Lo que sigue es largo para un blog, pero vale el esfuerzo de leerlo por estar bien explicadas las raíces de las guerras que devastaron Europa durante más de 20 años.
Two centuries now separate us from the series of conflicts known as the French Revolutionary Wars. These wars, fought by armies of unprecedented size, in the course of a single decade (1792-1802) thrust upon an unwilling continent political, social, and military changes of such radical proportions that they forever changed the Western world.
For the first time in European history war unleashed ideological forces whose power and appeal called into question the principle that underpinned the European political system: the principle of monarchy. The French Revolutionaries, in challenging the political legitimacy of the ancien regime, laid the foundations for the widespread acceptance of democratic, representative, and constitutional rule. Wherever their armies went they brought with them the abstract notions of 'Nation' and 'People'. Here began a new phase in the history of warfare whose impact is still seen today in the existence of mass citizen-armies.
The precedent was set, through universal conscription and the systematic marshaling of national resources, for 'total' war. The greatest naval and military figures of modern times - Nelson and Napoleon - came to the fore during this period. They were to reach their respective heights only a short time later in the Napoleonic Wars (1803-15). Indeed, the French Revolutionary Wars were fought in an age when leaders and men still regarded war as 'glorious' and the cult of the hero was at its pitch. The Revolutionary Wars were the first provingground for the band of charismatic and colorful men who were to serve as marshals under the French Empire. Most of Napoleon's great marshals and Nelson's able lieutenants gained their experience at this time. Augereau, Jourdan, Massena, Kellermann and many others proved themselves on the fields of Belgium and Germany, the plains of northern Italy and on the sands of Egypt and Syria. The Revolutionary Wars were fought on a vast geographical scale. They raged across much of western and central Europe, the Middle East, southern Africa and the West Indies. At sea, rival navies struggled for supremacy in all the waters around Europe, the Atlantic, the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean and beyond. When we consider their extent it should perhaps not surprise us that contemporaries and 19th-century historians referred to these conflicts, in conjunction with the Napoleonic Wars, as 'the Great War'. The French Revolutionary Wars were more than just the last conflict of a century already riven by intense strife; they marked an abrupt and shattering end to the era of 'limited' wars which had begun in the age of Enlightenment. Up until this time, rival dynasties ruling absolutely over their feudal societies matched the power of their small, meticulously trained, highly expensive professional forces in the quest for territorial spoil or economic advantage without radically upsetting the existing balance of power between great empires. The wars of the French Revolution swept all that into the dustbin of history. Here was a new and epic struggle, which the revolutionaries characterized as a life or death contest between the forces of liberty, equality, and fraternity, on the one hand, and the corrupt despotism of the ancien régimes on the other. Indeed, for France the early years were nothing less than a fight for political survival, with cries of 'la Patrie en danger!' coming from all quarters. Yet even before security from invasion was assured the war aims of the Revolutionaries took a radical turn: the 'liberation' of their oppressed brethren in the Low Countries and the Rhineland became the new objective. And, finally, emboldened by victories, the noble aims of the Revolution had been forgotten and the whole movement appeared to have lost its early idealism. What had begun as an ideological struggle, within a few, turbulent years developed into a simple war of territorial expansion in the great traditions of the revolutionaries' monarchist political forebears. It was a supreme irony indeed, and by 1795 - for the first time since the Carolingian kings of the 9th century -France stood triumphant on her 'natural' frontiers: the Rhine, the Alps, and the Pyrenees. She achieved what both Louis XIV and Louis XV had failed to do earlier in the century despite the kings' enormous expenditure in men and money.
The Revolutionary Wars mark the beginning of modern war not because of the introduction of new technology, but because they established the idea of the great citizenarmy now so familiar to us today. Universal conscription implemented with organizational genius by Lazare Carnot enabled France to field vast new armies. These, composed of men fired with patriotic enthusiasm, were used not only to hold back the tide of counter-revolution, but to cross the French frontiers taking with them the seeds of republicanism. Marching to the strains of the Marseillaise and with cries of 'Vive la Republic!', these 'armed missionaries', as Robespierre termed them, introduced forms of political and social changes which opponents of the Revolution could not contain. The wars revolutionized warfare itself, with the use of light troops, the deployment of armies by corps and divisions, the use of concentration both tactically and strategically to bring maximum force to bear on a weaker opponent, and, above all, the principle of 'living off the land' rather than depending exclusively on depots and enormous supply trains. Gone forever were the days when civilians lived a separate existence from the conflicts waged by their respective sovereigns. For occupied peoples, the French Revolutionary Wars brought conflict directly to the home front through the permanent presence of foreign armies, conscription, wholesale requisitioning and heavy, sometimes crippling, taxation. In France, particularly, war made hitherto unheard of demands on its citizens, thus establishing the close link between soldier and civilian so familiar to the generations which fought the World Wars more than a century later. The wars placed into the hands of the Revolutionary government in France power which the European monarchs could not have imagined - power which translated itself into armies whose combination of sheer size and patriotic fervor drove them across Europe, defying all who stood in their paths. Indeed, so great was the military power unleashed by the Revolution that nothing less than the whole of Europe, seven coalitions and a generation of fighting were required finally to bring France to heel. Politically, the Revolutionary Wars opened a Pandora's box which even the final allied victory in 1815 could not completely close. As the revolutionary armies marched triumphant across the Low Countries, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland they laid the groundwork of nationalism and constitutional rule so necessary for a strong sense of nationhood or, in some cases, future unification. The wars brought an effective end to the Holy Roman Empire. Prussia's status and influence within Germany were therefore increased. This had far-reaching implications. Prussia ultimately became a far more aggressive state than Austria ever was and would become a menace to European security after German unification in 1871. By eliminating dozens of antiquated princedoms and electorates, France inadvertently opened the way for eventual German unification under Prussian leadership.
