Bastille Day, which falls on July 14, is now celebrated as France's national holiday. But the anniversary of the 1789 storming of the Bastille prison in Paris wasn't always remembered so fondly. Right after the revolution, the new government was buffeted by domestic challenges and faced hostile neighbors throughout largely monarchist Europe. Whether the fragile new democracy could survive was unclear, and detractors lambasted the revolutionaries, especially as the first seeds of what became known as "The Reign of Terror" appeared.
Caricature was incredibly popular in magazines and daily newspapers at the end of the 18th century. France's Revolution was an especially popular subject because of the controversy it provoked on the rest of the continent, particularly among the upper classes.
In this political cartoon from 1789 -- the year the revolution began -- a gleeful peasant representing France's lower classes or Third Estate sits astride an aristocrat who in turn leans on a clergymen for support.
The left panel of this British cartoon shows Jacques Necker, Louis XVI's finance minister, carried triumphantly from the Bastille prison by a crowd on July 14, 1789. Louis XVI dismissed Necker on July 11, who was very popular with the public due to his reputation for autonomy and integrity. Louis XVI reinstated Necker on July 16 under pressure from the National Assembly.
By contrast, on the right William Pitt the Younger, the prime minister of Britain at the time, stands atop the monarch's crown while men and women in chains grovel at his feet. The monarch, King George III, was known for erratic behavior throughout his life -- leaving Pitt to rule the empire in his stead.
Corruption among France's clergy was one of the key issues that reformers used to attack the dissolute nature of the elite. This illustration, which calls for reforming feudal rights and church tithes (or taxes), shows a working class man handing a bag of money to a corrupt priest.
The caption reads: "This is how Mr. Curate always takes, refusing with one hand while taking with the other, but this is the last time."
This counter-revolutionary print depicts the French National Assembly as a blind harpy. The creature holds a rosary in which each bead represents one of the assembly's "decrees" against accepted values of the day -- for example, "decree against Catholics" and "decree against property."
One of the ideas of the revolution was to foster laïcité, or the complete secularization of public space -- a notion that still prevails in France today. The revolution included a campaign of de-Christianization, which -- in addition to the revolution's rejection of monarchy and its calls for economic equality -- upset many both in France and throughout Europe.
This British cartoon from December 1792 -- only a few months after the fall of the French monarchy -- depicts a French sans-culottes revolutionary extolling the virtues of the new order while wearing rags and eating scraps. Next to him, an overfed British functionary grumbles about his servitude to the British establishment while enjoying a feast.
Britain, which was still a constitutional monarchy with a highly class-oriented society, greeted the revolution with ambiguity: some welcomed it while others -- especially among the aristocracy -- were appalled.
Sans-culottes, who were distinguished by wearing the pantalons (trousers) of the common man as opposed to the culottes (breeches or pantaloons) of the upper classes, were known for being particularly fervent and militaristic in their support for the revolutionary cause.
This illustration from 1791 shows the royalist general Louis Joseph de Bourbon, Prince de Condé, as Don Quixote on a white horse and the Vicomte de Mirabeau (Mirabeau Tonneau) as Sancho Panza riding on a fake donkey, pulled along aside. They are followed by Condé's tattered army of counter-revolutionaries, defending the "mill of abuse," seen in the center. The mill is crowned by a bust of King Louis XVI.
According to the Library of Congress, "the mill is [being] propelled by gusts of flatulence issuing from an allegorical Fame ... dressed as a jester" who can be seen suspended on the upper left.
The caption reads: "March of the modern Don Quixote to the defense of the Windmill of Abuse."
This print from 1790 depicts British philosopher and then parliamentarian Edmund Burke as Don Quixote. Burke's famous treatise Reflections on the French Revolution, an incendiary critique of the movement, hangs from his saddle.
His shield reads "Shield of Aristocracy and Despotism" above scenes of torture and a view of the Bastille, as he rides out of the doorway of his publishing house, Dodsley Bookseller. His donkey has a human face and wears the three-tiered crown of the Pope.
This anti-revolutionary British cartoon shows the malformed figures of two rag-clad French revolutionaries as they engage in a bacchanalia of violence, theft, and drunkenness. Above their heads, the banner reads: "No God! No Religion! No King! No Constitution!"
