France declares war against Austria (April 20, 1792) - History Key

France declares war against Austria (April 20, 1792)

The overthrow of Louis XVI by the French people worried the European Monarchs. They believed that it might start revolutions into their countries. In France the public opinion was divided in two, but both sides were for war. The monarchy thought that the new formed government would not face any foreign powers and the revolutionaries also wanted war because they thought that it will unite their country and their could spread the ideas of revolution over all Europe.

Fear and overreaction

The meeting at Pillnitz Castle in 1791
The meeting at Pillnitz Castle in 1791© Oil painting by J. H. Schmidt/ Image Source: Wikipedia

Since 1791, European Monarchs were worried about the evolution of events in France. They wondered whether they needed to intervene in support of Louis XVI or take advantage of the chaos in France. Yet, some monarchs have taken a forward step against the tensions from France. On August 27, Leopold II and King Frederick Wilhelm II of Prussia in agreement with the noble French emigrants released a declaration (Pillnitz Declaration). The statement contained their support against the French Revolution. Although Leopold considered the declaration was a form of taking measures by doing nothing about France, the French revolutionaries have seen as a serious threat and it was denounced by revolutionary leaders.

After a long list of complaints presented by the Foreign Minister Dumouriez, during the National Assembly, France declared war against Austria on April 20, 1792. One month later France also declared war against Sardinia.

French Republic is formed for the first time

 Portrait of Frederick William II of Prussia
Portrait of Frederick William II of Prussia © Anton Graff/Image Source: Wikipedia

It was a state of war and the revolutionary government recruited new troops and reorganized its army. Meanwhile, most part of the Prussian army, under the leadership of Carol Wilhelm Ferdinand marched at Koblenz. In July the invasion began conquering the fortresses of Longwy and Verdun. Short time after the invasion, the duke issued a proclamation written by Louis Joseph de Bourbon. The document contained the intention of their allies to give the king all the power and every person that will oppose them will be sentenced to death by martial law. The proclamation strengthened the revolutionary army and the government to oppose them with all costs. On 10 August, the revolutionary Parisians assaulted the Royal Tuileries Palace and imprisoned the king. The news spread quickly and created a panic in Paris among the monarchs. As a response, the monarchs searched for potential traitors in prisons and executed many of them.

The invasion continued, but on September 20, at Valmy, they were defeated by Dumouriez. It was a battle where the French artillery exceeded the expectations. Because the Prussians had an unexpected opposition and the risk of increasing the costs to maintain the battle it was too high, they decided to withdraw the troops from France. The next day, the monarchy was abolished and it was declared the First Republic of France.

The transition between French Revolutionary Wars to Napoleonic Wars

The French were confident and they succeeded on other fronts, occupying the region of Savoia, Nisa and even parts of Germany, occupying several cities reaching to Frankfurt. On the other side, Dumouriez attacked Belgium once again, winning in front of the Austrians at Jemappes on November 9. The French Revolutionary Wars lasted until 1802. Britain signed the Treaty of Amiens, putting an end to the war and recognizing the French conquests during the last 10 years. This moment is known as the passage from French Revolutionary Wars to the Napoleonic Wars.

The first French Republic was formed from a position of invasion and collapse by their enemies. However the revolutionary armies defeated their enemies, against all odds. By conquering the left bank of Rhine and their domination over the Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland, the new formed republic achieved almost all their territorial objectives.

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