Wednesday 5 November 2014

For Bonfire Night: A Parisian Fireworks Disaster

As these long evenings draw in and I look out of my salon window and over the city, all over the darkness is illuminated by small bonfires lit to fend off the night. Of course, there will be more bonfires than ever tonight as we gather to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night and though I shall remain safely indoors with my hound, watching the displays from the warmth of my drawing room, many more will venture out into the cold to enjoy this autumnal tradition.

As you watch in wonder though, spare a thought for those who attended a display in Paris on 30th May 1770. Gathered in the Place Louis XV (now the Place de la Concorde) to attend an event in celebration of the marriage of Marie Antoinette and the future Louis XVI, a night of festivities turned into a tragedy in which many lost their lives.

In order to mark the happy occasion of the royal marriage, a wonderful fete was planned for the citizens of Paris. Alcohol would flow, entertainers would promenade and fireworks designed by the famed Italian firm established by the Ruggiers brothers would explode over the crowds. 


By all accounts the night was a triumph until, as the evening winds blew stronger, disaster struck. Caught in the gusts, lit fireworks were swept into unlit rockets and the whole began to go off, flying amid the crowd. Wooden stalls caught alight, seating collapsed and the audience panicked. Hemmed in by the ditches that flanked the Place Louis XV, they attempted to flee for the presumed safety of the narrow Rue Royale but this was to prove a fatal decision. 

The crowd surged into the bottleneck but found themselves met by another large group coming in the opposite direction to join the party, unaware of the drama unfolding. People were trampled and crushed in the ensuing panic and though official estimates put the death toll at 133, unofficial accounts record it as far higher. Hundreds of survivors suffered injury and some were left with permanent disabilities as a result of the night on which celebration turned to tragedy in honour of the royal nuptials.

You can find out more about the couple and their opulent wedding in my book, Life in the Georgian Court, available at the links below.

Pen and Sword
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)


Sarah said...

And it's an accident that can still happen today, let's remember that, everyone; crowds panic. Let's all be really careful out there.... [not that I'm going out either. None of my cats at the moment care to watch fireworks so I don't have to make padded watching places by the kitchen window for them....]

Catherine Curzon said...

Very wise words; I think it's so cute that you made little viewing places for your cats, that's lovely!

Gem Twitcher said...

...and isn't it amazing that a few miles away from me thousands are watching the Ottery St Mary flaming tar barrels being carried on shoulders through the town!

Catherine Curzon said...

Quite a night!

Unknown said...

This reminds me of the botafumeiro, the huge swinging incense container at Santiago de Compostela. When Catherine of Aragon was on her way to England in 1499 to marry Prince Arthur, she stopped to worship at the cathedral. The botafumerio detached from its rope and went crashing through one of the cathedral's high windows. Prince Arthur died shortly thereafter, so she married Henry VIII.

Should she have taken it as an omen?

Here are two flaming accidents connected to royal weddings, and both queens had unhappy ends to their lives.

Catherine Curzon said...

An omen indeed!

angus smith said...

Try as I may I cannot forget the telly jingle..please do remember , the fifth of November , light up the sky with Standard fireworks...
And for something odd , when I lived in Virginia of all places , a bunch kids went by one night pushing a Guy in an abandoned baby pram.
It was a hot evening and so I was quite confused.
And nowt tae do wi the disaster above either . Except for the ER all over England treating singed drunken twits.

Catherine Curzon said...

That is *very* odd; was it actually 5th November when they pushed their pram past?