Bastille winner diploma

Bastille winner diploma

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Title: Bastille Winner Diploma.

Creation date : 1790

Date shown: 1790

Dimensions: Height 29.8 - Width 34.7

Technique and other indications: Diploma of winner of the Bastille awarded by the Commission of the winners of the Bastille, in accordance with the decree of the National Assembly of June 19, 1790, to "M.Etienne Benoist, born 1740, native of Villeneuve, department of Yionne".
Parchment engraving by Delettre ("engraved by Delettre", after a drawing by Nicolas ("Nicolas, invenit.").
A / II / 3641 Printed with engravings and handwritten inscriptions

Storage place: Historic Center of the National Archives website

Contact copyright: © Historic Center of the National Archives - Photo workshop website

Picture reference: A / II / 3641

Bastille Winner Diploma.

© Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

Publication date: March 2016


Bastille winner diploma


Historical context

The Assembly and those involved in the storming of the Bastille

In the aftermath of July 14, 1789, La Fayette reorganized the bourgeois militia into a national guard to put an end to the insurrectionary situation created by the storming of the Bastille, while keeping the forces of a civic army against the royal troops. The Assembly remains concerned with controlling the armed elements that could trigger riots.

In February 1790, those who claimed to be Victorious of the Bastille petitioned the National Assembly for a medal. On the end of this work, Bailly, mayor of Paris, wrote on June 8, 1790 to La Fayette to ask him to intervene with the Assembly in favor of the Vainqueurs de la Bastille, "who deserve honor and money", and to get them a place of choice at the next Federation celebration.

But the party should only bring together the National Guard and the line troops, so, after having been granted to them, the “honorable place” gives rise to difficulties. A decree of June 25 accepts the renunciation of the Victors of the Bastille of the distinctions which were conferred on them on June 19, on the report of Camus, deputy for Paris; however, they retain the habit, full armament, a rifle and a saber bearing the name of the Winner, and the possibility of obtaining a diploma from the official table deposited in the Archives of the Nation.

Image Analysis

An exceptional diploma for the heroes of the Bastille

The diploma, on the letterhead of the National Assembly, is intended to reward a "Winner of the Bastille", here Etienne Benoît [1] whose signature appears on the left, vertically. Engraved on parchment by Delettre, it is sold at Nicolas, rue Saint-Honoré, engraver and printmaker known only from other prints, also adorned with this abundant symbolism of the beginnings of the Revolution.

The preamble to the decree of the Assembly is gloriously framed by two tall fluted columns which exalt, in the style of the day, "in the antique", the mythical value of the feat accomplished. At the top is the "wall crown" given as an emblem by the Assembly, hanging from the wreath of oak leaves. The memorable action of Les Vainqueurs is evoked at the bottom of the diploma by the image of the capture of the fortress underlined by the legend "Freedom conquered on July 14, 1789". Framed by laurel and oak branches and surmounted by a proud Gallic rooster, this cartouche is surrounded by a warlike decoration where the instruments of victory - cannons, pikes and drums - are mixed with the justifications for the action undertaken: the broken chains of despotism and the flags "freedom" and "union".

The Hercules above the left column symbolizes the strength of the people; it reproduces the famous Hercules Farnese [2]. In pendant, on the right, the winged genius of Liberty holds the Constitution (then in draft) under his left arm and in his right hand a spear wearing the red cap. Each column is surrounded by a trophy of arms and an oval sign bearing the new mottos: "Live free or die" and "The nation, the law, the king". The bases are engraved with a few reminders to the civic spirit, for the use of these Winners wishing to obtain advantages and who are feared to see one day become rioters again: on the left, equal access to charges public (Article 6 of the Declaration of Human Rights of August 26, 1789) and, on the right, the oath of loyalty to the new regime (the constitutional monarchy).

The diploma is signed by Charles de Lameth, President of the National Assembly, epee nobleman belonging to the Patriots' Party, by three Victors of the Bastille as well as by their president Jean-Armand Pannetier, merchant grocer rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine . It is decorated, on the right, with the Ribbon of the Winners: red, blue and white border bearing the seal of the National Assembly with the legend "1789, the Law and the King" and, on the left, another seal in poor condition, affixed directly to the parchment, where we can see an overturned tower above the vessel of the city of Paris, another emblem of the Vainqueurs.


The hesitations of politicians in the face of the risk of popular excesses

The reluctant way in which the Victorians of the Bastille are honored shows quite well the hesitations and concerns of politicians in 1789-1790 in the face of popular excesses. Giving a place of honor to the Victors of the Bastille on the feast of the Federation would have been imprudence, and it was avoided. Better to give them a brilliant diploma and some bonuses!

  • Constituent Assembly
  • Federation Party
  • Parisians
  • capture of the Bastille
  • Declaration of the rights of man and of the citizen
  • French Revolution


Archives of France The French Revolution through the archives. From the States General to 18 Brumaire , Document 15.Paris, 1988. Bibliothèque nationale, Estampes. Collection of Vinck. Analytical inventory by F. L. Bruel, Paris, 1914.

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