This week on Thursday was France’s national day “Fete nationale” in France but probably better known as “Bastille Day” following the storming of the Bastille on 14th July 1789 which is recognised as marking the start of the French Revolution. But what happened on that fateful day?

On the morning of 14 July 1789, the city of Paris was in a state of alarm. The partisans of the Third Estate in France (basically everybody who wasn’t a clergyman or a noble), had earlier stormed the Hôtel des Invalides to gather the weapons held there (around 30,000 muskets, but without powder or shot). The commandant at the Invalides had in the previous few days taken the precaution of transferring 250 barrels of gunpowder to the Bastille for safer storage.

The Bastille was a medieval fortress and in the 18th Century used as a prison. The building was a garrisoned but was due to be demolished. Amid the tensions of July 1789 the building remained as a symbol of royal tyranny.  It was, however, nearly empty of prisoners, housing only seven old men annoyed by all the disturbance, and indeed one of whom is alleged to have refused to be “rescued” until he had eaten his dinner,  four forgers, two "lunatics" and one "deviant" aristocrat, the Comte de Solages (imprisoned for incest!). One of the lunatics was an Anglo-Irish man named Whyte who variously believed that he was Julius Caesar, St. Louis, or God.
The regular garrison consisted of 82 invalides (veteran soldiers no longer suitable for service in the field) reinforced on 7 July by 32 grenadiers from the regular troops on the Champ de Mars. The walls mounted eighteen eight-pound guns and twelve smaller pieces. The governor was called De Launay, son of the previous governor and actually born within the Bastille.

The crowd gathered outside around mid-morning, calling for the surrender of the prison, the removal of the cannon and the release of the arms and gunpowder. Two representatives of the crowd outside were invited into the fortress and negotiations began, and another was admitted around noon with definite demands. The negotiations dragged on while the crowd grew and became impatient. Around 1:30, the crowd surged into the undefended outer courtyard. A small party climbed onto the roof of a building next to the gate to the inner courtyard and broke the chains on the drawbridge. Soldiers of the garrison called to the people to withdraw but in the noise and confusion these shouts were misinterpreted as encouragement to enter. Gunfire began, apparently spontaneously, turning the crowd into a mob. 

The firing continued, and after 3pm the attackers were reinforced by mutinous soldiers along with two cannons. With the possibility of carnage suddenly apparent, Governor de Launay surrendered. Ninety-eight attackers and one defender had died in the fighting. De Launay was seized and dragged towards the Hôtel de Ville in a storm of abuse. Outside the Hôtel, a discussion as to his fate began. The badly beaten de Launay shouted "Enough! Let me die!"] and kicked a pastry cook named Dulait in the groin. De Launay was then stabbed to death and his head was sawn off and fixed on a pike to be carried through the streets. 

The official list of vainqueurs de la Bastille (conquerors of the Bastille) subsequently compiled has 954 names. A breakdown of occupations included in the list indicates that the majority were local artisans, together with some regular army deserters and a few distinctive categories such as twenty-one wine merchants! It seems that they had a reunion the following year. Ever since the day has been remembered as the start of the revolution and now France’s national day. We celebrated by visiting the nearby town of Lassay les Chateaux. Where they have street theatre, music and a giant car boot sale throughout the town. And of course they have the traditional food of these days with stalls everywhere selling “saucisses and frites”. So Mrs. Parish and I sat down for a nice cool beer (it was a really hot day) and sausage and chips. The sausages are always barbecued on huge great grills. The sausages are all locally produced and were very nice indeed. In the evening there were various firework displays but we decided we had, had too much excitement.

Saucisses, frites

Band at Lassay

One of the reasons we came to live in Mayenne was to enjoy the peace and quiet of rural France. It is indeed one of the key selling points for our gite. At the moment you would not recognise this. Our little owls seem to spend several hours during the night screeching to each other. When this goes quiet we get a chorus of hoots from the tawny owls. All goes quiet for a while until day break when all hell breaks loose. The little owls start feeding their young and screeching while they do so. We have a range of other birds who seem to feel the need to start up a dawn chorus. This wakes up Daniel’s cock who the proceeds to crow for what seems an eternity. Our own chickens take this as a message that it is time to get up so they start complaining that they should be let out. Pepito (our neighbour’s dog) next door starts up his air raid siren wail as he wants to be fed as well.

In the end there is no choice but to get up early (7-30am, yes there is such a time) and to go and feed the cats who by this time are all sat on the window sill ready and waiting. They have a distinct look of condemnation if I am a few minutes late. Mrs. Parish goes out at the same time to let out the chickens who take great pains to remind her that they are supposed to be free range and that there are regulations about this in French law. It is no wonder that I am in need of a little siesta come lunch time!

I mentioned the noisy little owls and they have been getting more and more active as the chicks in the nest grow. This week they started to fledge and we saw our first young owl jump out of the nest and on to the TV aerial. It wasn’t there for long as the parents got very uptight and ordered it back in. It did a lot of flapping of wings and just managed to get back in. Of course this state of affairs means the owls do not like the cats coming anywhere near the nest area, even though they are in the roof! If the cats walk underneath the nest or close by in the courtyard the owls make a hell of a racket. They seem to dislike Moggie and have taken to dive bombing him if he gets too close to their exclusion zone. It really is very funny to see the owls fly off their perch and swoop down at Moggie who immediately runs away to the safety of the Cat Palace!

Parent owl who needs to take control of the owlets!!

Drama!! I just heard the owls screeching and looked out of the window to see Moggie coming across the courtyard with something large in his mouth. I rushed out at far greater than my normal speed to see that Moggie had caught a little owlet. I managed to grab him and get the owl off him. Mrs. Parish came racing across the garden and with some gloves picked up the owl who was trying to peck her (no bloody gratitude). The parent owls were making a real fuss and so we went to put the owlet up on one of the garden walls. At this point the owlet seemed to recover and flew up and over the wall to a nearby tree where his parents no doubt read the riot act to it! All is now quiet in the garden so hopefully the little owl will survive its near death experience. Moggie is sat out on the step looking smug at getting one over on the owls.

Mrs. Parish and I are nervous wrecks and have gone straight for a stiff drink. The peace and quiet of rural France, I don’t think so!! Tales of blight will have to wait. Last minute update; have seen three owls on gite roof so it looks OK. Fingers crossed.

Bon courage, Graham