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"Bastille Day"

What and when is: La Fête Nationale"?

"La Fête Nationale" is the National Day of France and is celebrated on the 14th July. In France it is called:"La Fête Nationale". We call this day: "Bastille Day". In France, it is a national holiday which is celebrated all over the country.

This special day gets its name from the event known as "The Storming of the Bastille" by the people of Paris on July 14th 1789. The Storming of the Bastille marked the start of the French Revolution, the end of the monarchy and the beginning of the Republic of France

Why is it celebrated on this date?

The Bastille was hated as it was a symbol of the power of the French monarchs, who could imprison people without a trial, for as long as they wished. It housed political prisoners - who had disagreed with the King and his way of running the country. Thousands of people stormed the Bastille - most were armed with little more than farming tools.The troops guarding the prisoners surrendered, and the prisoners were released. There were only four in the Bastille at the time and they were probably rather amazed at their good luck!

The successful attack on the Bastille became a very important event for French people, since it showed that they were able to challenge the King's authority.

Vive la Révolution!

In 1789, France was bankrupt - it had run out of money. King Louis XVI and his government had spent too much money.

  • In France, the Royal Family and the court had spent money on luxurious living - the cost of running a palace like Versailles (opposite) was enormous.
  • Abroad, France had been involved in costly wars.
  • In France, bad weather had ruined the harvests and there was not enought wheat and food grown to feed everyone. This caused a famine. Combined with high prices for the food that was available, all these things made the hungry citizens of France very discontented.
  • There was a problem with the tax system. To help pay for the luxurious life at court and fighting overseas wars, the King had to increase taxes.
  • The ordinary people paid 75% of their income in taxes to the nobles, the Church and the King.
  • The Church and the rich nobles paid no taxes at all! It was hardly surprising that the ordinary people in France felt that this was very unfair.

The King was Louis XVI. Louis was a very ordinary man - he did not really want to become King. He was not very interested in running the country, and left most of the work to his ministers. Unfortunately, they weren't very good at running the country either!

Marie Antoinette was the Austrian wife of Louis XVI and the Queen of France. She was young, beautiful and elegant. Many people accused her of wasting money on jewellery, clothing and entertainment.

On the right is a picture of part of the toy farm that Louis built for Marie Antoinette so she could play at being a farmer's wife.

Louis XVI and his ministers felt that new laws making people pay even higher taxes could help the country to survive. Louis summoned the French Parliament to help him pass the new laws. It was the first time it had been called in over 100 years!

Many of the members of parliament were not ready to vote for higher taxes. They wanted a government in which the citizens had more say in running the country and, more importantly, they wanted a Constitution, or set of rules, by which the country should be governed.

The meeting soon broke down, with the delegates forming their own "National Assembly" . They swore an oath to form a Constitution which would give people greater freedom, ensure fairer taxation and remove power from the King.

This was why the people of Paris marched upon the Prison of the Bastille on July 14th, 1789. They wanted to support the demands from the National Assembly.

What happened to the King and Queen?

The King and Queen were imprisoned with their children in The Conciergerie in Paris. The King, Louis XVI and his wife, Marie-Antoinette, met an unhappy end on the guillotine in 1793. Their children were sent back to Marie-Antoinette's family in Austria.

in the picture, Louis XVI mounts the scaffold to be guillotined and the executioner shows his head to a silent crowd. The guillotine was located in the Place de la Concorde in Paris.

How is la Fête Nationale celebrated?

In Paris, la Fête Nationale is commemorated with a military parade and a march past the President on the Champs Elysées (see the picture on the right). Thousands of people watch.

There is a huge flag flown from the Arc de Triomphe and at night, there are fireworks and special celbrations in the city.

The national holiday is important to all French people, and each town has its own special celebrations throughout the day, ending late at night with public balls in the street and traditional fireworks displays.

Here are some other important results from the Revolution.

The slogan of the Revolution was "Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité", which means: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity (Brotherhood). These ideas became part of the Constitution. This slogan is also the motto of France today.

The ideas of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity were also contained in the Declaration of the Rights of Man which declared that all people were equal. This was a very controversial idea in 1791. The Declaration of the Rights of Man became a document on which many other nations based their constitutions in later years.

  • The Tricolore Flag was adopted. Its colours unified the old royal colours and those of the city of Paris.
  • The national anthem, the Marseillaise was written and has been in use since this time.
  • Utimately, the successes of the Revolution inspired many peoples around the world to seek freedom from oppressive governments.

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Bastille Day is called la Fête Nationale in France. It is celebrated on July 14th?
 


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