What Caused The 1792 French Revolutionary Wars History Essay
Disclaimer: This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers. You can view samples of our professional work here.
Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UK Essays.
This history extended essay seeks to address the following question: To what extent were the French governmental policies responsible for igniting the 1792 French Revolutionary Wars (FRW)? The 1792 war would mark the first of three revolutionary wars which pitted France against continental Europe over the 18th century. This essay is primarily concerned with identifying the responsible party who provoked the first FRW.
This essay shall be organized accordingly. An investigation will first be undertaken to explore the poor leadership of the newly installed French government. Not only did it create domestic disarray with its reforms, the employment of a rash foreign policy served to exacerbate issues. Secondly, it focuses on the actions of King Louis XVI. His controversial planned escape to Austria created led to repercussions which facilitated the emergence of war. Just as the popular saying goes "it takes two hands to clap", similarly, the role of the almighty Habsbury Monarchy and expanding Prussia in inciting conflict will be examined in detail.
Due to space constraints, it must be noted that the essay attempts to focus solely on the First Coalition of the FRW in 1792. Also, the personal agendas of the individual elements within the government will be ignored. Instead, it will focus solely on the reforms of the political entity.
Primary documents such as translated parliamentary transcripts, official reports and first-hand accounts from participants involved will be consulted. Secondary documents such as literature that examines the nature of 18th century France and internet databases will also be utilized in this process.
As such, this essay concludes that there were mainly three parties involved in the whirlwind of conflict. However, the party at fault was largely the French government, whose incompetence coupled with misjudgment contributed to the decision of starting a revolutionary war.
It is often proclaimed that "The French Revolution created the modern world". However, in retrospect, it was the French Revolutionary Wars (FRW). On 17th April 1792, the French government was convinced by the weakness afflicting the continental superpowers. Thus, it sought to declare war on one of them- the state of Austria.  This was to mark the starting point of the FRW, which would see the entrance of Prussia and the forging of a united alliance against France. From this, the idea of a total war emerged, with the introduction of conscription and mass mobilization of all factions of society. 
The FRW has been a subject seldom touched by historians, who have constantly viewed it as merely as an extension from the French Revolution. Academic research into this topic is sorely lacking. Moreover, the discussion regarding revolutionary wars has waned with the onset of twentieth century world wars, setting greater benchmarks for military carnage, socio economic dislocation and political upheaval. 
This essay is significant in exploring the various parties involved in inciting the FRW. From a militaristic perspective, it is interesting to explore the aggressive nature of 18th century Europe, which observed 19 wars during that time span alone.  From a socio-political perspective, the evolution of the French Revolution evoked by the consciousness of the day provides a fascinating dimension. From a psychological perspective, it can shed light on the effect of revolutionary fervor on the community at large. Indeed, the duration of this essay saw me exploring first hand, the inter-disciplinary nature of history.
Three various groups will be examined in the process of this essay, with fault accorded accordingly to the guilty party. First and foremost, the French government, fresh from their bourgeoisie victory, implemented reforms which failed to cultivate national unity. This provided counter revolutionaries a framework to launch a movement on their own, portraying themselves as "foreign-backed". Consequently, Austria and Prussia emboldened by international circumstances and sentiments, demanded that a reaction against France was required. The consequences of the tripartite culminated in the 1792 FRW.
This essay hypothesizes that the French revolutionaries, in their radical state of mind, were therefore most protective of their new regime. Since revolution seemed only sustainable through the creation of war, it was the path they trotted. Therefore, the research question is as such: To what extent was the French domestic policy responsible for igniting the 1792 French Revolutionary Wars (FRW)?
The 1792 French Revolutionary Wars would pit revolutionary France against the epitomes of the old regime- Austria and Prussia. Against the experienced coalition of the imperialistic superpowers, a potent military force was required by the French. From the outset, this did not bode too promisingly for an army largely weakened by the lack of military officers, many who fled due to the disillusionment with the revolution.  Like so many revolutionaries, Dubois used the ubiquity of the new regime's enemies to justify radical action, demanding universal conscription. Revolutionary fervor facilitated a strong response to calls as 120,000 volunteers were enlisted.  Despite their enthusiasm, many of these volunteers were untrained and suffered from poor control.  Such was the case that Theobald Dillion, a general within the army, was murdered by his own troops after losing a skirmish to the Austrians.  The volunteers of 1792, influenced by the cries of liberty during the revolution, were less inclined to accept military discipline. Indeed "all the volunteers believe they are competent to judge military operations and at once cry treason if things are not done the way they want."  Thus, it was no surprise that after a span of 4 months, the revolutionary forces retreated from Austria Netherlands in utter chaos.
