Places of the French Revolution: Tuileries Palace

The Tuileries Palace (Palais des Tuileries) stood on the right bank of the River Seine and was home to many French monarchs, from Henry IV to Napoleon III. It began its existence in 1564, when it was built by Catherine de Medici in the tile yards (tuileries), from which the palace took its name. According to the plan, created by Philibert de l’Orme, one of the great masters of the French Renaissance, it “was to be a true palace of the French kings, with a royal facade, the most beautiful gardens, and the most magnificent courtyards.”[1]

Tuileries Palace in the 1700s.

Palais des Tuileries in the 1700s. Public domain.

Unfortunately, De l’Orme never got beyond Tuileries’s facade before he died. The construction of Tuileries then fell to Jean Bullant who continued de l’Orme’s work but made changes. However, Bullant, similar to de l’Orme, did not complete Tuileries, and it remained unfinished. Moreover, despite the fact that Catherine de Medici had ordered Tuileries built, she did not actually live there. Rather she used Tuileries for lavish entertainments and kept her apartments and held court at the nearby Louvre because it had better view of Paris.

Philibert de l'Orme, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Philibert de l’Orme. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

After Catherine de Medici, the trend of not living at Tuileries continued and the unfinished palace languished and did not become home to any other rulers. For instance, when Richelieu came to power, he built the Cardinal Palace (Palais-Cardinal) and forgot about Tuileries. Louis XIII lived at the Louvre and Louis XIV spent no more time at Tuileries than any of his predecessors.

Yet despite no king in residence, construction continued. When Henri IV reigned, he built the Waterside Gallery (Galerie du Bord de l’Eau), also known as the Grand Gallery (Grande Galerie). This occurred between 1595 and 1610 and linked Tuileries to the royal apartments at the Louvre. Henri IV’s assassination on 14 May 1610 by a Catholic fanatic, François Ravaillac, stopped all progress on Tuileries. Louis XIII then came to the throne and he did not live there either. Thus, it seemed that with no king living there, Tuileries would never be completed.

Fortunately, however, Louis XIII decided to work on the Tuileries Palace. What he started was finally completed by Louis XIV, architects, Louis Le Vau and his assistant François d’Orbay. But even with Louis XIV completing the work, the palace still did not house a king. Rather it became the residence of Mademoiselle Montpensier (Anne Marie Louise of Orléans, Duchess of Montpensier), who died unmarried and childless on 5 April 1693.

During Mademoiselle Montpensier’s residence, Louis XIV occasionally visited the palace and sometimes held fetes there. But Louis XIV’s favorite abode, and the spot where he spent his money, was Versailles. So, it was not until Louis XV became king that Tuileries was occupied by a king: Louis XV moved, at the behest of his Regent, the Duke of Orléans, from Versailles to Tuileries on 1 January 1716, four months after ascending to the throne and then the Duke moved him back to Versailles three months before his coronation on 15 June 1722.

(Left to Right and Top to Bottom) Louis III, Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI

(Left to right and top to bottom) Louis III, Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI.

Perhaps, one of the most interesting celebrations ever given at the palace was the crowning of François-Marie Arouet, better known by his nom de plume as Voltaire. His tragedy, Irene, opened at the Tuileries theatre in February of 1778. A cynical chronicler wrote of it, “Never … was a piece worse acted, more applauded, and less listened to.”[2] Despite this biting review, Voltaire’s tragedy was widely acclaimed and he was declared the “defender of Calas.”

Tuileries Palace - Voltaire

Voltaire. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Several balloons rose from the Tuileries garden in the late 1700s. One exciting incident happened in 1784 and the Derby Mercury gave the particulars:

The third Aerostotic Experiment of the Brothers, Robert, took place on Sunday the 19th Instant, in the Royal Gardens of the Tuileries, and it was attended with complete Success, Mons. Vallet, to whom the Brother committed the Charge of filling the Globe, began the Business on Saturday Afternoon. He employed new Apparatus, constructed on the most ingenious and simple Principles; by means of which the Balloon was amply filled in three Hours. The Operation would not have required more than an Hour and half, if the Workmen had been accustomed to the new Method.

As it was the Intention of the Brothers to make this Voyage accessory to Science, they took great Pains to establish a Set of Signal’s between themselves and those appointed to observe them. It was settled that Persons should be stationed at different Places for the Purpose of Observation; and that they might all communicate together as to Time, and to measure the Angels of Vision, it was agreed that at nine o’Clock in the Morning, a red Flag should be hoisted at the Top of the dome of the Castle of the Tuileries, which, after remaining for a Time, that the Observers might take the Height, should be lowered on the firing of a Cannon, exactly half an Hour before the Departure of the Balloon — that five Minutes after this a small Quantity of Powder should be flashed upon the Top of the Dome, as a Signal for them to observe their Watches — and that this should be repeated twice at the Interval of a Minute, left the first should not be perceived — that a second discharge of the Cannon, which was to be the Signal for the Ascension, the red Flag should be hoisted again; and that when the Travellers had brought the Machine to an Equilibrium in the Air, they sho’d suffer it for some Minutes to be borne along in the Atmosphere by the Direction of the Wind — and that a then, on a fresh Signal, they should put their Oars and Wings in Motion, and use their utmost Efforts to navigate the Machine against the Wind, and to see how many Points they could steer from it.

