On July 14, in 1789, French revolutionaries stormed the Bastille fortress, a state prison in Paris and a symbol of oppression by the monarchy, and signalled the start of the French Revolution.
An angry and aggressive Revolutionary French mob decided to target the feared Bastille prison, which was a symbol of abuses by the monarchy, not because they wanted to free the prisoners there, (there were about 7 prisoners there at the time) but because it housed gunpowder (about 15 tons) that the French citizens militia were in desperate need of.
The storming of the Bastille marks a turning point in the French revolution, it went from being a popular movement to an armed uprising that would eventually remove the French king, abolish the monarchy in France, and replace it with a secular dictatorship.
Just a few weeks after the storming of the Bastille, the National Assembly abolished feudalism and adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen as its constitution and officialy launched the French revolution.
Storming of the Bastille, by Jean-Pierre-Louis-Laurent Houel.
What most people don't realize about the French revolution, was just how murderous, bloody and flat out insane it was, and how many French people were murdered simply because they refused to join it.
Most people have heard about Robespierre, the Jacobins and of course the guillotine. But few people know about how the French revolutionaries turned on their own countryman, including women and children, and butchered all those that did not want to join the revolution, most notably in the French region of the Vendée.
The main opposition to the French revolution was in the Vendée region of France, where the Vendée people rose up in open revolt against the revolutionaries in Paris.
The uprising coincided with rising disaffection in Lyon, Marseille, and Normandy and seriously threatened the Revolution internally at a time when it had just suffered a military defeat at Neerwinden (on March 18, 1793).
In early 1794 French soldiers marched to the Vendée region. Their orders were simple, to kill everyone they saw and pacify the Vendée revolt at any cost . Thousands of people – including women and children – were massacred in cold blood, and farms and villages all across the region were torched and destroyed.
In the city of Nantes, the Revolutionary commander Jean-Baptiste Carrier disposed of Vendéean prisoners-of-war in a horrifically efficient form of mass execution. In the so-called "noyades" –mass drownings – naked men, women, and children were tied together in specially constructed boats, towed out to the middle of the river Loire and then sunk.
When it was over, French General Francois Joseph Westermann penned a letter to the Committee of Public Safety stating: "There is no more Vendée... According to the orders that you gave me, I crushed the children under the feet of the horses, massacred the women who, at least for these, will not give birth to any more brigands. I do not have a prisoner to reproach me. I have exterminated all."
French soldiers drowning Vendée people, 1793, painting by Joseph Aubert
According to the historian Alain Gérard, of the Vendéean Centre for Historical Research, "In other parts of France the revolutionaries killed the nobles or the rich bourgeoisie, But in Vendée they killed the people. It was the Revolution turning against the very people from whom it claimed legitimacy. It proved the faithlessness of the Revolution to its own principles. That's why it was wiped out of the historical memory," he said.
Historians such as Reynald Secher have even went as far and described these events as "genocide" which was aimed at wiping out the Vendée people, though many French historians oppose that view, saying this was a civil war and not an ethnic genocide.
Whatever view you hold, by the time the French army marched back to Paris from the Vendée region, after "pacifying" the revolt, historians believe that 170,000 - 200,000 Vendées and people who opposed the revolution were murdered by the revolutionary forces.
The way the French revolutionaries behaves towards the French people who refused to join the revolution was a sign of what was to come.
Revolutionary France, which evolved into a military dictatorship under emperor Napoleon, went on and conquered almost every country in Europe that opposed the French revolution, a conquest that caused the deaths of millions of people in France, Russia and all accros Europe.
All of this terror, death and destruction that the French revolution unleashed on France and Europe would be justified by the revolutionaries with three simple French words - "Liberté, égalité, fraternité".