Bastille: the Emblem of the Revolution
Simonsens, June 24, 2014
Translated by: Stefania

I would like to point out that this article has been written continuously listening to “Everybody wants to rule the world”.

It’s been a long time since an Assassin's Creed cinematic trailer was able to catch the heart of fans with its visual power and emotional impact as Assassin’s Creed Unity's one did. Although it’s less important in order to judge what we will see in the video game, I would like to use this occasion to analyse and talk about what this short video shows, something that will surely have a part as a main event of the plot in this chapter. An eagle flies over Paris. A city already swallowed up by the violence of fights in the streets and the powders of Revolution. Which is the event portrayed in this video? The answer is simple. No other event can better represent this historical period than July 14th, 1789. The day of the famous Storming of the Bastille. The day the French Revolution started.

The French people suffered hunger and urged King Louis XVI more and more so that he changed the nation’s destiny. The situation though was very problematic and concerned way more thorny and deeper matters inside the French government system. France was notably weak and poorer due to the financial support given to the American troops during the War of Independence. Moreover the court’s expenses, the ostentation and the bad habits contributed to the tax increases that, back then, were paid only by the Third Estate, namely the common people.
On May 5th, 1789, due to the situation and the pressures of the Third Estate, the Estates-General was summoned to stop the heated social and political debate. The summoning of the Estates-General demonstrates how tragic and unsustainable the situation was and how desperate Louis XVI’s attempt to placate the people’s fervor was. The summoning of this special assembly, indeed, was an extraordinary event that hadn’t happened since 1614, almost 200 years before. But the problem was that, even though the Third Estate represented the great majority of the common people (the lower middle class), its vote was worth 1/3, exactly like the one of the Second Estate (Aristocracy) and the First Estate (Clergy). This system was studied in order not to allow draws and static situations during the vote, but at the same time incredibly favoured the First and Second Estate that, more often than not, saw their interests coming together. During the assembly, therefore, the Third Estate demanded some changes. Its members requested a higher number of voters, that the vote was by head (and not by estates) and that the meeting occurred in a single room with all the three Estates (since each State consulted in a separated chamber). Only one of these requests was granted and, obviously, it was the most convenient for Clergy and Aristocracy: the increase of members. This system didn’t allow a change of the situation and so the Third Estate was unable to surpass the other two estates.
After six weeks of failures and stagnation the Third Estate created the National Assembly, proclaiming itself the one and only representative of France and claiming the power to legislate on taxes. On June 20, 1789, Louis XVI carried out another repressive action and, with the excuse of ‘maintenance’, ordered the room where the Third Estate used to meet to be closed. When its members found the doors to their chamber closed, they became furious, and congregated in the nearby indoor tennis court and took the oath to meet wherever
The Tennis Court Oath
they were free to discuss until the establishment of a French constitution. This is the famous Tennis Court Oath, and from that moment on, France would have never been the same anymore.
Louis XVI hired foreign soldiers to invigorate his garrisons. That was an interesting strategy, since these soldiers, being unconnected with the Parisians and their cause, wouldn’t have had doubts about shooting at the crowd. On July 11th, Jacques Necker, France finance minister, in disagreement with Louis XVI’s decision due to his pro-popular position, presented his resignations and the king accepted them without many hesitations. The day after the rumors about Necker’s resignations went around the city and this fact was interpreted as the nth attempt of repression towards the people. The crowd swarmed the streets with a march in favour of Necker and the king reacted in the only way he knew: he deployed his troops in Paris and ordered to attack the crowd. This action caused the immediate reaction of the National Assembly that didn’t hesitate to threaten the king himself. It’s July 13th, the people completely closed off the city of Paris to prevent the foreign mercenaries, summoned by the king, from entering the walls to help the royal guard. A civil militia was formed, the National Guard.
On the morning of July 14th a crowd in possession of about 38.000 rifles headed towards the Bastille seeking the gunpowder. Actually the storming of the Bastille was an action aimed to the utility and the demolition of the symbol of the Ancien Régime rather than an intervention to conquer the fortress. Indeed the fortress/prison wasn’t an obstacle for the people’s revolt because at that time there were just a few guards and it housed only 7 prisoners: 4 forgers, a murderer, a man who deliberately had himself imprisoned and a mad Irish who affirmed to be Julius Caesar. Also, just 36 days before, Louis XVI had ordered to demolish it and build a plaza dedicated to him in its stead. During these events it’s important to remember how the profiles of the protagonists of the Revolution, like Danton (who will surely appear in the co-op missions of Unity) and Pierre-Augustin Hulin, the man who led the crowd towards the Bastille, started to take shape.

