On This Day – France Declares War on Austria, Igniting the French Revolutionary Wars


On this day in 1792, France declared war on Austria in an act that saw the beginning of the French Revolutionary Wars, a series of wars that pitted France against other European powers. The wars were originally undertaken with the intention of defending and subsequently spreading the effects of the French Revolution.

After the overthrow of King Louis XVI, Austria and Prussia had issued a call to European rulers to assist in the re-establishment of Louis as King of France, which led France to declare war on Austria. European rulers were also afraid of the influence of the French Revolution, which had been stirring for a long time out of repression under Louis’ rule.

Reactionaries and the monarchy in France desired war because they believed that the new government could be easily defeated by foreign powers, especially as the French Armies lacked organisation and discipline. This would pave a way for the old routine, with King Louis at the head of government. Revolutionaries also desired war because they believed that war would unify the country, and they wanted their revolutionary ideas to be spread across Europe, which is exactly what European leaders were afraid of.

After almost ten years of conflict, the Republicans won the war in a victory that saw the survival of the French Republic and the signing of the Treaty of Amiens. The Napoleonic Wars would soon follow in 1803.