The French Revolutionary Wars included some of history's most dramatic battles on land as well as at sea - and no previous conflict boasted so many. Seldom have wars begun with battles so decisive not only for the immediate conflict itself, but for history in general. Valmy did just that. A few hours' cannonade brought a halt to the carefully dressed ranks of Prussian infantry, that great legacy of Frederick the Great. This exchange itself illustrates the emergence of the new citizen-soldier and the decline of the 'walking muskets' of absolutism. As Marshal Foch declared a century later, 'The wars of kings were at an end. The wars of peoples were beginning.' Lodi, though not in itself more than a minor engagement, nevertheless symbolized the spirit of the age, with the young, energetic Bonaparte, flag in hand, leading his men across a heavily defended bridge, driving before him a vastly superior force. Battles at sea were no less significant.
At Cape St Vincent, off the Spanish coast, Horatio Nelson's success bore out his policy of ignoring orthodox naval tactics. The following year, with his crushing victory at the Nile, Nelson would end forever Bonaparte's dream of establishing an Eastern empire and threatening British rule in India. And there was Marengo - where after driving his weary men over the Alps in the great traditions of Hannibal, Bonaparte snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, leaving Austria defenseless in Italy and almost incapable of further resistance. Although France ultimately attained supremacy on land, Britain had swept the oceans of the French merchant marine, snapped up most of France's colonies, and had consistently defeated her navy in great fleet actions which so reduced French power at sea as to render the outcome at Trafalgar almost a foregone conclusion. Naval power complemented and sustained Britain's commercial and financial strength. Britain was able to establish and maintain two great coalitions, only to see them crushed by her seemingly invincible counterpart on land. After a decade of conflict France had vanquished all the Continent's great powers - Austria, Prussia, and Russia - leaving an uneasy and temporary stalemate with Britain mistress of the seas and France master on land. In 1802, Napoleon inherited a French Republic greatly enlarged and supremely self-confident. He was by then not simply a leader of men but a leader of the nation. His unrivalled success in the Revolutionary Wars gave him the authority he needed to seize political power in France, and also a mandate to prosecute war on an even greater scale than before, so building - and ultimately losing - the greatest empire in Europe since Rome.
On the eve of the French Revolution the political construction of Europe was remarkably simple. The Continent was dominated by five great powers: Britain, France, Austria, Russia, and Prussia. Their weaker neighbors - Sweden, Spain, Poland, Holland, and Turkey - had all once enjoyed periods of economic, military, or naval greatness, but by the end of the 18th century had slipped into the ranks of the lesser powers. Most of western Germany remained fragmented into hundreds of minor principalities, ecclesiastical cities, and minor states contained within the Holy Roman Empire. Italy, similarly, contained a number of small kingdoms, some independent and others controlled by Austria. Europe was overwhelmingly agrarian and feudal, particularly in the east, with monarchs ruling absolutely within their domains. Britain was a somewhat different case: though the vast majority of her people were disenfranchised, the monarchy ruled under constitutional constraints.
The nation's prosperity was based not on agriculture but on trade. The process of industrialization, though still in its infancy, was well under way. A generation before the French Revolution, Prussia, under the ruling house of Hohenzollern, had established herself as Europe's newest great power, having won a series of costly and exhausting wars in which she had taken on and defeated practically every major state on the Continent. Frederick the Great had inherited from his father, Frederick William (1713-40), a highly militarized, extremely efficient state where the landed aristocracy and king enjoyed a close relationship.
The aristocracy were freeholders of their land and, in effect, over their peasants as well. In return, the crown taxed the nation heavily in order to maintain a standing army proportionally much larger than that of any other European state. Frederick used that army aggressively: he invaded Austrian Silesia in 1740, and thus began the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48). This was followed by the Seven Years' War (1756-63) (see Osprey Essential Histories,The Seven Years' War, by Daniel Marston) in which Prussia used her formidable army for the glory of the nation and to consolidate her territorial gains, generally at the expense of Austria. During the Seven Years' War Frederick fought the greatest coalition ever seen in Europe - Austria, France, Russia, Sweden, and most of the German states of the Holy Roman Empire - and survived intact. It was the hard-fought bloody encounters of this war that confirmed for Prussia her place among the Great Powers.
