Day of the Tiles

Day of the Tiles
La Journée des tuiles en 1788 à Grenoble, 1890 painting by Alexandre Debelle.

The Day of the Tiles (French: Journée des Tuiles) is an event that took place in the French town of Grenoble on 7 June 1788. It was among the first of the revolts which preceded the French Revolution, and is credited by some historians as being the start of it.



Prior to the day, Grenoble was the scene of popular unrest due to financial hardship from the economic and financial crises. These causes of the French Revolution affected all of France, but matters came to a head first in Grenoble.

Unrest in the town was sparked by the attempts of Cardinal Étienne Charles de Loménie de Brienne, the Archbishop of Toulouse and Controller-General of Louis XVI, to abolish the Parlements in order to enact a new tax to deal with France's unmanageable public debt. Tensions in urban populations had been rising already due to poor harvests and the high cost of bread in France. These tensions were exacerbated by the refusal of the privileged classes, the Church and the aristocracy, to relinquish any of their fiscal privileges. They insisted on retaining the right to collect feudal and seignorial royalties from their peasants and landholders. This acted to block reforms attempted by the king's minister Charles Alexandre de Calonne and the Assembly of Notables that he convoked in January 1787. Added to this, Brienne, appointed the king's Controller-General of Finance on 8 April 1787, was widely regarded as being a manager without experience or imagination.[1]

Shortly prior to 7 June 1788, a large meeting at Grenoble decided to call together the old Estates of the province of Dauphiné. The government responded by sending troops to the area to put down the movement.[2]

Events on the day

Soldiers sent to quell the disturbances forced the townspeople off the streets. Some sources say that the soldiers were sent to disperse parliamentarians who were attempting to assemble a parlement.[1] However, the townspeople climbed onto the roofs of buildings around the Jesuit College[3] to hurl down a rain of roof-tiles on the soldiers in the streets below, hence the episode's name. This drove royal troops out of the city in the first outbreak of political violence that escalated into the revolution.[4]

The commander of the troops found the situation so alarming that he agreed to allow the meeting of the Estates to proceed, but not in the capital. A meeting was therefore arranged for the 21 July 1788 at the nearby village of Vizille.[2] This meeting became known as the Assembly of Vizille

The event was captured by Alexandre Debelle's The Day of the Tiles, 13 July 1788, painted in 1889.[5] He painted it a century after the event and got the date wrong, but it undoubtedly attempts to depict the events described by the title.

Subsequent events

The meeting of the three Estates which had been agreed to took place at Vizille on 21 July. Several hundred people assembled, representing the three Estates, the nobility, the clergy and the middle classes (Bourgeoisie), who were granted double representation. The meeting was led by a moderate reformist lawyer, Jean Joseph Mounier, and passed several resolutions:

  • the convocation of the States-General of France
  • pledging the province to refuse to pay all taxes not voted by the States-General
  • calling for the abolition of arbitrary imprisonment on the King's order by the warrant known as the lettre de cachet.[2]

These demands were accepted by the King. Brienne left his office during August 1788, but before doing so issued a decree convoking the States-General for 1 May 1789.[2] It is not clear whether this decree was prompted by the demands from the Assembly of Vizille or the Day of the Tiles, because at least one source puts the date of the decree at 7 July 1788, after the Day of the Tiles, but two weeks before the Assembly of Vizille.[4]


Some historians, such as Jonathan Sperber, have used the Day of the Tiles to demonstrate the worsening situation in France in the build up to the French Revolution of 1789. Others have even credited it with being the beginning of the revolution itself.[1][4][6] The events as related by R. M. Johnston[2] provide an apparently clear link between the Day of the Tiles, the Assembly of Vizille and the start of the revolution proper.


  1. ^ a b c La «Journée des tuiles» à Grenoble,, Retrieved on 4 November 2006
  2. ^ a b c d e Johnston, R. M. (Robert Matteson) (2006) [1909]. The French Revolution A Short History (Project Gutenberg ed.). Henry Holt and Company. p. 279. Retrieved 6 November 2006. 
  3. ^ Today the Lycée Stendhal in rue Raoul Blanchard
  4. ^ a b c From Failed Reforms to Revolutionary Crisis,A Short History of the French Revolution, Jeremy D. Popkin, Prentice-Hall, 14 July 2005, Retrieved on 3 November 2006
  5. ^ The Day of the Tiles, 13 July 1788; retrieved on 3 November 2006
  6. ^ "Grenoble". Catholic Encyclopedia 1911. Retrieved 1 November 2006. 

Further reading

  • Simon Schama (1989). Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. New York: Knopf, pp. 272–283.

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