William Godwin's Diary


The Estates-General met at Versailles on 5 May 1789 after a series of countrywide elections. At issue was the tradition of voting by order rather than by head whereby the First (clergy) and Second (nobility) Estates could outvote the Third (bourgeoisie). From early June discussion of how the Third Estate might verify their powers through unilateral action began in the absence of conciliation from the other two estates. On the 17 June the name ‘National Assembly’ was agreed upon and adopted by 491 to 89 votes. Over the next few days they were locked out of the assembly halls in Versailles but were also joined by many members of the clergy and even some of the nobility. Jacques Necker, finance minister to the king, tendered his resignation on the 23 June, it would seem in response to changes made by the queen and her more belligerent party to conciliatory speeches he had written. The tensions over Necker, popular with the people, led to violence in Paris and on 27 June the king felt obliged to write to the presidents of the nobility and the clergy and order them to join the National Assembly. This sparked jubilation in Paris and the king and queen, visibly distraught, were cheered as they stood on the balcony of the palace. However, violence continued which was exacerbated by the dismissal of Necker on 11 July at the behest of the queen and the military build-up, believed to be for purposes of intimidation. The riots culminated in the storming of Les Invalides and the Bastille and when news of these events reached Versailles, the Assembly demanded that the king withdraw his troops to ease tension. He complied, primarily because he could not trust his army to crush the insurrection as some soldiers had been instrumental in the taking of the Bastille. The National Assembly had now quashed royal authority.

See William Doyle, The Oxford History of the French Revolution, 2nd edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 94-111 and Simon Schama, Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution (London: Penguin, 2004), pp. 283-313.