Britons Caught in the French Revolution

As Revolution broke out and turned to Terror, British citizens living in France found themselves transformed from friends of liberty to an enemy within.

Constitution Angleterre, showing William Pitt standing on the British crown, French response to Gillray, c.1795. Musée Carnavalet, Paris.

On 14 July 1789 an insurgent Paris crowd captured the Bastille, a venerable fortress which had long symbolised royal despotism. A schoolboy from London who was sojourning in the French capital wrote up these events in his diary, describing what would become known as the first day of the French Revolution: ‘Could not stir out’, he scribbled, ‘the revolt continued the Bastille was taken the Governor and several others were killed for having fired upon the people.’ Other Britons in the French capital ventured closer to the action. Thomas Blaikie, a Scottish expatriate, had avoided the crowds rushing to the Bastille by taking refuge in a food shop. As he noted in his journal.

‘Soon after we had the vew of more traject sceins for the Bleeding heads of some which the Mobe had murdered was carrying through the Streets upon poles or picks.’

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