Siege, Versailles government, Local representatives, Women, Barricades – in progress
Siege, Versailles government, Local representatives, Women, Barricades – in progress
Number 56, site of Sainte-Pélagie prison
In 1821 the songwriter and pamphleteer Pierre-Jean de Béranger spent three months at Sainte-Pélagie for an oblique political criticism of Louis XVIII. In 1832 Honoré Daumier is placed there. With cholera appearing in the prison a revolt organised by prisoners from the secret Society of the Friends of the People (Société des amis du people) that year led to one death. Hazan (WTP) writes that ‘under the Restoration and the July monarchy… all the opposition leaders passed’ through this prison.
Hazan (IOP) explains that when another prison to accommodate debtors was built in 1826 in the Rue de Clichy in the 9th arrondissement, ‘Creditors who requested the incarceration of a debtor were required to pay thirty francs a month for the prisoner’s maintenance’.
Honoré Daumier spent six months there in 1832 for his political caricatures attacking the new king Louis-Philippe.
164 arrests of republicans were made after the riots that followed the rue Transonain massacre of April 1834. Among those jailed at Sainte-Pélagie were Arago, Victor Schoelcher, Barbès and Godefroy de Cavaignac. Barbès organised an escape by 28 of them through a tunnel in July 1835.
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was a political prisoner held there from 1849 to 1852. After first fleeing to Belgium he returned to marry Euphrasie Piégard while still in jail.
Elisée Reclus was held there after the 1871 Paris Commune on his way to deportation. Gustave Courbet was jailed there from June 1871 to March 1872 after he was arrested at his hiding place in the Rue St Gilles.
Auguste Blanqui was held there in 1831, 1832 and 1836 and again from 1861 to 1865 when he escaped and went into exile in Belgium until the end of the Second Empire.
Jules Guesde was held there in 1878 in the section of the prison called Pavillion des Princes, entered through 2-14 rue due Puits de l’Érmite (roughly where 3-15 rue Lacépède is today).
On 30 July 1891 Paul Lafargue lost his appeal against a year’s imprisonment for an ‘inflammatory’ speech made after the killing of 10 demonstrators by troops on a May Day march in the Northern textile town, Fourmies.
From the Concièrgerie, where he was held initially, Lafargue was finally sent to Sainte-Pélagie. This was to his great relief, since it was still a political prison. He had access to books and newspapers, and hot and cold water for washing and taking baths.
Numbers: 5, 7, 12, 15-21, 18/20
Named after the Medical School which now occupies much of its length, it received its current name for the first time in 1792 after the nationalisation of the huge Cordeliers monastery complex of the Capuchin Franciscan friars. Before then it was the Rue des Cordeliers.
One branch of the Franciscan (followers of St Francis of Assisi) friars, the hood and beard wearing Minor Capuchins, was particularly important in pre-revolutionary France where it had 284 monasteries. In Paris their Couvent des Cordeliers monastery (possibly so-called after the cords the friars tied around their stomachs) was one of the biggest. It covered an area that stretched from today’s Rue Racine and Rue de La Harpe to approximately 15-21 Rue de l’École de Médecine.
Briefly, between 1793 and 1794 the road was renamed Rue Marat, after the revolutionary who lived and was assassinated there in July 1793. At the overthrow of Robespierre it was immediately renamed the Rue de l’École-de-Santé and then from April 20 1796 it regained its earlier (and current) name.
No. 5 was the location of Louis XV’s free boys’ Royal School for Art and Design from its inception in 1767 until 1928. From 1810 it was funded by the State. Fernand Léger studied there in 1901-1902 after he had stopped studying architecture. the school was built on a medieval Jewish cemetery.
The road’s medical connection dates back to 1255 and in 1763 the Barber-Surgeons Guild funded the building of a small amphitheatre where students could watch them carry out operations at No. 7. The building was given its present columns and courtyard and extended in 1794.
The area became known as the Cordeliers district, and even before 1789 already had a radical tradition. Danton, Desmoulins and Marat all lived in the area. Marat in the Hôtel de Cahors roughly where Nos. 18-20 would have stood. This was where he was murdered.
