Friday, July 14, 2017

Le Quatorze Juillet

Prise de la Bastille - Jean-Pierre-Louis-Laurent Houël
In honor of La Fête Nationale, which is what the French formally call the 14th of July, or as we Anglo-centric types call it, Bastille Day, I have decided to regale you with my very own version of the history of France. In shortened form naturellement, as this little discourse could take hours if I stuck to the pure, unadulterated truth. Comme certains de mes ancêtres étaient français, je pourrais continuer pendant des heures. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Sacred blue, name of the dog, etc., etc.

A Brief History of France

Long before the Europeans drove the property values sky high in the New World, they hung out in tribes, clans, small groups, and nuclear families in a place called Europe (at least that's what it was called in classical antiquity, what the inhabitants called it is open to conjecture because we all know that it was the Romans who started naming stuff).

Now in the area of the world we now call Greece, but which they call Hellas or Ελλάδα (which is truly Greek to me, but Spanisch to a German) the locals invented city states and democracy. Everyone had a voice, well except the helots or slaves as we'd call them. The Greeks spent all of their time writing philosophy and fighting each other. Bellowing things like, "THIS IS SPARTA!!!"

But I digress, this has nothing to do with France. Let's fast forward a few centuries to Rome.

Alrighty then, north of the Italian peninsula were areas which the Romans called Gaul and Germania. (Yes, yes, yes, there were others, like the Belgae and the Celtae and the Segwae, but again, I digress.) The Romans wanted those places really bad, because Romans liked to conquer things, and then teach the conquered people Latin, which they would then, over the centuries change to something kinda like Latin but different. So if a language has its roots in Latin, it's called a Romance language, (named for Rome, get your minds out of the gutter, it has nothing to do with sex. Though I hear the Romans really liked that kind of thing.)

Whoa, wait a minute, where does the word "Latin" come from? Why ain't the language called "Roman"?
The word "Latin" comes to us from a tribe in early Italy called the Latins. The Latins lived in Latium whose capital city was Rome. Their language was called Latin. (Source)
Now where was I? Oh yes, the Latins, I mean the Romans. Who coveted all the lands adjacent to them, including Gaul and Germania. Which leads us to...

Heck, I'm going to skip ahead to Gaius Julius Caesar, inventor of the salad and great Roman general and dictator.

Caesar marched into Gaul - which he claimed was divided into three parts ("one of which is inhabited by the Belgae, another by the Aquitani, and a third by a people called in their own tongue Celtae, in the Latin Galli") and kicked some serious butt.

So Caesar defeated the Gauls and he decided to start calling all of them Frances, as it is kind of a girlie-name spelled in that manner. The Gauls didn't like that at all. So they invented the Royale with Cheese. (Though, Pulp Fiction aside, I'm betting it's actually called the Royale avec fromage. Just a guess. Nope, has nothing to do with Caesar, I just threw that in here for comic relief.)

Now the Francesessessess (the plural of Frances, trust me) didn't like their new name, so when Rome fell they started calling themselves "Franks," which was way cooler than Frances and which really annoyed the English. (Everything the Franks did annoyed the English. Which is why to this day the preferred term for a "frank" is a hot dog. Which really annoyed the Franks, so much so that they invaded England and conquered it. But I think the real reason is that William, real name Guillaume, was tired of being called "William the Bastard," by conquering the English he could start calling himself "William the Conqueror." Of course, the English just dropped the "William the" part and just called him "that bastard." To make things worse, the English started calling the Franks, the Normans. No, the Franks didn't like that.)

Are you following me so far? Now how the English went back to being the English after being conquered by the Norman Franks (not to be confused with the Beans and Franks who were from the lower regions of Saxony) is beyond the scope of this historical saga. Let's just say that in the tried and true English tradition, they lose every single battle in a war except the last one. Leaving the other side to protest, "What do you mean the English win? They only won the last battle! We won all the rest!" When it's explained to the foe that the last battle is the only one that counts, well they're not happy but those are the rules.

So the Franks are back in Gaul, which everyone started calling "France" as that was where the Francesessessess lived. Though now they were called French, as Frank fries just sounds funny. French fries has more of a ring to it. Though the French actually call that delightful fired potato dish, frites, which annoys the hell out of the Germans (remember those guys from Germania, whom Caesar wanted to conquer but couldn't, they scared the hell out of the Romans. The average Roman soldier was only 4 feet tall and the average German was six-five, minimum. And they were all built like Arnold Schwarzenegger back in the day. How could I make this up? It's in the history books. Trust me!), to them a Frenchman saying frites sounds too much like "Fritz." Which, for those who don't know Europe, is a German name. (Another thing which annoys the Germans is that they don't have their own word for "mushroom," they have to use the French word champignon. Which is why the Germans are always invading France. Fun fact, right there.)

So in those days the French had a king. A bunch of them actually. Most of them supported really bizarre causes, mostly to annoy the English. Like supporting the Muslim Turks who wanted to conquer Christian Europe. Until someone pointed out to the Pope that one of the many dozens of French kings named Louis (or was it Philippe?), was doing that.

The Pope told the King of the Francesessessess, er, I mean French, to "Quod prohibere!" (Latin for "knock it off." Hearing Latin, the French thought Caesar had returned and immediately stopped supporting the Turks. True story, no, really.)

After a bunch of kings named Louis, the French had one called Louis the Sixteenth, which they wrote out as Louis XVI, no one pointed out that Roman numerals were a Latin thing, otherwise they probably wouldn't have done that, at any rate, Louis XVI heard that way over in the Americas, the locals were revolting against the English King George III. Louis, not liking George very much, decided to help the American colonists.

"Alphonse," commanded King Louis, "help the Americans!"

"Um, how Your Highness?"

