Women Testify Concerning Their Participation in the October Days (1789)
The commission investigating the events of October 1789 also interrogated many women who had participated. Most of them denied any role in the violence, but they did explain their mixture of political and economic motives, citing the high price of bread and their desire to explain their situation to the National Assembly.
Deposition Number LXXXIII
Madelaine Glain, forty-two years old, a faisease de menage [cleaning woman], wife of François Gaillard, an office clerk in the District de l'Oratoire with whom she lives on rue Froidmanteau, no. 40, testifies that, having been forced, as many women were, to follow the crowd that went to Versailles last Monday, 5 October, and having arrived at Sevrès near the porcelain manufactory, [and] a gentleman with a black decoration having asked them where they were going, they answered that they were going to ask for bread at Versailles. This gentleman urged them to behave themselves, but a woman whom the declarant knew to be a prostitute and who since then has been living with Lagrement, a soft drink peddler on rue Bailleul, having said that she was going to Versailles to bring back the queen's head, was sharply reproached by the others. Having arrived at the streets leading to Versailles, this same woman stopped a mounted Royal Guardsman, to whom she delivered many insults, threatening him with a bad, rusty sword which she held open in her hand. This Royal Guardsman said that she was a wretch, and in order to [make her] release the bridle of his horse, which she was holding, he struck her a blow which inflicted an arm wound. Having come at last to the Chateau with the intention of informing His Majesty concerning the motives of their proceedings, she, the declarant, found herself locked in, that is to say, her skirts caught on two spikes of the gate, from which a Swiss Guard released her. After that she went with the other women to the hall of the National Assembly, where they entered, many strong. Some of these women having asked for the four-pound loaf at eight sols, and for meat at the same price, she, the declarant, called for silence, and then she said that they were asking that they not be lacking bread, but not [that it be fixed] at the price these women were wanting to have it. She did not go with the deputation to the Chateau but returned with Sieur Maillard and two other women to the Hôtel-de-Ville in Paris to bring back the decrees they were given at the National Assembly. Monsieur the mayor and the representatives of the commune were satisfied and received them with joy. Then she, the declarant, was led by the National Guard to the District de l'Oratoire to convey this good news. She cannot give us any news concerning what happened at Versailles on the sixth, but she learned, without being able to say from whom, that someone named Nicolas, a model in the academy, who lived at the home of Poujet, rue Champfleuri, on that day, Tuesday, had cut off the heads of two Royal Guards who had been massacred by the people, and since then the above-mentioned Nicolas has not reappeared in the quartier.
Deposition Number LXXXV
Jeanne Dorothée Delaissement, age twenty-eight, a mistress seamstress, widow of Philippe Brenair, living in Paris, rue Mauconseil, at the house of the wheelwright, opposite rue Française, stated that on last Monday, 5 October, in the morning, she, the declarant, was forced to go, as many other women were, with the crowd that wanted to go to Versailles. The women who dragged her in first led her to the Hôtel-de-Ville and then to Versailles. She saw nothing worth mentioning along the way. She knows that an individual whom she did not know at that time, but whom she came to know afterwards, named Maillard went to a great deal of trouble to keep order among the women, who were armed with pikes, sticks, pieces of iron, and other things, and that he succeeded in getting them to disarm en route. When they arrived at Versailles, a soldier dressed in a blue costume, who she learned was in the Regiment of Flanders, told her, in answer to her questions about people they should be suspicious of, that the Flanders Regiment would do them no harm, but that they must beware of the Royal Guards, who, during a meal, had trampled the national cockade. She, the declarant, did not go the Chateau or to the meeting hall of the National Assembly, etc.
Deposition 343, 18 June 1790
Marie-Rose Barre, age twenty, unmarried, a lace-worker, residing at 61, rue Meslay, upon oath . . .
Deposes that on 5 October, last, at about eight o'clock in the morning, going to take back some work, she was stopped at the Pont Notre Dame by about a hundred women, who told her that it was necessary for her to go with them to Versailles to ask for bread there. Not being able to resist this great number of women, she decided to go with them. At the hamlet at the Point-du-Jour, two young men, unknown to her, who were on foot and going their way, told them that they were running a great risk, that there were cannons mounted at the bridge at Saint Cloud. This did not prevent them from continuing on their way. At Sevrès they had some refreshments; then they continued on their way toward Versailles. The two young men of whom she spoke met them near Viroflay and told them that they had escaped at Saint Cloud but that at Versailles they would be fired on. But they continued on their way. At Versailles they found the King's Guards lined up in three ranks before the palace. A gentleman dressed in the uniform of the King's Guards, who, she was told, was the duc de Guiche, came to ask them what they wanted of the king, recommending peaceful behavior on their part. They answered that they were coming to ask him for bread. This gentleman was absent for a few minutes and then returned to take four of them to introduce them to the king. The deponent was one of the four. Before taking them to the king, he led them to the comte d'Affry, who requested that they be introduced to His Majesty right away, which was done.
They spoke first to M. de Saint-Priest, and then to His Majesty, whom they asked for bread. His Majesty answered them that he was suffering at least as much as they were, to see them lacking it, and that so far as he was able he had taken care to prevent them from experiencing a dearth. Upon the king's response they begged him to be so good as to arrange escorts for the flour transports intended for the provisioning of Paris, because according to what they had been told at the bridge in Sevrès by the two young men of whom she spoke earlier, only two wagons out of seventy intended for Paris actually arrived there. The king promised them to have the flour escorted and said that if it depended on him, they would have bread then and there. They took leave of His Majesty and were led, by a gentleman in a blue uniform with red piping, into the apartments and courts of the palace to the ranks of the Flanders Regiment, to which they called out, "vive Le Roi!" It was then about nine o'clock. After this they retired into a house on rue Satory and went to bed in a stable. She does not know the names and addresses of the three women introduced to the king with her. Tired from the trip, having a swollen foot, she did not go Tuesday to the palace or the Place d'Armes, knows nothing, as a witness, of what happened there, and came back to Paris between four and five o'clock in the afternoon of that day in a carriage.
She adds that a fortnight later a gentleman whom she heard called M. de Saint-Paul came to her place and asked her to go to a court commissioner to make a formal declaration of what M. de Saint-Priest told her on Monday, 5 October, at Versailles, when she presented herself to speak to the king. As the deponent did not know a court commissioner, Saint-Paul suggested Maitre Chenu. The deponent remarks that she was then living on rue du Four at the corner of rue des Ciseaux. . . . The commissioner. . . took her declaration. . . in which she sets forth that having heard it said, by the two young men mentioned above, that of seventy wagons of flour intended for Paris only two had arrived, she informed M. de Saint-Priest of this, and he answered that as the grain shortage was equally bad everywhere, it was not surprising that the inhabitants of places where flour passed through stopped it for their supply. Besides, the threshing season had not yet arrived, which caused the provisions to be smaller than they should be. . . . She told the commissioner that the minister did not say to her what was being attributed to him by the public: "When you had only one king, you had bread; now that you have twelve hundred of them, go and ask them for it," that in fact she did not hear the minister say this. Which is all that the deponent said she knows . . . and she has signed.
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, 47–50.