Analysis of Historical Sources

The French Revolution

            The “Parisian Riots on 14th July 1789” is a historical account of the events that took place one day before and during that fateful day when protesters took over the Bastille (Principal Dates and Timeline of the French Revolution, 2008). The events in the article were narrated from memory by Pierre-Victor Besenval, following the events before the capture of the famous Bastille. Besenval was in command of the royal guards in Paris, and the decision of how they will restrain the citizens protesting all over the city lay in his hands. During this time, the force and determination of the protesters led him to believe that Besenval and the royal soldiers were no longer in control of the situation. The diminishing power of the royal guards has allowed protesters the ability to storm the Bastille and take weapons or firearms for the greater insurgency that was yet to come in the following days. (Godechot, 1970)

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            This narration, written by Besenval, may be considered a primary source as it was revealed to readers by an individual who has experienced first-hand the events that took place during the 14th of July in 1789. It seemed like a journal or book entry written by Besenval as it narrates what had happened on particular dates during the French Revolution. (Primary and Secondary Sources, 2008) Although it might have been translated, suggesting the idea that it might have been modified from its original form, the article is still considered a primary source because it was written by an individual who experienced the actual events during the days leading to the storming of the Bastille. (Primary Source Analysis and the 6 C’s, 2007)

            Moreover, this article is helpful, especially for historians who are working on putting together information that will narrate the events that happened during the French Revolution chronologically. Besenval’s contribution to history is only a single piece of the puzzle that will help historians establish an unbiased view of the events, such that historians will be able to reveal historical information through the eyes of Besenval who represents one side of the story, and that information from the narration could be used to put his perspective vis-à-vis the perspective of the protesters.

            Although this seems to be one of the strengths of this primary source because it allows an unbiased view of the events that led to the take over of the Bastille in the eyes of Besenval, this also becomes the weakness of this piece of primary source. It is one-sided, such that it only explains what events took place as experienced and interpreted by Besenval. Furthermore, Besenval’s choice of words criticizes significantly the actions taken by protesters – that is, Besenval and the royal guards kept everything together by avoiding violence, while the protesters were illustrated to be aggressive, destructive, and extremely vicious. (Pernoud & Flaissier, 1961)

            Another limitation of the article is its lack of relevant information, such as the particular reasons for such demonstration against the Louis XVI’s regime and the position or stand of Besenval during this tumultuous time. Besenval greatly focused on recounting details that explained his decision facing pressure to counter-react and prevent the riotous actions of the citizens, seemingly defending his choices. Some points of the article tried to put the blame on other people for the results of the unmanageable uprising, also revealing that right before the event took place, on the 13th of July 1789, the success of the protesters was already expected. (Pernoud & Flaissier, 1961)

            In addition, people who are not fully knowledgeable of the French Revolution will fail to understand the significance of the article, as it is only a piece of the entire thought and it only relays one-sided information. With this in mind, some words or phrases in the article need to be researched in order to understand its position or role in the event that happened on the 14th of July 1789. The article started by mentioning the damage caused by the insurrection that happened two days before this particular date. There needs to be other information that will support this detail in order to communicate what the nature and cause of the insurgency during the 12th and the damages it caused, as Besenval failed to explicate this point. Other matters of research include French words and some places in France in order to understand what these foreign words mean and determine the role or significance of particular places in France for Besenval, Louis XVI’s, the protesters, or even the royal guards. This consideration involves research on the word “fauborgs”, and unknown places of significance such as Place Louis XV, Champs-Elysees, and Invalides. Conducting research on these words will help historians grasp the roles of these words and placed to the French Revolution. For instance, one may ask why Besenval should order some of his men to go to Place Louis XV amidst the chaotic situations, or why Swiss Guards were stationed in the Champ-Elysees. Conducting research will give light to these kinds of questions.

            Besenval’s experiences and decisions may be considered his witting testimonies as factual information were deliberately stated. This means that Besenval’s purpose for writing the article was to provide details regarding the day of 14th of July 1789 from his point of view. Besenval stated his decisions during the day, such as ordering the royal guards to proceed to Place Louis XV, the behavior of the protesters toward them, his encounter with the governor and an individual who warned him about the events that will take place on that day, and such. These witting testimonies framed the factual data within the article. On the other hand, Besenval unwittingly revealed his personal behavior, values, and point of view in writing. For instance, as reports came in about the rising power of the protesters over the royal guards, Besenval feared what will become of him and his troops. Although surrendering to the protesters was an unlikely character of a commander, he though about withdrawing the troops and backing out. Besenval’s unwitting testimonies revealed his fears and worries not only as a commander of the royal guards. Besenval feared for his life and his safety.


Godechot, J. (1970). Taking of the Bastille, July 14th 1789, Translated by Jean Stewart. London:

            Faber & Faber Ltd.

Pernoud, G. & Flaissier, S. (1961). The French Revolution, Translated by Richard Graves. New

            York: Capricorn Books.

Primary and Secondary Sources. (2008). Retrieved October 15, 2008, from The University of

            Canterbury. Website:

Primary Source Analysis and the 6 C’s. (2007). Retrieved October 15, 2008, from The UCI.



Principal Dates and Timeline of the French Revolution. (2008). Retrieved October 15, 2008,

            from The Marxists Internet Archive. Website:   


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