Coalitions: First, Second, Third and Fourth Coalition!
Although at the outset, the attitude of the British Government and the people of England was sympathetic towards the French Revolution, there was a violent change later on account of the excesses of the revolutionaries.
That was particularly so after the execution of Louis XVI and his queen Marie Antoinette.
Great Britain organised as many as four Coalitions to defeat France and succeeded in that object in the long run.
- The First Coalition
- The Second Coalition
- The Third Coalition
- The Fourth Coalition
1. The First Coalition (1793-97):
The origin of the First Coalition lay in the failure of the policy of neutrality followed by the British Premier, Pitt the Younger, towards France. When France declared war upon England, Pitt entered into treaties of alliance with Prussia, Austria, Russia, Spain, Holland and Sardinia. Thus, the First Coalition came into existence. Pitt’s object was to combine the whole of Europe against the common enemy which dared to challenge all the established governments of Europe.
His plan was to subsidize the Allies liberally so that they might bear the brunt of the struggle on the Continent while the English navy was to maintain its supremacy over the seas and conquer the French colonies. From the very beginning, the Allies agreed to indemnify themselves of the expense of France. The war was to be a war of conquest and plunder as well as of self-defence.
To begin with, the Allies were victorious on all fronts and the French were badly defeated. In 1793, the military outlook for France was extremely gloomy. France was threatened on all sides and there took place insurrections in many parts of France.
To meet the emergency, the National Convention resorted to extreme measures. The Committee of Public Safety with unlimited powers was set up. A sort of Reign of Terror was established in the country. It is true that in certain cases there was unnecessary bloodshed but the net result of the Reign of Terror was that the counter-revolution was crushed. Under the leadership of Carnot, Danton and St. Just, the whole of the French nation rose up in arms and the fighting was done with so much ferocity, fanaticism and tenacity that the Allies were beaten back.
The French were able to get back Belgium and Holland. Prussia and Spain left the Coalition by the Treaty of Basle in 1795. It appeared that the European Powers were interested more in the partition of Poland than in the prosecution of wan such was the state of affairs when Napoleon Bonaparte was sent to Italy during the regime of the Directory. He crossed the Alps and defeated the Austrians in a series of engagements.
He forced the King of Sardinia to leave the Coalition and also compelled Naples and the Papal States to submit. His success had two important effects: Spain entered into an offensive and defensive alliance with France. The Spanish fleet came into the hands of the French.
The result was that Great Britain was forced to evacuate the Mediterranean and the French became its masters. Pitt made offers of peace but those were rejected by the Directory. The year 1797 was very critical for England. Three fleets threatened England with an invasion and there was a lot of dissatisfaction and unrest. However the situation was saved by two naval victories won by England. In the battle of Cape St. Vincent, the Spanish fleet was defeated. The Dutch fleet was defeated at Comperdown.
When Austria was defeated by Napoleon in a series of battles and the very safety of Vienna was in danger, Austria signed the Treaty of Campo Formio in 1797. By that treaty, Austria gave the Austrian Netherlands (Belgium) to France. She also accepted the French claims to the left bank of the Rhine. The Austrian provinces in North Italy were formed into the Cis-Alpine Republic dependent on France.
About the same time, Portugal also made peace with France and the First Coalition was practically at an end. France was left without an enemy on the Continent and England was left without an ally in Europe. England was left to face France single-handed and the Directory started making preparations for an invasion of England.
Napoleon was put in charge of that invasion but at the beginning of 1798 he came to the conclusion that it was out of the question to cross the English Channel and consequently the scheme of invading England was given up. It was, however, decided to attack the British Empire on some other point and with that idea Napoleon proceeded to Egypt in 1798.
Causes of failure of First Coalition:
What were the circumstances responsible for the failure of the First Coalition? It appears strange that a bankrupt France which was distracted by internal divisions, should come out successful against a Coalition of more than half the Powers of Europe, It was nothing short of a marvel of history. However, the causes of the failure of the Coalition are not far to seek. The Coalition Power did not work harmoniously.
They had their differences and each power insisted on working independently. Even their objects were different. The main object of the British Government was to expel the French from the Netherlands and make that province secure for Austria. But the object of Austria was to recover the Netherlands and then to exchange it with Bavaria.
The British Government was not prepared to agree to such an exchange. Moreover, both Russia and Prussia were more interested in the partition of Poland than in helping Austria in her struggle against France. No wonder, the want of unity of purpose was fatal to the unity of effort. Instead of a joint advance on Paris, every Allied Power wanted to establish its control over the frontier fortresses of France. The British Government wanted to have Dunkirk, and with that object besieged it.
The Austrians wanted Alsace and Lorraine as their share, but the Prussians remained on the Rhine with their eyes fixed on Poland. On account of their selfish aims, the Allies failed to realise the danger from France and the nature of the struggle.
To them it appeared that France was in the throes of a revolution and consequently it was easy to defeat her. They failed to realise the fact that they were not fighting against the Bourbon monarchy but against a nation in arms which was inspired by fanatical ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity. No wonder, they failed to rise above their selfishness, and mutual jealousies.
Moreover, the Allied Powers were themselves busy in carrying out another revolution in Poland. Poland was partitioned for the second time in 1793 and Russia and Prussia got their shares. In 1795, the rest of Poland was divided by Russia, Prussia and Austria and after that Poland ceased to exist. During all this period, there was going on rivalry among the Powers for the partition of Poland. Each Power was trying to get more than the others. Hence the Allied armies were paralysed and defeated on all fronts.