And here we can start talking about the cinematic trailer of Assassin’s Creed Unity.

The trailer starts showing a credible and quite coherent with history situation. The crowd swarms the city of Paris. Before the assault to the Bastille the governor of the fortress, Bernard-René Jordan de Launay (the victim of the Trailer) tried to negotiate with the crowd’s representatives. Instead it’s historically inexact showing the crowd hit by cannon fire coming from the Bastille. This never happened because at that moment the cannons of the Bastille weren’t adequately equipped to shoot and besides the crowd’s spokesperson asked Launay to pull them back so that the crowd could understand that the army meant no harm. But history teaches us that, evidently, it didn’t end up well and around 2 pm the people, tired of waiting outside the fortress (and basically only for various misunderstandings) were able to break into the Bastille. But what exactly was the Bastille?
Nowadays almost nothing is left of the prison because its demolition started the day after its storming. It was a majestic structure, which surely described the profile of Paris at the end of the 18th century. It was built on the orders of Charles V’s orders, king of France, after the defeat of the French troops in the Battle of Poitiers in 1370, to defend the North-East walls (1) during the Hundred Years’ War. The fortress was completed in 1382 and had an european classic military structure with eight towers and crenellated walls 24 m high. The trailer perfectly shows the beauty, the topographic integration e the proportion of the fortress. It was surrounded by a moat and had only one entrance that could be connected to a bank and the city through a drawbridge (2). During the 16th century Cardinal Richelieu (the same one of “The Three Musketeers”) transformed it in a prison. The two cells “hosted” many historical figures: the prisoner with the iron mask, Cagliostro, Mirabeau and Voltaire who was imprisoned there two times!

The Bastille wasn’t a particularly harsh prison, on the contrary the food was considerably good compared to the other prisons in Paris and, for instance, we can mention the “Liberté Tower”, where the political prisoners were detained which was dubbed like that exactly due to the imprisonment conditions: inmates were allowed to set up their cell, walk around the courtyards and serenely play boules. What made the Bastille the true symbol of monarchic oppression was the high number of people imprisoned to prevent them from talking and speaking out against the regime (poor Voltaire).
The dynamics is simple to recreate. The Parisian crowd (around 1000 people) reached the bridge of the Bastille, a curious fact is that, in order to enter, they really had to climb and cut the ropes that kept the drawbridge lifted up, exactly like, obviously in the remake, Arno and his mates do. Once inside, the rioters ended up in the Large Courtyard (3-A)(5), a big yard inside the fortress where the French garrison and the Swiss guards were waiting for them and didn’t hesitate to shoot. Around a hundred people died, but it’s important to recall a significant event that characterised this fight and that in the trailer isn’t shown for scenic needs. Indeed for the first time a part of the army, sharing the same rage and desire for revenge towards the monarchy, joined the rioters and the crowd, fighting with the people; a truly memorable and touching event.

In the trailer the Assassins try to reach the Courtyard of the Well (7)(3-C) through the central body of the fortress that divides the two open spaces (6)(3-B). Once there they surround Launay and leave him to the judgment of crowd. Historically there is an inexactness, actually the Governor wasn’t in the back courtyard, but was monitoring the situation from the top of the outer walls. Seeing the situation, he decided to cease fire and surrendered, but this didn’t earn him salvation. He was assaulted by the furious crowd and dragged towards the city hall, but on the way he was stabbed repeatedly with a bayonet, shot and then his head was sawn off and fixed on a pike.
What happened to the Bastille? As previously said, the day after the storming, a quick dismantling of the fortress started and lasted almost a year. The people wanted to destroy at any cost the symbol of the oppression and the Ancien Régime. At first they thought to demolish the fortress with gunpowder, but it wasn’t enough so the Parisian started to dismantle it with their own hands, brick by brick. Nowadays the Bastille shows itself in other forms, the materials that made up the fortress were used to pave the Pont de la Concorde so that the people could step on the symbol of oppression every day. Pierre-François Palloy, a French businessman, sold the bricks of the Bastille as souvenirs of the event.

The importance in Assassin’s Creed Unity of the events connected to this building may establish a new implementation in the saga: the historical dynamism of the map. The fact that this actually disappeared in 1790 may give the AC maps a dynamic character that follows the historical events. Unfortunately I noticed that in the E3 single-player demo set in 1793, during the Reign of Terror, it is still possible to catch sight of the fortress (on the left of Notre Dame), but I hope this is just a oversight due to the “demo” nature of the video.

As usual we’re waiting for additional videos and confirmations. Stay with us!

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