The October Insurrection - 1789

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The events of October 1789 marked a key point in the progression from the political revolution of the bourgeois representatives and the popular revolution that was to sweep France.

During the last few weeks of September the political clubs had been exhorting their public to demand that the king and his government return to Paris from Versailles. On October 1st a banquet was given at Versailles by the king's bodyguard for the officers of the Flanders regiment, recently called to the royal palace by Louis. The next day rumours spread around Paris - of dubious origin - that the officers had 'trampled the tricolour cocard'. This incident added fuel to the dissatisfaction of a Parisian public who were already suffering under the 'disette' GLOSSARY and high unemployment.

The revolutionary newssheets and also agents in the employ of the Duke of Orleans LINK leapt onto these existing problems, warning of an impending 'aristocratic plot' and the danger of famine. On October 5th a mob of some 6,000 parisian women set out from the capital led by a huissier GLOSSARY named Maillard. There were also a number of armed men who slipped into the crowd along the way. La Fayette followed several hours behind with a detachment of National Guard troops.

The angry women went first to the Assembly where they demanded bread. Then they headed for the chateau where they were met by a delegation from the king. In a bid to calm the situation down Louis agreed to accept the decrees passed in the Assembly on the night of August 4th LINK. Night had fallen by the time La Fayette finally arrived and when he did he simply set up camp outside the gates of the chateau and went to bed.

At dawn some of the crowd forced their way through the gates. In a hail of insults against the Queen they murdered several bodyguards, brandishing the heads on the end of poles, and broke into the royal appartments. Marie-Antoinette only just escaped to the king's chamber through a secret passage. When La Fayette finally restored some semblance of order the king and queen had to face the the mob from a balcony where they were met with cries of "To Paris with them!"

Fearing the worst, the king agreed to return to the capital. They must have made a strange sight for those who witnessed their progress. The royal party in their carriage, surrounded by soldiers and La Fayette trotting alongside, all surrounded by the parisian mob, some triumphantly waving the heads of their earlier victims. At about 7 o'clock they arrived at the Town Hall where Bailly made a speech. That night the royal family and their entourage returned to the empty Tuileries palace where they were effectively prisoners of the people of Paris.

Although the king was now at the mercy of revolutionary Paris, he accepted the role of constitutional monarch and, with Mirabeau as his chief advisor, seemed to have every chance of prospering as such. The people did not hate the unfortunate king but the regime over which he ruled. As time went by, however, Louis was extremely reluctant to accept the more radical proposals of the National Assembly, particularly the Civic Constitution of the Clergy. He also feared the more left-wing elements in the new Assembly with their radical democratic ideas. It was under these circumstances that he formed a plan to escape his captivity in Paris.

Cf The Arrest of the Royal Family at the Tuileries Palace.

This entry is part of the French Revolution University Project.

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