Happy “Let’s Cut Everyone’s Head Off” Day
Today, July 14th, is the birthday of France’s very bloody revolutionary past.
Dynamics behind a good revolution are always more complicated than we’ll ever know so I won’t even try to explain seriously.
No. Instead, I will explain the French Revolution in terms everybody can understand... and enjoy:
1789. You are a French peasant.
You have a wife, a few kids and live off of the yield of your crops.
Aside from tooth decay and the occasional threat of bubonic plague, life isn’t too bad.
Of course, the crops this year have been sub-par, barely allowing your family to survive. The neighbor two doors down has had to abandon his house and is now living under the bridge. Not helping are the taxes you have to pay to the Kingdom – Absolute Monarchy of Divine Right, whatever that means.
"Where are these taxes going anyways?"
You find yourself hoping they are not supporting the decadent ways of the King Louis XVI and his Queen. You also heard through the grapevine that Church folks (Clergy) and Fancy dudes (Nobles) don’t have to pay taxes, or at least not as much as they should. Reminds you of something? The heavy clinking of the gold coins in the Priest’s pockets feel like salt on an infected wound. But you know better than to open your mouth.
The King’s Absolute Divine Right is standing in the way of privileged political entities acting freely. The Fancy dudes are starting to stir, coveting a bigger piece of the pie for themselves. The pie being power; or money; or both.
Sensing that things are fixing to get a bit iffy (he is one perceptive King),
Louis attempts to reform the fiscal system. Monarchy not being what it used to be under previous monarchs, he falls flat on his face, which can’t feel good for a King.
One mighty day, he invites the elites to discuss the current affairs. Representatives from the Church and Fancy dudes communities are held in high regards and showered with attentions. Meanwhile, us People's representatives are treated like cow dung. Consider what happens next, there's a lesson in there somewhere.
The People's Reps ain’t a bunch of cowards, and they sure as hell aren't gonna take it laying down.
They refuse to leave and demand that a Constitution be put in place. King Louis says: “OK OK, stop being angry, I will give you what you want.” But instead, he unleashes 20,000 soldiers onto Paris and its People.
“Lord, what a scary sight these ferocious soldiers are, marching over the streets of our beloved city. What will happen of us? We already have no food to claim for, they'll starve us and finish us off.”
As it turns out, you’ve not been the only one worried about food reserves. Some folks have gone crazy pillaging nunneries’ stocks of grains, and probably abusing a few poor nuns in the process.
The uprising intensifies every day. You can feel the rage swell in the underbelly of Paris. There are no rules anymore. On the street, a rebel hisses at you: “if you’re not with us, you’re against us.” So you decide to be with them.
On July 14, 1789
You and the hordes of misfits march towards the Bastille prison to force entry and acquire some weapons. Can’t fight no 20,000 soldiers with no weapons! The Bastille falls into your hands. Walking in and out of the fortress sure tastes like freedom already.
On your way to the Hotel de Ville, you rough up a few gents, massacre a few others. You proudly display their heads mounted on sticks like kebabs. It’s gore, yes, but better their heads up there than yours.
Under the pressure, the King crumbles and admits defeat. During a town’s meeting, he tries to win the hearts of the People and bears the colors of Paris by attaching a cockade to his hat.
The Blue White Red sure LOOK nice on the King's royal whites!
Your family is so relieved to see you return, alive and all. They try hard to ignore your blood-splattered frocks. Your wife frowns: these stains won't be easy to come out.
Such are the events that eventually opened the door to a political reform, with the National Assembly from then on ruling alongside the King. The Monarchy was weakened but the rebellions didn't stop, sending a few Nobles running for the hills right on over to neighboring countries.
In August, the great Declaration of Human and Citizen Rights was born. Hallelujah!
We all know how this ended.
The King’s hold on the Kingdom weakened and after much riffraff, he was arrested, judged, guillotined and his head was put on a stick. A true Royal Kebab.
Monarchy was no more. France became a Republic, the Republic we know and love today (with a few minor adjustments of course). Some reason to celebrate!
Happy Bastille Day.
Words: Cécile Charlot.