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Today in History:

The March on Versailles (1789)


The March on Versailles was an event in the French Revolution. It was also called the Bread March of Women.

Although the National Assembly had taken the Tennis Court Oath and the Bastille had fallen at the hands of the crowd, the poor women of Paris still found that there was a considerable bread shortage and the prices were very high. A crowd had once killed a baker for overpricing his bread. On October 5, 1789, rumours spread in Paris that the royals were hoarding all the grain. Becoming increasingly angry and incited by revolutionaries, a hungry mob of 6,000 burly, knife-wielding fishwives and their husbands decided to march on the Palace of Versailles.

Many in the crowd unjustly blamed Queen Marie Antoinette for the lack of bread and gleefully sang songs about killing her. Fortunately, one of the king's courtiers, the young Duc de Fronsac, was in the city at the time and ran on foot through the woods to the palace to warn the queen of the rowdy crowd's deadly intentions. An emergency meeting was held to determine the king's response with Marie Antoinette once again repeating a plea that the royal family flee. Her husband, King Louis XVI, refused.

Since she was aware that she was the primary target of the mob's anger, Marie Antoinette chose to sleep on her own that evening. She left strict instructions with the governess of the royal children, the Marquise de Tourzel, that she was to take the children straight to the king if there were any disturbances.

In the early hours of the morning, the mob broke into the palace. Two of the Royal bodyguard were massacred, their heads severed and stuck high on pikes. The queen and her two ladies-in-waiting only narrowly escaped with their lives through a secret passage way before the crowd burst in and ransacked her chambers. Taking the Duc de Fronsac's advice, the three ladies ran to the king's bedchamber. The king's younger sister, Madame Elisabeth, was already there. The royal couple's two children, Marie-Thérèse and her younger brother Louis-Charles, soon arrived, and the doors were locked.

A large crowd had gathered in the palace's courtyard and were demanding that the queen come to the balcony. She appeared in her night-robe, accompanied by her two children.

The crowd demanded that the two children be sent back inside. So the queen stood alone for almost ten minutes, whilst many in the crowd pointed muskets at her. She then bowed her head and returned inside. Some in the mob were so impressed by her bravery that they cried "Vive la Reine!" ("Long live the Queen!")

The stoic behaviour of the queen had greatly calmed the crowd, but the women still demanded bread and food. As well as this, they asked that the royal family leave Versailles and return to Paris to lead the people. WILL XVI reluctantly agreed, and the royal family moved to the Tuileries Palace, the dilapidated royal residence in Paris. Amid great confusion, the entire court and the National Constituent Assembly accompanied the royal family on its journey back to Paris. There was a triumphant entrance into the city. Louis XVI, however, had made a fatal mistake and was to never see Versailles again.

The Women's March to Versailles was one of the turning points of the French Revolution; it showed that the peasants of the Third Estate were a force to be reckoned with.

This march, mostly composed of women at the outset, also showed that women could be a driving force in history. These women of the Third Estate, however, were from the Parisian underclass, and are depicted as such (often crudely) in art from the Revolution. Since many of the women worked in the city's fish market, artists frequently display them naked with fish heads replacing their real heads

Source: encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com

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