Stanislas Maillard describes the Women’s March to Versailles (5 October 1789)

Stanislas Maillard was a national guardsman known for having taken a leading role in the attack on the Bastille. In 1790 he testified before a commission established by the court in Paris to investigate the events of October 1789. He exaggerates his role in the events but gives a vivid account of the women’s march, especially their insistence on petitioning the deputies in the National Assembly.


Stanislas-Marie Maillard, twenty-six years of age, captain in the Bastille Volunteers, residing in the rue Bethizi at Paris, in the parish of St. Germain l'Auxerrois, testified that at seven o'clock in the morning of 5 October last he went to the City Hall to lodge a complaint on behalf of the volunteers. The city council was not in session, but the rooms were filled with women who were trying to break in all the doors of the rooms in the City Hall. This determined him to go down to the headquarters of the National Guard in order to receive the instructions of M. de Gouvion as how best to remedy and prevent the destruction that might be wrought by these women. M. de Gouvion requested him immediately to stay with him and to help him to calm the people. At that moment news was brought to M. de Gouvion of a riot that had broken out in the Faubourg St. Antoine, and, fearing that the company of volunteers stationed at the Bastille, at the entrance to the Faubourg, had not been supplied with ammunition, M. de Gouvion gave him an order for the delivery of three hundred cartridges for the volunteers. He (the present witness) then made off to the district of St. Louis-la-Culture, where he had the order countersigned; went on to the place where the volunteers were stationed, found, on inspection and after inquiry, that they had enough ammunition for their defense, and consequently made no use of the order. The workers at the Bastille now advanced on the volunteers standing under arms in the courtyard, but Mr. Hulin, their commanding officer, and he himself addressed the workers with courtesy and assured them that their arms would only be used against the enemies of freedom, and not against themselves as they appeared to fear, and to convince them of this they ordered the volunteers to lower their arms. When calm had been restored and the workers had left the Place de la Bastille, he left Mr. Hulin and in accordance with M. de Gouvion's request to give him assistance (M. de Gouvion being alone), returned alone to the City Hall. On arrival he found it at first impossible to enter the building, which was occupied by a large crowd of women who refused to let any men come in among them and kept repeating that the city council was composed of aristocrats. He himself was taken for a member of the council, as he was dressed in black, and entry being refused him, he was obliged to go and change his clothes. But as he went down the steps of the building, he was stopped by five or six women, who made him go up again, shouting to their comrades that he was a Bastille Volunteer and that there was nothing to fear from him. After this, having mingled with the women, he found some forcing the downstairs doors and others snatching papers in the offices, saying that that was all the city council had done since the revolution began and that they would burn them. Supported by a certain Richard Dupin, he urged them to keep calm, but these women kept saying that the men were not strong enough to be revenged on their enemies and that they (the women) would do better. While he was in the courtyard, he looked around and saw a large number of men go up, armed with pikes, lances, pitchforks, and other weapons, having compelled the women to let them in. They then flung themselves on the doors that the women had begun to beat, broke them down with great hammers that they had with them and with crowbars that they found in the City Hall, and took all the arms they could find and gave some to the women. He then received word that a number of women had arrived with torches to burn the papers in the building, so he dashed out [and] flung himself upon them (there were but two) as they approached the City Hall, each bearing a lighted torch; he snatched the torches from their hands, which nearly cost him his life, as they were intent on carrying out their design. He prayed them to send a deputation to the council to demand justice and to describe their plight, as they were all in need of bread, but they replied that the whole council was composed of bad citizens who deserved to be hanged from lamp posts, M. Bailly and M. de Lafayette first of all. . . .

Mr. Maillard . . . continuing his evidence, said that to avert the danger and misfortune that threatened both Mm de Lafayette and Bailly and the City Hall, he thought it best to go once more to staff headquarters, where he only found present M. Derminy, M. de Gouvion's aide. Whereupon he (the witness) told M. Derminy that these women would not listen to reason and that, having destroyed the City Hall, they intended to proceed to the National Assembly in order to learn all that had been done and decreed up to the present date. He told these ladies that the National Assembly owed them no reckoning and that if they went there, they would cause a disturbance and would prevent the deputies from paying serious attention to the important business arising from the present situation. As the women persisted in their plans, he thought it wise to repair once more to M. Derminy and acquaint him with their resolution, adding that if the latter thought fit, he would accompany them to Versailles in order to prevent and to apprise them of the danger to which they were exposing themselves by embarking on so rash a venture. To this M. Derminy replied that he could not give him an order of this nature, which would be against the citizens' interests, but that he (the witness) might do as he pleased, provided that what he did did not endanger the public peace. In reply, he assured M. Derminy that the proposed action would have no such results and that it was, in fact, the only means of relieving the City Hall and the capital; moreover, by these means the districts could be alerted, and, while the women marched four leagues, the army would have time to avert the evils that these ladies were proposing to commit.