With that, it seemed like the momentum of battle would belong to the Austro-Prussia forces. It was just a matter of time before Paris would succumb. By August 1792, the allied coalition led by the Duke of Brunswick, were confident in securing victory in one quick swoop. They released the Brunswick manifesto in seeking to re-emphasize their intentions to re-establish the king's 'legitimate' authority.  Their aim to strike further terror in the hearts of Parisians proved to be counter-productive as revolutionaries stormed the King's residence in furious protest. From the on, popular anger would soon be translated to patriotic fervor and this culminated in the Battle of Valmy on 20th September 1792. In the end, superior French artillery turned the tide of battle as French Generals Dumoriez and Kellermann proved victorious over Brunswick's coalition. This battle not only served to sustain revolutionary France, it too, propelled a period of renewed military strength.  Ultimate victory was consolidated with the slaughtering of 12,000 Austrians in Jemappes, and 10 days later, domestic peace was ensured with the last of the foreign entities retreating.  From then on, an offensive elan was adopted, and the next 10 years witnessed the expansion of France into an empire under the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte.
The Role of the French Government
Failed Domestic Reforms
In the 2 years leading up to the monumental FRW, the proclamation of "Liberty, Fraternity and Equality" which had formed the basis of the 1789 French Revolution was gradually withering in reality. Social parity, the main principle of the revolutionaries, was ignored, prompting cries of disaffection from a group which constituted 90% of the population - peasants.  The Revolution, after all, had been staged by the middle class and the wealthier members of the Third Estate; most of the reforms, especially the economic reforms, benefitted only these two groups.  In fact, life had become harder for the peasants, many whom were country dwellers along the provincial borders, away from the attention of the National Assembly, France's new governing body.  One such example of hardship was the implementation of the bourgeoisie-backed laissez-faire policy. Against the backdrop of capitalistic middle class claims of economic liberty, the peasants remained deeply attached to the old system of regulation and price-fixing which had in some measure guaranteed them a standard of living.  Naturally, they now postured as vehement upholders of the decrees of the Assembly.  "We thought after the decree surpressing the feudal regime, that we were as free in our property as in our persons, two years experience has shown us that we are slaves...unless you come to our help, we are ruined." This left the mass of the rural population a potential breeding ground for counter revolutionaries. 
Besides suffering from social polarity, France was in a fiscal calamity too. Despite a temporal relief on the food crisis in 1790, the price of foodstuffs was rising again between 1791 and 1792. This was compounded with a growing inflation rate as the national currency, the assignat fell by 20% at the foreign exchanges.  With that, workers who were paid in paper found that their purchasing power was falling. There were equally unhappy consequences for certain sections of the nobles too, whose accumulated wealth was diminished. 
Politically, the instituting of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy on 3rd January 1791 created much tension in the once-Catholic nation. By asserting that all beneficed clergy were to swear "to be faithful to the nation, king and law and to uphold the constitution declared by the Assembly", it effectively fused Catholicism with the State.  The revolutionaries were forced to choose, to declare themselves publicly for or against the order, thus, marking the end of national unity and the possibility of civil war.  The resistance of a large part of the clergy was inclining a reluctant but imperious Assembly towards punitive measures that would drive the vacillating king to implore his fellow monarchs to come to his rescue.  One such example took place at Nimes in June 1990, when pro-revolutionary Protestants clashed with the Artois-backed Catholic National Guardsmen. Though both sides were driven by traditional sectarian antagonism, however, it was "destabilized and sharpened by the Revolution's reforms". 
