Begun in Versailles in May, act 1 of the French Revolution ended in October with the departure of the king. The legend of Versailles was over after a century of royal residence. Paris became the capital of the kingdom once again. A page in the History of France had been turned.
Since the opening of the assembly of the States General in May, the atmosphere was hectic. The Bastille was overrun on 14 July. In this electric climate, the banquet of the Flanders Regiment on 1 October at the Royal Opera house was seen as the latest provocation of the monarchy.
The king’s guards decided to organise a banquet in honour of the arrival of the new Flanders regiment. A sumptuous table with 210 places was set out in the stalls of the Opera house. The wine flowed and toasts were made to the royal family who were cheered when they appeared. The orchestra played “O Richard, O mon roi” by Grétry. The royal family then joined the soldiers for the meal. These noisy demonstrations of loyalty to the monarch provoked the anger of the capital. The gazettes transformed the banquet into an orgy and stated that the revolutionary cockade had been trampled on. Some of the guests had even worn it turned around showing the white side, symbol of the king. Organising a banquet when the people were hungry was going too far! Marat, Danton and Desmoulins called on the city to march on Versailles.
On 5 October, a crowd of women accompanied by a few men set out for the palace. In the meantime, the king was hunting in Meudon and the queen was out strolling at Trianon. The news of the march spread around the town and the gates of the Château were locked. The queen retired to her apartments when warned. The king entrusted his defence to La Fayette who deployed his men on the place d’Armes. Soaked by the rain, the crowd arrived thirty minutes after midnight but did not invade the Château until 6 in the morning. It forced the gate of the courtyard of the Princes and entered the queen’s apartment through the royal courtyard. Woken at the last minute, Marie-Antoinette went down to the Dauphin’s suite before taking refuge in the king’s. Massed in the marble courtyard, the crowd demanded their appearance. Louis XVI promised to give them bread and to go to Paris.
At 1.25 am, the royal cortege left Versailles. In the way, the crowd sang that it was bringing back “the baker, the baker’s wife and the little baker’s apprentice”! As he left, Louis XVI asked Le Tour du Pin, his War Minister, to “preserve his poor Versailles”, convinced that he would be back. His departure, alas, was definitive. The Château then ceased to be the residence of kings.