The central event in European history in the late 18th and early 19th century was the French Revolution which triggered sister revolutions across Europe. The revolution began with the storming of the Bastille prison in Paris, July 14th, 1789.
After the death of King Louis XIV, known as the Sun King, the monarchy lost touch with the people, who wanted reform and better living conditions. Many people were poor and the national debt was high after France lost the Seven Years War. The ingredients were rife for a reaction, with intellectuals joining the call for change.
The King died and was succeeded by his son, who also sought reforms, but in May 1789 a new radical assembly opened, the new King sensing he was losing power dissolved the assembly and sent 20,00 troops into Paris to quash the people’s rebellion. However, the people were armed and thousands stormed the Bastille Prison killing soldiers, guards and royal officials and freeing prisoners. This was the first step to revolution, three years later the King and his family were beheaded and France became a Republic.
In Marseilles the French National Anthem was born. As 5000 volunteers set off for Paris in 1792, a soldier suggested singing a new battle song recently composed in the city by Rouget de I’Isle, who apparently fell asleep at his harpsichord one night and dreamt the song, and remembered it when he awoke. By the time the men of Marseilles had marched, the song of the Marseilles had become the hit song of the revolution, and it is now the most rousing of national anthems.
By Susi O’Neill