Intentions for War
Indeed, the reforms "created disenchantment with the Revolution's achievements" socially, politically and economy.  Their lack of consideration of the climate of the nation before implementing their potentially discriminatory policies, invariably, created a nation suffering from domestic turmoil and thus, susceptible to counter revolution. This fear was made all the more real, through substantiation from the past. To a certain extent, it could even be observed on a superficial level that the causes of the French Revolution mirrored the present predicament. Disputes between social classes, debts and bankruptcy were all causes of possible revolution, and its symptoms were starting to form as resurrections occurred at the Gard, the Vendee and rural Brittany. 
In order to preserve the revolution, "a state of war" had to be induced "to settle internal disorder".  Financially, Historian Albert Soboul concluded that the commercial bourgeoisie sought war to re-establish the credit of the assignat, enforcing its paper money on others to forge much needed international credibility.  Socially, war was seen as a way of uniting the people once more and healing the fractions within society. Under the pretense of a war promoting liberty, Jacques Brissot, a prominent member of the warmonger Girondins, expressed that "a nation which has conquered its liberty after 10 years of slavery, has need for war."  Politically, war was seen as a possible distraction from the domestic front. This argument is reflected in a classical precedent. "Rome, when threatened by some domestic storm, often launched a war faraway from Italy, as a result of this salutary diversion, achieved peace at home and victories abroad."  Indeed, war would seek to heal internal divisions by turning the pre-occupations of French citizens outwards, and their antagonisms against the enemy rather than each other.  It was also so known as the "the classical remedy for internal problems." 
Led by a more radical second generation of revolutionaries, who viewed war as an "efficient and relatively painless method of settling internal disputes".  This accelerated the coming of the war.
Analysis: The war provided a springboard to revive the dying revolutionary movement that was caused by the failure of its reforms.
Provocative Foreign Policies
The alluring revolutionary spirit soon turned contagious. Just as the revolution attracted sympathizers to France, word of it was propagated abroad too. Self determination for states was in line with the revolution's aim of liberty for all- the freedom to decide its ruler and government. With that, Alsace was to be the first victim of this revolutionary doctrine .  The Treaty of Westphalia was re-examined- though there was cession of Alsace to France but its erstwhile rulers maintained lucrative judicial and ecclesiastical rights.  Therefore, on claims of historical heritage and social compactness, it was pronounced that "the Alsatian state was united to the French people".  This set a trend of self-determination which inevitably led to the termination of existing treaties, threatening the European states system and infuriating many. Soon, the French had turned their attention to Avignon. The papal state was repudiating the sovereignty of the Pope and seeking annexation to France. On 11 June 1790, insurrections convinced the French that "Avignon no longer belongs to the Pope because tis people no longer wished him as ruler". This did not go down too well with the Austrians, who observed that this move of annexation would invariably mean declaring war on all governments.
Analysis: Look at bottom of pg 75. Leopold now exerted that "by treaty the lands of the German princes in Alsace were exempted from the soverigenty of the French Crown, therefore France was not allowed to confiscate them regardless of the compensation she might offer". However, Vienna would have never sought war solely to maintain international morality. Rather, this was seen as a pretext to war, giving the Austrians a perfect excuse to head for war.
The Role of the King and Emigrés
The Flight to Varennes
Traditionally, the king was "one individual who had always represented the unity of the nation."  Thus, it was no surprise that the continual reluctance of Louis XVI to play the role of constitutional monarch allocated to him by the new order, accentuated the chaotic political climate of 1791.  Within the system which the National Assembly adopted, he retained power as King. Nonetheless, he was disgruntled with the limited form of power he withheld, feeling like a "prisoner of the revolution" and unwilling to accept the new sacrilegious religious order.  Realizing that the revolution was no mere passing phase and increasingly frustrated by the constraints placed on him, he embarked on the Flight to Varennes.  On 20th June 1791, the French royal family slipped out of the Tuileries, the heavily guarded French palace. Aided by a foreign party, they had sought to dash to Montmedy, close to the Luxemburg frontier. However, the increase in movement along the route aroused suspicions at surrounding towns. It was not too long before the National Guard intercepted the convoy and uncovered his plot. 
