By Leah McNally
July 14th marks the day in 1789 when the French people stormed the infamous Place de la Bastille, overthrowing the symbol of the French Monarchy’s absolute power. It was the defining moment in the birth of the French Republic and in 1880 it was declared a national holiday.
The Bastille has a colorful history of its own. The fortress was originally built between 1370 and 1383 to defend Paris during the Hundred Years War. After the war ended and for the next 200 years , it served as a castle and as the vault for the royal treasure. It was in the early 1600’s, under the rule of Louis XIII that the castle was converted to a prison for the wealthy who had committed an offense against the King. Prisoners were held without any rights by order of the monarch under the infamous Lettre de Cachet.
Despite being at the mercy of the King’s whim, records show most of the aristocratic prisoners were well fed, received visitors and were allowed to have their own furnishings and servants. Louis XIV continued the tradition, but by the era of Louis XV and the 1700’s, the Bastille had lost its luxury status and was known as the symbol of cruelty and the absolute power of the king. It was during this time period that it became famous for inhumane conditions. Prisoners that were released were forbidden to speak of what they saw inside its walls. Ironically by 1798, at the time of the revolutionary siege, it only housed seven prisoners and was being considered for demolition by the monarchy.
The French celebrate this holiday with fireworks and parades. This year, Women for WineSense celebrates the French contribution to the style of winemaking the world reveres on July 14th at Seguin Moreau Napa Cooperage. Come join us and wish the French, “ bonne fête” on their day of Independence.