essay · history

History: The Bastille & Bastille Day

On July 15, France celebrated its national holiday. This day is commonly called Bastille Day outside France as it is the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, a 18th century prison in 1789. In honor of that, today I’m going to look at the Bastille, its history and why the French celebrate storming it. And if I’m listening to the band Bastille as I write, who’s going to tell?

Let’s set the scene. Medieval Paris was much smaller than it is today, even as it was still one of the most populous cities in Europe. It was based around the Seine River, and both sides of the river were walled for protection against invasion of France’s enemies. The walls had been built, torn down, and rebuilt several times over the years, but the first wall of importance to this story was the walls built by Phillip Augustus (or King Philippe II) in 1190-1215. The wall was built on both sides of the river encapsulating the city. The roads leading into Paris were greeted by towers and gates that over time went from draw bridges to fixed ones as the city grew and the country’s defensive power grew.

A century later, the city had grown. The old walls were demolished to include the new city blocks on the northern shore. There was also the issue of a possibility of English invasion. The Kingdom had been at war with England for two decades at this point, and King John II was even a prisoner in the Tower of London. Etienne Marcel, the provost of the merchants, took advantage of his King’s absence to put forth his own plans to improve the cities defenses and started rebuilding the wall in 1357. This included two fortresses to protect the eastern gates, including the Bastille. The problem was, however, he got on the bad side of the prince Regent, the future King Charles V (not to be confused with the Holy Roman Emperor who was his great etc nephew). Marcel’s story might be a tale for another day, involving murder, taxes, and treason. He was eventually assassinated, ironically by the guards on duty at the Bastille.

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Happy Mother’s Day

Today, April 14, is Mother’s Day in the United States.  Its a day to remember and celebrate our Mothers and grandmothers – or any mother in our lives.   For some its a day to spend with their loved ones, and some its a day to remember the mothers we have lossed.  Its celebrated outside the US as well, on various dates.

The American Mother’s Day was created by Anna Jarvis in the early 1900s.  She did it as a way to remember her own mother, who had served as a nurse during the civil War. She wanted a day where people would show their mothers their appreciation, by visiting or writing their mothers letters expressing it.  She promoted it, campaigned for it, and saw it become a reality nationally in 1914.  She was later against it because it became too commercialized in her opinon.  I wrote about this before for last year’s Mother’s Day Post

However, it was not the first time motherhood was celebrated.  Even in Ancient times, there were festivals to mother goddesses, and in early Christianity there was Mothering Sunday.

Ann Reeves Jarvis, Anna Jarvis’ mother, actually had a Mother’s Day of her own.  It was a group of mothers who would work towards peace as well as help improve things.  It fought to improve sanitary conditions, infant mortality rates and tended to wounded during the war.  Julia Ward Howe had  a “Mother’s Day Proclamation” in 1870 asking mothers to join together to be politically active in the fight for peace. What we consider Mother’s day wasn’t celebrated until 1908 in Virginia and Pennsylvania.

It is celebrated in various countries around the world at different times of the year and in different ways.  Some have special days chosen so Mother’s Day is associated with another event.  In Thailand, the date of Mother’s Day falls on the birthday of their Queen who is seen as a mother to her citizens.  Some countries associate it with Christian celebrations such as Mothering Sunday (a day originally meant to visit your “mother” church) or days that celebrate Mary, the mother of Jesus.    In the end, the sentiment behind the holiday is usually the same – to celebrate the women who are our Mothers, or took on the role in some way.

I wish all the mothers out there a happy Mother’s day.  Including my own, who like Ann Reeves Jarvis is a nurse and will be taking care of people today.

History.com – Mother’s Day

National Geographic : “Mother’s Day Turns 100”