Tennis Court Oath

The Tennis Court Oath (French: Serment du jeu de paume) was a pivotal event during the first days of the French Revolution. The Oath was a pledge signed by 576 of the 577 members from the Third Estate who were locked out of a meeting of the Estates-General on 20 June 1789. The only person who did not sign was Joseph Martin-Dauch, a politician who would not execute decisions not sanctioned by the king. They made a makeshift conference room inside a tennis court located in the Saint-Louis district of the city of Versailles, near the Palace of Versailles.

On 17 June 1789 this group, led by Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, began to call themselves the National Assembly. On the morning of 20 June, the deputies were shocked to discover that the chamber door was locked and guarded by soldiers. Immediately fearing the worst, and anxious that a royal attack by King Louis XVI was imminent, the deputies congregated in a nearby indoor tennis (Jeu de paume) court where they took a solemn collective oath "not to separate, and to reassemble wherever circumstances require, until the constitution of the kingdom is established". It later transpired that the most probable reason why the hall was closed was that the royal household was still in mourning over the death of the Dauphin (the king's oldest son) two weeks earlier; ordinarily, political matters could not be conducted until the King had emerged from mourning. The oath is therefore a contentious point in French political history, since pro-monarchists then and now characterize it as a duplicitous and hysterical over-reaction which deliberately made capital out of a private tragedy in the royal family. Other historians have argued that given political tensions in France at that time, the deputies' fears, even if wrong, were reasonable and that the importance of the oath goes above and beyond its context.

The deputies pledged to continue to meet until a constitution had been written, despite the royal prohibition. The oath was both a revolutionary act, and an assertion that political authority derived from the people and their representatives rather than from the monarch himself. Their solidarity forced Louis XVI to order the clergy and the nobility to join with the Third Estate in the National Assembly.

Read more about Tennis Court Oath:  Significance, Painting

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