The Bastille Became The Focus Of The Opening Of The French Revolution. Why?

1301 words - 5 pages

The Bastille became the focus of the opening of the French Revolution. Why?The Bastille had been transformed from being used as a military fortress to protect the Eastern wall of Paris in the 14th Century to it's less imposing role as a prison by the 17th Century . The walls were over eighty feet high and it held weapons arsenals from its glory days as a military fortress . Acting under King Louis XIII, Cardinal Richelieu imprisoned many undesirable characters arbitrarily so that the Bastille's reputation became notorious for the secretive and capricious way that citizens could be taken away by demand of the King (called 'lettres de Cachet') , with no trial and for as long as the State wanted . By the time King Louis XV1 was in power, the Bastille no longer housed commoners but generally held only two classes of people: writers whose work was considered treasonous, and delinquents whose families requested they be put away (the infamous Marquis de Sade was one such prisoner) . The conditions of the prison depended upon the wealth of the prisoner- many secured privileges such as writing materials, visitors, extra pillows, tobacco and alcohol - though the reputation of the Bastille still remained as a dark and vermin- ridden place where the King hid away his opponents. Books circulated in the 1780's- Linguet's ' Memoirs of the Bastille', for example - that cemented the Bastille as a perfect example of why people should be in opposition to state power: it was a secretive process of incarceration, it was given special power over the life and death of its inhabitants and it was careless with its power . The conditions of the Bastille were exaggerated and condemned by the writers of the day, partially because incarceration is a terrible and mentally traumatizing experience and partly because of simple tabloid mentality: as the Abb`e Morellet wrote, ' those six months in the Bastille would be an excellent recommendation and infallibly make my fortune' . On July 14th 1789, a mob of French Citizens attacked the Bastille and released only seven prisoners- yet this was seen as a triumph against the King. The Bastille became a symbol of Royal tyranny in the popular imagination, making it an ideal setting for the first revolts of the French Revolution.The existing social and political situation of the French citizens was the impetus for this ground breaking revolt, whilst the Bastille set the scene as a fabulous symbol of the monarchy. Up until 1789 the King had relied on extensive borrowing to finance his navy and army- a fierce and destructive rivalry with Britain encouraged him to continue to build these forces- and considerable losses from the country's involvement in the Seven Year's War (1756-63) and the American War of Independence meant that the country was in a state of financial crisis . King Louis XVI continued in the tradition of previous monarchs by taxing the lower classes and sparing the upper classes of any tax. The imbalance of tax between the...

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