Etienne Marcel's place in parisian history
It’s safe to say that history is abundant wherever you might wander in Paris. Many
streets, avenues, boulevards, parks, and metro stations have been named after people who
have played a significant part in this city’s history. In this blog post, we’d like to talk about the
backstory of Etienne Marcel. He has a street (where the Marais location of Apartments du
Louvre is located) and a Metro stop named after him. He is also immortalized by a huge
equestrian statue erected in his honor at the Place de l’Hotel de Ville. But just who was he?
A Local Guy
Etienne Marcel was born on the Ile de la Cite around 1315 to a wealthy Parisian
“bourgeois” family. His grandfather was the head of the largest fabric manufacturer in Europe
at the time and provided clothing to the royalty of France. Etienne grew up in the urban upper
class, close to the powerful royal family of King John II (or “John the Good”). It’s estimated that
Paris was the largest city in western Europe in the 1300’s, with a population of around 200,000
people. It was growing in political importance.
In 1354, still under the reign of King John II, Etienne Marcel was named Provost of the
Merchants. This meant, in effect, that he was the mayor of Paris, assisted by four aldermen.
He distinguished himself in this role by defending the interests of the
small craftsmen and guildsmen who counted as most of the city’s population.
For a while, because of his close relationship with the King, Etienne was able to convince
the government to consider major reforms – such as taxing the rich (including royalty) and the
poor. The government “considered” it but then King John II was taken prisoner by the English.
The Paris revolution of 1355-1358 broke out, with Etienne Marcel playing a major role in this
conflict. Since he tried to limit royal power and royal spending, Etienne became a symbol of the
people, a hero, and, as such, a target of the government. He was assassinated in 1358.
The First City Hall
After only three years as mayor, Etienne had purchased a mansion called the Maison
aux Pillars. He made this into his administrative center, the first Parisian City Hall. Even though
the building has been destroyed and rebuilt several times, the city of Paris’s mayoral
headquarters has always been located where it stands today – at the Hotel de Ville Square. The
eight-meter-high bronze equestrian statue of Etienne Marcel is also in the same square and
visible from the many boat-rides along the Seine. It was inaugurated in 1888, just 530 years
after his death. It stands as a symbol of one of the first French revolutionaries.
From the Apartments du Louvre, you can easily walk to Hotel de Ville to visit the site of
the first city hall and to admire the impressive statue of Etienne Marcel. Seven hundred years
of history just a few steps away!