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War of the First Coalition
Part of the French Revolutionary Wars
Napoleon at the Battle of Rivoli, by Felix Philipoteaux
Date 1793–1797
Location France, Central Europe, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain
Result French victory, Treaty of Campo Formio
Holy Roman Empire Austria[a]
United Kingdom Great Britain
France French Royalists
Spain Spain[c]
Portugal Portugal
Sardinia Sardinia
Kingdom of the Two Sicilies Naples and Sicily
Other Italian states[d]
Ottoman Empire Ottoman Empire
 Dutch Republic[e]
France French Republic
Kingdom of Italy (Napoleonic) French satellite states
  Polish Legions[f]
  1. Nominally the Holy Roman Empire, of which the Austrian Netherlands and the Duchy of Milan were under direct Austrian rule. Also encompassed many other Italian states, as well as other Habsburg states such as the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.
  2. Neutral following the Peace of Basel in 1795.
  3. Allied with France in 1796 following the Second Treaty of San Ildefonso.
  4. Virtually all of the Italian states, including the neutral Papal States and the Republic of Venice, were conquered following Napoleon's invasion in 1796 and became French satellite states.
  5. Allied with France in 1795 as the Batavian Republic following the Peace of Basel.
  6. Arrived in France following the abolition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth after the Third Partition in 1795.

The First Coalition (1793–1797) was the first major concerted effort of multiple European powers to contain Revolutionary France. It took shape after the French Revolutionary Wars had already begun.

After the stated aim of the National Convention to export revolution, the guillotining of King Louis XVI (January 1793) and the French opening of the Scheldt, a military coalition was formed against France.

These powers initiated a series of invasions of France by land and sea, with Prussia and Austria attacking from the Austrian Netherlands and the Rhine, and Great Britain supporting revolts in provincial France and laying siege to Toulon. France suffered reverses (Battle of Neerwinden, 18 March 1793) and internal strife (Revolt in the Vendée), and responded with extreme measures: the Committee of Public Safety formed (6 April 1793) and the levée en masse drafted all potential soldiers aged 18 to 25 (August 1793). The new French armies counter-attacked, repelled the invaders, and moved beyond France. French arms established the Batavian Republic as a satellite state (May 1795) and gained the Prussian Rhineland by the first Treaty of Basel. Spain made a separate peace accord with France (second Treaty of Basel) and the French Directory carried out plans to conquer more of Germany and northern Italy (1795).

North of the Alps, Archduke Charles of Austria redressed the situation in 1796, but Napoleon carried all before him against Sardinia and Austria in northern Italy (1796–1797) near the Po Valley, culminating in the peace of Leoben and the Treaty of Campo Formio (October 1797). The First Coalition collapsed, leaving only Britain in the field fighting against France.



See also: French Revolutionary Wars: Campaigns of 1792

As early as 1791, the other monarchies of Europe watched with alarm the developments in France, and considered whether they should intervene, either in support of Louis XVI or to take advantage of the chaos in France. The key figure was Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II, brother to the French Queen Marie Antoinette, who had initially looked on the Revolution with equanimity, but became more and more disturbed as the Revolution became more radical, although he still hoped to avoid war. On 27 August, Leopold and King Frederick William II of Prussia, in consultation with emigrant French nobles, issued the Declaration of Pilnitz, which declared the interest of the monarchs of Europe in the well-being of Louis and his family, and threatened vague but severe consequences if anything should befall them. Although Leopold saw the Pillnitz Declaration as a way of taking action that would enable him to avoid actually doing anything about France, at least for the moment, it was seen in France as a serious threat and was denounced by the revolutionary leaders.

In addition to the ideological differences between France and the monarchical powers of Europe, there were continuing disputes over the states of Imperial estates in Alsace, and the French were becoming concerned about the agitation of emigré nobles abroad, especially in the Austrian Netherlands and the minor states of Germany.


France declares war

In the end, France declared war on Austria first, with the Assembly voting for war on 20 April 1792, after a long list of grievances presented by foreign minister Dumouriez.

The monarchists and the revolutionists both sought war, but for opposite reasons. Each thought war would destroy the other.

