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First Coalition War - 1792-1797

As a result of the French Revolution, there was a military conflict between France and a coalition of several major European powers in 1792.

The First Coalition War had a major impact on the political situation.

Prehistory of the First Coalition War

The radical events in France did not go unnoticed by the neighboring monarchies and filled their rulers with great concern.

In the first years of the French Revolution, however, the European royal and princely houses saw no need to give the troubled French monarch Louis XVI. to stand by.

In addition, they dealt with other things such as the rise of Russia to a great power and the Polish question.

After all, there were rivalries among each other, such as between Austria and Prussia.

The monarchs only realized late that the French Revolution was a completely new movement that shook the foundations of the monarchy.

The Austrian Habsburgs suffered the weakening of the little loved French brother-in-law Louis XVI. quite convenient.

The Austrian Emperor Leopold II even viewed the constitutional monarchy in France as positive.

Pillnitzer Declaration

After the failed flight of the king and his family to Varennes, however, Leopold II gradually began to change his mind and demanded the protection of his brother-in-law.

Prussia followed Austria's opinion, which led to the Pillnitz Declaration on August 27, 1791.

Before that, the princes of Austria and Prussia had gathered at Pillnitz Castle to decide to support the French monarch.

The full restoration of the French monarchy was also called for.

Reactions in France

In France, the public reacted with indignation to the Pillnitz Declaration.

It has even been suggested that Louis XVI. had allied with the foreign rulers to regain his power.

In addition, numerous French nobles and the military had fled abroad, where they were looking for allies for military intervention against the revolution and were raising their own troops.

Also Louis XVI. hoped for a war. He knew that the French were poorly armed and easy to beat militarily. The king then hoped to be able to act as the savior of France and thereby regain his lost privileges.

But various revolutionaries were not averse to war either. General de La Fayette fought on the side of the colonists in the American War of Independence.

He made the experience that people who firmly believed in a good cause were ultimately more productive than mercenaries who only fought for money. A victory should make it possible to reunite the divided France and to support the king and the constitution.

The First Coalition War begins

The French were by no means intimidated by the Pillnitz Declaration and were ready to take up the fight.

At the beginning of 1792 they asked Austria and Prussia to expel the troops made up of French emigrants from their territories by March 1st.

However, on March 1, 1792, Emperor Leopold II died unexpectedly. Because of this, the French extended the ultimatum to April 1st.

Leopold II's successor was his son Franz II, whose first step was a defensive alliance with Prussia, which he concluded on March 17th. A day later, the French demanded that this alliance be terminated, but Francis II refused.

Finally, on April 20, 1792, the First Coalition War broke out. Since Louis XVI. was still the French head of state, he formally declared war on Austria.

The French hoped to be able to limit the military conflict to the Austrian Netherlands. But Prussia stood by Austria and, in turn, declared war on France.

Starting position

The French found themselves in an unfavorable position as the coalition forces clearly outnumbered them.

The Austrians had more than 400,000 soldiers at their disposal. The Prussians brought it to 250,000 men. The other troops consisted of 6,000 Hessians and 8,000 French emigrants loyal to the king.

The French army had around 114,000 infantrymen, 27,000 cavalrymen and 10,000 artillerymen.

One of the French commanders was General de La Fayette, who had given up command of the National Guard on October 1, 1791. Instead, he received command of the Armée du Center from the King.

Advance of the coalition troops

On April 20, 1792, the French attacked Belgium, but were repulsed by the Austrians.

From Luxembourg, the Prussians marched into France with 82,000 soldiers.

The Austrians joined them further south. The advance to Paris seemed unstoppable.

The Koblenz Manifesto

The goals of the Prussian-Austrian coalition were a quick victory, territorial gains and the restoration of the rule of Louis XVI.

As part of the Koblenz Manifesto, the Prussian Commander-in-Chief, Field Marshal and Duke Karl Ferdinand von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel, called on the people of Paris on July 25, 1792 to submit to the King.

Should violence be done to the royal family in the Tuileries Palace, the duke threatened the destruction of the French capital and bloody retribution.

The manifesto sparked a hateful storm of indignation among the people of Paris.

Led by the radical sans-culottes, on August 10, 1792, the Tuileries Palace was stormed and the king, who was thrown into prison with his family, was finally overthrown.

This also ended the moderate first phase of the French Revolution.

La Fayette's escape

When General de La Fayette learned of the king's capture, he protested vigorously.

But the Jacobins, who were now on the upswing in France, publicly accused him of high treason and asked him to answer in Paris.

La Fayette, who sensed what would happen there for him, instead fled across the border to Flanders in order to return to America from there.

In doing so, however, he was taken prisoner in Austria, where he remained until the end of the war in 1797.

September massacre

Meanwhile, the Prussians and Austrians continued their advance towards Paris and captured the Verdun fortress on September 2, causing a hysterical panic in the capital that culminated in the September massacres.

Numerous prisons were stormed in several parts of the country and the opponents of the revolution trapped there were blindly murdered.

Up to 1200 people lost their lives. Those responsible did not care that there were also people among the fatalities who were not there for political reasons. Around 90 percent of all murders occurred in Paris.

Turn over at Valmy

On September 20th, the Valmy cannonade saved the French Revolution from being over.

An artillery duel near the village of Valmy, which the French won, brought the Prussian advance on Paris to a standstill, to which rain and mud also contributed.

In addition, the Prussian-Austrian troops suffered from the dysentery. So in the end the Allies had no choice but to retreat.

French counterattack

The French army counterattacked in autumn 1792 and occupied the Austrian Netherlands and some areas in Germany.

The revolutionary troops were even able to advance as far as Mainz and Frankfurt / Main for a time.

Continuation of the coalition war

After the execution of King Louis XVI. In January 1793, however, other states such as Great Britain, the Netherlands and Spain joined the anti-French coalition, which extended the war for years and took a changeable course.

In order to be able to continue the war, general conscription was introduced in France.

It was not until the young general Napoleon Bonaparte that he succeeded in defeating the Austrians in 1796/97 with his Italian campaign and successfully ending the war for France.


The outbreak of the First Coalition War had a direct impact on political events in France.

It led to the Tuileries Tower and the arrest of the king as well as the proclamation of the French Republic on September 21, 1792.

He also played a major role in the loss of power of the moderate Girondins and the rise of the radical Jacobins.

Another consequence was their reign of terror, which culminated in Robespierre's dictatorship.