The Russian Empire covered a vast stretch of territory containing at the turn of the century about 48 million subjects, over half of whom were serfs tied to the land. The autocratic Romanov dynasty had ruled since the early 17th century. Russia's military reputation had been won under Peter the Great, who had defeated the Swedes in the Great Northern War (1700-21). Although Russia had briefly fought Prussia in the later years of the Seven Years' War, her territorial gains were made at Polish and Turkish expense during the reign of Catherine the Great (1762-96), particularly during the First Partition of Poland in 1772 and in the annexation of the Crimea, an Ottoman possession, in 1783. Russia fought simultaneous conflicts with Sweden (1788-90) and, in alliance with Austria, Turkey (1787-92). She was ultimately successful in both of these conflicts. When the French Revolutionary Wars began, Catherine the Great remained neutral and she died four years later in 1796 without having challenged the Revolution. That task was left to her son and successor, Paul I, who would finally face France during the War of the Second Coalition (1798-1802). Paul was known for his mental instability and obsession with military matters and was assassinated in 1801. George III, who had presided over the somewhat different and more constitutional monarchy of Britain since 1760, proved to be one of the Revolution's most implacable opponents. Political power rested with Parliament and the Prime Minister.
William Pitt the Younger had attained office in 1783 with a loyal following in the House of Commons and the support of the crown. Though small by continental standards - with a population of fewer than 10 million - Britain was the world's most prosperous nation. Her wealth was based on thriving trade with Europe and her exclusive access to a vast empire which, in addition to Canada and, above all, India, included newly acquired territories in Australia and many of the bountiful 'sugar islands' of the West Indies. As international trade was the basis of the rapidly increasing national wealth, the protection of trade was paramount. Britain's unrivalled merchant fleet, which exceeded 10,000 vessels, could confidently rely on the power of the Royal Navy for its protection. Although agriculture was still important - accounting for one-third of the national product - Britain was the birthplace of the recent phenomenon of industrialization, and its growing manufacturing capacity played a major role in stimulating a booming economy.
Britain and France were long-standing enemies, having fought one another regularly over the past century and on opposite sides in nearly every conflict in which the two countries were engaged since the Middle Ages. Indeed, the French Revolutionary Wars were just the latest conflict in a long succession dating back to Louis XIV which historians would later refer to as the second Hundred Years' War. The roots of Anglo-French hostility were political and economic. Britain was chiefly concerned with preventing the French from dominating the Continent. The cornerstone of this policy was the protection of the Low Countries and the Channel ports, in support of which aim Britain had participated in the Wars of the Spanish and Austrian Successions, challenging France in Europe as well as overseas. The two powers were traditional colonial and commercial rivals. Britain had fought over North America and India, and at the end of the Seven Years' War Britain was in possession of the whole of Canada and the American colonies, together with large portions of the subcontinent.
France had exacted a degree of revenge by providing vital aid to the American colonies during the War of Independence (1775-83), a war that deprived Britain of an important piece of her empire and left her in serious debt. At the start of the French Revolution Austria was ruled by Joseph II, brother to Marie Antoinette. As head of the Habsburg monarchy he also held the title of Holy Roman Emperor, which enabled him to exercise considerable political influence over a large number of small German states, many bordering France, whose existence stretched back to the days of Charlemagne. Francis II (1768-1835) succeeded to the throne in 1792. He held personal control of affairs through a council of ministers, although regional diets, or parliaments, administered Hungary, Holland, and lands in Italy. His domains were vast and stretched from northern Italy, across Austria proper, Hungary, parts of Poland and portions of the Balkans, to the Netherlands (roughly modern Belgium). The number of nationalities - the empire included Germans, Hungarians, Czechs, Italians, Poles, Croats, and others, totaling about 27 million subjects in 1800, with 250,000 in Vienna - and geographical circumstances (the fact that, for example, Belgium was not contiguous to Austria) rendered the empire less cohesive than the states of western Europe. Austria had been repeatedly defeated: by France during the War of the Polish Succession (1733-35); by the Turks during a Balkan war from 1737 to 1739, and, as already noted, by Prussia in a series of major conflicts between 1740 and 1763, during the reign of Maria Theresa. Not only did the Empress suffer loss of territory, she jealously witnessed the slowly rising influence of Prussia in German affairs. Her successor had his own share of problems. In 1787, Joseph II had been obliged to go to war against Turkey after the Turks declared war on Austria's ally, Russia. As the Russians soon became enmeshed in a simultaneous war with the Swedes in the north, this left Joseph alone to take on the Turks in the south, where they briefly invaded southern Hungary. To complicate matters, the Austrian possessions in the Low Countries rose in revolt in 1789. Yet in the meantime the Turks were defeated, Belgrade taken and the war ended in the same year. The Habsburg monarchy thus continued to enjoy its status as a great power when war again loomed after the revolution in France. France possessed an illustrious military past, though the wars of the 18th century had done much to erode this reputation. Since the 16th century her rivalry with Habsburg Spain and Austria had formed the pillars of her foreign policy, and the conflicts that resulted enabled France to expand her territory and commerce to such a degree that under Louis XIV she was Europe's foremost military power.