The symbols of both the old elite orders -- the monarchy, aristocracy, and clergy -- lie trampled underfoot as the world goes up in flames beneath the guillotine's bloody blade.
Both revolutionaries celebrate even as the hangman's noose hangs above their heads, implying that it would only end in disaster for its followers.
During the ten-month Reign of Terror, tens of thousands of French citizens were executed by the guillotine as revolutionary fervor was transformed into a mania for rooting out internal dissenters. The Terror ended in 1794 with the execution of Maximilien Robespierre, head of the brutal Committee of Public Safety.
This illustration of the "Triumph of Marat" shows revolutionary leader Jean-Paul Marat crowned with laurels and being carried on the shoulders of a jubilant crowd following his acquittal by the Revolutionary Tribunal in 1793.
The bottom caption reads: "Immortal defender of the people and their rights he felled the nobility and overthrew the throne, founding equality on the fall of kings: out of civic virtue, let us offer him laurels."
Marat's ferocious attacks on the upper classes and the remnants of the old order won him immense popularity from the French working class. He was hated by the moderate factions of the revolution, however, who tried and failed to silence him through his trial.
Marat was, however, assassinated. A depiction of the trial of Marat's assassin, Charlotte la Cordé. A royalist sympathizer, la Cordé was executed by guillotine in 1793.
The upper caption on this image by an illustrator sympathetic to la Cordé's cause reads: "The heroic Charlotte la Cordé upon her trial at the bar of the Revolutionary Tribunal of Paris, July 17, 1793, for having rid the world of the monster of Atheism and Murder, the Regicide Marat, whom she stabbed in a bath where he retired on account of Leprosy with which Heaven had begun the punishment of his crimes."
This British cartoon from 1792, contrasts British and French "liberty" as perceived by the artist. On the right, the personification of Britain holds the scales of justice in one hand and the Magna Carta in the other. A lion, a symbol of power as well as the British royal crest, lies at her feet while a ship, a symbol of Britain's naval power and the key to its empire, sails in the background.
On the left, a ragged France charges forward holding a trident with a head spiked on it while a corpse hangs from a lamp post behind her. Like the mythical Greek monster Medusa, her head is crowned by snakes.
King Louis the XVI was executed on January 21, 1793, sending shockwaves through the monarchies of Europe, as shown in this reaction from the London Times on the day of his execution:
"Every bosom burns with indignation in this kingdom, against the ferocious savages of Paris, insomuch that the very name of Frenchman is become odious. A Republic founded on the blood of an innocent victim must have but a short duration. This fact was tried by Oliver Cromwell and proved by the Restoration of Charles the Second."
This illustration shows devils descending at the moment of the King's execution by guillotine shouting "Long live the nation" and singing "Ca ira," one of the Revolution's most famous songs.
War broke out between Britain and revolutionary France in 1793. By 1796, following a series of British losses, many in London feared a French invasion.
The caption on this image, which imagines the consequences of a French occupation, reads: "Promis'd Horrors of the French Invasion, -- or -- Forcible Reasons for Negociating a Regicide Peace"
George Tierney, a prominent British politician, is depicted as a French revolutionary executioner (bourreau) in this caricature from 1798.
He stands next to a bloodied guillotine, which was the method by which many French aristocrats and "counter-revolutionaries" were executed.
The implication of the cartoon is that in opposing war with the new French republic, Tierney was sanctioning the execution of the upper classes and the subversion of the accepted order. Prime Minister William Pitt had accused Tierney of lacking patriotism, a theme taken up by the cartoonist here.
By 1799, the Directorate -- the government of the French Republic -- was grappling with economic problems and endemic corruption.
Napoleon Bonaparte, an accomplished general of the Republic, returned from campaigns in Egypt to a hero's welcome. He subsequently overthrew the Directorate in 1799, establishing the Consulate in its stead. By 1800, he was named First Consul and wielded sole power in the country. In 1804, the year of this image, he crowned himself Emperor of France and went on to wage a series of successful military campaigns throughout Europe to build his empire.
In this image, a tiny Napoleon bounces on the knee of the personification of revolutionary France, which was viewed as having birthed his reign.
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