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Bastille Day 14 July 1789

July 14, 2015

Dr. Maurice G. Fortin (Executive Director of Library Services) reflects on Bastille Day, “France’s equivalent of our July 4th celebrations”.

Bastille Day 14 July 1789*

As someone with French-Canadian roots, I became fascinated with French History from an early age. I also learned more while taking an undergraduate course in the Napoleonic period working on a BA degree in history at North Texas State University.


Bastille Day is France’s equivalent of our July 4th celebrations. This special day (14 July 1789) marks the beginning of the French Revolution as the citizens of Paris stormed the prison at the Bastille to free prisoners they felt were unjustly condemned. With the successful assault of the Bastille, the revolution began and led to the fall of the monarchy with a bloody period of executions and counter-revolutions and even more executions and bloodshed. Meanwhile the other monarchies of Europe decided to try to intervene. This eventually led to the rise of the Napoleonic period and empire with nearly 20 years of warfare ending at Waterloo. With Napoleon’s last exile, the monarchy was reestablished which began yet another period of France’s long history.

In France, July 14th is also known as “la fête nationale.” It became an official holiday in 1880. The French national anthem, La Marseillaise, is from the period of the Revolution (approximately 1792). I often think it is one of the most stirring anthems of any country and certainly ranks with our own Star Spangled banner.

The first link below is to a YouTube video of the long version of the Marseillaise that has English). Be warned the Marseillaise is, shall I say, quite graphic.

The second link below (and at the top of this article) is to another YouTube video of the scene in the classic 1942 film Casablanca when Victor Laszlo, Paul Henreid, leads the signing of the Marseillaise in Rick’s Café to drown out the German soldiers’ singing. It is one of my favorite scenes in the movie. It is hard not feel a stirring in your heart. Many of the actors in that scene were refugees from Europe and had fled Nazi oppression.


*Some information gathered from Encyclopedia Britannica (online version).