In the years leading up to the French Revolution, the city of Paris and the city of Versailles were two polar opposites. One represented the commoner of France — the tens of thousands of poor, hungry, and angry citizens that demanded change. One represented the royalty of France — the select few that lavished in luxury and riches, even as the state of their country grew worse and worse. It is worth examining how the people and places of Paris and Versailles, respectively, changed throughout the duration of the French Revolution, as well as how each helped to shape the events of the world’s most significant social uprising of the time.
Protests that sparked from the extraordinary prices of bread and grains quickly turned into a city-wide march from Paris to the royal palace in Versailles. The commoners had had enough; they would press their demands upon King Louis XVI and the royal family of France (Kropotkin). The march would come to be known as the Women’s March on Versailles, and it was quite effective in achieving its purpose. Louis XVI immediately ordered all of the bread in Versailles be sent to Paris to help control the shortage in the city.
Bread aside, the march on Versailles displaced Louis XVI and his royal family from the palace at Versailles. They were installed in the Tuileries in Paris where they could be more closely monitored by the citizens of Paris (Pégard). The royal movement, so to speak, changed Versailles for decades to come. All of the ornate decorations, furniture, art and relics in the royal palace were not taken to Paris with Louis XVI after pressure from the Parisians. He quickly rescinded his order to move them to Paris after such pressure, and accepted his de facto punishment.
In 1791, following his arrest, Louis XVI’s possessions were abandoned. The palace was sealed by the Assemblée nationale constituante in order to safeguard the priceless possessions. The contents of the Palace were then auctioned off and sold, with the exception of exemplary pieces of art or intellectual property. The auctions took place in the time period between the summer of 1793 and the winter of 1795. After the pieces were sold, the palace was under consideration to be sold. In 1794, the National Convention stated that the palace would become a safe haven for confiscated art from churches and wealthy households. Further dilapidation to the palace and surrounding areas overtook Versailles in the 1790s. Decorations such as upholstery and draperies were sold for their value in precious metals. Mirrors were used to repay debt to the French Republic. Eventually the confiscated pieces, as well as those outstanding from Louis XVI’s collection, would go into a planned museum, which came to be known as Musée spécial de l’École française and would later become one of France’s finest art museums.
As the city of Paris became the center of one of the world’s most significant cultural and social movements, Versailles transformed from the seat of the royal family to a largely forgotten garden with an art museum. As years went on, Versailles regained some of its grandeur, but the events during the French Revolution undoubtedly changed the course of Versailles forever.
Kropotkin, P.. N.p.. Web. 27 Oct 2013. <http://www.pccua.edu/keough/march_to_versailles.htm>.
Pégard, Catherine Pégard. 27 Oct 2013. <http://en.chateauversailles.fr/history/court-people/louis-xvi-time/louis-xvi>.
School, Frank. N.d. Photograph. Getty ImagesWeb. 2 Dec 2013. <http://history.howstuffworks.com/historical-events/french-revolution4.htm>.
Westover, Abigail. Intro to the Age of French Dominance. 2012. Photograph. History of CostumeWeb. 2 Dec 2013. <http://historyofeuropeanfashion.wordpress.com/>.