The Preliminaries being settled, at half an hour after eleven o’Clock the aerostatic Globe as conducted with great Pomp by the Gate of the grand Walk to the Terrace prepared for it opposite the Castle. … the Machine rose into the Atmosphere exactly two Minutes before twelve o’Clock, amidst the Acclamations of a most numerous and brilliant Assembly.

After having travelled at the same height about forty five Minutes, they descended near the apparent Horizon, almost to the Earth, and ascended against immediately. At fifty-seven Minutes past twelve they descended against and mounted in an Instant. At thirteen Minutes past one they descended a third Time, and were for a Minute lost behind the Hills which bound the Horizon towards St. Prix. … They descended exactly at forty Minutes past six at the Beuvry, near Bethune, 150 Miles from Paris. They went this very long Journey in six Hours and forty Minutes. Beuvry is the Residence of the price de Ghistelles, and of the Price de Ricebourg, his Son. It so happened that the Prince and his Son had been engaged that very Afternoon in giving a splendid Entertainment to their Tenantry and Neighbours, in which among other pleasurable Circumstances they had launched a Montgolfiere … The Company were beginning to separate when the Roberts came in Sight. This unexpected Spectacle excited the most general Shout; and with the most clamorous Voices they called out to the Travellers to alight in that Spot. The Brothers thought it an eligible Place, and they descended; in coming down they were very near striking their Machine against a Mill, and to avoid this, they exercised their Oars, and with an admirable Manoeuvre made a Semi-circle in the full View of the Assembly, and within thirty Feet of the Ground; by this Means they landed in the Centre of the Field.[3]

September 19, 1784, flight lifting off from the the Gardens of Tuileries. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

When a King finally occupied the Tuileries, it happened eleven years after Voltaire’s success. That is when Louis XVI found himself living at the Tuileries Palace because he and his family were forced to live there after starving women marched to Versailles, demanded food, and insisted the King and his family return with them to Paris. The royals did, arriving at the palace on 6 March 1789 only to find that it was hardly in a state to receive them.

The Women's March on Versailles, Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Women’s March on Versailles. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The palace had been all but abandoned over the years and what greeted the King and his family was a dismal and gloomy building. “The door would not shut, the paint on the floor was worn and cracked, and the tapestries were hanging in rags on the walls.”[4] Upon his arrival at Tuileries, the seven-year-old Dauphin, looked around and exclaimed to his mother, “Everything is very ugly here, mamma!”[5] Marie Antoinette was probably of the same opinion but realized she had to make the best of a bad situation.

As the French Revolution pressed forward, one of the next important incidents at Tuileries was the insurrection of 10 August 1792, which became known as 10 August. It sent the royal family fleeing for their lives, and they ultimately ended up incarcerated at the Temple. The insurrection also resulted in the death of hundreds of Swiss guards, who at the time were guarding Tuileries. But more importantly, 10 August was a turning point in the Revolution resulting in the overthrow of the monarchy.

Tuileries Palace attack on August 10th, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Attack upon Tuileries Palace on 10 August. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Although the monarchy did not survive the French Revolution, the Tuileries Palace did. It next accommodated the National Convention (the first French Assembly elected by universal male suffrage), later the Council of Five Hundred (a legislative body during the Directory), and then in 1799, the Jacobin Club (a famous and influential political club). When Napoleon Bonaparte came to power, he used Tuileries as the official residence of the First Consul, and when the Bourbon Restoration occurred in 1814, it was converted into a royal residence.

Tuileries came under attack once again during the July Revolution in 1830. Again, Swiss Guards were stationed there. This time, however, they were aware of the unfortunate fate of their predecessors in 1792, and so they quickly abandoned their posts and turned Tuileries over to their attackers. With that Tuileries became the permanent residence of newly crowned Louis Philippe I, and it remained his residence until the Revolution of 1848.

Scenes of July 1830 Alluding to the July Revolution of 1830, Courtesy of Wikipedia

“Scenes of July 1830” by Léon Cogniet that allude to the July Revolution of 1830. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

During the Second Empire, the Tuileries Palace was extensively refurbished and redecorated. It was grand enough that when Queen Victoria came for a state visit in 1855, it served as the centerpiece for all the pomp and pageantry associated with the Second Empire. The Second Empire also finally linked Tuileries and the Louvre together, a grand plan that had been envisioned three centuries earlier.

Unfortunately, the glory days of the Tuileries Palace did not last long. On 23 May 1872, during suppression of the Paris Commune, twelve men under the orders of Jules Bergeret, the former chief military commander of the Commune, set the palace on fire. The petroleum, liquid tar, and turpentine used completely gutted its central dome and ruined the palace. It burned for forty-eight hours, and, in the end, everything but the southernmost part, the Pavillon de Flore, was destroyed. (The Pavilion de Flore was where Marie Antoinette and Princesse de Lamballe had their apartments.) The ruins remained for eleven years, until in 1882, the French National Assembly voted that Tuileries should be demolished.

Tuileries Palace - Pavillon de Flore

Pavillon de Flore. Public domain.


  • [1] Edwards, Henry Sutherland, Old and New Paris, Volumes 1 and 2, 1893, p. 206.
  • [2] Ibid., p. 207.
  • [3] “Parisian Intelligence,” in Derby Mercury, 30 September 1784, p. 2.
  • [4] Tschudi, Clara, Marie Antoinette, 1902, p. 126.
  • [5] Ibid.

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