Sunday, January 31, 2016

French Émigré Armies

Armée des Émigrés at the Battle of Quiberon.

The émigré armies of the French Revolutionary Wars were armies raised outside of France by and out of Royalist émigrés, with the aim of overthrowing the French Revolution, reconquering France and restoring the monarchy. These were aided by royalist armies within France itself, such as the Chouans, and by allied countries such as Great Britain, and fought (for example) at the sieges of Lyon and Toulon.

They were formed from:

    * noblemen volunteers, either descendents of the ancient royal family or not, who had fled France
    * troops raised by these nobles through subsidies from other European monarchies, or through their own means
    * units of the French army which had also emigrated, such as the 4e régiment de hussards

Even Napoleon said of them "True, they are paid by our enemies, but they were or should have been bound to the cause of their King. France gave death to their action, and tears to their courage. All devotion is heroic.

France’s nearest neighbours had made little secret of their dislike of the Revolution: the Emperor of Austria, in particular, offered shelter to noble and royalist émigrés from France, who held court in Turin, Koblenz, and in the various principalities along the Rhine waiting for the day when they could invade France and restore the King’s and their own authority. The Declaration of Pillnitz and the Brunswick Manifesto made no secret of the dreams harboured by monarchical Europe, while rumours circulated of treaties and secret deals struck between foreign rulers and the French royal family. Panic spread fast, reaching even the Assembly, where Brissot argued passionately that the Revolution must either be expansionist or be destroyed. 

At a popular level, too, fear of invasion and of a noble backlash contributed to the anger felt by the Parisian crowd and helped to radicalize opinion in the capital. On 18 January 1792 the Girondin deputy Vergniaud pronounced war to be inevitable. ‘Our Revolution’, he declared, ‘has spread the most acute alarm to all the crowned heads of Europe; it has shown how the despotism which supports them can be destroyed. The despots hate our Constitution because it makes men free and because they want to reign over slaves.’ And though Robespierre himself was among those who warned against premature militarism, many historians of the period have followed Vergniaud in seeing the war in ideological terms. The patrie was in danger; the French people had to fight if they were to survive, and the entire political order depended upon their efforts. In that sense the Revolutionary Wars were different in kind from traditional eighteenth-century conflicts between monarch and monarch, since in the event of victory one side would now seek to destroy the institutions of its enemy, the French imposing a liberal constitution on the Austrians or Prussians, and they in turn restoring the Bourbons to the throne of France. And it was the whole French people who were at war, the nation in arms defending its liberties and values when they were under attack. 

In the process the Revolution itself became more narrowly nationalistic, shedding its universal claim to represent free men wherever they might live and claiming that liberty was the prerogative of the French. This was the view of revolutionary leaders like Dubois-Crancé, who argued that every citizen was now a soldier and every soldier a citizen. It was brilliantly propounded by Clausewitz in the nineteenth century, when he wrote that ‘war had again become an affair of the people, and that of a people numbering thirty millions, every one of whom regarded himself as a citizen of the state’.