All of the Cordeliers monasteries were closed in 1790 and so, when the Paris Council abolished the Cordeliers district in the municipal reoganisation, Danton and other area leaders founded a club there in the monastery’s refectory on April 27 1790.
The club’s official name was Société des Amis des droits de l’homme et du citoyen (Friends of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen), but it was known as the Club des Cordeliers. Its motto, proposed by Antoine-Francois Momoro, became Liberté, égalité, fraternité or Death. On June 21 1791 it was the first club to call for the Constituent Assembly to proclaim a republic.
On July 17 1792 this was where, after the failure of Louis XVI’s escape bid, Marat proposed a petition declaring ‘royalty incompatible with freedom’. That night, after the Champs de Mars massacre, the constitutional monarchists ordered the closure of the Cordeliers club and its leaders went into hiding.
A year later, on July 16 1793, after his assassination, the monastery garden was where Marat was first buried.
The School of Medicine’s amphitheatres at No. 7 and No. 12 were used as meeting places by several revolutionaries in 1848. These included those involved in the Club des Homme lettrés , the Club central de l’Agriculture, the Club de l’École de Médecine and the Comité électoral du 11ème arrondissement.
The School of Medicine was not only used for anatomical observation. On January 19 1868 Nathalie Le Mel, Eugène Varlin and others met in the small amphitheatre to hold the General Meeting that created the food cooperative called ‘La Marmite‘ (the cooking pot).
The large amphitheatre at No. 12 witnessed the General Assembly of Lithograph Printers on 29 August 1869 when they decided to affiliate to the International Association of Working Men.
From October 1870 more and more meetings took place at No. 12. On April 12 1871 Gustave Courbet was one of 400 artists who met there to elect an Artists’ Committee for the Commune’s Republic (Comité des Artistes pour la République communale). Courbet and 46 others were elected.
Among the other artists attending to set up the Artists Federation were Aimé-Jules Dalou (who later sculpted the ‘Triumph of the Republic’ in the Place de la Nation) Honoré Daumier, Camille Corot, Édouard Manet, Claude Monet and Alexandre Falguière.
Number 11bis, 20, 20bis, 21, 26, 31
Crammed full of smallish theatres since 1818, when the Montparnasse Theatre first opened its doors, the road ran along the outside of the Farmers’ General tax wall. This made it a good location to drink wine that was not subject to the Paris tax, and the numbers of music halls, theatres and restaurants that sprang up gave it its name. It was absorbed into Paris in 1863.
Sometimes political meetings were held in the cafés in the street. Gustave Courbet and many of Paris’ bohemian intellectuals and artists used to drink at the Café des Mille Colonnes, next to Bobino at No. 20bis, in the 1860s. On December 17 1904 all the Russian revolutionary groups in Paris met there together.
During 1870-1871 the dance hall, Bal du Jardin de Paris, at No. 21 was used to hold 30 public political meetings.
The Montparnasse Theatre you now see at No 31 was rebuilt in 1886 and is on the list of historic monuments. It staged the Paris premier of Berthold Brecht’s ‘Threepenny Opera’ (l’Opéra de Quat’sous) in 1928.
The writer Simone de Beauvoir spent the academic year of 1936-1937 based at the hotel then named Royal-Bretagne living there with Sartre when he was in Paris at No. 11bis. Today, this art-deco hotel has another name and looks more upmarket than it did in the 1930s.
Nearly opposite De Beauvoir’s hotel was the famous Bobino music hall at No. 20, sadly demolished in 1985 and turned into a Mercure hotel with a new Bobino now at the back. De Beauvoir and Sartre saw two singers there in 1932, singing anarchist and anti-militarist songs.
Numbers: 13, 32
Gustave Courbet‘s workshop from 1848 up to the Paris Commune was based at No. 32. Among those who visited him here were Charles Baudelaire, who was born at No. 13 in a building that was knocked down when the Boulevard St Germain was driven through the Latin Quarter, and Emile Zola.