The Flight to Varennes had major repercussions and is often regarded to be a "turning point" by many historians.  Its immediate significance was the convincing of the French population that the King was in cahoots with outsiders to bring down the revolution, highlighting the reality of a foreign invasion.  For the town of Mezieres, only a few miles from the frontier, the flight could only have been assured through the authority of the house of Austria, which now reveals its clear intention of waging war in France."  Indeed, it was the general consensus that "at present, we (they) should consider ourselves (themselves) to be in a time of war and of imminent peril."  Moreover, the lack of a king gave rise to French nationalism. Members of the local Jacobin club and National Guard took a similar oath. "I swear to defend to my last drop of blood the nation, the law, and the National Assembly. I swear to live free or die!"  This affirmed their resolution of war and induced the demise of the King in the eyes of the French. In all oaths undertaken, they replaced "king" with "National Assembly", portraying a shift in the balance of the power and signaling the institution which the people placed their faith under.
Intentions for war
Louis XVI, however, was not done and dusted. Of all people, he was all the most familiar with the vicious cycle that France was trapped within, internal decay would lead to external failure which in turn fed domestic opposition.  Observing the internal turmoil, he imagined that an enfeebled France would be torn apart by the war and incapable of resisting the professional armies of Austria and Prussia.  This would in turn, allow him to usurp the throne once more. Therefore, the counter revolutionary movement which was taking place in Europe at the very moment, was where Louis XVI felt most confident in pinning his hopes of success on.  Louis XVI was far from the simple, irresponsible and weak man often portrayed by the historians. Rather he was endowed with intelligence and far-sightedness, which he utilized in that of re-establishing his absolute authority, even if he did so at the heavy cost of betraying his country. 
The Threat of the Emigrés
Although a small group of liberal nobles had early thrown in their lot with the revolution, the great majority were anything but pleased with the course of events. Unhappy with the National Assembly's take on their feudal rights and privileges, and angered by their suppression of the very status of "noble", reconciliation of the aristocracy and middle-class society was utterly impossible.  "Plots were being hatched" among "men with the evil intention of starting a counter revolution". This led to the emergence of émigrés. Royalist in nature, the affronted exiles consistently advocated for the re-instatement of the Bourbon monarchy. Domestically, they aimed to extricate the King from France by establishing radical insurrections. Internationally, they sought the attention of the global audience. 
Initially, their efforts were futile. Although familial links associated them with Austria - Marie Antoinette was the sister of the Emperor- yet the monarchy never displayed much enthusiasm for the cause. In fact, they were forced to leave the domains of Netherlands.  However, by mid 1791, the mood changed. The French were startled to learn off foreign aid for the émigrés. They constructed a headquarters in Koblenz, Germany and from there, they carried out their mission. Lead by the King's brother, the Court d'Artois, they received subsidies from foreign sources. In all the 6.5million livres were used to buy arms and equipment, together with hiring mercenaries for the cause.  The "support allegedly give by Austria to the counter-revolutionary émigrés",  led to a formation of an army, reaching heights of 20,000 at its peak. 
Its formation along the frontiers of France served to create greater suspicion, and its admission into discussions of the Declaration of Pillnitz caused greater controversy over its foreign links.  Moreover, the Austrian emperor, Leopold II would now be obliged to come to the aid of the German princes if they were attacked.  Indeed, the émigrés were resourceful and mobile in creating a foreign-backed system, one that stoked emotions of paranoia among the revolutionaries.
The more the revolution progressed, the more real became the sympathetic concerns with which the crowned heads of Europe related towards supporting counter revolution. The flight transformed the prospects of counter revolution, even though it failed. 
The Role of External Elements
18th century Europe depicted an agrarian and feudal society, with monarchs ruling absolutely within their domains.  Throughout the century, Europe was in a state of perpetual conflict, albeit due to differing intentions.
External provocation- France and Prussia
Monarchial in nature, the Prussian aristocracy and king enjoyed a close relationship. In the European context, the Prussian Empire was one which emerged from the brink of ruin, it was moulded into a militarized state supported by a militarized army.  . Historian T.C.W Blanning succinctly describes the state of affairs it underwent, "working from a material base markedly inferior to that of adjacent Poland, the Hohenzollerns turned their 'sand-box' into a power capable of resisting the combined weight of mainland Europe."  Due to their history of conquest, Prussia was always far more eager than Austria for counter revolutionary intervention.  With the opening of Prussia's national archives, Frederick William II's inclination to expand territorially was confirmed. Prussia for all their domination in the 18th century, had no territorial gains to show for it. As Geoff Blainey once said, "the durability of peace depends on the decisiveness of the preceding war".  Despite the large expenses incurred due to foreign expeditions, the gains from the 1787 invasion of Netherlands and the 1790 Silesian Mobilization all went to British hands.  Therefore, the aims of territorial expansion were very real, emphasizing the need for acquisition and annexation of French territories. This had been part of Prussian schemes since 1790. 
