A Defender of the Bastille Explains His Role


A Defender of the Bastille Explains His Role


The soldiers stationed at the fortress did not see themselves as resisting the Revolution so much as keeping watch on a rather insignificant outpost that had nothing at all to do with the major events transpiring in Versailles. In this passage, a Swiss officer named Louis de Flue describes how his contingent was overrun and how he was brought back to the City Hall where, to his surprise, he found himself accused of having used force against the people. Only in retrospect could he be seen as opposing "the Revolution" since in the uncertain moments of 14 July, some people—especially royal officers—believed that the event transpiring was little more than meaningless violence.


"Rélation de la prise de la Bastille le 14 juillet 1789 par un de ses défenseurs," in Révue Retrospective, vol. 4 (Paris: M. J. Taschereau, 1834).


July 14, 1789






Having received orders from the baron de Bezenval, I left on 7 July at 2 in the morning with a detachment of 32 men . . . we crossed Paris without difficulty and arrived at the Bastille where I entered with my troops. . . . During my next few days there, the Governor showed me around the place, the spots he thought the strongest and those the weakest. He showed me all the precautions that he had taken. . . . He complained of the small size of his garrison and of the impossibility of guarding the place if attacked. I told him his fears were unfounded, that the place was well fortified and that the garrison was sufficient if each would do his duty to defend it. . . .

The 12th of July we learned in the Bastille that there was the possibility of an attack on the gunpowder in the Arsenal. . . . Consequently, that night a detachment transported the powder to the Bastille where it was placed in the wells, poorly covered. That same night the governor ordered the troops to remain inside the chateau, not wanting to have to defend the exterior in case of an attack.

During the day of the 13th, from the high towers of the Bastille, various fires were seen burning around the city, and we feared something similar near us, which would endanger the powder in the Bastille. . . . We learned the same day from some of the citizenry of the neighborhood that they were alarmed to see canons trained on the city and we learned at the same time that the National Guard was being mobilized to defend the city. Hearing this news, the Governor ordered . . . the fortress be sealed off.

. . . About three o'clock in the afternoon, a troop of armed citizens mixed with some soldiers came to attack from the Arsenal. They entered without difficulty into the courtyard. . . . They cut the chains holding the drawbridge, and it fell open; this operation was easily carried out because the Governor had ordered his troops not to fire before having warned them to leave, which we could not do while they were still at such a distance [from the fortress]. Nevertheless, the besiegers fired first on the high towers. . . .

After having easily dropped the bridge, they easily knocked down the door with axes and entered into the courtyard, where the governor went to meet them. He asked them what they wanted . . . and the general cry went up to "Lower the bridges!" . . . The governor responded he could not and withdrew, ordering his troops to take up defensive positions. . . . The sieging forces brought their cannons to the gates. . . . I stationed my men to the left of the gate. . . .

I waited for the moment when the governor [was] to execute his threat and I was very surprised to see him send four veterans to the gates to open them and to lower the bridges. The crowd entered right away and disarmed us in an instant . . . in the castle, archives were thrown from the windows and everything was pillaged. The soldiers, including myself, who had left our packs in the castle had their personal effects taken. However, at that moment, this was not the mistreatment which worried us; we were menaced with being massacred in all manner possible. Finally, the furor . . . calmed a bit and I along with part of my troupe was conducted to the City Hall.

During the trip, the streets and the houses, even the roofs, were full of crowds who insulted me and cursed me. I was continually subject to swords, bayonets, and pistols pressed against my body. I did not know how I was going to die but I was sure I was at my final moment. Those without arms threw stones at me, and women grimaced their teeth at me and menaced me with their fists. Already two of my soldiers had been assassinated behind me by the furious people. . . .

I arrived finally to general cries that I should be hung and at several hundred paces from the City Hall, when a head on a pike was brought before me to consider and I was told that it was M. de Launay [governor of the Bastille]. Crossing the place de Greve, I was passed before the body of M. de Lorme [guardian of City Hall] who was on the ground in a bath of his own blood. . . .

I was brought inside the City Hall and presented to a committee seated there. I was accused of being one of those who had put up resistence at the Bastille and that I was also the cause of blood being spilled. I justified myself better than I thought possible, saying that I had been under orders. . . . Not seeing any other means of saving myself and . . . what remained of my troops, I declared my willingness to serve the City and the Nation. . . . This appeared to them convincing; there was applause and a general cry of "bravo!" which I hoped would grant me a pardon. Instantly, I was brought wine and we had to drink to the health of the City and the Nation.

. . . We were taken to the Palais Royal and toured around the gardens to show to the people. . . . At that moment there arrived a prisoner freshly released from the Bastille, and we were taken equally for freed prisoners, so that the crowd showed great compassion for us. Some even claimed to be able to see the marks on our hands of the irons from which we had just been freed. Finally . . . an orator approached us and showed us to the people, to whom he spoke and explained that we had . . . been imprisoned by our officers . . . because we had refused to fire upon the citizens and that we deserved the esteem of the people . . . and a basket was passed around to take up a collection for us.

[That night] I believed myself saved . . . and still in that belief, I was resting on a bench, having not slept for several nights [when I learned of the testimony of some of the soldiers at the Bastille] that I had ordered them to fire and that I had been the cause of the resistence . . . and that without me, they would have doubtlessly surrendered the place without firing. . . . This renewed the opposition to me such that . . . I was menaced and insulted again, and told that the affair was not yet over for me and my destiny would be settled the next day.

The next morning, M. Ricart [secretary of the royal troops] procured for me a laisser-passer and I was advised by M. de La Fayette to wear civilian clothing, which allowed me to go freely throughout Paris. . . .

As for the story that was told and which has been generally received that M. de Launay [the governor] had ordered the bridges lowerd to let in the crowd and that after, he had ordered them raised and ordered to fire on those who had entered [the courtyard], this story has no need to be refuted. Anyone who knows what a drawbridge is knows that having lowered one enough to let a crowd enter can no longer raise it again at will. Moreover, it is impossible that the garrison fired on those who had entered the courtyard because as soon as the crowd entered, we were all disarmed.


“A Defender of the Bastille Explains His Role,” LIBERTY, EQUALITY, FRATERNITY: EXPLORING THE FRENCH REVOUTION, accessed June 14, 2024, https://revolution.chnm.org/d/383.