[In Our Time] The Siege of Paris 1870-71

The Siege of Paris 1870-71

16/01/2020 by BBC Radio 4

Web player: https://podplayer.net/?id=92999692
Episode: http://open.live.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/6/redir/version/2.0/mediaset/audio-nondrm-download/proto/http/vpid/p080jhd0.mp3

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian war and the social unrest that followed, as the French capital was cut off from the rest of the country and food was scarce. When the French government surrendered Paris to the Prussians, power gravitated to the National Guard in the city and to radical socialists, and a Commune established in March 1871 with the red flag replacing the trilcoleur. The French government sent in the army and, after bloody fighting, the Communards were defeated by the end of May 1871.

The image above is from an engraving of the fire in the Tuileries Palace, May 23, 1871


Karine Varley
Lecturer in French and European History at the University of Strathclyde

Robert Gildea
Professor of Modern History at the University of Oxford


Julia Nicholls
Lecturer in French and European Studies at King’s College London

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Listen date: mid February 2020


  • While listening to this, I was wondering if Les Miserables (which I itself no about only through its Discworld retelling, Night Watch) was set in the siege of Paris. Apparently not – it’s set in an 1831 revolution, not the 1871 one.
  • How many revolutions does Paris have? One of Simon Winder’s books has a line that goes something like “It took no deep strategic sense to notice that at periodic intervals France went mad and invaded everybody.” You could switch that to “At periodic intervals Paris has a revolution.”
  • Interesting learning: the Paris middle classes hated the revolution, fled the city, and supported crushing the Commune. Something something bourgeois revolution something.


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