Numbers 1, 8, 16, 49
The street offers an extraordinary view, notes Hazan (WTP), of the Sacré-Coeur rising above the Notre-Dame-de-Lorette church. No better reason, perhaps for Fénéon to host at Number 1, the editorial offices of La Revue Blanche, the first Georges Seurat retrospective just a few months after the painter’s early death aged 32.
Fénéon became La Revue Blanche’s editor in 1896 and committed it strongly to defending Dreyfus from 1897. He published many articles by Léon Blum, then a young lawyer who in his spare time reported on the trials taking place.
Fénéon, Zola, Proust, Sorel, Claude Monet, Emile Durkheim and Daniel Halévy were among the signatures organised from the offices of La Revue Blanche on 15 January 1898 to an early petition to reopen Drefyus’ trial.
No. 8 was the location of the picture gallery opened in 1863 by Alexandre Bernheim, who displayed the paintings of Gustave Courbet and Camille Corot, among others, and who was the organiser of Van Gogh’s first Parisan exhibition in 1901.
In 1872, after Courbet had spent 9 months in jail for his part in the Paris Commune, his work was rejected for display at that year’s Salon. The art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel then showed Courbet’s painting Fruits at the gallery he had opened at No. 16 in 1867.
In October 1906. after Marguerite Durand‘s La Fronde ceased publication in 1905, Jane Misme founded the weekly feminist 4-page journal, La Française: Journal de progrès féminin, whose offices were at No 49. It became the official outlet of the National Council of French Women (CNFF)
The old street Rue d’Artois was renamed in 1897 after one of France’s most influential bankers, Jacques Lafitte (1767-1844). His first job was in the Perregaux Bank, whose international connections led it to become the bank of the French Revolution’s Committee of Public Security, and then financial advisers to Napoleon Bonaparte.
In 1814 Laffitte was asked to head up the Bank of France, which he did until 1820. In the July 1830 Revolution he was one of the most important figures aiming to thwart any move towards a new republic and instead to secure the crown for Louis-Philippe of the Orleans branch of the Bourbon family.
Laffitte became the president of the Chamber of Deputies which declared the throne vacant and that Louis-Philippe was the new king. Laffitte became both President of the governing council and minister of finance in November 1830. He lasted only until March 1831 when he resigned as it became clear that Louis-Philippe was going to try and maintain all the monarch’s power over government rather than move towards a parliamentary government system.
Rue de l’Amiral de Coligny
It witnessed the defeat of Charles X‘s Swiss guards on July 29 1830, when a crowd, including many Polytechnic students, stormed it using a scaffolding for repairs that covered part of the colonnade.
Louis Vaneau, one of the Ecole Polytechnique students killed in the fighting, had the Rue Vaneau renamed after him in 1870.
After the Sedan defeat and the end of the Second Empire, Gustave Courbet chaired a meeting of Parisian artists at the Louvre on September 6 1870. It set up a Commission for the Protection of the Heritage of Paris’ museums.
On March 1 1871 a hostile crowd gathered at the Louvre to shout insults at the Prussian officers who came to visit their ‘captured’ monuments after Thiers and Favre in Versaiilais had signed an ignominious armistice to end the siege of Paris.
Two weeks later the Louvre was the headquarters of the military governor of Paris at the moment when the Versaillais government attempted to seize control of the canon that were defending Paris. This coup’s failure led immediately to the formation of the Paris Commune.
On April 17 a meeting held in the Antiquities Room of the museum (off the Place du Carrousel) elected a 47-strong Committee of the Artists’ Federation.
On 24 May 1871, when the Versaillais troops took over the Louvre Palace, a solitary woman stood in front of them. She was put against the gate of the colonnade and shot.
Numbers: 4, 6
The street was named, it is believed, after the large numbers of students from Poitou who lived in the 13th century street. It became known as the Rue Poitevine in 1448.