Louis continued to challenge Habsburg power, particularly in the Low Countries and regularly fought Britain both in Europe and overseas. Yet the War of the Spanish Succession did not yield the Low Countries, as France had hoped, and in later years, in spite of several successful campaigns during the War of the Austrian Succession, France was obliged to return to Austria the conquests in the Netherlands she had made during that conflict. During the 'diplomatic revolution' of 1756 she made amends with her long-time Habsburg foe and allied herself with Austria to take on Prussia, as well as her great colonial and commercial rival, Britain. However, France suffered catastrophically as a result of the Seven Years' War, losing Canada to Britain, and also many of her possessions in the West Indies and most of those in India. Thus France was in decline, and although she was instrumental in ensuring the success of the rebel cause during the War of American Independence, the Treaty of Paris offered independence to the Americans and territorial gain to Spain but virtually nothing to France. The halcyon days of Louis XIV were now long in the past. France's wars had not only cost her dear in colonies and men, but they were also crippling financially. The strain on the French economy and the threat of bankruptcy obliged ministers to institute radical reforms, beginning in 1787, which required the imposition of new taxes. In order to pass these reforms, Louis XVI required the convocation of the Estates General, a body divided into three parts consisting of the clergy, nobility, and commoners. It was here that all the trouble began. One of Louis's ministers warned him of the potentially disastrous consequences: 'As a Frenchman, I want the Estates General, [but] as a minister 1 feel bound to tell you that they could destroy your authority.' The political and financial crisis grew throughout 1788, with many army officers discontented at the imposition of new reforms. Things finally came to a head in the spring of 1789 when Louis convened the Estates General. Catastrophic harvest failures had caused a rise in the cost of bread - this in an essentially medieval society still held together by feudal ties and peopled by millions of impoverished peasants and an increasingly discontented urban working class. The Revolution was unleashed on two very different fronts.
The Estates General, which met in May at Versailles, represented political legitimacy, even if they had not been elected by the people; while in Paris, a vast city of 700,000 inhabitants, the crowds had no such claims to power, but would no longer accept disenfranchisement, much less outright tyranny. Events moved swiftly and in June the Estates General - or rather that portion consisting of commoners, known as the Third Estate - declared the creation of a 'National Assembly' and pledged in the famous 'Tennis Court Oath' not to dissolve until a new constitution for the nation had been settled. The nation and not the king was now the supreme authority in the land. The Third Estate regarded itself as the legitimate representative body of the nation. In effect, the king was no longer sovereign. Louis was not prepared simply to sit back and watch the erosion of royal authority, and while the National Assembly, supported by the people of Paris, might declare the principle of national sovereignty, the king still retained that ultimate instrument of absolutist power: the army. Yet Louis could not depend on this traditional bulwark of the crown. On the contrary, political disaffection in the officer corps was so widespread that it was impossible to rely on the army to confront the National Assembly or, still less, to disperse seething Parisian mobs. Indeed, an overwhelming proportion of the nobles among the Estates General were army officers who actively supported radical political change, and without the army's defection the Revolution would probably never have happened. Louis recalled elements of the army from the frontiers but feared that they would mutiny if ordered to fire on the people. Worse still, when the French Guards who were garrisoned at Paris began to fraternize with the people, any hopes of relying on them to uphold the royal will evaporated.
Then, on the fateful day of 14 July, the mob stormed the Bastille and the Revolution was set on its radical course. But it was not the people alone who captured the great prison-fortress; the French Guards and other mutinous elements of the army provided the military know-how to seize the Bastille, a structure less significant as a bastion of royal power than it was as a storehouse of the weapons needed to arm the new militia, shortly to become the National Guard. The next day Louis ordered the army to withdraw from Paris and Versailles. Now that the king could no longer depend on his army, the last defense of royal authority had evaporated. One can easily oversimplify the role of the army in explaining the outbreak of the Revolution; it was only one factor among many.
Crop failure, food shortages, and bankruptcy also played their part. Yet the army's role was decisive, not only ensuring the survival and expansion of the Revolution at home, but within a few years achieving a succession of military victories. These victories would preserve and consolidate the Revolution, and, in a relatively short space of time, raise French power to heights never dreamt of, much less achieved, under the ancien regime. Austria was to become France's most determined continental foe, fighting in both coalitions against the Republic with by far the greatest contribution of forces. Her armies were raised partly by voluntary enlistment and partly by conscription, which in Germanspeaking areas meant conscription for life. Units were designated 'German', which included men from the Netherlands, Italy and Poland, and 'Hungarian', which included Croatia and Transylvania.
