Women (and a few men), 60,000 strong, fired the opening salvo of the French Revolution on this day in 1789.
Bread – that essential staff of life – was expensive and in short supply at the time in Paris. Then reports came that at Versailles, the royal family and noble guests were feasting and celebrating. Outrage swept the women of Paris who were unable to feed their own families.
As they gathered in the marketplaces of the city on that cold, rainy morning of October 5th, rioting broke out and quickly spread across the city. Soon growing numbers of angry women, egged on by radical revolutionaries, ransacked the armory at the Hotel de Ville for weapons. Churches rang their bells in alarm as the crowds swelled.
With a young girl in the lead beating a drum, an army of 6,000 women began the 13-mile march to the palace of Versailles.
Along the way, women – and men – joined the procession. By the time they arrived at Versailles, they were 60,000 strong. They demanded the King open his larder at the palace to feed them, and then return to Paris with assurances of an increased food supply.
The women’s siege was successful. They marched back to Paris with the King and Queen in the lead (or in tow, depending on your point of view), chanting that they were bringing with them “the baker” and “the baker’s wife”.
For King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie-Antoinette, it was a symbolic end of opulence and the last time they would ever see Versailles. The women’s march presaged the coming of the French Revolution which displaced the privileged French nobility in favor of the common people.
All of which pays tribute to the power of women … and the importance of a baguette.