In 1824 Pierre Leroux worked in the printshop belonging to Charles-Louis Panckoucke and founded the newspaper The Globe, that became the organ of the Saint-Simoniam utopian socialists from 1830. The printshop at No. 4 was in the Hotel de Thou, where Jacques Auguste de Thou, a president of the Paris parliament, had first established a major library there in 1587.
No. 6 was a lodging house and restaurant set up in 1840 and called the pension Laveur. It was based in a wing of Thou’s Paris mansion. Gustave Courbet, Elisee Reclus and many other 19th century political figures stayed and/or ate there as students or while first living in Paris – either at this address or at 20 Rue Serpente, where the pension Laveur moved to later.
If you happened to look like Gustave Courbet, or other well-known supporters of the Commune, on 24 May 1871 you could have been shot on the spot by the Versaillais troops – as happened to one unfortunate man in the 2nd arrondissement at 11, Rue de la Banque.
Courbet himself went into hiding at a musical instrument maker friend of his at No. 12 Rue St Gilles. This was where he was arrested on June 7 1871. The building had formerly been the Venice Embassy in Paris, and since very few people know this, I can also let you know that Jean-Jacques Rousseau spent a year working in the French embassy to Venice in 1743 to 1744.
In 1640 the narrow road was named after a statue of Saint Gilles placed at the end of the road, initially called the New St Gilles road.
In 1842 Gustave Courbet‘s first workshop was at 89 Rue de la Harpe which, after the Southern part of the Rue de la Harpe was knocked down, was approximately at the location of 31 Boulevard St Michel. This was where Courbet got to know Proudhon.
One of Baron George Haussmann’s objectives in tearing up much of old Paris after the 1848 Revolution was to try and eradicate the possibilities of street barricades and open resistance, or at least to ensure that the army and police would find suppressing it easier. The Latin Quarter and its student and poor working class inhabitants were a key target.
Hazan (IOP) quotes Haussmann as acknowledging his aim was to restructure Paris ‘strategically’:
“I read, in a book which enjoyed great success last year, that the streets of Paris had been enlarged to permit ideas to circulate, and, above all, regiments to pass. This malicious statement (which comes in the wake of others) is the equivalent of saying that Paris has been strategically embellished. Well, so be it . . . I do not hesitate to proclaim that strategic embellishments are the most admirable of embellishments.”
In 1851 Paris comprised 30,770 houses; by 1860, when he expanded Paris to include all the land within the 33km-long Thiers Wall, built between 1840 and 1844, he had already demolished 14% of them. Between 1852 and 1868 a grand total of 18,000 houses had been demolished.
Haussmann’s first idea for the Fountain at the Place St Michel, on the new North-South axis he had constructed through Paris, was for a giant Napoleon Bonaparte. Finally, the architect Gabriel Davioud designed the ‘Victory of Good over Evil’, with Saint Michael defeating the devil (or Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte defeating the 1848 Revolution) that was put in place in 1860, hiring nine different sculptors to sculpt its different elements.
Strategically, though, Boulevard Saint-Michel may be considered to have been more successful than the dreadful fountain. In May 1871 it took little time for the fragile barricades in the broad street to be broken.
On August 21 1944, the Boulevard Saint-Michel was again a key strategic route for the German occupiers to move their troops from the garrison at the Luxembourg Gardens to the right bank in the North.
The resistance built a barricade across it to the Café Cluny on the corner with the Boulevard Saint-Germain, on whose pavements in 1995 I first met Sylvie, a French doctoral student who became very close to me over the following two decades.
In August 1944 the strategic crossroad there quickly became known as the ‘crossroad of death’. In one account I read there was a suggestion that some Germans tied French men and women to the front of their tanks as human shields to go up Boulevard Saint-Michel.
Insurgent Paris rarely sleeps long. On May 13 1968 ten years to the day after the Algerian generals’ coup d’état toppled the Fourth Republic, a one million strong trade union and student demonstration protesting police violence against students on the night of the barricades (May 10) marched down the Boulevard Saint-Michel and past the Place Saint-Michel over to the right bank. The following day factory occupations started to spread throughout France.