Training varied in quality, was often poorly funded and constantly underwent reorganization. Officers were largely drawn from the minor aristocracy, and earned their commissions through social and political connections. Though Austria on paper had an army of nearly 360,000 men, in actual numbers she mobilized only about 230,000 when war began. As discussed earlier, during the reign of Frederick the Great, Prussia entered the ranks of the Great Powers largely through the remarkable military successes of her king. In the course of two wars against Austria and her allies, Frederick raised the army's reputation and effectiveness to unrivaled heights in Europe. By making maximum use of his relatively scarce resources and small population, by economizing in Spartan style, by a strict system of recruitment and by extolling the virtues of loyalty to state and army, Frederick built an army that was second to none. By the time of his death in 1786, Prussia was the thirteenth largest country in Europe in population and the tenth largest in area, yet possessed the third largest army - the very model of a militarized state which could count on the loyal support of its proud subjects. However, since the glory days of the Seven Years' War the army had undergone something of a decline, such that by the time Prussia entered the war in 1 792 under Frederick William II, it was resting on its laurels and clinging to the tactics of an earlier period. It had fought as recently as 1778 against Austria, and later intervened in Holland in 1787, but with few opportunities for action its deficiencies were not entirely revealed, and the popularly held belief in the superiority of the Prussian army remained the orthodox view of many observers throughout Europe. In contrast to his uncle, Frederick William preferred cooperation with Austria, and thus his kingdom entered the war as Austria's ally with an army numbering a respectable 200,000 men.
When Britain entered the French Revolutionary Wars in 1793 she was unquestionably the world's leading naval power, with 195 ships-of-the-line in commission, 210 frigates, and 256 sloops - a total of over 600 vessels manned by 100,000 men. Emphasis on naval strength had always adversely affected the army, which was small by continental standards. Defeat in the American colonies only a decade earlier had damaged the army's reputation and its leadership left much to be desired. It was not only Britain's navy that was strong.
The economy, the product of her booming trade with her far-flung colonies in India, Canada, the West Indies, and elsewhere, as well as with Europe, enabled her to supply her allies with enormous subsidies with which to prosecute their campaigns on the Continent. In 1800 alone the Treasury spent over 7 percent of its total revenue on subsidies, most of it for Austria. Although Russia did not join the conflict until the formation of the Second Coalition at the end of 1798, her army had recent combat experience in wars with Sweden, Poland, and Turkey, as well as with various peoples on her lengthy frontier. Imperial rule was absolute. The Russian soldier in the ranks was almost invariably illiterate and destitute, and was distinguished by his unquestioning loyalty, high degree of discipline in combat, and his extraordinary ability to endure privation and hardship without complaint. Vast as the Russian Empire was, stretching from the Baltic to the Ukraine, the Crimea and beyond, its soldiers were principally drawn from the heartland of ancient Great Russia. In theory the army exceeded 400,000 men, including garrison regiments, militia and Irregular forces - notably the Cossacks - but in reality its effective strength was much lower.
Although defeated in the Seven Years' War the French army had regained some of its reputation in America. With monarchist enemies ranged against her in 1792 France burst forth with patriotic fervor with the cry of 'la patrie en danger!' thus calling forth the massive manpower and financial resources of the nation in a wave of unprecedented nationalist enthusiasm. The officer corps, traditionally dominated by the aristocracy, was by the beginning of the war open to all on merit. However, the flight and purge of royalist officers in the early years of the wars left the army in a pathetic state, and officials found that there was no time to train the large influx of recruits and conscripts. Some even refused to accept the degree of discipline necessary for an effective fighting force. Nevertheless, enough officers and men of the old regular army remained to form a nucleus for the new Republican armies. Without these veterans, defeat would have been inevitable at the hands of the more professional and better-disciplined armies. Laws formalizing conscription were passed in 1798, requiring all men between the ages of 18 and 40 to register, with those between 18 and 25 liable to be called. Conscription raised vast armies and between January 1791 and July 1799 the French Republic called up 1,570,000 men - an amazing achievement which other nations could not match: they simply did not dare to press into service such a huge proportion of their subjects for fear of political instability. Since the start of the revolution the army had undergone considerable changes. For example, old regimental titles were abolished and replaced by numbered units, units were increased in size, and large numbers of new battalions were raised. Some of these battalions were of reasonable quality, such as the Garde Nationale, while others were poorly trained, often ill-disciplined conscripts and volunteer hordes such as those created by the levee en masse in 1793. If they were not quite as drilled and precise as their adversaries, they more than made up for it in elan and devotion to their cause. As one Prussian, Laukhard, noted at the time: The volunteers were not as straight as a die, as were the Prussians, and were not as polished, well-trained or skilled in handling a gun or marching in step; nor did they know how to tighten their belts around their tunics as the Prussians did, yet they were devoted to the cause they served in body and soul. Nearly all those I encountered at that time knew for whom and for what they were fighting and declared that they were ready to die for the good of their patrie. The only alternatives they knew were liberty or death.
