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Colors of the Paris National Guard (France) during the French Revolution (1789-1792)

1. Historical background

Last modified: 2018-07-14 by ivan sache
Keywords: paris national guard |
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  • Part 2. Sources describing the colors and analysis
  • Part 3. Description of the colors

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The factual history of the Paris National Guard has been established in the 19th century by several authors, for instance:
- Émile Gigault de la Bédollière. 1848. Histoire de la Garde nationale. Récit complet de tous les faits qui l'ont distinguée depuis ses origines jusqu'en 1848. H. Dumineray & F. Pallier, Paris [Internet Archive];
- Charles François Comte. 1827. Histoire de la Garde nationale de Paris, depuis l'époque de sa fondation jusqu'à l'ordonnance du 29 avril 1827. A. Sautelet & Cie, Paris [Internet Archive];
- François Cudet. 1887. Histoire des corps de troupe qui ont été spécialement chargés du service de la ville de Paris depuis ses origines jusqu'à nos jours. Léon Pillet, Paris. [Internet Archive];
- Horace Raisson. 1832. Histoire populaire de la Garde nationale de Paris, juillet 1789 - juin 1832. Knecht & Roissy, Paris. [Internet Archive].

The Paris National Guard has received little attention from modern historians, although the celebration of the bicentenary of the Revolution in 1789 renewed the interest of historians for the period; two studies can be read for more detail:
- Florence Devenne. 1990. La Garde nationale : création et évolution, 1789-août 1792. Annales historiques de la Révolution française, 283, 49-68. [Persée portal;
- Maurice Genty. 1993. Controverses autour de la Garde nationale parisienne. Annales historiques de la Révolution française, 291, 61-88. [Persée portal].

Ivan Sache, 24 January 2018

Municipal militia in France

Municipal militia appeared in the Middle Ages as the apotheosis of the privileges gained by burghers; they were often prescribed in the charters granted to the newly emancipated communes (municipalities). The municipal militia seem to have been organized, although with some reluctance, by King Louis VI the Fat (1081-1137, crowned in 1108); to keep control of his small kingdom surrounded by aggressive feudal lords, the king sought help of the bishops, who recommended to increase the municipal powers. The municipal militia subsequently contributed to the consolidation of the royal power, helping for instance Philip II Augustus (1165-1223, crowned in 1180) to defeat a coalition of feudal lords in the Battle of Bouvines (1214). The municipal charters usually specified the service (ost) due by municipal militias to the king. This duty was very variable, from one-day individual enrollment to the compulsory supply of organized contingents.

Another main role of the militia was to keep order and law in the town, by watching the walls and challenging, upon request of the municipal administration, the power exerted by the representatives of the royal power. In Paris, the corporate guilds had to contribute to the night watch (guet), organized in sentinels (guet assis, sitting watch) and patrollers (guet royal, royal watch) commanded by the chevalier du guet (watch knight), the latter mentioned for the first time in 1261. Several guilds sought (and often succeeded) to obtain exemption (excusation) from the watch compulsory service.
The municipal militia were particularly powerful during the Hundred Year's War. In Paris, Étienne Marcel (d. 1358), Provost of the Merchants (kind of Mayor), a main challenger of the weak royal power, reorganized the municipal militia, incorporating all the burghers of the town in a force that counted up to 50,000 armed men. In several towns, such well-organized troops were able to force much numerous forces to lift the siege of the town, such as in Rouen in 1418 (the militia eventually surrendered to the English after the betrayal of their commander) and in Beauvais in 1472 (when the local heroin Jeanne Hachette allegedly captured a color from the Burgundian troops).

Following the organization of garrisons, the municipal militia were confined to the watch of order and law in the towns. In spite of attempts of control by the royal power, the burghers of Paris kept their autonomy; on 12 May 1588, they supported the League's insurrection against King Henry III, attacked the Swiss Guards and refused to obey the king, who had to withdraw from the town.
However, the militia were progressively disbanded in most towns. The last significant involvement of a municipal militia in a war event occurred in November 1636 in Saint-Jean-de-Losne, a small town in Burgundy. Some 500 burghers repelled three assaults by the Spanish and Imperial troops, resisting until French troops showed up and defeated the attackers.
In his quest for absolute power, Louis XIV suppressed the last privileges kept by the municipal militia. The State Council issued an Order on 19 September 1668, increased by an Ordinance issued in 1692, placing the burgher's militia under the command of the province intendants and of the king's lieutenants. The Royal Edict of 1694 made of the command of the militia an hereditary and venal office. The Paris burgher's militia were eventually reorganized by Letters Patented issued on 14 December 1769, being downsized to four companies of 76 men each, which gathered only for public ceremonies.

