Assassin’s Creed Unity and Some Little-Known Facts of the French Revolution

Happy Bastille Day! For those of you who just stared blankly at your screen upon seeing those words – that’s France’s national holiday. It’s a celebration marking the storming of the Bastille (a fortress/prison used by King Louis XVI to make his enemies disappear) by the people of Paris in 1789 and one of the most important events of the French Revolutiomn. That makes this the perfect time to take a closer look at Assassin’s Creed Unity’s setting (as if we needed a reason). Turns out, a lot of the things we thought we knew about this tumultuous time in history aren’t quite accurate. For example, did you know…

Marie Antoinette almost definitely did not say “Let them eat cake.”

Though you’ll find this phrase quoted in… well, pretty much
any coverage of Unity, it is at best something of a tall tale. First of all, the purported phrase is “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche,” and for one thing, brioche isn’t technically cake; it’s more of a rich bread. But more importantly, a similar story had been floating around for years before Marie Antoinette was even a sparkle in her mere‘s eye; according to the History Channel, a similar phrase was attributed to Maria Theresa of Spain – who became queen of France well over 100 years before the Revolution.

Nope, a scientist didn’t conduct a blinking experiment at the guillotine.

Popular belief holds that a condemned scientist – usually identified as chemist Antoine Lavoisier – instructed one of his students to watch his head after it had been, uh, removed from his body. Lavoisier, the story goes, promised to continue blinking as long as he could, thereby recording for posterity just how long a human head can stay conscious once separated from the body. Awesome as that sounds, it didn’t happen, according to The Straight Dope.

But 40,000 people may have had a chance to do their own experiments.

That said, if someone had
wanted to try it, there were enough opportunities. Sources estimate the number of necks put under the blade during the French Revolution at somewhere between 15,000 and 40,000. And Madame Guillotine wasn’t reserved for only the aristocracy; estimates indicate that over 80 percent of those sent to the blade were commoners merely suspected of “crimes against liberty.” Just imagine how quickly your assassin might end up under the razor, should you be caught.

And the guillotine was a legal form of execution in France until 1981.

nineteen eighty-one. As in, barely 30 years ago. To be fair, though, as of 1981 the French government hadn’t used it in… wait, four years? The last head to roll was that of Hamida Djandoubi, on September 10, 1977. Djandoubi was convicted of the torture and murder of his 21-year-old ex-girlfriend (he was, by all accounts, not a very nice guy). The fact that the guillotine was in use so recently makes us hope that the modern-day segments in Unity might occur in the ’60s or ’70s. But that’s probably just a paisley-patterned pipe dream.

But hey: The French Revolution was the driving force behind the first public zoo!

Given all the decapitations and whatnot, we figured it would be best to end on a slightly brighter note. So, check this out: Thanks to the French Revolution, public zoos are a thing. The National Assembly, in 1793, decreed that exotic animals – previously property of the fancy-pants aristocracy – were to be either donated to the erstwhile Royal Menagerie at Versailles or killed, stuffed, and donated to the
Jardin des Plantes – the main botanical garden of France. The scientists at the Jardin said “Mais non, merci,” and the Menagerie became home to an undetermined number of animals. And once all the populist sentiment of the Revolution settled in, those were subsequently transferred to the Jardin anyway for public viewing. Only, you know, alive. So, if you were hoping to see the hunting mechanic of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag return, you might be out of luck; all the coolest animals in Paris were behind bars.

You’ll be able to get your own taste of
L’Esprit de la Revolution when Assassin’s Creed Unity hits Xbox One, on October 28.