The revolutionary Girondins fell under the influence of Jacques Pierre Brissot, who hoped that war would create a national emergency and lead to the downfall of the monarchy. The revolutionists also saw war as a way to extend the revolution to other countries.

The monarchists secretly tried to provoke invervention by foreign powers. They hoped that these powers would defeat the revolutionists and restore order. In November 1792, the scheme was exposed, with disastrous consequences for the king.

  • The Brissot plan:

Brissot favored the declaration of war against Austria and Prussia in 1792 as a means of securing the downfall of the monarchy. [1]

  • Brissot led the Girondins to war, and saw war as a way to promote the revolution:

During the Legislative Assembly, Brissot's knowledge of foreign affairs enabled him as member of the diplomatic committee [to direct] the foreign policy of France, and the declaration of war against Leopold II and the Habsburg Monarchy on 20 April 1792, and that against the Kingdom of Great Britain on 1 February 1793, were largely due to him. It was also Brissot who gave these wars the character of revolutionary propaganda. He was in many ways the leading spirit of the Girondists, who were also known as Brissotins. [2]

  • The war was driven by ideological evangelism:

On November 19 [1792] the Girondin government offered "fraternal assistance" to all peoples wishing to assert their freedom; this signified a fresh ideological challenge to monarchies everywhere. [3]

  • The monarchists gambled that war would destroy the revolution, and lost:

The dominant ministers, Comte Louis de Narbonne (an illegitimate son of Louis XV), and after him Charles Dumouriez (formerly a diplomat under Louis XV), held to anti-Austrian policies and favored war as a means of checking revolution and restoring order and the monarchy by means of the army. Their diplomacy was as feeble and unsuccessful as their policy was futile -- for war was more likely to bring the extremists to power than to save the crown. .... The King and Queen, forced in war to show open complicity with the enemy which in time of peace they had been able to conceal, were brought into greater danger. If the war party had hoped to restore the prestige of the King by war, its calculations were now proved entirely wrong. [4]

  • The treason of the king was eventually exposed:

From the autumn of 1791 on, the king tied his hopes of political salvation to the dubious prospects of foreign intervention. At the same time, he encouraged the Girondin faction in the Legislative Assembly in their policy of war with Austria, in the expectation that a French military disaster would pave the way for the restoration of his royal authority. .... In November, proof of Louis XVI's secret dealings with the deceased revolutionary politician, Mirabeau, and of his counterrevolutionary intrigues with foreigners was found in a secret cupboard in the Tuileries. [5]

One of the leading war advocates, Charles Dumouriez, initially a supporter of Louis XVI, switched to the Girondin side after the death of Mirabeau. In March 1793, he sought to overthrow the Girondin government, and, when that failed, he fled to the Austrian side. [6]

War begins with setbacks for France

Dumouriez prepared an immediate invasion of the Austrian Netherlands, where he expected the local population to rise against Austrian rule. However, the revolution had thoroughly disorganized the army, and the forces raised were insufficient for the invasion. The soldiers fled at the first sign of battle, deserting en masse and in one case, murdering their general.

While the revolutionary government frantically raised fresh troops and reorganized its armies, a mostly Prussian allied army under Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick assembled at Koblenz on the Rhine. In July, the invasion commenced, with Brunswick's army easily taking the fortresses of Longwy and Verdun. Brunswick then issued a proclamation, written by the émigré Prince de Condé, declaring their intent to restore the King to his full powers and to treat any person or town who opposed them as rebels to be condemned to death by martial-law. This had the effect of motivating the revolutionary army and government to oppose them by any means necessary, and led almost immediately to the overthrow of the King by a crowd which stormed the Tuileries Palace.

Tide turns in France's direction

The invaders continued, but at Valmy on 20 September, they came to a stalemate against Dumouriez and Kellermann in which the highly professional French artillery distinguished itself. Although the battle was a tactical draw, it gave a great boost to French morale. Further, the Prussians, finding that the campaign had been longer and more costly than predicted, decided that the cost and risk of continued fighting was too great, and they decided to retreat from France to preserve their army.

