French Revolution: storming of the Bastille

Exam task

Section A Question 1/2 – French Revolution


“Using three or four points, explain the importance of the storming of the Bastille to the development of the French Revolution to August 1789.”

Student response

“The storming of the Bastille became important as it symbolised the end of the Ancien Regime. Fuelled by enlightenment thought, the lower classes began to voice their grievances and discontent about their lack of representation and the hierachy that dictated French society. Pamphlets such as Sieyes “What is the Third Estate” and others around 1789 led to the Third Estate searching to overthrow the system of privilege and representation by taking up arms. This led them to the Bastille prison. Despite the fact that there were few prisoners in the prison at the time, it was a hated symbol of monarchial despotism that was defeated and the National Assembly could now write a constitution without fear of military overthrow. Following the storming on July 14th, revolutionary spirit galvanised the countryside. Rural peasants, unhappy with their oppressive feudal contracts, began burning and looting property in what became known as the Great Fear (late July 1789). This eventually led to the August Decrees which freed peasants from their contracts, bringing change in the revolution. The previously unchallenged upper classes discovered the power of the masses which they had no control over. The Paris crowds had gained control of Paris and the King was now powerless. Therefore, the reason that Bastille Day is currently celebrated in France is because it symbolised the end of the old regime and it was then that the Third Estate took power and realised the strength of the masses.”

Teacher feedback

This answer is solid for the most part. It demonstrates a sound understanding of the importance of the fall of the Bastille, without going into much detail about either its causes or its implications. The response begins well, opening with a short sentence that directly addresses the question. There is little signposting in the response, however, so while the student addresses multiple points, they are not apparent to the assessor. In terms of knowledge, the student could have dug deeper into the causes of the Bastille siege. It was not triggered by ‘What is the Third Estate?’ but was more a product of high bread prices in Paris, developments at the Estates General, the sacking of Necker, fears of a royalist counter-revolution and rumours that the king’s army was about to occupy the city. The storming of the Bastille did facilitate the Great Fear and the August Decrees, as suggested. It also radicalised Paris and encouraged mob action and violence by ordinary Parisians. This response would likely score in the region of 7/10.

All content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content on this website may not be republished or distributed without permission. Subscribers must adhere to the Terms of Use when using Alpha History or its content.