Days of the French Revolutionby Christopher Hibbert
Works from Les Misirables by Victor Hugo to Citizens by Simon Schama have been inspired by the French Revolution. Now available for the first time in years, The Days of the French Revolution brings to life the events that changed the future of Western civilization. As compelling as any fiction thriller, this real-life drama moves from the/em>/em>/em>… See more details below
Works from Les Misirables by Victor Hugo to Citizens by Simon Schama have been inspired by the French Revolution. Now available for the first time in years, The Days of the French Revolution brings to life the events that changed the future of Western civilization. As compelling as any fiction thriller, this real-life drama moves from the storming of the Bastille to the doomed court of Louis XVI, the salon of Madame Roland, and even the boudoir of Marie Antoinette. Hibbert recounts the events that swirled around Napoleon, Mirabeau, Danton, Marat, and Robespierre with eyewitness accounts and his "usual grace and flair for divulging interesting detail" (Booklist). This trade paperback edition has twenty-eight pages of black-and-white illustrations, and will be published in time for Bastille Day.
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The Day of the
as that which will decide the fate
of the monarchy, and which is gathering in such haste
and with so much mutual distrust"
On Saturday, 2 May 1789, the King waited in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles to receive the deputies of the clergy and the nobility. The clergy, as the pre-eminent order, came in first, the double doors being opened wide and then firmly closed behind them. The nobility were also received in private although, in accordance with the usual ceremonial practice, the doors were not fully closed after their entry but left slightly ajar. As though to emphasize their inferior status, the Third Estate were not received in the Hall of Mirrors but, after being kept waiting for over three hours, were presented to the King in another apartment where they were ushered past him in file. The King, standing between his two brothers, could not bring himself to address a single word to any of them other than one old man of exceptionally benign appearance to whom he said, "Good morning, good man." The others, having made their bows, turned away, feeling much disheartened by the King's inability to display the least indication of friendliness and by the courtiers' haughty reserve.
The next day was Sunday, a day of preparation, argument and discussion, during which it became clearer than ever that none of the three orders wascompletely united in its aims. Among the clergy there were passionate radicals such as the Abbé Henri Grégoire from Nancy; there were defenders of the ancien régime like the clever and articulate Abbé Maury, the son of an artisan, who set his face firmly against change from the beginning; and there were those who followed the Archbishop of Vienne in preaching moderation. Among the Nobility there were many who supported the fat and fiery Duval d'Eprémesnil and the brilliant orator Jacques de Cazalès, a dragoon officer from a minor noble family in the south, in advocating an uncompromising stand in defence of their privileges. But there were also those, like the Duc de La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt and the Duc de Clermont-Tonnerre, who, more accommodating and, incidentally, of more imposing pedigree, were prepared to compromise. There were equally pronounced differences among the members of the Third Estate, some of whom believed that their ends should be obtained by agreement with the King and with the the other two orders, and others of whom insisted that there must be no compromise even at the risk of violence. The delegates from Brittany, for example, and many of those from Provence and Franche Comté, soon came to be recognized as the most uncompromising, while those from Dauphiné were generally far more moderate.
On Monday, 4 May, the deputies of all three orders came together for a procession through the streets of Versailles to a Mass of the Holy Spirit at the Church of Saint Louis. As on Saturday, the members of each order were separated and distinguished by their dress: the Third Estate, all wearing tricornes and clothed in plain, official suits of black cloth with cambric ruffs, led the way immediately behind the guard; the nobles followed them, splendidly attired in plumed hats, satin suits with lace ruffs, silver waistcoats and silk cloaks, swords hanging from their belts. Lagging behind the rest, as though unwilling to be associated with them, was the Duc d'Orléans, the debauched, hard-drinking and witty demagogic Prince of the blood, who was believed to have designs on the throne and certainly spent a great deal of money in making himself popular with the people, and in the furtherance of mysterious plots. Behind him marched the parish priests in black habits, followed by the bishops in their episcopal robes and the King's musicians. "Neither the King nor the Queen appear too well pleased," wrote Gouverneur Morris, soon to become American Minister in Paris and that day a guest at Versailles of the Intendant of the Royal Gardens. "The King is repeatedly saluted as he passes along with the Vive le Roi but the Queen receives not a single acclamation. She looks, however, with contempt on the scene in which she acts a part and seems to say, 'For the moment I submit but I shall have my turn.'"
When she appeared in the church, sparkling with jewels, some deputies cheered but others murmured "Shame!" for she had kept them waiting for no less than three hours. The King, however, was well received, pleasing the Third Estate by smiling approvingly at the end of the sermon, which had been given by the Bishop of Nancy who had taken the opportunity to deliver a lecture to the Court, the burden of which His Majesty had missed since he had fallen asleep.
The next day the meetings began. Various buildings had been set aside for the deputies, including the Hôtel des Menus Plaisirs on the Avenue de Paris, which was normally used for storing theatrical scenery and costumes and was now specially decorated with tasselled hangings and gold and white painted columns, and a hall behind it in the Rue des Chantiers, which had recently been built for the Assembly of Notables and had just been enlarged and redecorated.
It was in this hall that the deputies of all three orders came together for the official opening of the convention. Gouverneur Morris was there, sitting on a cramped bench, to watch them arrive: "When M. Necker comes in he is loudly and repeatedly clapped and so is the Duke of Orleans, also a bishop who has long lived in his diocese and practised there what his profession enjoins.... An old man who refused to dress in the costume prescribed [for the Third Estate] and who appears in his farmer's habit..."The Days of the French Revolution. Copyright © by Christopher Hibbert. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Meet the Author
Christopher Hibbert, an Oxford graduate, has written more than fifty books, including Wellington: A Personal History, London: The Biography of a City, Redcoats and Rebels, and The Destruction of Lord Raglan. He lives with his family in Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire, England.
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