Europe Reacts to the French Revolution

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  • 0:01 Watching, Waiting & Warning
  • 1:32 The First Coalition Vs. France
  • 3:41 The Second Coalition…
  • 5:51 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

France's fellow European countries viewed the French Revolution with a mixture of fear and revulsion. They issued warnings that France refused to heed, and eventually, large-scale war broke out.

Watching, Waiting and Warning

Beginning in 1789, France started down a path to eliminate the monarchy and instate a republic. This made the monarchs of other European countries very, very nervous. At first, they waited, monitoring the situation in France closely. Over time, French King Louis XVI slowly lost power, the popular assemblies took control and violence broke out in Paris and throughout the countryside.

The European monarchs were joined in their vigil by the French émigrés, the nobles, army officers and members of the royal family who had felt threatened enough by the revolution to leave France and take refuge in other countries. The king also tried to escape in June of 1791, but his attempt failed, and he was captured and forced back to Paris.

Austria and Prussia were especially appalled by this harsh treatment of Louis XVI. Encouraged by the émigrés, these two nations issued the Declaration of Pillnitz on August 27, 1791, warning France that if any harm came to the king, they would intervene, militarily if necessary. Their warning went unheeded, and Louis' situation only became more tenuous. By early April of the following year, Austria and Prussia had issued a circular letter requesting other nations to join in an alliance against France.

The First Coalition vs. France

Now France had reason to be nervous. Government leaders did not want to wait and see what Europe would do. They decided to be proactive, and they declared war on Austria on April 20, 1792. This declaration opened up the proverbial can of worms and led to over two decades of war.

The conflict didn't start out too well for France, which suffered an early defeat in the Austrian Netherlands (today's Belgium and Luxembourg). Things looked even worse when Prussia joined the fight in May and when the Duke of Brunswick, who commanded the Prussian-Austrian army, issued his Brunswick Manifesto in July, declaring that if the king and his family were harmed or humiliated, the army would take vengeance on Paris and destroy the city.

Then the tables turned. France handed the Prussian-Austrian army a major defeat at Valmy in September of 1792. Boosted by the victory, the French overran the Austrian Netherlands and marched into Prussia, capturing several towns as they went, including Frankfurt. At home, French leaders abolished the monarchy and declared France a republic.

Austria and Prussia knew they needed help, and by early 1793, they had formed the First Coalition with Spain, the United Provinces and Great Britain. France, however, continued to push forward, defeating the United Provinces and Spain in 1795 and 1796. Up-and-coming French officer Napoleon Bonaparte also led successful campaigns in Italy, gaining more territory all the while, and in 1797, France invaded Austria.

The Austrian emperor decided to surrender. In 1797, the Treaty of Campo Formio proclaimed peace and allowed France to keep most of its conquered territory. Only Great Britain remained at war with the victorious France.

The Second Coalition vs. France

Peace did not last long. Austria continued to fume at its losses and at French arrogance. What's more, Napoleon Bonaparte wasn't ready to end his victorious streak. He first thought seriously about invading the still-hostile Britain but decided that such action would be too much of a risk because of Britain's naval strength. Instead, he turned his attention to Egypt in 1798, hoping that a French victory there would cut off Britain's communication with her colonies to the east. Napoleon soon captured Egypt, but he ended up trapped there when Britain destroyed most of the French fleet.

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