Meanwhile, the French had been successful on several other fronts, occupying Savoy and Nice in Italy, while General Custine invaded Germany, several German towns along the Rhine, and reaching as far as Frankfurt. Dumouriez went on the offensive in Belgium once again, winning a great victory over the Austrians at Jemappes on 6 November, and occupying the entire country by the beginning of winter.


See also: French Revolutionary Wars: Campaigns of 1793

On 21 January, the revolutionary government executed Louis XVI after a trial. This united all Europe, including Spain, Naples, and the Netherlands against the revolution. Even Great Britain, initially sympathetic to the assembly, had by now joined the First Coalition against France, and armies were raised against France on all its borders.

France responded by declaring a new levy of hundreds of thousands of men, beginning a French policy of using mass conscription to deploy more of its manpower than the aristocratic states could, and remaining on the offensive so that these mass armies could commandeer war material from the territory of their enemies.

France suffered severe reverses at first, being driven out of Belgium and suffering revolts in the west and south. By the end of the year, the new large armies and a fierce policy of internal repression including mass executions had repelled the invasions and suppressed the revolts. The year ended with French forces in the ascendant, but still close to France's pre-war borders.


See also: French Revolutionary Wars: Campaigns of 1794

1794 brought increased success to the revolutionary armies. Although an invasion of Piedmont failed, an invasion of Spain across the Pyrenees took San Sebastián, and the French won a victory at the Battle of Fleurus, occupying all of Belgium and the Rhineland.


See also: French Revolutionary Wars: Campaigns of 1795

After seizing the Netherlands in a surprise winter attack, France established the Batavian Republic as a puppet state. Further, Prussia and Spain both decided to make peace, in the Peace of Basel ceding the left bank of the Rhine to France and freeing French armies from the Pyrenees. This ended the main crisis phase of the Revolution and France proper would be free from invasion for many years.

Britain attempted to reinforce the rebels in the Vendée by landing French Royalist troops at Quiberon, but failed, and attempts to overthrow the government at Paris by force were foiled by the military garrison led by Napoleon Bonaparte, leading to the establishment of the Directory.

On the Rhine frontier, General Pichegru, negotiating with the exiled Royalists, betrayed his army and forced the evacuation of Mannheim and the failure of the siege of Mainz by Jourdan.


See also: French Revolutionary Wars: Campaigns of 1796

The French prepared a great advance on three fronts, with Jourdan and Moreau on the Rhine, and Bonaparte in Italy. The three armies were to link up in Tyrol and march on Vienna.

Jourdan and Moreau advanced rapidly into Germany, and Moreau had reached Bavaria and the edge of Tyrol by September, but Jourdan was defeated by Archduke Charles, and both armies were forced to retreat back across the Rhine.

Napoleon, on the other hand, was completely successful in a daring invasion of Italy. He separated the armies of Sardinia and Austria, defeating them in detail, and forced a peace on Sardinia while capturing Milan and besieging Mantua. He defeated successive Austrian armies sent against him under Wurmser and Alvintzy while continuing the siege.

The rebellion in the Vendée was also finally crushed in 1796 by Hoche, but Hoche's attempt to land a large invasion force in Ireland was unsuccessful.


See also: French Revolutionary Wars: Campaigns of 1797

Napoleon finally captured Mantua, with the Austrians surrendering 18,000 men. Archduke Charles of Austria was unable to stop Napoleon from invading the Tyrol, and the Austrian government sued for peace in April, simultaneous with a new French invasion of Germany under Moreau and Hoche.

Austria signed the Treaty of Campo Formio in October, ceding Belgium to France and recognizing French control of the Rhineland and much of Italy. The ancient Republic of Venice was partitioned between Austria and France. This ended the War of the First Coalition, although Great Britain remained in the war.


Original text from 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica


  1. ^ "Brissot, Jacques Pierre". Collier's_Encyclopedia. P.F. Collier. 1993.  
  2. ^ Jacques Pierre Brissot
  3. ^ "French Revolution". Collier's_Encyclopedia. 10. P.F. Collier. 1993. p. 404.  
  4. ^ "French Revolution". Collier's_Encyclopedia. P.F. Collier. 1993.  
  5. ^ Flight_to_Varennes#Consequences
  6. ^ Dumouriez#Career during the Revolution


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