"Give them money, lots of money, then they can buy guns, and cannons, and croissants!"

"Where will they buy all that Your Highness?"

"Why from us silly man, who else in all of Europe sells croissants?"

The clever Americans took the French money and then bought all the stuff France wanted to sell them at a discount. Earning a tidy profit for the infant United States but totally bankrupting the French.

When Louis found out that the people were really mad about that, he called together the Estates-General, which curiously enough consisted of three parts. There the people participated in the first ever Airing of Grievances which led to the creation of Festivus.

Unfortunately for Louis, later on the people also wanted to have "Feats of Strength" which led to Louis losing his head. It also led to the very first Festivus pole -

It's worth noting that in later celebrations the pole was made of aluminum and was not festooned with the heads of traitors. Too messy and the French eventually ran out of kings and queens.

Now according to legend, when all of this was going on, some guy named Necker, who had been the Minister of Finance, not a job I'd want in a bankrupt country, was fired by the king (who hadn't lost his head yet) on the 11th of July. Now Necker, first name Jacques (which is how the French spell "Jack," which the English insist is a nickname for "John") was very popular with the Third Estate, part of that Estates-General thing I mentioned above. Now the Third Estate was made up of the common people.

The common folk, when Necker was fired, were now very worried that the "gubmint" would now come after them. They heard, or had been told, that the local hoosegow, the Bastille, was chock full of guns and ammo. So they determined to seize it. It wasn't to free any political prisoners, though they did that too, all seven of them, it was to get guns and ammo. Which we, as Americans, should appreciate.

Now the Bastille was "stormed" on the 14th of July in 1789, yes, a long time ago, before I was born, even before Paul Quandt was born! (Soon he's gonna want royalties for using his name. Maybe even a Royale avec fromage!)

Now at first the guy running the place let the people in and pretty much gave them whatever they wanted. But somebody got insulted, punches were thrown and pretty soon there were dead bodies everywhere. Ninety-eight attackers of the Bastille and only one defender. I have looked it up and no, the lone defender was not the great-great-grandfather of Chuck Norris.

So the Bastille fell, a bunch of radicals took over and pretty soon everybody was getting their heads chopped off. Eventually a short fellow from Corsica who's name was Bonaparte, but who insisted that everyone call him by his first name (much like certain Brazilian football stars), took over. When he crowned himself, the French all said...

"Wait a minute! We don't want no stinking King!"

Napoleon said, "But I'm not a King, I'm an Emperor, which is better than a King."

Well, the French bought that for a while until the English convinced them that it was all the same. (Why none of the French suspected that for the English this was payback for William the Conqueror I don't know. One of history's many mysteries.)

Anyhoo, that's the history of the French up to the Revolution (their's not ours). Just to put the storming of the Bastille into perspective. Sort of.

You can read the real story here. Or can you? What is truth? What is fiction? Do you watch CNN?

Here's the Chant du Départ "official" theme song. Which ties in with the whole Bastille Day, French Revolution thing.

Happy Bastille Day!

Can't have Bastille Day without the French Foreign Legion, can we? (Note the Chapeau Chinois...)

Vive la France!


And yes, I am no longer in a black mood. After all, it's Friday!


  1. Schließlich ist Alles klar! Ich verstehe jetzt, Französisch Geschichte!

    Our theme song has a nice beat, but I don't think I can dance to it. (Of course, I can't dance to anything, at least according to Mrs. Juvat).
    Lyrics are a tad defeatist I thought.

    1. BTW, Glad you pulled out of yesterday's nose dive.

    2. Now I need to cover German history!

    3. Wasn't quite 12Gs on the recovery, but close enough.

  2. Happy Bastille Day! I enjoyed the video of the Legion marching to Le Boudin! (The Black Sausage) Yes, I know that it makes reference to the bed roll atop the pack, but I always enjoy the slow march, and the song.

    1. My favorite is the bit about the Belgians in the chorus:

      Pour les Belges, y en a plus,
      Pour les Belges y en a plus,
      Ce sont des tireurs au cul.

      Seems that the King of the Belgians wanted to remain neutral during the Franco-Prussian War, so asked the French to keep the Belgian legionnaires out of the fight. The Belgians remained behind in the Legion's depot in Algeria. So no boudin for them, they're "lazy shirkers." Though the actual translation is far more colorful.

    2. We call those "Blood Sausages/Boudin down here in South Louisiana. Pronounced Bou-da(n)--sort of like "Illinois" is pronounced "elle-a-noi," the "din" is like
      pronouncing "dan"w.o. the n-sound

  3. I really like your version, Sarge.
    Reminds me of a History Prof I had.

  4. Here's some more French history---

    (Drat. Shoulda bought that bridge instead.)

  5. Ah yes. The Hot Frogs.

    As Le lion aux dents en bois, flanked by les comtes de Barras et Rochambeau, said to Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, "Terribly sorry old boy, but last battle and all that. You know the rules."

    Fun post. I wonder if anyone in la presse could understand your dissertation?

    1. I never knew Gen'l Washington's French moniker. Nice.


  6. DRAT! I'm sorry I didn't get to this post until today, as I was a featured ( or at least named ) player. Aside from that, it was a most entertaining and educational post. Thanks for the mention. My children don't believe that I am not that old.

    Paul L. Quandt

    1. Well, this post is "proof" that you're not that old. I mean, it's on the internet, it must be true.

  7. when you read, Sir Charles Oman on this subject, it expands the mind. What the Swiss pikes did to the French was amazing. Being natural democrats they screwed that up over time but for a good long time, messing with the Cantons was a major mistake but no learning took place. The silly Swiss didn't take prisoners.

    1. As prolific a writer as Sir Charles was, oddly enough, I've never read any of his work.

      Seems that a correction to that particular deficiency is in order!


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