Back in London at the LSE in May 1968, we Socialist Society activists organised a sit-in in solidarity with French students and workers on the one day that week when we didn’t have exams. From the sublime …
Numbers: 1-2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 11-13, 23-26
The column had been decorated in bronze melted down from the canons captured at the battle of Austerlitz. Its crowning figure, Napoleon, had not survived the Bourbon restorations of 1814-1815. Louis XVIII replaced it with the white Bourbon flag and then with the Fleur de Lys. He melted down Napoleon’s statue on top of the column to create the horse-backed Henry IV, founder of the Bourbon dynasty, on the Pont Neuf where it crosses the Island of the Cité.
During the defence of the Paris Commune in May 1871 a barricade defending the Headquarters of the National Guard at Nos. 11-17 was put up from No. 1 to No. 2 and across the Rue St. Honoré. The Versaillais troops took the barricades from the back by getting through the Hotel du Rhin at No. 4.
Félix Lepeletier, an aristocratic revolutionary, lived at No. 6 and allowed Babeuf, Buonarroti and others involved in leading the Conspiracy of Equals to meet there in March 1796. Félix’s older brother, Louis-Michel Lepeletier de Saint-Fargeau, had cast the deciding vote on the execution of Louis XVI, and that same evening, 20 January 1793, he was stabbed with a sword by one of the king’s former bodyguards.
Louis-Michel Le Peletier died soon after at his family house at No. 8 Place Vendôme. and his body was then draped over the pedestal of Louis XIV’s statue that had been pulled down in 1792. Louis XVI was guillotined the following morning.
On 18 March 1871, when the Versaillais troops tried and failed to capture the canons stored on the Montmartre and Belleville hills, four battalions of National Guardsmen from Batignolles and Montmartre marched on the National Guard Headquarters at No. 7 and threw out the commanding officer put in place there on March 5, and installed their own commanders.
Jaroslaw Dombrowski, the Polish commanding National Guard General at its headquarters in the Ministry of Justice in Nos. 11-13, was mortally wounded on May 23 1871, when all the defenders were summarily killed.
One of the only 18 Paris barricades in May 1871 that was fortified with canons crossed from Nos. 23 to 26, the Barricade of the Rue de la Paix. It was defended by the 88th, 113th and 182nd National Guard battalions. Very few of the more than one thousand defenders survived the battle.
The Ritz Hotel at No. 15, the former Hôtel de Gramont, was colonised by senior Germans and Vichy collaborators under the Occupation and its bar was famously liberated by Ernest Hemingway on August 26 1944, when he gave some American rifles to the arriving FTP. This was also where Princess Diana and Dodi Al-Fayed had their last meal together on August 31 1997.
French socialism began to distinguish itself both from Proudhon’s anarchistic appeal to humanity’s moral responsibilities and from Blanqui’s insurrectionism in the 1890s. Founded by Blum, Jaures and Vaillant in 1905 in the aftermath of the Dreyfus affair, the SFIO united left reformist republicans and Marxist sectarians. The alliance broke up in 1920 when a majority at the Tours Conference voted to affiliate to the new Communist International.
Despite being a minority at that SFIO conference, the SFIO of left reformist socialism became the leading left political current through nearly all the interwar period. After the Communist Party ended Stalin’s ‘class against class’ propaganda against the Socialists and proposed a Popular Front alliance, Blum became prime minister in 1936.
Under the Fourth Republic its internal divisions over Algerian independence, with Mendes France and the challenge of the stronger Communist Party allowed De Gaulle to take power. In 1981 Mitterrand won a decisive majority on a left platform that he abandoned three years later. From then the Socialist Party became largely a party of elected national and local officials, without any real mass membership. In 2017, following five politically disastrous years under Hollande, the Socialist Party suffered a major defeat in both the presidential and National Assembly elections. A new left party, La France Insoumise (France untamed), did relatively well, with the Left Front’s presidential candidate getting 19.6% of the vote in the first round.
Like the Socialists, though, Melonchon’s La France Insoumise has still virtually no local membership base. In the European elections of 2019, its share of the vote fell to 6%.
Work in progress