The Réveillon Riot (28 April 1789)

The "manufactory" owned by Jean–Baptiste Réveillon in the Saint–Antoine neighborhood of Paris made decorative wallpaper, a lucrative luxury item that required highly skilled (and generally well–paid) workers. When a rumor circulated about Réveillon’s ill–timed speech in which he linked reduced wages and lower prices, the animosity of many guildsmen to Réveillon erupted in violence. When troops intervened to suppress the protest by force, bloodshed ensued. To some observers, such as the nobleman the Marquis de Ferrières from whose letter the following passage is excerpted, this "riot" suggested a dangerous environment of popular unrest on the eve of meeting of the Estates–General.


Blood was flowing in the Faubourg St-Antoine in Paris. Five or six thousand workers, stirred up by a diabolical cabal that aimed to destroy the ministry and prevent the Estates from meeting, gathered at ten o'clock in the morning. Armed with clubs, they furiously attacked the house of a man named Réveillon, who is the manager of a royal factory at the Porte St. Antoine that makes fine wallpaper.

Howling, and screaming that they wanted to murder Réveillon, his wife and his children, the rioters scaled the walls and broke down the doors. They looted everything they could find, burned the wallpapers and the designs and even bonds, ransacked the gardens and cut down trees. The house was splendidly furnished—mirrors, books, chests, tables, everything was smashed and thrown out the windows. Réveillon and his wife and children escaped over the garden wall.

The Garde Française fired several rounds, but this only stirred up the mob even more. They climbed up onto houses and threw stones at the troops. The Garde Française advanced with cannons killing many. The rioting lasted until four in the morning and there were as many as seven or eight hundred dead. The Garde Française lost a few soldiers.

Another body of five or six hundred workers were scattered throughout neighboring streets. They stopped carriages and asked everyone they encountered if they belonged to the Third Estate, heaped vulgar insults at them before taking their money and their watches.

Three hundred and fifty nobles had gathered at the archbishop's palace in order to choose deputies for the nobility. The rabble set off in that direction. Luckily most of them were drunk and they soon changed their minds and continued to roam the streets. The Duke de Luynes was stopped, coming back from the races and compelled to shout, Long live the king and the Third Estate!' Nobles and even bourgeois were appalled.

All this makes one tremble for the unhappy kingdom. It is a tissue of horrors and abominations. Everyone can guess who stuck this blow, May Providence protect the king.

Source: Marquis de Ferrières, Correspondence inédite, 1789, 1790, 1791, ed. H. Carré (Paris, 1932), 37–41.