The witness now seized a drum at the entrance to the City Hall, where the women were already assembled in very large numbers; detachments went off into different districts to recruit other women, who were instructed to meet them at the Place Louis XV. . . . But as the people were assembled in great numbers, and this square was no longer suited as a place of meeting, they decided to proceed to the Place d'Armes, in the middle of the Champs Elysées, whence he saw detachments of women coming up from every direction, armed with broomsticks, lances, pitchforks, swords, pistols, and muskets. As they had no ammunition, they wanted to compel him to go with a detachment of them to the arsenal to fetch powder, but. . . now by means of prayers and protestations he succeeded in persuading the women to lay down their arms, with the exception of a few who refused, but whom wiser heads among them compelled to yield.

Meanwhile, he had acquired the confidence of these women to the extent that they all said unanimously that they would have only him to lead them. A score of them left the ranks to compel all the other men to march behind them, and so they took the road to Versailles with eight or ten drums at their head. They now numbered about six or seven thousand and passed through Chaillot along the river. There all houses were closed up, for fear, no doubt, of pillage, but in spite of this, women went knocking at all the doors, and when people refused to open, they wanted to beat them in, and removed all signboards. Observing this, and wishing to prevent the ruin of the inhabitants, he gave the order to halt and told them that they would discredit themselves by behaving in such a manner and that if they continued to do so he would no longer march at their head, that their actions would be looked on unfavorably, whereas if they proceeded peaceably and honestly, all the citizens of the capital would be grateful to them. They yielded at length to his remonstrances and opinions and discreetly continued on their way to Sevrès. On the way, however, they stopped several couriers and carriages of the court coming from the direction of Versailles for fear (as they said) that the Pont de Sevrès be closed to stop them passing but without harming these persons in any way. Arriving at the Pont de Sevrès, he gave the order to halt, and, to prevent mischief, he asked if there were any armed men there; but instead of the inhabitants of Sevrès to whom he addressed this question giving any satisfactory reply, they merely stated that Sevrès was in a state of the greatest consternation, that all houses were closed, and that it would be impossible to find any refreshment for these ladies. . . .

[Several of the men having been left behind at Sevrès,] he and the women continued on their journey to Versailles. Past Viroflay they met a number of individuals on horseback who appeared to be bourgeois and wore black cockades in their hats. The women stopped them and made as if to commit violence against them, saying that they must die as punishment for having insulted, and for insulting, the national cockade; one they struck and pulled off his horse, tearing off his black cockade, which one of the women handed to him (the witness). He ordered the other women to halt . . . and came to the aid of the man whom they were ill-using; he obtained his release on condition that he should surrender his horse, that he should march behind them, and that at the first place they came to he should be made to carry on his back a placard proclaiming that he had insulted the national cockade. . . . [The same treatment having been meted out to two other passersby, and two of the women having mounted their horses,] he drew the women up (as far as it was in his power to do so) in three ranks and made them form a circle and told them that the two cannons that they had with them must be removed from the head of their procession; that although they had no ammunition, they might be suspected of evil intentions; that they would do better to give an air of gaiety than to occasion a riot in Versailles; and that as the city had not been warned of their proceedings, its inhabitants might mistake their purpose, and they might become the victims of their own zeal. They consented to do as he wished; consequently, the cannons were placed behind them, and he invited the women to chant "Long live Henry IV!" as they entered Versailles and to cry "Long live the king!"—a cry which they did not cease to repeat in the midst of the citizens awaiting them, who greeted them with cries of "Long live our Parisiennes!" So they arrived at the door of the National Assembly, where he told them that it would be imprudent for more than five or six of them to appear. They refused, all wanting to go in, whereupon a guards' officer, on duty at the National Assembly, joined him and urged that not more than twelve of the women should enter. . . .

