De Launay: Bernard, Marquis de Launay (1740-1789), the governor of the Bastille de Sainte Antoine, the royal fortress-prison, was slain during his march through the city to the Hôtel-de-Ville after agreeing to the hand over of the Bastille.

When a Parisian mob of perhaps a thousand advanced on the prison on the morning of 14 July 1789, their intention seems not to have been so much the release of prisoners (of whom there were only seven) but to acquire the considerable cache of arms and gunpowder stored there. However, the old soldier who was the Bastille's governor, Bernard René Jourdan, Marquis de Launay, antagonized the mob by his defiant response. The Marquis de Launay was the son of another Marquis de Launay who had also been governor of the Bastille St. Antoine; in fact, Bernard René Jourdan was born within the fortress's forbidding walls.

With the possibility of a mutual massacre suddenly apparent Governor de Launay ordered a cease fire at 17:00. A letter offering his terms was stuck through a gap in the inner gates and acrobatically retrieved by the besiegers. The demands were refused but de Launay capitulated and the gates to the inner courtyard were opened and the vainqueurs swept in to liberate the fortress at 17:30. Ninety-eight attackers had died and just one defender. 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, following a particularly unpleasant suggestion from a man called Desnot, de Launay shouted "Enough! Let me die!" and kicked Desnot in the groin. De Launay was instantly stabbed repeatedly and fell to the street, his head was then sawn off and fixed on a pike to be carried through the streets. ["Bastille." Encyclopædia Britannica.]

On the steps of the Hôtel de Ville, Governor De Launay was decapitated by the mob and his body afterwards cut in pieces by a cook's boy and carried about the streets. This barbaric treatment of someone who had surrendered under a flag of truce, like the later Reign of Terror, was one of those events that prompted British fear of not only the French Revolution but of any attempts to grant power to the lower orders. Carlyle, who here briefly presents the DeLaunay's murder by the mob, places it within the context of an epic battle. Although Carlyle later became an extreme reactionary in politics, in The French Revolution, an early work, he presents the violence as natural — a predictable response to the lack of leadership by the French king and nobles; for Carlyle, who despised the British upper classes, atrocities, such as the murder of Delaunay, functioned as a warning to his own country. The French Revolution, which he wrote early in his career, took this warning as a call for honest new leadership that could ameliorate the hardships of the poor; later in his career, he increasingly took it as a warning of the impending chaos in which he feared the poor would plunge Great Britain.

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"Bastille." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2004. Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service. Accessed 23 August 2004.

Last modified 23 August 2004