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(978 posts)
Thu Oct 5, 2023, 09:48 AM Oct 2023

On This Day: Women lead the Revolution - Oct. 5, 1789

(edited from Wikipedia)
The Women's March on Versailles was one of the earliest and most significant events of the French Revolution. The march began among women in the marketplaces of Paris who, on the morning of 5 October 1789, were nearly rioting over the high price of bread. The unrest quickly became intertwined with the activities of revolutionaries seeking liberal political reforms and a constitutional monarchy for France.

The market women and their allies ultimately grew into a mob of thousands. Encouraged by revolutionary agitators, they ransacked the city armory for weapons and marched on the Palace of Versailles. The crowd besieged the palace and, in a dramatic and violent confrontation, they successfully pressed their demands upon King Louis XVI. The next day, the crowd forced the king, his family, and most of the French Assembly to return with them to Paris.

These events ended the king's independence and heralded a new balance of power that would ultimately displace the established, privileged orders of the French nobility in favor of the common people, collectively known as the Third Estate. By bringing together people representing the sources of the Revolution in their largest numbers yet, the march on Versailles proved to be a defining moment of the Revolution.


When the October journées [,Women's March,] took place, France's revolutionary decade, 1789–1799, had only just begun. The storming of the Bastille had occurred less than three months earlier, but the Revolution's capacity for violence was not yet fully realized. Flush with their newly discovered power, the common citizens of France – particularly in Paris – began to participate in politics and government. The poorest among them focused almost exclusively on the issue of food: most workers spent nearly half their income on bread. In the post-Bastille period, price inflation and severe shortages in Paris were commonplace, as were local incidents of violence in the marketplaces.

Beginning of the march

On the morning of 5 October, a young woman struck a marching drum at the edge of a group of market-women who were infuriated by the chronic shortage and high price of bread. From their starting point in the markets of the eastern section of Paris known as the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, the angry women forced a nearby church to toll its bells.

Their numbers continued to grow and with restless energy the group began to march. More women from other marketplaces joined in, many bearing kitchen blades and other makeshift weapons, as the tocsins rang from church towers throughout several districts.

Driven by a variety of agitators, the mob converged on the Hôtel de Ville (the City Hall of Paris) where they demanded not only bread, but arms. As more and more women – and men – arrived, the crowd outside the city hall reached between six and seven thousand, and perhaps as many as ten thousand.

Marquis de Lafayette

Thousands of National Guardsmen who had heard the news were assembling at the Place de Grève. The Marquis de Lafayette, in Paris as their commander-in-chief, discovered to his dismay that his soldiers were largely in favor of the march and were being egged on by agitators to join in. Even though he was one of France's greatest war heroes, Lafayette could not dissuade his troops and they began threatening to desert. Rather than see them leave as another anarchic mob, the Parisian municipal government told Lafayette to guide their movements; they also instructed him to request that the king return voluntarily to Paris to satisfy the people.

Sending a swift horseman forward to warn Versailles, Lafayette contemplated the near mutiny of his men: he was aware that many of them had openly promised to kill him if he did not lead or get out of the way. At four o'clock in the afternoon, fifteen thousand National Guardsmen with several thousand more civilian latecomers set off for Versailles. Lafayette reluctantly took his place at the head of their column, hoping to protect the king and public order.


The hunger and despair of the market women was the original impetus for the march, but what started as a search for bread soon took on other goals. Notably, there was common resentment against the reactionary attitudes prevailing in Court circles even before the uproar sparked by the notorious banquet precipitated the political aspects of the march. Activists in the crowd spread the word that the king needed to dismiss his royal bodyguards entirely and replace them all with patriotic National Guardsmen, a line of argument that resonated with Lafayette's soldiers.

These two popular goals coalesced around a third, which was that the King and his court, and the Assembly as well, must all be moved to Paris to reside among the people. Only then would the foreign soldiers be expelled, food supply would be reliable and France served by a leader who was "in communion with his own people". The plan appealed to all segments of the crowd.

Siege of the palace

The crowd traveled the distance from Paris to Versailles in about six hours. Among their makeshift weaponry they dragged along several cannons taken from the Hôtel de Ville. Boisterous and energetic, they recruited (or impressed into service) more and more followers as they surged out of Paris in the autumn rain. In their poissard slang,d they chattered about bringing the king back home. They spoke less affectionately of the queen, Marie Antoinette, and many called for her death.

When the crowd reached Versailles, it was met by another group that had assembled from the surrounding area. The restless Parisians came pouring into the Assembly and sank exhausted on the deputies' benches. Hungry, fatigued, and bedraggled from the rain, they seemed to confirm that the siege was a simple demand for food.

The unprotected deputies had no choice but to receive the marchers, who shouted down most of the speakers and demanded to hear from the popular reformist deputy Mirabeau. The great orator declined this chance to speak but nonetheless mingled familiarly with the market women. A few other deputies welcomed the marchers warmly, including Maximilien Robespierre who was at that time a relatively obscure political figure. Robespierre spoke strong words of support for the women and their plight; his intervention helped to soften the crowd's hostility towards the Assembly.

Deputation to the king

With few other options available to him, the President of the Assembly, Jean Joseph Mounier, accompanied a deputation of market-women into the palace to see the king. A group of six women nominated by the crowd were escorted into the king's apartment, where they told him of the crowd's privations. The king responded sympathetically.

At about six o'clock in the evening, the king made a belated effort to quell the rising tide of insurrection: he announced that he would accept the August decrees and the Declaration of the Rights of Man without qualification.

At about six o'clock in the morning, some of the protesters discovered a small gate to the palace was unguarded. Making their way inside, they searched for the queen's bedchamber. The royal guards retreated through the palace, bolting doors and barricading hallways and those in the compromised sector fired their guns at the intruders, killing a young member of the crowd. Infuriated, the rest surged towards the breach and streamed inside.

The chaos continued as [several royal guards were beaten or killed]. Lafayette convinced the king to address the crowd. The relieved king briefly conveyed his willingness to return to Paris. As the crowd cheered, Lafayette stoked their joy by dramatically pinning a tricolor cockade to the hat of the king's nearest bodyguard.

After the king withdrew, the presence of the Queen was demanded loudly. Lafayette brought her to the same balcony, accompanied by her young son and daughter. The crowd ominously shouted for the children to be taken away, and it seemed the stage might be set for a regicide. Yet, as the queen stood with her hands crossed over her chest, the crowd – some of whom had muskets leveled in her direction – warmed to her courage. Amid this unlikely development, Lafayette cannily let the mob's fury drain away until, with dramatic timing and flair, he knelt reverently and kissed her hand. The demonstrators responded with a muted respect, and many even raised a cheer [for the queen].

The goodwill generated by these displays defused the situation, but to many observers the scene on the balcony lacked long-term resonance. However pleased it may have been by the royal displays, the crowd insisted that the king return with them to Paris.

Return to Paris

At about one o'clock in the afternoon of 6 October 1789, the vast throng escorted the royal family and a complement of one hundred deputies back to the capital, with the armed National Guards leading the way. By now the mass of people had grown to over sixty thousand, and the return trip took about nine hours. The procession could seem merry at times, as guardsmen hoisted up loaves of bread stuck on the tips of their bayonets, and some of the market women rode gleefully astride the captured cannon.


The rest of the National Constituent Assembly followed the king within two weeks to new quarters in Paris. In short order, the entire body settled in only a few steps from the Tuileries at a former riding school, the Salle du Manège.

Robespierre's impassioned defense of the march raised his public profile considerably. The episode gave him a lasting heroic status among the poissardes and burnished his reputation as a patron of the poor. His later rise to become a leading figure in the Revolution was greatly facilitated by his actions during the occupation of the Assembly.

Lafayette, though initially acclaimed, found that he had tied himself too closely to the king. As the Revolution progressed, he was hounded into exile by the radical leadership.

For the women of Paris, the march became the source of apotheosis in revolutionary hagiography. The "Mothers of the Nation" were celebrated upon their return, and they would be praised and solicited by successive Parisian governments for years to come.

It would take almost two full years until the first French Constitution was signed on 3 September 1791, and it required another popular intervention to make it happen. Louis attempted to work within the framework of his limited powers after the women's march but won little support, and he and the royal family remained virtual prisoners in the Tuileries.

Desperate, he made his abortive flight to Varennes in June 1791. Attempting to escape and join up with royalist armies, the king was once again captured by a mixture of citizens and national guardsmen who hauled him back to Paris. Permanently disgraced, Louis was forced to accept a constitution that weakened his royal power more than any previously put forward. The spiral of decline in the king's fortunes culminated at the guillotine in 1793.


The women's march was a signal event of the French Revolution, with an impact on par with the fall of the Bastille.


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On This Day: Women lead the Revolution - Oct. 5, 1789 (Original Post) jgo Oct 2023 OP
We need a French Revolution for the common man-the rich are tormenting the common man Stargazer99 Oct 2023 #1
KNR and bookmarking. For later. niyad Oct 2023 #2
Thank you jgo for these posts Doc_Technical Oct 2023 #3
You are most welcome. Thank you for following. jgo Oct 2023 #4


(2,632 posts)
1. We need a French Revolution for the common man-the rich are tormenting the common man
Thu Oct 5, 2023, 10:43 AM
Oct 2023

with their hands in our pockets. There are more of us than them and they do fear us

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