Today on October 5, 1789, the Women's March on Versailles begins, fueling one of the most important revolutions in history.
The Women’s March on Versailles, also known as the October March, was one of the first and most significant events of the French Revolution. Civil unrest had reached a boiling point as food prices were skyrocketing and the government was doing nothing about it. King Louis XVI of France grossly neglected his administrative duties and proved to be entirely incompetent. Rather than address the crisis, he opted to spend public money on building new palaces and fueling his extravagant lifestyle. King Louis continued the tradition of ruling as an absolute monarch. He believed it was his divine right to govern without consequence.
Meanwhile, prices on basic staples such as bread became far too expensive. The previous few years had yielded poor harvests and grain was scarce. On the morning of October 5, women in the marketplaces of Paris reached their breaking point. Thousands of women ransacked the city’s armory and began marching towards the Royal Palace of Versailles. Their mission was to force the king to finally take action. It’s estimated there were between 6,000 to 10,000 people who joined the Women’s March on Versailles. Marquis de Lafayette assembled 15,000 national guardsmen to shadow the protesters, ensuring they did not become an uncontrollable mob.
Queen Marie Antoinette was informed the people were protesting because they had no bread to eat. She famously responded with, “well, let them eat cake instead.” Nobody knows whether or not she actually said that. But the quote serves to demonstrate the incompetence and disconnect of the royal family. The next day, King Louis agreed to return to Paris with the people and deal with the situation. The Women’s March on Versailles was a major turning point in absolutism and the balance of power between the monarch and the people. Louis and his wife would eventually meet the guillotine for resisting future political changes. The French Revolution lasted for more than a decade and turned into one of the bloodiest in history.