The navy consisted of 81 ships-of-the-line, 69 frigates, and 141 sloops, crewed by 78,000 sailors. Numbers can prove deceptive, however: the general state of the ships was poor, dockyards suffered from a shortage of supplies, and the service was generally dogged by an inefficient administration, poor seamanship, defective gunnery, and low morale and discipline. It might seem logical to presume that the European monarchs, witnessing the fall of the Bastille, the deposing of the French king, and the establishment of constitutional government should immediately have gone to war against the revolutionaries, if only to prevent similar uprisings in their own countries. But it was not to be, largely because of events elsewhere in Europe, particularly in the East.
Frederick William, supremely smug from his conquest of Holland in 1787 and already a beneficiary of the first partition of Poland, had his eye on further gains, particularly Danzig and Thorn, while the Austrians and Russians were engaged in conflicts of their own against Sweden and Turkey.
The fact that all the continental Great Powers were engaged for two years in intrigues and conflicts in eastern Europe meant that France and its nascent revolution remained undisturbed - indeed almost entirely ignored - by its powerful and otherwise suspicious neighbors. It is also important to remember that, far from being disturbed by the implications of the French Revolution, many of Britain's leaders and politicians actually welcomed the upheavals in France. When Pitt first heard news of the Revolution while dining with a friend, he 'spoke of it as an event highly favorable to us & indicates a long peace with France.' As the Revolution developed, many British observers suggested that France appeared to be embracing the principles of Britain's own 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688.
What better way to maintain good relations than to deal with another constitutional democracy, particularly one distracted from colonial gain and commercial competition by internal political upheaval? In short, a self-obsessed France could hardly threaten British trade or interests abroad. In fact, none of the continental powers was prepared to lead a counter-revolution. Indeed, the Emperor Joseph was determined to remain neutral, whatever the fate of the French king and the queen, his sister.
The Prussians were equally blase. Catherine of Russia, despite her hostility to the ideas of the Revolution, effectively did nothing, while Charles IV of Spain, cousin of Louis XVI, made vague threats which in reality amounted to nothing more than mere bluster. In any event, he was soon caught up in a nasty disagreement with Britain over far-off Vancouver Island - the Nootka Sound incident - which brought the two countries to the brink of war in 1790. Thus the French Revolutionaries had absolutely no reason to fear intervention by the absolute monarchs. Put in simple terms, in the first two years of the Revolution every potential enemy of significant power had other matters to contend with: in 1787, Turkey was at war with Russia and Austria, and Prussia invaded Holland; in 1788, Sweden and Russia were at war; in 1790, Prussia and Poland came close to war with Austria, and Britain and Spain narrowly escaped conflict; in 1791, Britain and Prussia nearly fought Russia. How, then, did this atmosphere of complacency and even satisfaction change to one of open hostility? The simple answer is that, by the middle of 1791, all of these conflicts or disputes had been settled, or were on the point of being settled. The most serious of these, in which Russia and Austria were allied against Turkey, ended in August. Now all these countries could consider the problem of France. But the origins of the French Revolutionary Wars also owed much to the vociferous and consistent pleas of royalist emigres, who tirelessly agitated for armed foreign intervention against the forces of radicalism. The hawkish policies of radical politicians in Paris and the gradually mounting antagonisms of the German monarchies also played a significant role in bringing about war. Up until the spring of 1792 few obstacles existed to prevent the flight from France of the aristocracy, nobles, clergy, and army officers.
Large numbers left, swelling the population of disaffected expatriates longing for a return to the old order. They were right to leave, for their lives and livelihoods were under grave threat and the political changes forced upon them were naturally quite intolerable to them when compared to the life of unchecked privilege that they had previously enjoyed for so long.
The leading emigre was the king's younger brother, the Comte d'Artois, who left France soon after the fall of the Bastille and became the focal point for dispossessed aristocrats. From their base at Turin, Artois and his adherents established a committee which throughout 1789-90 produced plans to extricate the King from Paris, establish counter-revolutionary insurrections inside France, and secure foreign aid in a royalist crusade to crush the Revolution and re-establish legitimate Bourbon rule. Yet all such plans failed completely, for they were unable to attain the aid necessary from powerful foreign governments without which any hopes of a return to absolute rule were illusory. Although Austria seemed the natural ally of the emigres - after all, Marie Antoinette was sister to Joseph II - the fact remained that from the outbreak of the Revolution until 1792 the Habsburg monarchy never showed much enthusiasm for the emigre cause. Indeed, Joseph had demanded their departure from his domains in the Netherlands, and when his brother Leopold succeeded to the imperial throne at the beginning of 1790 he showed little interest in the cause of restoring Bourbon rule on its previous footing. In any event, the pressing internal problems that Leopold confronted necessarily took precedence over foreign affairs: rebellion in the Austrian Netherlands and near-revolt in Hungary, together with more moderate, but nevertheless widespread, dissent across Habsburg domains. These domestic problems were compounded by failures in the war against the Ottoman Empire. Thus, in the course of his two years in power (1790-92), Leopold chose to placate internal opposition and implement reforms rather than confront revolutionary France. Yet if Leopold's conduct exasperated emigres for a time, French domestic events gradually altered his views and, with them, his policies. Louis's flight from Paris to Varennes in June 1791 was important in prompting Austrian intervention.
