Day of the Tiles
The Day of the Tiles (French: Journée des Tuiles) is an event that took place in the French town of Grenoble on the 7th of June in 1788. It was one of the first disturbances which preceded the French Revolution, and is credited by a few historians as the start of it.
Grenoble was the scene of popular unrest due to financial hardship from the economic crises. The causes of the French Revolution affected all of France, but matters came to a head first in Grenoble.
Unrest in the town was sparked by the attempts of Cardinal Étienne Charles de Loménie de Brienne, the Archbishop of Toulouse and Controller-General of Louis XVI, to abolish the Parlements in order to enact a new tax to deal with France's unmanageable public debt. Tensions in urban populations had been rising already due to poor harvests and the high cost of bread in France. These tensions were exacerbated by the refusal of the privileged classes, the Church and the aristocracy, to relinquish any of their fiscal privileges. They insisted on retaining the right to collect feudal and seignorial royalties from their peasants and landholders. This acted to block reforms attempted by the king's minister Charles Alexandre de Calonne and the Assembly of Notables that he convoked in January 1787. Added to this, Brienne, appointed the king's Controller-General of Finance on 8 April 1787, was widely regarded as being a manager without experience or imagination.
Shortly prior to the 7th of June in 1788, in a large meeting at Grenoble those who attended the meeting decided to call together the old Estates of the province of Dauphiné. The government responded by sending troops to the area to put down the movement.
At roughly 10 in the morning of Saturday, June 7, merchants closed down their shops as groups of 300 to 400 men and women formed, armed with stones, sticks, axes, bars. They rushed to the city gates to prevent the departure of judges who took part in the Gernoble meeting. Some rioters attempted to cross the Isère but faced a picket of 50 soldiers at the St. Lawrence bridge, while others headed to the Rue Neuve.
The cathedral’s bells were seized by French peasants at noon. The crowd swiftly grew, as the bells provoked the influx of neighboring peasants to creep in the city, climbing the walls, using boats on the Isere and for some, pushing open the city gates.
Other insurgents boarded the ramparts and rushed to the hotel (L'hôtel de la Première présidence) the Duke of Clermont-Tonnerre was staying in at the time. The Duke had two elite regiments in Grenoble, the Regiment of the Royal Navy (Régiment Royal-La-Marine) whose colonel was Marquis d'Ambert and the regiment of Australasia (Régiment d'Austrasie) which was commanded by Colonel Count Chabord. The Royal Navy was the first to respond to the growing crowds, and were given the order to quell the rioting without the use of arms. However, as the mob stormed the hotel entrance, the situation escalated. Soldiers sent to quell the disturbances forced the townspeople off the streets. Some sources say that the soldiers were sent to disperse parliamentarians who were attempting to assemble a parlement. During an attack, Royal Navy soldiers injured a 75 year old man with a bayonet. At the sight of blood, the people became angry and started to tear up the streets. Townspeople climbed onto the roofs of buildings around the Jesuit College to hurl down a rain of roof-tiles on the soldiers in the streets below, hence the episode's name. Many soldiers took refuge in a building to shoot through the windows, while the crowd continued to rush inside and ravage everything.
A noncommissioned officer of the Royal Navy, commanding a patrol of four soldiers, gave the order to open fire into the mob. One civilian was killed and a boy of 12 wounded. To the east of the city, the Royal Navy soldiers were forced to open fire in order to protect the city's arsenal, fearing that the rioters would seize the weapons and ammunition. Meanwhile, Colonel Count Chabord began deploying the regiment of Australasia to aid and relieve the Royal Navy soldiers.
Three of the four city’s consults gathered at the City Hall and attempted to reason with the crowd. However, their words were silenced amidst the clamor of the mob. Through great difficulty, the consults made their way through the crowds and eventually took refuge with the officers of the local garrison. Later that evening, the Duke of Clermont-Tonnerre withdrew his troops from the streets and hotel to prevent further violence from escalating the situation. The Duke managed to narrowly escape the hotel before the crowd completely looted the inside. With control of the hotel lost, the Royal Navy troops were ordered to return to their quarters.
At six, a crowd estimated at ten thousand people shouting "Long live the parliament" forced the judges to return to the Palace of the Parliament of Dauphiné (Palais du Parlement du Dauphiné) by flooding them with flowers. Throughout the night, carillons sounded triumphantly, a large bonfire crackled on Saint-André square surrounded by a crowd that danced and sang "Long live forever our parliament! May God preserve the King and the devil take Brienne and Lamoignon. "
On June 10th, the head of the first shooting officer attempted to appease the spirits of the crowd, with no success. Under the orders of exile pronounced against them by the King, the parliamentarians were forced to flee from Grenoble in the morning of the 12th of Junr. It wasn’t until the 14th of July that the order was fully restored in the city by Marshal Vaux, who replaced the Duke of Clermont-Tonnerre.
The commander of the troops found the situation so alarming that he agreed to allow the meeting of the Estates to proceed, but not in the capital. A meeting was therefore arranged for the July 21, 1788 at the nearby village of Vizille. This meeting became known as the Assembly of Vizille.
In all, six outbreaks of rioting have been identified in the city during the 7th of June.
The event was commemorated by Alexandre Debelle's The Day of the Tiles, 13 July 1788, painted in 1889. He painted it a century after the event and got the date wrong, but it undoubtedly attempts to depict the events described by the title.
The meeting of the three Estates which had been agreed to took place at Vizille on 21 July. Several hundred people assembled, representing the three Estates, the nobility, the clergy and the middle class (the bourgeoisie), who were granted double representation. The meeting was led by a moderate reformist lawyer, Jean Joseph Mounier, and passed resolutions:
- convoking the States-General of France;
- pledging the province to refuse to pay all taxes not voted by the Estates-General; and
- calling for the abolition of arbitrary imprisonment on the King's order by the warrant known as the lettre de cachet.
These demands were accepted by the King. Brienne left office during August 1788, but before doing so issued a decree convoking the Estates-General for May 1,1789. It is not clear whether this decree was prompted by the demands from the Assembly of Vizille or the Day of the Tiles, because at least one source puts the date of the decree at July 7, 1788 after the Day of the Tiles, but two weeks before the Assembly of Vizille.
Some historians, such as Jonathan Sperber, have used the Day of the Tiles to demonstrate the worsening situation in France in the buildup to the French Revolution of 1789. Others have even credited it with being the beginning of the revolution itself. The events as related by R. M. Johnston provide an apparently clear link between the Day of the Tiles, the Assembly of Vizille and the start of the revolution proper.
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- Today the Lycée Stendhal in rue Raoul Blanchard
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- Catherine Curzon. "A Covent Garden Gilflurt's Guide to Life - The Day of the Tiles". madamegilflurt.com.
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