colonial empire), at the image of Great Britain, from the Napoléon Bonaparte era, well into the 20th century.
The French today should therefore be proud of the Lafayette’s 20 juin 1789, when their first Assemblée Nationale saw the light, and not the tragic date which occurred three weeks later, which marked le triomphe temporaire of the overly ambitieux Duc d’Orléans and his “3 SUiSSES” stooges.