The October March of Women, 1789
- " In the wee hours of October 6, 1789, a mob of peasant women broke into the Palace of Versailles. They had been encamped outside the chateau since the previous evening, awaiting an audience with my King, Louis XVI (16th), and his Queen, Marie Antoinette.
"The women had come from Paris and they were starving. Their children and their aged, as well, were starving. A terrible storm had wiped out France's wheat crop that summer. Now the common folk had no bread, their main and sometimes only source of food. I followed them from Paris as they struggled to make the 20 kilometer journey on foot, afraid for my King, afraid of the power of the mob. As the women marched, their numbers grew. All along the route, I observed as more women dropped their washing and their brooms and left their children to join the fray. They arrived at Versailles in the thousands, demanding that King Louis and Marie Antoinette save them from their misery. Their hunger had driven them to madness. Waiting through the night for a response from the King had transformed their desperation to fury.
"Before dawn, they stormed the Palace through a servants' entrance. I pushed in amongst them, hoping to reach the King first, to warn him or hide him, I knew not what. But the scene was one of total mayhem. Frantic women rushed in all directions. They ran down gilded corridors, flew up marble staircases, burst through passageways reserved for servants. 'If they refuse to come out', was heard the mob's collective cry, 'we'll drag them out!' They searched for the King and Queen, their rage now whipped to a savage frenzy. They killed anyone who got in their way.
"Before dawn, the King and Queen were found with their two children and the King's sister, Madame Elizabeth, huddled like mice before a gang of hungry cats, still in their bedclothes in the King's private apartments. They were forced to dress quickly and pressed into waiting carriages bound for Paris, driven there by the mob so that they might bear witness to the misery of their subjects.
"They would never see Versailles again.
"Some among the women accompanied the king and queen with the severed heads of royal guards held high upon pikes, like tattered, bloody flags. Others stayed behind and shouting, Down with the Monarchy! Down with the King!, they hurried about the chateau, smashing statuary and precious antiques, pilfering what could be carried, seizing foodstuffs from the immense Versailles kitchen: fresh pheasant and duck, salted pork, baskets of vegetables, and bread still baking in the ovens for that morning's royal meal.
The above is a portion of the blog post Excerpted from the Time Traveler Paris Tours: Long Live the King's Garden, by Sarah B. Towle (copyright 2009), expected launch date: March 2010.
It is posted on the 223rd anniversary of the attack on the royal family on the morning of October 6, 1789, when the mobe chased the sleeping Queen Marie Antoinette from her bedroom, and ultimately forced the King, Queen and royal family to leave their home at Versailles for Paris. This was a key turning in the French Revolution.
To read the full blog post, go to