Louis had consistently rejected proposals to leave France and return at the front of an army determined on re-establishing Bourbon rule. Duty to the nation and to himself as sovereign - however restricted his political role had become - encouraged him to remain in Paris. But by the spring of 1791 the King had come round to the idea, for by then it had become all too clear that the Revolution was no mere passing phase and that the concessions now forced on him were only going to increase in the future. Now persuaded that the only sensible measure was to flee the country to secure foreign aid, Louis made his historic escape from the capital, only to be arrested at Varennes and returned to Paris a prisoner. The suspension of his royal powers soon followed and all government matters were now the responsibility of the Constituent Assembly.
The King's attempt to leave France had far-reaching consequences, triggering fears inside the country that foreign armies would soon be on the march to save the captive sovereign. Vigorous military measures were undertaken and the widespread belief that foreign intervention was only a matter of time began to affect the political scene throughout the country. The King's arrest had still more significance abroad, for throughout Europe both at court and among the populace there emerged a groundswell of sympathetic support for the French royal family and a sense of apprehension for their safety. Such sentiment was encouraged by the constant calls for aid from Marie Antoinette.
Action soon resulted: in July 1791, Leopold approached the other crowned heads with a proposal for a joint declaration demanding the release of the French royal family, the 'Padua Circular'. This did not amount to a threat of war - which Leopold did not seek - but rather a demonstration of royalist unity meant to overawe the Republican government. In fact, there was no unified opposition to the French revolutionary movement at the courts of Europe, though each of them provided substantial financial assistance to the emigre cause.
Tsarina Catherine adamantly opposed the Revolution, but her foreign policy remained focused on acquiring territory at the expense of Poland and Turkey, both weak and easy prey. Sweden, under Gustavus III, wholeheartedly embraced military action against the revolutionaries, but his country's geographical isolation and meager resources precluded any unilateral intervention on his part. In any event, Gustavus was assassinated in March 1792. The Prussian king repeatedly declared his desire for a military solution to French internal upheaval and the threats which revolutionary ideas posed abroad. Nonetheless, like Catherine, Frederick William had an eye on Polish land and was not prepared to fight unaided. Thus, in the summer of 1791, in spite of growing antagonism within the courts of several capitals, the likelihood of joint military intervention in France remained slight.
That situation soon took a decisive turn, however, for since Leopold had assumed the Imperial throne, Austro-Prussian relations - traditionally tense and occasionally outwardly hostile - had improved considerably. This made possible a joint declaration by the respective sovereigns, issued at Pillnitz on 27 August 1791, which expressed their anxieties over Louis's predicament and their hope that the leading royal houses of Europe would make a joint effort to assist him. Though outwardly threatening, it was not a general call to arms and in any event did not commit Austria and Prussia to anything without the cooperation of other powers. It aimed to put an end to the anarchy in the interior of France, to stop the attacks carried on against the throne and the altar, to re-establish the legal power, to restore to the king the security and liberty of which he is deprived, and to put him in a position to exercise the legitimate authority which is his due.
No such support was forthcoming, and Pillnitz remained for a time nothing more than bluster and intimidation. However ineffective the declaration appeared for the moment, it nevertheless added to the general sense of impending danger within France. As the year progressed, moreover, the prospect of war became an ever more attractive option for those politicians in Paris who viewed it as an opportunity to attain their own specific aims. This was particularly the case among the war part}' under the leadership of Jacques-Pierre Brissot, whose popularity continued to rise as the new year began. His followers, the 'Brissotins' or 'Girondins', held an aggressive stance in the Legislative Assembly. The 37-year-old Brissot, an unsuccessful writer with a grudge against the ruling establishment, had been one of the first to call for the abolition of the monarchy. Brissot was not alone. By the winter of 1791-92 the Jacobins could more than match the Girondins for radicalism.
Yet as a speech delivered on 26 December by Gensonné, one of Brissot's colleagues, shows, the Girondins were exceptionally provocative as they stood: 'The common enemy is at the gates of the city; a general assault threatens us; so now there can be no more beating about the bush; let us rush to the breach; we must defend our ramparts or bury ourselves beneath their ruins.' A fortnight later Guadet stood before the Assembly and raised the members to fever pitch in a dramatic foretaste of the hysteria which was to engulf France during the Reign of Terror two years later. 'Gentlemen,' he declared earnestly, 'let us make known to all these German princes that the French nation has decided to maintain its constitution in its entirety; we shall die here.' His words were met with wild applause as the members rose in acclamation with cries of 'Yes, we swear it!' Waving their hats in the air and with arms outstretched, the deputies, government ministers, ushers, and those thronging the public galleries shouted a common oath: 'We shall live in freedom or we shall die, the constitution or death!' Amidst the tumult Guadet concluded his speech in words calculated to bring the house down: 'In a word, let us mark out in advance a place for traitors, and that place will be on the scaffold!' The message was clear: the Republic must have war; a war with total victory or total defeat. The nation was to live free or die in its defense, while those at home who threatened France from within would be crushed. At the same time, those at the opposite end of the political spectrum - the monarchy and its traditional ally, the aristocracy - increasingly viewed war as an answer to their rapidly declining political fortunes. Into this cauldron of hostility was thrown the still active efforts of the emigres to restore the status quo, and however little their efforts may have as yet achieved, their very existence assumed an importance out of all proportion to the actual danger to the Revolution that they presented.
