The French Revolution 1789–93


Map Code: Ax01242

Initially, the European powers seemed content to spectate, with a mixture of horror and schadenfreude, as France succumbed to revolution. The seizure (and later execution) of the French king Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette transformed perceptions, spurred on by agitation from influential emigrés: this was now an existential threat to the status quo, which had to be eliminated. Revolutionary committees were placed in a series of towns (1789), replacing or sharing power with town councils. By 1793 there were tensions between the different revolutionary groups (the Girondins and Montagnards) and one of the architects of the French Revolution, Maximilien Robespierre, attempted to crush counter-revolutionary and Federalist activism by introducing ‘the Terror’, a series of mass guillotinings. Austria and Prussia had been already invaded northern France (1792) and faced defeat at Valmy. The emboldened French armies overran the Austrian Netherlands and crossed the Rhine, capturing a series of German towns. In the wave of patriotic euphoria that followed, national conscription was introduced, organized by the revolutionary committees. The French now faced a massive coalition, including Britain and Spain, and their inexperienced armies suffered a series of defeats, notably at Neerwinden (1793). Rebellions broke out, including in Toulon, where a young Napoleon Bonaparte won plaudits for his brilliance in recapturing the city.

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