Bastille Day is the common name given in English-speaking countries to the French National Day, which is celebrated on 14 July each year. In France, it is formally called La fête nationale (French pronunciation: [la fɛːt nasjɔnal]; The National Celebration) and commonly Le quatorze juillet (French pronunciation: [lə katɔʁz(ə) ʒɥijɛ]; the fourteenth of July).
The French National Day commemorates the Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, an important event in Paris in a violent revolution that had begun two days earlier, 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 paradein Europe is held on the morning of 14 July, on the Champs-Élysées in Paris in front of the President of the Republic, along with other French officials and foreign guests.
On 19 May 1789, Louis XVI invited Estates-General (les États-généraux) to air their grievances. The deputies of the Third Estate (le Tiers État), representing the common people (the two others were the Catholic clergy (clergé, Roman Catholicism being the state religion at that time) and the nobility (noblesse)), decided to break away and form a National Assembly. The Third Estate took the Tennis Court Oath (le serment du Jeu de paume, 20 June 1789), swearing not to separate until a constitution had been established. They were gradually joined by (liberal) delegates of the other estates; Louis XVI started to recognize the validity of their concerns on 27 June. The assembly renamed itself the National Constituent Assembly (Assemblée nationale constituante) on 9 July, and began to function as a legislature and to draft a constitution.
Jacques Necker, the finance minister, who was sympathetic to the Third Estate, was dismissed on 11 July. 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.
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 actual 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, theDeclaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen) was proclaimed (homme meaning both “man” and “human”).