The recent growth of an emigre presence in the Rhineland, an area used as the springboard for the emigres' subversive schemes, naturally raised concerns for the Republican government, ever vigilant for evidence of counter-revolutionary enemies within and without France. Artois and his adherents amounted to a sort of royalist government in exile, based at Koblenz; although their influence in foreign courts was minimal, seen together with the Declaration of Pillnitz, the emigres were erroneously assumed to be a real and powerful threat to the Revolution. In addition to receiving large amounts of financial aid, Artois could boast of a respectably sized emigre army in the Rhineland. The threat posed by such forces was negligible in military terms, but the very presence of this emigre army caused widespread alarm in France, where war fever was spreading. Austria was not only pressured by the emigres but also miscalculated the situation: by adopting an increasingly threatening attitude designed to intimidate but not provoke the republican government in Paris, Leopold paradoxically achieved the reverse of his intentions.
Hoping to lend weight to the power of the moderates in Paris, he in fact increased the power of the radicals. Thus was created a vicious circle: increasing French fears of emigre activity on their borders and the apparently menacing posture of Austria and Prussia gave impetus to the general atmosphere of fear and the prospect of not only counter-revolution, but also armed foreign intervention. Events took on a new momentum with 1 March 1792, and the succession of Francis. Consistently unwilling to embrace the more bellicose views of the Prussian king, the princes of the Empire, and the emigres, Leopold had preferred merely to pressure France rather than openly threaten her with force. True, he had shown greater support for the restoration to power of Louis XVI - briefly suspended by the National Assembly after Varennes before moderates reinstated him in September 1791 - than most other crowned heads, yet Leopold's death ushered in an entirely new Habsburg attitude toward foreign affairs. Leopold had acted with caution and restraint; Francis tended more toward belligerence. The hawkish elements of the court grew in influence while the new cabinet, particularly with the replacement of the more pacific chancellor, Kaunitz, opened the way for an altogether more hostile policy toward revolutionary France. The road to war was now free of its former obstacles. As politicians in Paris were rightly perceiving the changing mood in Vienna, they were growing more vocal and bellicose themselves. The new foreign minister, Charles Francois Dumouriez, came to office from relative obscurity amidst the growing war fever. Long hostile to Austria, Dumouriez demanded immediate military action. War now seemed inevitable. Indeed, it was not long in coming: on 20 April, France formally declared war on Austria.
Little did anyone know that this war - which all sides believed would be short - would eventually engulf all of Europe in more than two decades of conflict. Neither side bore sole responsibility for the war. The conflict cannot be said to have originated either exclusively in Paris or in Vienna. It was not only kings and politicians who shaped foreign policy; prevailing views among the general populace in both capitals played their role. In the end both sides sought war, but their objectives proved very different. Austria, joined shortly by Prussia on 21 May, wished to restore the old order in France, whereas for the revolutionaries this was to be an ideological struggle between a free people and the tyranny of monarchical rule. This had been the philosophy so stridently advocated by Brissot since the autumn of 1791. Toward this end the revolutionaries were confident in their hopes of seeing a general rising of the minority nationalities of the Habsburg Empire: they were to be sorely disappointed. Those powers ranged against France clung steadfastly to a policy more than merely ideological: there were distinct territorial gains to be made, a wholly realistic aim when one considers the Allies' complete confidence in the superiority of their professional, highly trained, highly disciplined armies over the rabble that appeared to them to constitute the forces of the Republic.
It was therefore not surprising that the Allies did not yet appreciate the immense threat to the political stability of Europe's monarchies posed by the armies marching in the name of 'the People', for those armies were as yet untested. They could hardly then know - and indeed it would be to the astonishment of all - that the revolutionary armies would, despite some serious setbacks, achieve remarkable triumphs in the field between 1793 and 1795, rapidly annexing neighboring territories in great swathes never even imagined - much less achieved - by Louis XIV or Louis XV. Nor could the Allies have dared to imagine the full horror that lay ahead for them: seemingly unstoppable revolutionary forces carrying with them the banner of liberté, egalité et fraternité across western and central Europe, challenging the very legitimacy of monarchical rule. Only then was the war perceived as the truly grave threat to European political and social stability that it actually was.