In contrast, the French people had always held the Prussians in high regard. Their militaristic success were enviable and people in Paris were "crazy about the King in Prussia." Even the most bellicose of the revolutionaries, the Brissotins, were inclined to forging an alliance with Prussia, if not a neutrality pact, due to admiration of their goals.
External provocation France and Austria
The 1956 alliance between France and Austria has been described as "a marriage of convenience"  . The century old alliance had always portrayed the guiding principles of French foreign policy contradicting that of the Habsburg Monarchy. The alliance was only maintained out of fear, that any attempt to drive the other away would result in the forging of a new alliance with Britain.  In keeping the balance of power in check, animosity soon resulted. Termed as Austrophobia, contemporaries had often fastened on the Austrian alliance as a scapegoat for the multitude of problems that they faced. This is represented in the following pamphlet published in 1789:
"Publicly despised by their allies and insulted with the impunity by her enemies, France is today absolutely nothing in the political system of Europe. Chain to the Austrian chariot, what role has France played other than ceaselessly providing the Emperor with money?"  "Detested the court of Austria because they regarded it as the leech of the state." 
From Austria's point of view, the danger of unrest spreading from France to the rest of Europe, especially in Italy and Belgium, influenced their decision to form an anti-revolutionary bloc.  However, interestingly, the hostile attitude displayed by France was not reciprocated. In 1789, they were in no state to engage France in conflict. Internal strife was rampant among its many states- Hungary and Belgium had been estranged by failed reforms while the Germans within Austria demanded autonomy. Externally, they were pre-occupied with a long drawn campaign against the Ottoman Empire, where they experience substantial losses and failures. Austrian statesmen were anxious to hold on to an old ally and avoid war. Far from extirpating the revolution, Leopold sympathized with and himself sought to realize many of its aims. In fact, on the eve of war, he was still seeking to liberalise the constitutional arrangements of his own dominions and insisted that there should be no counter-revoution inside France.
Analysis: It is maintained that the revolution had reduced France to a state of complete debility.. This can be attributed to two main issues. By mid 1791, the superpowers were undergoing a state of détente, with the various disputes settled. Moreover, internal issues were resolved and As late as the spring of 1791,
The French Revolutionary Wars- internal chaos propelling external conflict?
This analysis will be undertaking a chronological structure in studying the main cause of the FRW. It serves to argue the significance of domestic policy as the underlying cause behind conflict coupled with its rash foreign policy that proved to be the igniting factor.
Indeed, since the inception of the French revolution, reforms and policies had inadvertently ostracized a faction of the community. The laissez-faire economic system alienated the popular class, while the Civil Constitution of the Clergy conjured resentment among the Catholics. A divided society meant an "excessive malleability of the national mind which impelled people to incessant revolutions".  This effectively served to create a very paranoid national assembly who saw every move as a threat to the revolution. Their fear was not unfounded especially as the nature of revolution was such that stability was obtained very slowly, and during that process, proved susceptible to other revolts.  The revolutionary mindset had an inadvertent effect on the perceptions of the national assembly, intense paranoia molded their distrust.
As projected by an observer within the parliament at that time, "the onslaught on the émigré nobility and the refractory clergy was conceived in such violent terms, as to put an end to the fiction of national unity."  Indeed, this statement presents their fear of the threat at hand. The general sentiment was that "the division of French society was too deep for conciliation", reflecting their shattered confidence at the state of society and insecurity of their reign.
