On June 7 1788, riots broke out in Grenoble: there had been one bad harvest after another; food was scarce and dissent was growing. Soldiers sent to quell the disturbances found themselves assailed by a deadly hailstorm of roof-tiles, hurled down by the rioters. ‘The Day of The Tiles’ has since been identified as the first outbreak of political violence leading directly to the revolution.
Keen to avoid further altercations, the meeting of the Estates General of the Dauphiné convened not in Grenoble but in the Jeu de Paume court of nearby Château de Vizille – one of the most prestigious and important properties of the Dauphiné region. So it was that on July 21 1788, what became known as the Assembly of Vizille demanded a National meeting of the Estates General, where individual votes should be counted, rather than the views of the three estates.
Today, the Château houses the Museum of the French Revolution. Sadly, the Jeu de Paume court was destroyed by fire in 1865.
On June 20 1789, less than a year after the Assembly of Vizille, 577 members of the newly-formed ‘National Assembly’ were prevented from entering the Palace of Versailles. They convened instead in the nearest large space: the tennis court. All but one swore a solemn oath to persist until a constitution had been written and put in place – a clear assertion that political authority is derived not from the Monarch, but from the people and their representatives.
Tennis has played a pivotal rôle in history – it’s even led to the death of a few Kings over the years – but the Tennis Court Oath precipitated the greatest shift in Europe’s social order.