Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité

Happy Bastille Day!

This holiday celebrates the customary event that marks beginning of the French Revolution in 1789, the storming of the Bastille prison (and temporary armory in July 1789). At that time, Luxembourg had been ruled for decades by the Austrian Hapsburgs, who had shown little interest in this part of their empire.

By 1792, the Hapsburgs were among the many European powers who took the French Revolution as an opportunity to weaken a major rival. Those powers staged minor invasions through the fortress of Luxembourg City, among other places. Part of their public justification was the defense of the monarchical system throughout Europe against the democratic ideals of the Revolution. The Jacobins of “The Terror” cited such foreign incursions as a justification for conscription and the resulting violent repression of resistance to the (nascently democratic) government.

By the winter of 1794, the Jacobins were out of power, replaced by a slightly less repressive regime. But the war on France, waged by a coalition of practically all the monarchies of Europe, continued nonetheless. The massive French armies, raised by general conscription, continued to defeat the best and brightest of Europe.

That winter, Luxembourg City was under siege by French forces, as it was one of the few opposition strongholds on the left bank of the Rhine. Luxembourg’s fortifications were escalated by each successor in the series of rulers who occupied the territory — Austrian, Spanish, French, and Austrian again. The fortress-city withstood the otherwise-irresistible French army for seven months — enough time to strike distinctive siege-currency which is quite valuable today. The strength of the city’s fortifications led a French leader to name it “The Gibraltar of the North”.

A few years later, Luxembourg’s peasants began an insurgency, in response to France’s demands for military conscription, but the revolt was quickly quashed. Luxembourg was ruled by France until the defeat of Napoleon in 1815.

The territory became a significant item of contention during the Congress of Vienna, which recomposed European in Napoleon’s wake. But that’s a story for another day!

To return to the original topic: Many blogs claim that the French typically call this holiday “Quatorze Juillet” (i.e. July 14th) rather than Bastille Day. I’ll listen carefully to the Tour broadcast today, and eavesdrop a bit tonight, to see whether I can verify this claim.

5 Comments to “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité”

  1. Dave said...
    15 July 2009

    Thanks for the knowledge, Will. I always think of July 14th as the day the Cameron Poe got out of prison and was going to see his little girl on her birthday.

  2. Anita said...
    15 July 2009

    Oh, that is an awesome comment! I love Con Air and Will cannot stand it! Nicely done :-)

  3. Dave said...
    16 July 2009

    I think it’s one of the most enjoyable movies ever made. Every time it’s on, I watch it.

  4. Katherine said...
    16 July 2009

    So it’s been two days and the suspense is killing me. Do they say “Quatorze Juillet” or what?

  5. Will said...
    17 July 2009

    Well, Katherine, I listened to most of a Tour de France broadcast (paying strict attention about one-fifth of the time), and I heard neither the word “Bastille” nor “Quatorze Juillet”. I think it’s more likely that I couldn’t make out the words, than that the announcers never said them.

    Later in the day, I met a bunch of Americans in the entertainment district of Luxembourg-Ville, the Grund, but we didn’t talk about that, and all the people speaking French seemed to stay far away.

    The day ended with my ignorance intact. So today I downloaded the audio file for July 14′s broadcast of the wonderful program, News in Simple French. In that broadcast, the reporters use the phrase “Quatorze Juillet” repeatedly as the name for the holiday. Done and dusted!