Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States
BASTILLE. In former times the term bastille denoted a fortification extra muros, a temporary construction for the siege or the defense of cities. In our day it is applied more particularly to the castle erected in the year 1380, under Charles VI., in the quarter of Paris called Saint-Antoine.
—It was at first intended that the bastille should serve as a stronghold of defense against aggressions from without. We need, however, say nothing here of the part it has played in history as a military post. We are now concerned with the bastille only as a state prison. Looked at from this stand-point, the grim old pile furnishes matter for an interesting page in the annals of the French monarchy.
—Hugues Aubriot who superintended the construction of the bastille, was the first prisoner to enter its walls; but political considerations had nothing to do with his incarceration. Suspected of heresy, accused, tried and convicted by ecclesiastical authority, he merely passed through the prison he had constructed. and thence to the perpetual confinement to which he had been condemned, behind the bolts in the dungeon of the bishop of Paris. The bastille became a place of confinement for prisoners of state, only when the conflict between royalty and the great vassals of the crown commenced. In 1477 we find there immured such powerful lords as Jacques d'Armagnac, the duke of Nemours. Later, when the circle of those who took an interest in the political life of the nation grew to much larger dimensions, and extended so as to embrace many of the great body of the people, members of the bourgeoisie and persons belonging to the humbler ranks of society were to be met within the walls of the bastille. But up to the middle of the seventeenth century its doors closed only on men of quality and great dignitaries, who have left legendary accounts of their captivity. Those of cardinal Balue are not the least popular if not the most interesting. However, Charles XI., who struck so rude a blow at this prince of the church, made hardly any use of the bastille. He had his own private dungeons and executioner. Among the numerous political conflicts during his reign, Jacques d'Armagnac and Balue are nearly the only ones who underwent the severe penalty of the bastille. Richelieu, who followed up the line of policy pursued by Louis XI., caused many a man of gentle or noble birth to be imprisoned or executed in the bastille. Mazarin, the successor to Richelieu, restored to liberty most of the prisoners detained by order of the cardinal-duke, and, substituting craft for violence in the government of France, he used the bastille with moderation. It was under Louis XIV. That the memorable period of religious and political proscription commenced; and it was also from the beginning of his reign that the cells of the bastille began to be overcrowded with prisoners. Fouquet and the mysterious personage known under the name of the "Man with the Iron Mask," stand out conspicuously from the throng soon to be recruited from the ranks of the dissenters from the bull Umgenitus. Jansenists, Protestants, and religious enthusiasts of every kind, filled the dungeons of the royal prison. If the regency of the duke of Orleans checked somewhat the abuse of arbitrary warrants of imprisonment, the practice of sending out letters de cachet soon became a sort of pastime for the mistresses of Louis XV. These letters de cachet or royal warrants, were frequently issued even under Louis XVI. Turgot and Malesherbes vainly attempted to effect the release of the prisoners, at least those not confined for what were called "state reasons" (raison d'etat). The weak monarch, surrounded by advisers and courtiers who would yield in nothing to the progressive ideas of the time, sacrificed his ministers and abandoned to the bastille, the melancholy prerogative of royal absolutism. But this absolutism had seen its day. When, on July 14, 1789, the bastille fell under the blows of the Parisian populace and the "French guardsmen, "it is said that the court was paralyzed with consternation It seemed to it as if monarchy had received its death stroke. Nor was this fear ungrounded The ruins of the old monarchy were soon mingled with those of the dread fortress which, for so many centuries, had stood the symbol of the omnipotence of kings.
Return to top