The French Revolutinary Wars Essay Research Paper

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The French Revolutinary Wars Essay, Research Paper THE FRENCH REVOLUTIONARY WARS: 1787-1802 The French Revolutionary Wars: 1787-1802, by T. C. W. Blanning, is a super Work of historiography. Far more ambitious than its modest title suggests, it is the history of the French Revolution as well as a military and diplomatic history of Europe from 1787 to 1802. Blanning enriches our understanding of the Revolution by placing it in its European context, by showing how it affected and was affected by France’s neighbors. He is especially well placed to take on this task. Not only has he written extensively on the French Revolution; he has written a book on Mainz under the Old Regime and the revolutionary republic, another on the French occupation of the Rhineland, and two

biographies of the Habsburg Emperor Joseph II. [1] He is one of the few historians who can move comfortably from France to Germany to the vast Habsburg empire stretching from Belgium to the Balkans, and he has filled in the remaining gaps with extraordinarily vast reading. Among the thousand or so footnotes in The French Revolutionary Wars are references to works in German, Italian, Spanish, and Russian, as well as French and English. Yet this book is more than a tour de force of erudition. It is a richly textured, engaging narrative punctuated by cogent, often brilliant analysis. Blanning begins by arguing that French defeat in the Seven Years’ War (1756-63) stimulated reforms in the army which are normally associated with the Revolution: the breaking up of armies into

smaller, more flexible divisions; the use of columns in addition to lines; an increasing reliance on light troops; and the use of artillery. More controversial, however, were the reforms introduced in 1787 and 1788, which slashed the number of officers in an army that was, in Blanning’s words, “absurdly over-officered” (p. 19). These reforms, coinciding with the revolt of the parliaments, added fuel to the fire of the aristocratic revolution by alienating many of its leaders, who were not only parlementaires but army officers. They guaranteed that the army would not serve the king when he needed it to suppress the insurrection in Paris in July 1789, and indeed pushed the officers to make common cause with the Third Estate. Thus Blanning provocatively but convincingly

claims, “In part at least, the French Revolution was a military coup” (p. 28). In addition to the hated military reforms, Blanning argues that an unpopular alliance with Austria contributed to the discrediting of the monarchy and that, more directly, the crown lost its legitimacy when it failed, ostensibly due to bankruptcy, to respond to the Prussian invasion of the United Provinces and the suppression of the pro-French Dutch Patriots in 1787. The narrative continues with an account of the first two years of the Revolution, when Russia, Prussia and Austria were preoccupied with Poland–which they would soon partition out of existence–and therefore relatively uninterested in developments in France, despite some occasional counter-revolutionary sabre- rattling. Yet this

period of “deceptive isolation from the European states-system” (p. 42) ended in the spring of 1792, when an unlikely coalition of Girondins and monarchists (including the king himself) provoked war against the equally unlikely coalition of Prussia and Austria, countries that had been at war for more than fifty years. Blanning tells the dreadful story of war and revolution from September 1792, when thousands of suspected traitors were butchered in Parisian prisons, to August 1793, when the revolutionary Convention declared “total war” against external and internal enemies alike. He describes the terrible process by which the war escalated both beyond and within French borders: republican victories in the autumn of 1792 brought Britain and the Dutch Republic into the war.