Bastille Day is the common name given in English-speaking countries to the national day of France, which is celebrated on 14 July each year. In French, it is formally called Fête nationale (pronounced [fɛt nasjɔnal]; “National Celebration”) and commonly and legally le 14 juillet (French pronunciation: [lə katɔʁz(ə) ʒɥijɛ]; “the 14th of July”).
The French National Day is the anniversary of Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, a turning point of the French Revolution,as well as the Fête de la Fédération which celebrated the unity of the French people on 14 July 1790. Celebrations are held throughout France. The oldest and largest regular military parade in Europe is held on 14 July on the Champs-Élysées in Paris in front of the President of the Republic, along with other French officials and foreign guests.
Jacques Necker the Finance Minister, who was sympathetic to the Third Estate, was dismissed on 11 July 1789. The people of Paris then stormed the Bastille, fearful that they and their representatives would be attacked by the royal army or by foreign regiments of mercenaries in the king’s service, and seeking to gain ammunition and gunpowder for the general populace. The Bastille was a fortress-prison in Paris which had often held people jailed on the basis of lettres de cachet (literally “signet letters”), arbitrary royal indictments that could not be appealed and did not indicate the reason for the imprisonment. The Bastille held a large cache of ammunition and gunpowder, and was also known for holding political prisoners whose writings had displeased the royal government, and was thus a symbol of the absolutism of the monarchy. As it happened, at the time of the attack in July 1789 there were only seven inmates, none of great political significance.Preceding this on 14 July itself, was the siege of Hôtel des Invalides; Les Invalides, for firearms, muskets and canons, stored in its cellars, by rioting Parisians.
The crowd was eventually reinforced by mutinous Gardes Françaises (“French Guards”), whose usual role was to protect public buildings. They proved a fair match for the fort’s defenders, and Governor de Launay, the commander of the Bastille, capitulated and opened the gates to avoid a mutual massacre. However, possibly because of a misunderstanding, fighting resumed. According to the official documents, about 200 attackers and just one defender died in the initial fighting, but in the aftermath, de Launay and seven other defenders were killed, as was Jacques de Flesselles, the prévôt des marchands (“provost of the merchants”), the elected head of the city’s guilds, who under the feudal monarchy also had the competences of a present-day mayor.
Shortly after the storming of the Bastille, late in the evening of 4 August, after a very stormy session of the Assemblée constituante, feudalism was abolished. On 26 August, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (Déclaration des
Fête de la Fédération
As early as 1789, the year of the storming of the Bastille, preliminary designs for a national festival were underway. These designs were intended to strengthen the country’s national identity through the celebration of the events of 14 July 1789. One of the first designs was proposed by Clément Gonchon, a French textile worker, who presented his design for a festival celebrating the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille to the French city administration and the public on 9 December 1789. There were other proposals and unofficial celebrations of 14 July 1789, but the official festival sponsored by the National Assembly was called the Fête de la Fédération.
The Fête de la Fédération on 14 July 1790 was a celebration of the unity of the French nation during the French Revolution. The aim of this celebration, one year after the Storming of the Bastille, was to symbolise peace. The event took place on the Champ de Mars, which was located far outside of Paris at the time. The work needed to transform the Champ de Mars into a suitable location for the celebration was not on schedule to be completed in time. On the day recalled as the Journée des brouettes (“The Day of the Wheelbarrow”), thousands of Parisian citizens gathered together to finish the construction needed for the celebration.
The day of the festival, the National Guard assembled and proceeded along the boulevard du Temple in the pouring rain, and were met by an estimated 260,000 Parisian citizens at the Champ de Mars.A mass was celebrated by Talleyrand, bishop of Autun. The popular General Lafayette, as captain of the National Guard of Paris and a confidant of the king, took his oath to the constitution, followed by King Louis XVI. After the end of the official celebration, the day ended in a huge four-day popular feast and people celebrated with fireworks, as well as fine wine and running nude through the streets in order to display their great freedom
Origin of the current celebration
On 30 June 1878, a feast was officially arranged in Paris to honour the French Republic (the event was commemorated in a painting by Claude Monet). On 14 July 1879, there was another feast, with a semi-official aspect. The day’s events included a reception in the Chamber of Deputies, organised and presided over by Léon Gambetta,a military review at Longchamp, and a Republican Feast in the Pré Catelan.All through France, Le Figaro wrote, “people feasted much to honour the storming of the Bastille”.
In 1880, the government of the Third Republic wanted to revive the 14 July festival. The campaign for the reinstatement of the festival had been underway for nearly a decade, sponsored by the notable politician Léon Gambetta and scholar Henri Baudrillant.On 21 May 1880, Benjamin Raspail proposed a law, signed by sixty-four members of government, to have “the Republic adopt 14 July as the day of an annual national festival”. There were many disputes over which date to be remembered as the national holiday, including 4 August (the commemoration of the end of the feudal system), 5 May (when the Estates-General first assembled), 27 July (the fall of Robespierre), and 21 January (the date of Louis XVI’s execution).The government decided that the date of the holiday would be 14 July, but it was still somewhat problematic. The events of 14 July 1789 were illegal under the previous government, which contradicted the Third Republic’s need to establish legal legitimacy. French politicians also did not want the sole foundation of their national holiday to be rooted in a day of bloodshed and class-hatred as the day of storming the Bastille was. Instead, they based the establishment of the holiday as a dual celebration of the Fête de la Fédération, a festival celebrating the one year anniversary of 14 July 1789, and the storming of the Bastille. The Assembly voted in favor of the proposal on 21 May and 8 June, and the law was approved on 27 and 29 June. The law was made official on 6 July 1880.
In the debate leading up to the adoption of the holiday, Senator Henri Martin, who wrote the National Day law,addressed the chamber on 29 June 1880:
Do not forget that behind this 14 July, where victory of the new era over the Ancien Régime was bought by fighting, do not forget that after the day of 14 July 1789, there was the day of 14 July 1790 (…) This [latter] day cannot be blamed for having shed a drop of blood, for having divided the country. It was the consecration of the unity of France (…) If some of you might have scruples against the first 14 July, they certainly hold none against the second. Whatever difference which might part us, something hovers over them, it is the great images of national unity, which we all desire, for which we would all stand, willing to die if necessary.
Bastille Day Military Parade
The Bastille Day military parade is the French military parade that has been held on the morning of 14 July each year in Paris since 1880. While previously held elsewhere within or near the capital city, since 1918 it has been held on the Champs-Élysées, with the participation of the Allies as represented in the Versailles Peace Conference, and with the exception of the period of German occupation from 1940 to 1944 (when the ceremony took place in London under the command of General Charles de Gaulle); and 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic forced its cancellation.The parade passes down the Champs-Élysées from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde, where the President of the French Republic, his government and foreign ambassadors to France stand. This is a popular event in France, broadcast on French TV, and is the oldest and largest regular military parade in Europe. In some years, invited detachments of foreign troops take part in the parade and foreign statesmen attend as guests
Smaller military parades are held in French garrison towns, including Toulon and Belfort, with local troops