Baroness Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel is the fictional hero, Sir Percy Blakeney Bart, who saved the victims of the French Revolution. Unfortunately, when it began there was no real life hero to save de Launey, Governor of the Bastille.
On the 14th July, 1789 the French revolution began. A violent crowd of men and women gathered in front of the Bastille. Shortly before five o’clock the rabble stormed the old Paris fortress and tore de Launey, 30 Swiss guards and 80 pensioners to pieces. Afterwards, holding severed heads aloft, they set out to murder the chief magistrate in the Hotel-de-Ville.
This event announced to the world that the French intended to overthrow the old order.
The foundation of society had been the feudal system. By 1789 taxation had impoverished the French workers living in abject misery in hovels.The people demanded change.Writers and philosophers extolled the virtues of a longed for age of reason.
During the reign of Louis XIV France was the most powerful nation in Europe. If William III of England and Marlborough had not defeated France, the French might have ruled Europe. Yet, in France, effective government was eroded by the aristocrats’ privileges, the middle classes exclusion from government and ever increasing dissatisfaction with the Church. The governing class lost touch with the masses, who, in 1788 and 1789 suffered from hunger and cold.
In January 1789, the treasury was bankrupt, the last harvest had been ruined, and the streets of Paris were flooded with unfortunate wretches. After two centuries of absolute rule the king summoned the States General to meet at Versailles. After three weeks, the Third Estate took control. This declaration was a prelude to the storming of the Bastille and, eventually, Britain’s 22 year struggle against France.