51 Facts About Bastille


The Bastille figured prominently in France's domestic conflicts, including the fighting between the rival factions of the Burgundians and the Armagnacs in the 15th century, and the Wars of Religion in the 16th.

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The defences of the Bastille were fortified in response to the Imperial threat during the 1550s, with a bastion constructed to the east of the fortress.

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The Bastille played a key role in the rebellion of the Fronde and the battle of the faubourg Saint-Antoine, which was fought beneath its walls in 1652.

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Under Louis XV and XVI, the Bastille was used to detain prisoners from more varied backgrounds, and to support the operations of the Parisian police, especially in enforcing government censorship of the printed media.

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The Bastille was demolished by order of the Committee of the Hotel de Ville.

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Bastille'storians were critical of the Bastille in the early 19th century, and believe the fortress to have been a relatively well-administered example of French policing and political control during the 18th century.

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Bastille was built in response to a threat to Paris during the Hundred Years' War between England and France.

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The Bastille overlooked the Saint-Antoine gate, which by 1380 was a strong, square building with turrets and protected by two drawbridges of its own.

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The Bastille's design was highly innovative: it rejected both the 13th-century tradition of more weakly fortified quadrangular castles, and the contemporary fashion set at Vincennes, where tall towers were positioned around a lower wall, overlooked by an even taller keep in the centre.

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The Bastille design was copied at Pierrefonds and Tarascon in France, while its architectural influence extended as far as Nunney Castle in south-west England.

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The Bastille was strategically vital during the period, both because of its role as a royal fortress and safe-haven inside the capital, and because it controlled a critical route in and out of Paris.

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The Bastille was occasionally used to hold prisoners, including its creator, Hugues Aubriot, who was the first person to be imprisoned there.

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The English made more use of the Bastille as a prison; in 1430 there was a minor rebellion when some prisoners overpowered a sleeping guard and attempted to seize control of the fortress; this incident includes the first reference to a dedicated gaoler at the Bastille.

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Bastille was being used to hold prisoners by the reign of Louis XI, who began to use it extensively as a state penitentiary.

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The southern gateway into the Bastille became the principal entrance to the castle in 1553, the other three gateways being closed.

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Bastille was involved in the numerous wars of religion fought between Protestant and Catholic factions with support from foreign allies during the second half of the 16th century.

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The Bastille itself was controlled by a League captain called du Bourg.

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The Bastille was now an isolated League stronghold, with the remaining members of the League and their allies clustering around it for safety.

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Bastille continued to be used as a prison and a royal fortress under both Henry IV and his son, Louis XIII.

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Richelieu broke with Henry IV's tradition of the Bastille's captain being a member of the French aristocracy, typically a Marshal of France such as Francois de Bassompierre, Charles d'Albert or Nicolas de L'Hospital, and instead appointed Pere Joseph's brother to run the facility.

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The governor of the Bastille loaded and readied his guns to fire on the Hotel de Ville, controlled by the parliament, although the decision was eventually taken not to shoot.

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The Bastille's bastion survived the redevelopment, becoming a garden for the use of the prisoners.

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Louis used the Bastille to hold not just suspected rebels or plotters but those who had simply irritated him in some way, such as differing with him on matters of religion.

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The Bastille was used to investigate and break up Protestant networks by imprisoning and questioning the more recalcitrant members of the community, in particular upper-class Calvinists; some 254 Protestants were imprisoned in the Bastille during Louis's reign.

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Detention in the Bastille was typically ordered for an indefinite period and there was considerable secrecy over who had been detained and why: the legend of the "Man in the Iron Mask", a mysterious prisoner who finally died in 1703, symbolises this period of the Bastille.

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Louis reformed the administrative structure of the Bastille, creating the post of governor, although this post was still often referred to as the captain-governor.

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The Bastille had its own street address, being officially known as No 232, rue Saint-Antoine.

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Structurally, the late-18th century Bastille was not greatly changed from its 14th-century predecessor.

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La Chapelle contained the Bastille's chapel, decorated with a painting of Saint Peter in chains.

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Bastille was run by the governor, sometimes called the captain-governor, who lived in a 17th-century house alongside the fortress.

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Such a detention could be preferable to facing a scandal or a public trial over their misdemeanours, and the secrecy that surrounded detention at the Bastille allowed personal and family reputations to be quietly protected.

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The Bastille was considered one of the best prisons for an upper-class prisoner to be detained at, because of the standard of the facilities for the wealthy.

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Increasingly the Bastille became part of the system of wider policing in Paris.

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The Bastille was unusual among Parisian prisons in that it acted on behalf of the king – prisoners could therefore be imprisoned secretly, for longer, and without normal judicial processes being applied, making it a useful facility for the police authorities.

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The Bastille was a preferred location for holding prisoners who needed extensive questioning or where a case required the analysis of extensive documents.

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The Bastille was used to store the Parisian police archives; public order equipment such as chains and flags; and illegal goods, seized by order of the crown using a version of the "lettre de cachet", such as banned books and illicit printing presses.

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The calottes, the rooms just under the roof that formed the upper storey of the Bastille, were considered the least pleasant quarters, being more exposed to the elements and usually either too hot or too cold.

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Length of time that a typical prisoner was kept at the Bastille continued to decline, and by Louis XVI's reign the average length of detention was only two months.

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Bastille gave a similar account to Renneville's and termed the Bastille the "hell of the living".

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Latude was a soldier who was imprisoned in the Bastille following a sequence of complex misadventures, including the sending of a letter bomb to Madame de Pompadour, the King's mistress.

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Latude became famous for managing to escape from the Bastille by means of climbing up the chimney of his cell and then descending the walls with a home-made rope ladder, before being recaptured in Amsterdam by French agents.

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Meanwhile, in 1784, the architect Alexandre Brogniard proposed that the Bastille be demolished and converted into a circular public space with colonnades.

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Just after midday, another negotiator was let in to discuss the situation, but no compromise could be reached: the revolutionary representatives now wanted both the guns and the gunpowder in the Bastille to be handed over, but de Launay refused to do so unless he received authorisation from his leadership in Versailles.

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Indeed, the more despotic and evil the Bastille was portrayed by the pro-revolutionary press, the more necessary and justified the actions of the Revolution became.

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Stories and pictures about the rescue of the fictional Count de Lorges – supposedly a mistreated prisoner of the Bastille incarcerated by Louis XV – and the similarly imaginary discovery of the skeleton of the "Man in the Iron Mask" in the dungeons, were widely circulated as fact across Paris.

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Palloy sent models of the Bastille, carved from the fortress's stones, as gifts to the French provinces at his own expense to spread the revolutionary message.

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Bastille remained a powerful and evocative symbol for French republicans throughout the 19th century.

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In England, Charles Dickens took a similar perspective when he drew on popular histories of the Bastille in writing A Tale of Two Cities, in which Doctor Manette is "buried alive" in the prison for 18 years; many historical figures associated with the Bastille are reinvented as fictional individuals in the novel, such as Claude Cholat, reproduced by Dickens as "Ernest Defarge".

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Some relics of the Bastille survive: the Carnavalet Museum holds objects including one of the stone models of the Bastille made by Palloy and the rope ladder used by Latude to escape from the prison roof in the 18th century, while the mechanism and bells of the prison clock are exhibited in Musee Europeen d'Art Campanaire at L'Isle-Jourdain.

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The key to the Bastille was given to George Washington in 1790 by Lafayette and is displayed in the historic house of Mount Vernon.

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The Bastille's archives are now held by the Bibliotheque nationale de France.

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