This was further exacerbated by a counter-revolutionary conspiracy and royalist treason, there was an ever impending fear over their ability to sustain revolution. In actual fact, the émigrés were never a real threat to revolution- unorganized, they were merely united because of their similar opposition towards the revolution. The armies were manned with large numbers of noble officers but very few common soldiers, posing little danger to the nation.  However, the paranoid Assembly significantly misconceived their strength. The sympathetic releasing of aid to the émigrés they was viewed as a sign of aggression, forging an increasing suspicious sentiment among the French towards surrounding foreign monarchies. Since they were the symbol of counter revolution, any party associated with them was assumed to be in cahoots. In other words, it was the émigrés constant rapprochement of foreign intervention which first drew the attention of France to the possible threat from Austria and Prussia. The presence of the émigrés was to be the issue of contention and animosity between groups, souring relations and providing a stepping stone towards war.
Besides the émigrés, King Louis XVI highlighted the role of possible foreign intervention his attempted Flight to Varennes. Again, this pointed to the involvement of foreign elements, sparking off fears among the French once more and forging greater distrust in the context of international relations. That could be said to be his only significant contribution to the outbreak of war. Directly, even though he stood to gain much from the outbreak of war, there was passive action on his part. This was partly because of his publicized links with parties abroad which facilitated his gradual loss of power within the Assembly, diminishing his say on foreign matters. Indeed, it would be the harmless émigrés and the isolated king who would mislead the national assembly into deducing the origins of counter revolution to be of a foreign nature.
Henceforth, the struggle laid between those who, with whatever reservations wished for the restoration of the royal authority at the price of the defeat to France, and those whose attachments to the revolution led them to make whatever concessions might be the price of victory. 
Up to 1791, the possibility of a war between the French against an Austro-Prussian alliance was almost non-existent. In fact, the most likely armed conflict in Europe seemed to be that threatening between Great Britain, Prussia and Russia. Although a monarchial France was needed to check the growing power of England, Austria was not inclined to allow Louis XVI to reclaim his lost power.  Indeed, it was a general consensus that to intervene in France's self destruction would be impolitic. They had no reason to seek conflict with a nation who had not provoked them. Moreover, Austrian leader Leopold sincerely showered admiration on the French revolution and without Austrian help, Prussia could not invade. During the first two years of the Revolution, Leopold II had his hands more than full with domestic unrest and Balkan wars.  For the time being, France receded as a possibly prey and the Prussians redirected their attention to the east. 
However, the insistent French in establishing its revolution firmly, a bid to spread its mantra sought to push for self determination in surrounding states such as Avignon and Alscae. Since the French provoked them, and the time period was such that, they were free from their wars and seeking to expand. Now free from any conflicts, they forged an alliance together -Austro-Prussian alliance on 20th April 1791. The creation of the declaration of Pilintz and the pada circular France launched a "desperate attempt to pre-empt what was seen as inevitable foreign intrusion."  This was in relation to the "ever-growing concentration of troops on the Frontiers of France". Note that, there was little kinship involved between Leopold and sister Marie Antoinette, unwilling to intervene based on familial relationships.
Paranoia characterized through Marat.
Monarch trying to abandon its own people was psychologically catastrophic, it broke the bond bween Louis and subject. King from superfluous to dangerous. Power shifts from king to assembly
David bell, lynn hunt
"going with the revolution at times, at other, conspiring against it." - Jack Censer
French revolution was an extraordinary moment in which the people could change politics, society and even human nature. Constitutes the crossroad of human civilization. Feudal turn its back on aristocratic habits, shake the very foundation of Europe. Jack Censer - "in terms of a historical event, I can't think of any event more significant than the French revolution." Got rid of catholic church, nobility. The French revolution would bring bread to poor, democracy in france, a whole new order. Progress would come at a price.
Wedding between Austria and France- reversal of alliances. Symbolism, political gesture. Years of mismanagement by the monarchy had left the French cold and hungry. French had just lost the seven year's war- bankrupted France of money and prestige. This happened while population was growing, with famine and droughts stricken. Kingdom in crisis, with the young and inexperienced King proving incapable. Collision course with monarchy, dangerous new age of ideas (enlightenment) European society was split into three classes- clergy, aristocrats and peasants. Age of enlightemnt brought about a movement which suggested a distrust of authority and emphasis on self/individual. Formerly, those from bottom had no choice but to listen to those on top. Undermine the idea that monarchy and aristocracy as natural. Economically, the American Independence War proved a heavy toil on economic situation. Impressions sours, deregulation lead to increase in price of flour, affecting the staple food- bread. "Do you know why there are so many needy people? It is because of your luxurious existence devours that of a thousand men." Louis dabbles in financial reforms- destroying the state of peasents.