The reestabihsment of the burgher's militia was requested in several cahiers de doléances prepared for the 1789 Estates-General, including those of the Third Estate in Paris. In the course of the insurrection that broke out in Paris in July 1789, what would be the National Guard emerged before any legal basis could have been set for such an organization.

Ivan Sache, 24 January 2018

Timeline of the French Revolution in Paris, 1789-1792

5 May: Inauguration of the Estates-General in Versailles by King Louis XVI
17 June: Proclamation of the National Assembly, mostly by Representatives of the Third Estate
20 June: Taking of the Tennis Court Oath
9 July: Proclamation of the National Constituent Assembly
11 July: Sacking of Necker and the other reformist ministers
14 July: Storming of the Bastile fortress
15 July: Appointment of Lafayette as Commander in Chief of the Paris National Guard
4 August: Abolishment of the feudal privileges
26 August: Adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen
6 October: Forced return of Louis XVI from Versailles to Paris.

13 February: Closure of all convents and monasteries in Paris
12 July: Adoption of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy
14 July: Celebration of the Fête de la Fédération.

21 June: Arrest of the royal family in Varennes
17 July: Proclamation of the Martial Law and massacre on the Champ-de-Mars
3 September: Adoption of the Constitution
13 September: Reorganization of the Paris National Guard
1 October: Inauguration of the new National Legislative Assembly.

20 April: Declaration of war to the King of Bohemia and Hungary
20 June: Invasion of the Tuileries palace
11 July: Proclamation of the "Homeland in Danger"
10 August: Storming of the Tuileries Palace
19 August: Reorganization of the Paris National Guard
2-6 September: September Massacres of prisoners, mostly priests and Swiss guards
20 September: Battle of Valmy
21 September: Inauguration of the Convention. Abolishment of the monarchy. Proclamation of the Republic.

Ivan Sache, 24 January 2018

The establishment and organization of the Paris National Guard

Due to financial crisis and troubles breaking out all over the kingdom, King Louis XVI (1754-1793, crowned in 1774, overthrown in 1792) conveyed the Estates-General by Royal Order of 24 January 1789. This emergency procedure had been used for the last time in 1614 by Louis XIII (1601-1643, crowned in 1610). The three Estates (the Clergy, the Nobility and the Commoners, aka the Third Estate) that structured the organization of the society had to elect representatives. As far as the Third State was concerned, the election was indirect. In Paris, 60 districts were set up; on 21 April 1789, the inhabitants of each district met in "primary assemblies" to appoint "Electors". To designate the 20 Representatives who would seat at the Estates-General, the Electors formed committees, chaired by the Elector's Permanent Committee. The districts were expected to be suppressed after the elections, but they were not; in contrary, the Elector's Permanent Committee played a main role in the July events and, especially, in the set up of the National Guard.

The Estates-General, inaugurated in Versailles by King Louis XVI on 5 May 1789, quickly proved to be unable to initiate the reforms aspired to by the Third Estate, dominant in Paris. On 17 June 1789, the King refused to suppress the three Estates, ordering them to seat separately. The representatives of the Third Estate, joined by a few representatives of the two other Estates, seceded and proclaimed the National Assembly. Expelled on 20 June, they moved to the nearby Tennis Court where they pledged the Tennis Court Oath.
The news from Versailles were usually known in Paris only one day later. Accordingly, rumor, distortion and exaggeration increased the insurrection atmosphere in the town. Since order and law could no longer be maintained in the streets of Paris, Louis XVI ordered the gathering of 35,000 soldiers, mostly from foreign regiments, in strategic places in Versailles, Paris and the neighborhood.

On 8 July, Mirabeau (1749-1791), a noble opposed to absolutism and elected representative of the Third States, described at the National Assembly the threat represented by the foreign troops, asking the king to withdraw them at his early convenience and to organize a "burgher's guard" both in Paris and Versailles. Mirabeau's latter proposal, while rejected by the Assembly, echoed the wishes of the Paris burghers. On 26 June, de Bonneville had asked the Electors of the 60 districts to vote the funding of a "regenerated burgher's guard".
The King argued that "the gathering of the troops around Paris was required to maintain law and order in the town and would last only until law and order are fully reestablished". He even proposed to transfer the Estates-General to Noyon or Soissons, far north of Paris, which increaded the trouble. Mirabeau answered that the Assembly had asked the troops' withdrawal but not to be expelled by them. On 9 July, the Assembly proclaimed itself the National Constituent Assembly.

Pressed by his most conservative councillors, Louis XVI sacked on 11 July his reformist ministers, including Jacques Necker (1732-1804), the Minister of Finance who had proposed reforms. The next day, exhorted by the journalist Camille Desmoulins (1760-1794), the mob initiated riots in the streets of Paris. On 13 July, the Royal Allemand regiment commanded by Charles-Eugène de Lorraine, Prince of Lambesc, attempted to stop the insurrection, killing and injuring several insurgents.
The same day in the afternoon, the Elector's Permanent Committee, headquartered at the Town Hall, prescribed the immediate reestablishment of the "Paris militia", as follows: "The militia will be composed of 48,000 men, enrolled in the 60 districts, 200 men on the first day and so on on the three next days. The 60 districts will form 16 legions, each named for a borough. Of the 16 legions, 12 will be composed of four battalions and four will be composed of three battalions. Each battalion, composed of 800 men, will be subdivided into four companies." The text subsequently describes in detail the hierarchic organization of the militia. Moreover, it prescribes the mandatory use of the blue-red cockade by the militians.
At 10 PM, Delavigne, President of the Committee, and the Elector Agier forwarded to the Committee a statement by the National Assembly supporting the creation of the burgher's militia.
These decisions formally fulfilled the wishes of some districts, which had already self-organized their own battalions. The Grands Augustins District had asked "each citizen to watch the door of his house, for the next night only". The Enfants Rouges District had sent representatives to the Town Hall "to take the measures necessary to the organization of the municipal guard". The Sainte Élisabeth District had "set up a burgher's guard and edicted a provisory regulation for the citizens who will constitute this national guard" (this seems to be the first record of the expression "national guard"). The Saint Eustache District had decided "to form a burgher's guard" and "to convince the French Guards, the Swiss Guards and other citizen's corpses to join the burgher's militia". The Sorbonne District had prescribed the set up of day and night citizen's patrols. The Saint Merry District had set up the establishment of a "burgher's guard".

On 14 July, the Elector's Permanent Committee appointed the Marquis Nicolas de la Salle d'Offemond (1734-1818), Lieutenant-Colonel in the Vermandois Regiment, as the Commander in Chief of the new guard. He was assisted by Charles Gaullard de Saudray, Knight of the Order of Saint-Louis. In the meantime, an infuriated mob rushed to the Bastile, considered as the symbol of the absolute power (the destruction of the fortress was asked in several cahiers de doléances) and thought to keep a huge quantity of ammunition. This was indeed the case, although the garrison counted only slighty more than 100 soldiers. After the first skirmishes, the Militia Commitee, presided by Deflesselles, Provost of the Merchants, asked the Governor of the fortress, the Marquis de Launay, to surrender and to deliver the fortress to the "troops of the Paris militia". Supported by French Guards and burgher's troops, the attackers obtained the surrender. The storming ended in a big confusion, several defenders, including the governor, being slaughtered by the mob. Deflesselles was also killed because of his alleged support to the governor.

On 15 July, the Electors appointed the Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834), cherished by the insurgents for his support to the American Revolution and his opposition to the ultra-conservative party, Commander in Chief of the Paris Guard. Lafayette subsequently proposed to rename the militia "National Guard".
Defeated, Louis XVI sent back the foreign troops and called back Necker. On 17 July, the king officially entered Paris, escorted by the National Guard. At the Town Hall, he approved, quite reluctantly, the establishment of the guard and pinned, probably even more reluctantly, the blue-red cockade on his hat.

The duties of the National Guard were detailed in the Royal Edict issued on 6 August. The Paris National Guard was to be composed of no more than 24,000 volunteers and 6,000 paid soldiers, mostly from the French Guards. Six divisions of 10 districts each were set up. Each district's battalion was composed of five companies of 100 men each. On 30 August, the 900 officers of the National Guard pledged loyalty to the municipality, in the presence of Lafayette and of the municipal officers. Weapons were distributed to the battalions, 7,000 rifles being offered by the king; uniforms were sometimes obtained via public subscription.
The colors of the battalions were blessed on 27 September in the Notre-Dame cathedral. The Decree issued on 13 September 1791, which reorganized the Paris National Guard, maintained the original divisions and district's battalions.

The Decree issued on 19 August 1792 reorganized in depth the Paris National Guard, replacing the 60 districts by 48 armed sections: Tuileries, Champs Élysées, Roule, Palais Royal, Place Vendôme, Bibliothèque, Grange Batelière, Louvre, Oratoire, Halle aux Blés, Postes, Mail, Fontaine de Montmorency, Bonne-Nouvelle, Ponceau, Mauconseil, Marché des Innocents, Lombards, Arcis, Faubourg Montmartre, Rue Poissonnière, Rue de Bondi, Temple, Popincourt, Rue de Montreuil, Quinze-Vingts, Gravilliers, Faubourg Saint Denis, Rue Beaubourg, Enfants Rouges, Roi de Sicile, Hôtel de Ville, Place Royale, Arsenal, Notre-Dame, Cité, Invalides, Fontaine de Grenelle, Quatre Nations, Théâtre Français, Croix Rouge, Luxembourg, Thermes de Julien, Sainte Geneviève, Observatoire, Jardin des Plantes, and Gobelins.
The Decree prescribes "There shall be only one color, to the colors of the country, between the two divisions in the middle of each armed section, with the writing "Liberté ! Égalité !".

Ivan Sache, 24 January 2018

The Paris districts

Under the Ancient Regime, Paris was divided into 16 quartiers (boroughs). In winter 1788, the boroughs were subdivided into districts. The detailed list of the districts, each named for the church where the voters should meet, and of their presidents, was published on 19 April 1789 in the Journal de Paris, No. 109. The lack of time prevented the journal to give the limits of the districts set up by the Town's Office (the Royal regulation was issued on 13 April and the Ordinance of the Provost of Paris on 15 April, the two texts being published on 18 April in the Supplement to No. 108 of the Journal de Paris, the election being scheduled to 21 April).

- Saint Martin borough, four districts: Saint Martin des Champs, Récollets, Sépulcre, Saint Merry
- Marais borough, four districts:
Capucins, Enfants Rouges, Blancs Manteaux, Pères de Nazareth
- Halles borough, four districts: Saint Jacques de la Boucherie, Saint Joseph, Saint Leu, Saint Magloire
- Luxembourg borough, four districts: Carmes Déchaussés, Prémontrés, Saint André des Arts, Cordeliers
- Hôtel de Ville [Town Hall] borough, four districts: Enfants Trouvés du Faubourg Saint Antoine, Saint Gervais, Saint Louis de la Culture, Saint Jean en Grève
- Saint Germain borough, four districts: Abbaye de Saint Germain des Prés, Théatins, Augustins, Jacobins de la Rue Saint Dominique
- Place Royale borough, four districts: Trennelle du Faubourg Saint Antoine, Petit Saint Antoine, Minimes, Sainte Marguerite
- Sorbonne borough, three districts: Saint Jacques du Haut Pas, Mathurins, Sorbonne
- Sainte Geneviève borough, three districts: Saint Étienne du Mont, Val de Grâce, Saint Marcel
- Île Notre Dame borough, three districts: Saint Nicolas du Chardonnet, Saint Victor, Saint Louis en l'Île
- Saint Eustache borough, four districts: Saint Eustache, Filles de Saint Thomas, Petits Pères, Capucins de la Chaussée d'Antin
- Palais Royal borough, four districts: Saint Roch, Saint Honoré, Jacobins de la Rue Saint-Honoré, Saint Philippe du Roule
- Louvre borough, four districts: Oratoire, Feuillants, Saint Germain l'Auxerrois, Capucins de la Rue Saint Honoré
- Saint Denis borough, four districts: Sainte Élisabeth, Saint Laurent, Filles Dieu, Saint Nicolas des Champs
- Innocents borough, four districts: Saint Lazare, Grands Augustins, Bonne Nouvelle, Saint Jacques l'Hôpital
- Cité borough, three districts: Barnabites, Saint Séverin, Notre Dame.

The short-lived districts were replaced by 48 "sections" prescribed by the Law adopted on 21 May 1790 by the Constituent Assembly and ratified on 27 June 1790 by King Louis XVI. However, the battalions of the National Guard named for the districts kept their name until August 1792, when the National Guard was totally reorganized.

Ivan Sache, 24 January 2018