HIS103Y Lecture 18 November 21 st
The French Revolutionary Wars: Part I
• Late 1780’s Austria seemed on the verge of collapse, but Russia bailed them out
• French intellectuals realized that France’s survival was at stake if they did not
• Under financial crisis Louis XVI calls Estate Generals in 1789
• “Publically despised by her allies, and insulted with impunity by her enemies
France is today absolutely nothing in the political system of Europe.” In the run
up to Estates General
• The Brissotins wanted to dominate the government and come into power and
reduce Louis XVI to a figure head
• They saw that the Diplomatic Revolution, the association with Austria, as the root
of the crisis
• They wanted to renew alliance with Prussia and sever the link with Austria
• They saw war as the only way to restore French greatness and allow the Brissotins
to ascend to power. Orators tried to justify war Vergniaud, Brissot orator, 1792
“A people which has achieved liberty after a 1000 years of slavery needs war; it
needs war to consolidate its freedom, it needs war to purge the vices of
disposition, it needs war to banish the men who might corrupt its liberty.”
• However they were a small minority but got the royal court to align with the
• Why would Louis XVI be in favour war?
• Louis wanted the European powers to defeat them, thus quelling the revolution
and restoring them to the absolute monarchy
• Marie Antoinette wrote letters to Leopold II urging invasion was treason. “It is for
the emperor to put an end to the revolution…. Compromise is impossible …
everything has been overturned by force and force alone can undo the damage.”
• How did Leopold II respond?
• He didn’t react to the pleas. Maris Antoinette tried to force his hand they tried to
escape – the flight to Varennes – this did force the declaration of Pillnitz – August
1791 Frederick William II and Leopold II issued a call to crush the French
Revolution to all the European powers
• Leopold wrote to Kaunitz “is with me the law and the prophets”
• England fails us the case is non-existent
• So basically they thought they wouldn’t have to go to war because England would
never want to restore French monarchy
• Pillnitz coincided with a crackdown of the moderate revolutionaries on the
radicals. Therefore Leopold and Frederick William II thought that this had been
caused by their diplomatic pressure. This was not the cause though
• In March 1792 two events condemned Europe to war
o Death of Leopold II and ascension of Francis II, he was susceptible to
pleas from Marie Antoinette
o The appointment of Pumouriez t minister of war, who supported
Brissotins urge for war, but actually was a royalist • Two hard liners doomed Europe to War
• The summer of 1792 was a disaster. Verdum was captured by Prussia
• At Battle of Valmy Prussian faced the French volunteer army
• Domestic turmoil—how it affected the rest of the continent, challenged status quo in social,
diplomatic terms and political—challenge the entire system.
• In a way it challenged the balance of Power
• Caused 25 years of consistent conflict and struggle—to maintain balance of power
• Decreed that rights of man & Citizen, abolition of Feudalism, National Self-determination—
• Warning sign to the rest of the continent: citizen equal to the king—meant even the poorest
citizen could be on par with their monarch, abolishing feudalism—could spread the ideologies.
• The factors that made an international affair were the tensions between France, Austria &
• Prussia was in it for territory—didn’t have beef with French Revolution
• Austria—Leopold was worried for his sister Marie, imprisoned by the revolutionaries, even he
wanted to avoid an open-war with France.
• Kaunitz—sea of blood would follow intervention in French affairs
• The revolutionaries themselves and the radicals--Jacobin and Girodin both wanted to exploit
the international system, gain power for themselves and exploit the statement made by the
Austrians & Prussians—Declaration of Pillnitz—
o All of Europe would combine to attack France if the monarchy wasn’t restored—Leopold’s
Fine print—ONLY happen if all countries agreed and sends an army
Out of the question: many states didn’t care.
British wouldn’t participate, praised it. saw it in the light of 1688 Glorious Revolution.
• Spring 1792—France declared war on Austria & Prussia
• Thought they’d (Austria & Prussia) win because officer core fled, royalty fled, elite & brains
fled French—thought they could just wipe them out.
• French Errors:
o France never thought Prussia would live up to its obligation with Austria—join them in a
o Hated each other—fought many wars against each other.
• Prussians who invaded France first—underestimated Revolutionaries—didn’t think they could
put an army together and even fight a battle.
• September 20 1792, Battle of Valmy proved them wrong—most professional, prestigious
army (Prussia) was forced to retreat from France.
• Battle of Valmy—duel of Artilleries. Moment that changed history—prior to the outbreak of
the hand to hand combat. French General Kellerman took off his hat and proclaimed with his
sword in his hand “vive la nation”—long live the nation.
o Galvanized the revolutionaries—offered to fight not for a monarch, but their own state.
• Every citizen d a stake to participate in the affairs of the state—obliged to fight with it, for it.
• King meant nothing to peasants, but equality now did.
• All are equal—therefore you must fight for your own state & equality. • France galvanized by “Viva la nation” fought very successful battles
• Could overcome pro armies.
• For the most part it was untrained, only ideological support was going for it, yet they
defeated HUGE armies.
• HUGE for two reasons
o Offered them equality and provided a stake
o The minute they saw Prussia invade France, Nationalism was invoked. Saw Prussian army as
Germans, not Frederick’s army. Fight as a nation against another nation.
• Allowed them to survive; initially do quite well.
• After victory at Valmy. French set a number of targets for the army.
How Well Did they Do?
• Revs. Called out and demanded something: the natural frontiers—the Rhineland running
along German and Belgian states. Would offer protection from a foreign invasion and stability
(Louis XIV also did this).
o Implies annexation of foreign states that didn’t belong to France—Germanic states.
• Also moved into Belgium—Louis was also always interested it—Spanish Netherlands, now
• November 6 1792—surprised Austrian army there (lack of preparations, they didn’t think
Prussia would lose) 40,000 French rev troops surprised the Austrian army and defeated them.
Belgium became an open target for the French and Within a month they overran Belgium.
• Great success considering poorly trained and maintained/supplied.
• Brissot (Girondist movement head) wrote a letter to General Dumoriez who took over
Belgium—“Is public opinion in Belgium ready to accept a further advance of French armies and
I hope after liberating the Belgian Catholics, I hope you will do so in the Dutch Republic”—
• Using this pretext of suppressed Catholic minorities—Paris urged the revolutionaries to keep
going and protect catholic minorities
• Early 1793—Attacked Savoy and Northern Italy and occupied both states in the name of
• Nov 15, 1792—issue decree offering every subjugated minority in Europe: fraternity and
• Revolutionaries weren’t concerned with a European intervention. Europe needed to do