Encircling a pariah: AD 1792
In the first year or two of the French Revolution the other European powers observe from a distance what is clearly, however dramatic, an internal upheaval. Moreover the three leading continental powers, Prussia, Austria and Russia, are concentrating their energies elsewhere, to ensure their due share in the coming partitions ofPoland.
But during 1791 the situation changes. The danger to the French king and queen is painfully evident after their interception atVarennes, and the queen, Marie Antoinette, is the sister of the Austrian emperor Leopold II. Moreover action against France is now being urged by a new group outside French borders - theémigrés.
Émigré is merely the French for emigrant, but in the context of France at this time it has an added implication. Applying specifically to aristocrats and to other victims of the revolution (such as theNon-juring priests), it has a different significance in its French form.
Eventually more than half the officers of the pre-revolutionary French army leave the country, and many of them join the émigrégroups living just beyond the country's borders and waiting to march home under arms. Their chances of doing so increase after Austria and Prussia issue the declaration of Pillnitz, in August 1791, declaring a willingness to use force if necessary to protect Louis XVI.
The same two rulers issue another circular on 12 April 1792 soliciting allies for future action against France. The republican Convention in Paris responds by declaring war on Austria - the closest hostile power, as ruler of the Austrian Netherlands (modern Belgium), and vulnerable in that region because of a strong local resistance to Austrian rule.
In the event the first major development of the war is an invasion of northeast France by a joint Austrian and Prussian army in August 1792. Their declared intention of marching on Paris heightens revolutionary fervour in the capital and to a large extent prompts theSeptember massacres.
Republican victories: AD 1792-1793
The allies take Verdun on September 2 and advance unopposed until confronted by a republican army at Valmy on September 20. The engagement consists of a massive exchange of cannon fire (40,000 rounds are fired, with the total casualties on both sides fewer than 500), but it is a clear victory for the French. It is followed by the withdrawal of the invading army to the other side of the Meuse.
This unexpected success is soon followed by others. A victory at Jemappes on November 6 enables the French to overrun much of the Austrian Netherlandsbefore turning east to capture Aachen.
Meanwhile another republican army is making great strides east of the Rhine. In the autumn of 1792 the towns of Worms, Mainz and, for a while, even Frankfurt are captured.
These successes somewhat overexcite the radical politicians in Paris. In November France promises assistance to any people rising against their oppressive rulers. This is followed in December by the announcement that the French revolutionary reforms will be introduced in all territories occupied by French armies. And there begins now to be talk of France insisting upon her 'natural frontiers' - the Pyrenees, the Alps and the Rhine.
These are broad and threatening claims, involving much territory west of the Rhine belonging to other nations. But the French republic now makes rapid strides towards putting their demands into effect. By the end of March 1793 the territories occupied by French troops include Belgium (part of the Austrian empire), the Rhineland (consisting of various German principalities west of the Rhine), and Savoy and Nice (territories to the southeast of France belonging to the king of Sardinia).
These astonishingly rapid successes owe much to the desire for reform by many people in the annexed regions, and to the nature of the new French armies.
Volunteer armies and mass conscription: AD 1792-3
The French military euphoria of 1792-3 derives to a large extent from the unprecedented nature of the nation's armies. The volunteers signing up for the regional National Guards are both more numerous and more passionate than the professionals who make up all other 18th century regiments.
But the French armies can draw on conventional forces as well. The victory atValmy is won with the expertise and weapons of the regular soldiers of theancien régime.
From 1793 there is another element bringing advantage to the republican armies. France becomes in August of that year the first country to attempt national conscription. The men directly called to arms are limited to those without immediate dependents (bachelors and childless widowers between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five). But everyone is to be involved. Carnot, the distinguished general organizing the conscription, drafts the necessary decree as a clarion call for an entirely new concept - a Nation at war.
His inspirational tone is a political necessity. In the previous few months virtually the whole of Europe has followed Austria's lead in waging war against republican France.
Cite This Essay
To export a reference to this article please select a referencing stye below: