A Paris newspaper on bread shortages (1789)


In late July 1789 the conservative newspaper L’Ami du Roi (‘Friend of the King’) reported on how bread shortages precipitated the unrest of July 14th:


“The nearer July 14th came, the greater became the shortage of food. The crowd, besieging every baker’s shop, received a parsimonious distribution of bread, always with warnings about possible shortages next day. Fears were redoubled by the complaints of people who had spent the whole day waiting at the baker’s door without receiving anything.

There was frequent bloodshed; food was snatched from the hand as people came to blows; workshops were deserted; workmen and craftsmen wasted their time in quarreling, in trying to get hold of even small amounts of food and, by losing working time in queuing, found themselves unable to pay for the next day’s supply.

This bread, moreover, seized with such effort, was far from being of good quality. It was generally blackish, earthy and sour. Swallowing it scratched the throat, and digesting it caused stomach pains. At the Ecole Militaire and other grain stores I saw flour of terrible quality, disgusting smelling yellow mounds which produced such rock-hard lumps of bread that it could only be divided up with the use of an axe.

As for myself, discouraged by my lack of success in obtaining this unappetising bread, and disgusted at the bread available even in hostelries, I completely gave up this item of food. In the evening I went to the Caveau cafe, where fortunately they had thought to keep for me two of the small bread rolls known as flutes. This was the only bread I had eaten for a whole week.

As I was forced at the height of the shortage to go to Versailles for a short visit, I was curious to see what sort of bread was being eaten at court, or served at the ministers’ and deputies’ tables. Nowhere could I find even rye bread. Everywhere I saw only beautiful bread, of the finest and most delicate quality. It was served in great abundance and delivered by the bakers themselves.”