The military genius of Carnot marshalled the resources of the country. The Reign of Terror crushed all dissent. The cowards were made brave and the traitors were frightened. The result was that the whole of the French nation fought vigorously and defeated the Allies. The French commanders were told that they must win victories or they would be put to death. The British Commander in the Netherlands was the Duke of York who was absolutely a worthless man and no good results could be expected from such a fellow.
2. The Second Coalition (1798-1801):
The Second Coalition was the direct result of the Battle of the Nile (1798) in which Napoleon was defeated by Nelson. The European Powers were upset by the aggressive policy of the Directory and when they got the news that Napoleon was shut up in Egypt, they decided to act.
The Second Coalition was formed in 1798 and included England, Russia, Austria, Turkey and Naples. Its object was to crush the Revolutionary Government at Paris and to confine France to her old boundaries. Prussia remained aloof. The war began with the refusal of Austria to turn out Russian soldiers from her territory on the demand of France.
To begin with, the situation seemed to be favourable to the Allies. The Austrian Archduke Charles defeated a French army and drove it across the Rhine. A combined Anstro-Russian army routed the French in two great battles. In the Mediterranean, the Island of Minorca was captured and Malta was blockaded. However the year 1799 ended very badly for the Allies. The French were able to regain their position. The English were defeated and compelled to evacuate Holland France was saved from the ignominy of defeat and foreign occupation.
Napoleon Bonaparte returned from Egypt. He was welcomed by the French with great enthusiasm. He was able to overthrow the Directory and himself became the First Consul in 1799. The arrival of Napoleon Bonaparte on the scene was a source of great anxiety to the Allies. Russia left the Coalition.
Czar Paul was angry with both England and Austria. While he aimed at the restoration of the old order in Europe by crushing France, Austria was more interested in the acquisition of Piedmont. The conduct of Austria annoyed the Czar. He was annoyed with the British Government because the latter supported the Austrian policy. Moreover, he developed a great admiration for Bonaparte and consequently withdrew from the Coalition.
Bonaparte addressed a letter to the King of England expressing his desire for peace. His object was to add to his popularity by an offer of peace because the French were tired of war. The British Government gave a very haughty answer and suggested that the only security of peace was the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty in France.
The tone of the letter added to the bitterness of the French people against England and the purpose of Napoleon was amply served. Napoleon sent one army under Moreau against the Austrians and himself proceeded against Austria with another army. Moreau won a splendid victory at Hohenlinden and Napoleon himself defeated the Austrians at the Battle of Marengo.
There were also other French victories and Austria was forced to sign the Treaty of Luneville in 1801. This treaty confirmed the terms of the Treaty of Campo Formio of 1797. England was left all alone after 1801 and as both England and France were tired of war, a peace was made in 1802. However, the peace of Amiens turned out to be merely a truce. War began between the two countries in 1803.
3. The Third Coalition (1805):
The Third Coalition was formed by Pitt, the Younger, in 1805 and it included Prussia, Austria, Sweden and England. Napoleon was violating the terms of the Treaty of Luneville and was also interfering in the internal affairs of the neighbouring States, e.g., Switzerland. There was a lot of resentment in Europe against Napoleon on account of his kidnapping and then executing the Duke of Eughien. This incident led to the rupture of relations between France and Russia. Prussia refused to join the Coalition as Napoleon dangled before her the temptation of Hanover which belonged to England.
The object of the Third Coalition was the expulsion of the French from North Germany, the independence of Holland and Switzerland and the restoration of Piedmont to the King of Sardinia. As usual England undertook to pay liberal subsidies to the Allies.
It was also agreed that after the close of the war, a Congress of European Powers was to define the law of the nations and establish an European Federation. However, the Third Coalition did not aim at changing the form of government in France.
Napoleon was also thinking in terms of attacking England and was making vigorous preparations for the same. A fine army known as “the Army of England” was mobilized for the invasion of England and three fleets were also collected for the same purpose.
The English Channel was protected by Nelson and Comwallis. The successful blockade of Brest by Comwallis hampered Napoleon’s plan. Efforts were made to attack England by avoiding a fight with Nelson. In spite of that, the Battle of Trafalgar took place in 1805 and the French were defeated completely. This victory not only saved England but secured for the British navy undisputed supremacy on the sea.
Although Napoleon was defeated on sea, he took full advantage of his superiority on land. The Austrian general was surrounded and made to surrender at Ulm. He also inflicted a crushing defeat upon the combined armies of Russia and Austria at Austerlitz in December 1805. The result was that Austria left the Coalition and she was forced to sign the Treaty of Pressburg by which she gave back Venetia to the French kingdom of Italy and Tyrol to Bavaria.
The Electors of the two States of the Holy Roman Empire were made kings independent of Austria as a reward of their alliance with France. Russia counted upon the help of Prussia but on account of the shifty diplomacy of the King of Prussia, the Czar also left the Coalition. Prussia entered into an offensive and defensive alliance with France and got Hanover as her reward. Thus, the Third Coalition failed. Its author also died on hearing the news of the defeat of Austerlitz.
4. The Fourth Coalition (1813):
The Fourth Coalition was formed in 1813 after the unsuccessful invasion of Russia by Napoleon in 1812 and his disastrous retreat. The important members of the Coalition were Russia, Prussia and England. Later on, Austria also joined. It was financed by Great Britain. Although the Allied armies were defeated at Dresden, they won many other victories. Napoleon was defeated in the Battle of Leipzig in 1813. With the passage of time, the position of Napoleon went on weakening and the Allies became stronger and stronger.
The result was that in 1814, he was completely defeated and forced to abdicate. Although he returned in 1815 to France, he was again defeated in the Battle of Waterloo. Thus, the Fourth Coalition was successful in the ultimate overthrow of Napoleon and the restoration of the Bourbons in France.