Heralded Historian Talks Guillotine and Bastille Day

14 July 2012, Just In.

Reports are coming in of an unplanned encounter between vacationing journalist, Lola La Chaussure, and heralded historian, Docteur Louis LeBrun of La Sorbonne.

The impromptu meeting allegedly took place just hours ago in the Café de Paris on Las Olas Boulevard, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, wherein the two struck up a conversation while watching the Bastille Day Parade on CNN over an espresso at the bar, as the eminent Docteur attempted gallows humor to impress the young woman.

Recognizing the reclusive and eccentric Docteur LeBrun from old photographs, Ms. La Chaussure remained engaged in communication in order to learn more about his upcoming and long anticipated tome, Histoire de France Définitive Version Revue et Corrigée (The Definitive History of France, Revised and Corrected).

Docteur LeBrun shared insights on France’s National holiday, le 14 juillet, and culled from an informal interview on a variety of topics addressed in his academic work, the following key facts were shared by Ms. La Chaussure via a series of Twitter DMs that took place throughout the night.

(Should you wish to know more, there is always Le Google.)

The Revolutionary Guillotine

Ms. La Chaussure:
Docteur, what can you tell us about the French Revolution, to set the stage for those of us who are rusty on our European history?

Docteur LeBrun:
Celebrating the French Revolution is a macabre affair, really. Most think of Marie Antoinette who suffered from poor PR, and of course, the beheading of Louis XVI and his Queen. Yet during the period between 1792 and 1795, known as The Terror, thousands of French aristocrats lost their heads – quite literally.

Ms. La Chaussure:
How many heads are we talking about, Docteur?

Docteur LeBrun:
Somewhere between 38,000 and 43,000 were executed by guillotine, an invention which, incidentally, was the handiwork of  Docteur Guillotin in 1790.

It is ironic that a Frenchman is responsible for this invention, n’est-ce pas? And I might add the King Louis XVI, an amateur locksmith, was providing feedback on early prototypes for execution of methods to be used in ending life, and not inflicting pain.

Ms. La Chaussure:
What do you mean, Docteur?

Docteur LeBrun:
A German engineer and harpsichord maker, Tobias Schmidt, was employed to work on the prototype of the beheading machine. It was Louis who recommended the triangular blade, though Schmidt recommended the beveled edge over the curved edge the King had favored.

As for the demise of the guillotine, its use didn’t die out until fairly recently. It was in use other European countries until the 1940s and even 1960s, and in France until 1981.

July 14, 2012 (Bastille Day)

Ms. La Chaussure:
And the celebration of the French National Holiday on July 14th, Docteur?

Docteur LeBrun:
Today, we think of elaborate military parades and fireworks. But as you well know, Madame, 14 July 1789 is the first meaningful incident of the revolution. On the 13th of July, it was rumored that the army was going to arrest the members of the Chamber of Deputies.On the morning of the 14th, demonstrators stormed the Bastille – an ancient fortress-prison – and though they had little powder for their arms – and the Bastille was known to have powder (gun powder, bien entendu), the Bastille’s Swiss guards opened fire and more than 100 were killed.

This long day of violence that ensued was later seen as symbolic, and came to be the date selected as the national holiday.

Docteur LeBrun:
One could consider the current European economic climate a bit of a “terror” as well, you know.

Ms. La Chaussure:
Could you elaborate?

Sharp Cuts A-Head?

Docteur LeBrun:
One might deem “Euro-Terror” as synonymous with economic austerity, don’t you think? The monetary monarchy might see themselves as awaiting execution if the new President of the République gets his way.

Ms. La Chaussure:
How is that, Docteur?

Docteur LeBrun:
With the rise in unemployment, French executives are worried about, well… head counts, not to mention deep cuts in the budget which would give the new French president, François Hollande, cause for disconnect. And the political talking heads, naturally, would come down on both sides of the issue – for austerity as well as pumping blood back into the body of Europe as a whole, to stimulate the economy.

Incidentally, Hollande wants a 70% tax on the income of French citizens who earn more than 1 million Euros. One could almost picture this act as a form of economic “decapitation” of the wealthy.

Of course, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is not in favor of Hollande’s economic policies concerning further stimulation of the European body.

Ms. La Chaussure:
Meaning?

Docteur LeBrun:
The forms of debt advocated by the French president would place much of the burden on her country. So while Hollande would like to ramp up the economy, it means using Angela’s money. Should this plan be rejected, then austerity is the only recourse. Sharp cuts. And then the economy will falter.

Ms. La Chaussure:
Anything to add, Docteur?

Sharp Tongues

Docteur LeBrun:
We do have our little entertainments, fortunately.

Ms. La Chaussure:
Entertainments?

Docteur LeBrun:
If I believe Hollande is sticking his neck out in his dealings with Chancellor Merkel, it is perhaps not as far as his consort Valérie Tweetweiler who seemed to have lost her head in recent weeks, as concerns the tweet heard round the world.

Or perhaps you would prefer to refer to it as TweetGate, as she attempted to take down the President’s former partner, Sègolène Royale, by supporting her political rival.

Ms. La Chaussure:
You mean Trierweiler, Docteur?

Docteur LeBrun:
Yes, of course. Isn’t that what I said?

Now, where was I. Ah. The palace intrigue at the Elysée. The president’s consort, Valérie Trierweiler has surely brought to a head the perilous relationships among herself, the president, and the mother of his children. But we’re expecting a return to normalcy as soon as possible.

For now, however, I’d like to enjoy my favorite part of the défilé, the French Foreign Legion. They march to a different drummer as you Americans are fond of saying.


Image of Bastille Day Google from July 14, 2012 Google search; click to access Le Google


© D. A. Wolf

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Comments

  1. Vive la France !

  2. Marie Antoinette’s letter to her sister, while awaiting execution:
    Think always of me

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