After much discussion among the women, fifteen were chosen to appear with him at the bar of the National Assembly; of these fifteen he only knew the woman Lavarenne, who has just been awarded a medal by the Paris city council. Entering the assembly, he urged the women to be silent and to leave to him the task of communicating to the assembly their demands, as they had explained them to him on the way; to this they consented. He then asked the president's leave to speak. M. Mounier, who was then president, granted him leave. . . .

He (the witness) now once more addressed the assembly and said that to restore calm, allay public disquiet, and avert disaster, he begged the gentlemen of the assembly to appoint a deputation to go to the Life-Guards in order to enjoin them to adopt the national cockade and make amends for the injury they were said to have done to it. Several members raised their voices and said it was false that the Life-Guards had ever insulted the national cockade, that all who wished to be citizens could be so freely, and that no one could be forced to be so. Speaking again and displaying three black cockades (the same that were spoken of earlier), he said that, on the contrary, there should be no person who did not take pride in being so and that if there were within this august assembly any members that felt dishonored by this title, they should be excluded immediately. Many applauded these words, and the hall rang with cries of "Yes, all should be so and we are all citizens." In the midst of this applause he was handed a national cockade, sent in by the Life-Guards, which he showed to all the women as a proof of their submission, and all the women cried, "Long live the king and the Life-Guards!" He once more asked leave to speak and said that it was essential also, in order to avert misfortune and to allay the suspicions that had been spread in the capital concerning the arrival of the Flanders Regiment at Versailles, to withdraw this regiment, because the citizens feared it might start a revolution. [The assembly now agreed to appoint a deputation to wait upon the king and put forward the women's demands. Meanwhile, angry words were exchanged with the clerical members of the assembly, and it was rumored that the Life-Guards had fired on the women outside.]

As he spoke, a dozen women entered the National Assembly and said that the Life-Guards had just fired on them, that one had been arrested, and that they were waiting for him (the witness) to come down before deciding on the manner of the death he had merited. At that moment the sound of musket fire could be heard; this caused alarm in the assembly, and he was urged by several deputies to hasten down in order to put a stop to these mischiefs. He went down surrounded by the women and observed a Life-Guard, who was being held by the bridle of his horse; the man wished to dismount, but the women prevented him, though without doing him any injury other than to hurl abuse at him. When the Life-Guard saw him advance to speak to him, he drew a sword and cut through his reins; the point of the sword struck a woman on the shoulder, and he fled. He (the witness) made to run after him, but he could not catch him, and the Life-Guard, as he fled, discharged his pistol at him but failed to hit him. He (the witness) then returned to the National Assembly, having enjoined the women not to approach closer to the royal palace. At eight o'clock in the evening the president returned with his deputation from their audience with the king. He repeated the king's words before the assembly; the women listened respectfully, as their intent was to restore calm among his people. Then the president read aloud five papers relative to the demands addressed by the Parisian National Guard to the National Assembly and to the king concerning the food supply. His Majesty had commanded that two officers should accompany him (the witness) back to Paris, but the women objected to this, and all said that they alone should escort him. . . .

Arriving in Paris, he gave orders to be taken directly to the City Hall, which he entered escorted by some 150 women, who went ahead of him into the hall where sat the representatives of the commune, the mayor presiding. He (the witness) gave an account of all that had taken place. . . . At six o'clock in the morning of Tuesday, 6 October, the mayor besought the women to withdraw to their homes, which they did; but eight or ten of them escorted him (the witness) to his dwelling, which was then the Hôtel de Grenelle St. Honoré in the street of the same name. At eight o'clock in the morning of this same day, ten to twelve women came to fetch him and compelled him to march with them to meet the National Guard and present the Marquis de Lafayette with a laurel branch on his return from Versailles. But a messenger whom they encountered told them that he was ordered to have the Tuileries palace prepared to receive His Majesty, who was coming to Paris that evening. The women urged him (the witness) to go with them to meet His Majesty. So he went with them, and they met the king at Viroflay. They mingled with the women who escorted the king's carriage and returned to Paris to the City Hall, and here he left all these women. And that is all he knew of the matter.

Source: From Women in Revolutionary Paris, 1789–1795, edited and translated by Darline Gay Levy, Harriet Branson Applewhite, and Mary Durham Johnson. Copyright 1979 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Used with the permission of the University of Illinois Press, 36–42.