Author: A London Times Correspondent  | Date: July 20, 1789

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The London Times July 20, 1789 London

A London Times Correspondent Reports the Outbreak of the French Revolution


[The Times, London, July 20, 1789]

The disputes which have for some time past convulsed this neighboring kingdom, have at length been brought to a crisis, which no man could have foreseen or supposed. The relation of what Paris has been during last week, fills the mind with horror; and although we have all seen and felt the sad effects of an unlicensed populace in our own country, at the time of that dreadful conflagration in London during the riots in 1780, yet even that melancholy event was fat short of the general distress which not only is felt in Paris, but in the neighborhood for many leagues around it.

We have no period in the history of Europe since the time of Charles the IX of France, in 1572, affording so striking an example of a distracted Government, and the bloodshed of a civil war, as that which France now exhibits. No personal safety,—no protection of property, and the lives of the first men in the State in such momentary danger, as to oblige them to fly their country, and seek an asylum in this land of liberty. Such is the picture of Paris at this instant; and rebellion has so widely spread, that no one can judge where it will have an end. All public business is stopped, the whole system and strength of Government annihilated, and even the King and Queen obliged to shut themselves up in the palace of Versailles with a strong guard for their own security.

The faithful relation of the history of this awful period must be a matter of the strongest curiosity. Many false rumors will, no doubt, be circulated, for the time is auspicious to those of an inventive genius, and erroneous accounts must of necessity go abroad, where the real transactions cannot be obtained. As a proof of this, we should notice the World newspaper of Saturday, which announces that the University of Paris was leveled to the ground, that the King had dissolved the States General, and that he had erected a standard for his partisans to flock to. We are peculiarly happy in having an opportunity to gratify the expectations of our friends by recording the circumstances attending this period in full and authentic manner. They are sufficiently dreadful without any exaggeration.

The following is the substance of some dispatches received officially on Saturday evening, and confirmed by the Duke of Dorset’s messenger of yesterday, as well as by several foreigners of distinction, who are arrived in London for personal safety.

The public are already in possession of M. Necker’s dismission yesterday se’nnight, which was followed by a total change in the French Cabinet. It does not appear that M. Necker’s removal was in consequence of any ill-will which the King bore him; on the contrary, his Majesty showed him every mark of respect; and it is even said, advised him to resign. It was, however, this change in administration, which was the immediate consequence of the present violent commotions.

They began on Monday morning, and have continued unremittingly ever since. It cannot now be said that the present violences are the effect of a mere unlicensed mob, but they are the acts of the public at large. The concurrent voice of the nation demands a new constitution, nor do we foresee that any power can resist it.

On Monday morning the people joined in greater numbers than they had hitherto done, and seemed determined to be revenged for the insult which they said was offered to them by removing M. Necket. Previous thereto the mob bad destroyed several of the toll-gates belonging to the Government in the vicinity of Paris, as well as the books belonging to the excise officers, by which very large entries of goods passed without paying the revenue, and every part of the metropolis exhibited a scene of riot.

The regular troops held for the protection of Paris were persuaded to join the people; they were encamped on the Champs de Mars, to the number of 5000 men, and marched to the Hotel of Invalids, a building in the outskirts of the city. The invalids joined the rest, and brought away all the great guns, and other ammunition, belonging to the Hospital. With this reinforcement the people then attacked the Bastille Prison, which they soon made themselves masters of, and released all the State prisoners confined there, among whom was Lord Mazarine, an Irish nobleman, who had been confined for debt near 30 years. The prisoners in the other gaols were freed in like manner, excepting such as were under sentence of death, whom they hung within the prison. This seemed to argue a premeditated design, as well as great caution.

On attacking the Bastille they secured the Governor, the Marquis De L’Auney, and the Commandant of the Garrison, whom they conducted to the Place de Grieve, the place of public execution, where they beheaded them, stuck their heads on tent poles, and carried them in triumph to the Palais Royale, and through the streets of Paris. The Marquis De L’Auney was particularly odious to the people, from the nature of his employment, and it is therefore no wonder that he should be singled out amongst the first victims of his resentment.

The Hotel de Ville, or Mansion House, was the place that was next attacked. M. de Flessil, the Prevot de Marchand, or Lord Mayor, had made himself obnoxious by attempting to read publicly some instructions he had received from the King. In doing this he was stabbed in several places, his head cut off, and carried away. M. de Crosne, the Lieutenant de Police, shared the same fate, only that he was hung in the public streets.

Several other very violent excesses have been committed. The Duc de Latremoville, and many other noblemen the friends of the King who voted against the Tiers Etat, the people had confined in prison. The Duc de Luxembourg, one of the most conspicuous of that order, got away with some difficulty, and arrived in London on Saturday night with all his family. The Duc de Chatelet, Colonel of the King’s Guard, very narrowly escaped assassination. He was mounted on horseback, attended by some Hussars, and the people were about to stop him, when some of them called out to let him escape, adding, that though he was a rascal, they would not take his life.

The number of armed men in Paris is supposed to amount to 300,000 men, and they call themselves the Militia. The way by which so many people have procured arms is, that all the public store-houses where weapons were lodged, have been broken open, as well as several private houses plundered, which they thought conrained them.

The Archbishop of Paris is among the number of those who have been sacrificed to the people’s rage. He was assassinated at Versailles on Tuesday night, or early on Wednesday morning.

The city of Paris is entirely surrounded with a guard, and not a soul suffered to go out who has an appearance of opulence. Those who have escaped, have done it under a disguise, with no other clothes on them but what they wore. The town has been put under contribution, and a tax levied on every person according to their circumstances, both in men and money.

The scene has been so busy as well as riotous, that a very few letters are in England which relate the circumstances of this rebellion. From the reports which were yesterday in circulation, and related to us, we know that the greatest falsehoods and absurdities are told in this affair, many of which, no doubt, will appear in print.


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Chicago: A London Times Correspondent, "A London Times Correspondent Reports the Outbreak of the French Revolution," Autobiography in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris (Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Co., 1951), Original Sources, accessed April 14, 2024,

MLA: A London Times Correspondent. "A London Times Correspondent Reports the Outbreak of the French Revolution." Autobiography, in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, edited by Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris, Harrisburg, Pa., Stackpole Co., 1951, Original Sources. 14 Apr. 2024.

Harvard: A London Times Correspondent, 'A London Times Correspondent Reports the Outbreak of the French Revolution' in Autobiography. cited in 1951, History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. , Stackpole Co., Harrisburg, Pa.. Original Sources, retrieved 14 April 2024, from