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Revolutionary France's War of Conquest in the Rhineland
Conquering the Natural Frontier, 1792-1797


Part of Cambridge Military Histories

  • Date Published: March 2021
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781108703055

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About the Authors
  • In May 1790, the French National Assembly renounced wars of conquest. Two years later, France declared war on Austria and invaded Belgium and the Rhineland, claiming it was to spread the benefits of the Revolution. Soon, however, military and economic crises drove a shift in the nature of France's war effort. What started as a war for liberty became a war for conquest, one that brought devastating exploitation to the Rhineland. It was during this time that French foreign policy became influenced by the idea of attaining the natural frontiers - the Alps, the Pyrenees, and, most significantly, the Rhine. Although often portrayed as a diplomatic tradition of the French monarchy, Jordan R. Hayworth shows how the natural frontiers policy was born during the Revolution. In addition, he examines the intense and consequential debates that arose over the policy, which caused much confusion in the war and helped to undermine France's democratic experiment.

    • Shows that the military effectiveness of the French Revolution's citizen armies has often been exaggerated by examining French campaigns and occupation policy in the Rhineland
    • Sheds new light on the influence of the natural frontiers doctrine in transforming revolutionary France's war for liberty in the Rhineland into a war for conquest
    • Brings together themes and issues that are often analyzed separately, in particular the role of the war of conquest in upsetting France's democratic experiment
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'A timely reassessment of Albert Sorel's famous thesis about the role of natural frontiers in the history of French foreign policy. The author makes the story much more complex and therefore interesting. He also shines much new light on the French Revolution's expansion into Belgium and the Rhineland.' Donald Sutherland, University of Maryland

    'A much-needed work: whilst political and social aspects of the Rhineland's occupation by the armies of the Republic have been discussed extensively, the military campaigns which gave rise to that occupation remain all but unknown. Not only has this deficiency been remedied, but it has been remedied in a fashion as scholarly as it is spritely.' Charles J. Esdaile, University of Liverpool

    'Jordan R. Hayworth argues that, if the French Revolution brought the concept of natural frontiers into the political mainstream, it played only a limited role in military planning. In this important book, he follows the campaigns of one army, the Sambre-et-Meuse, and analyzes the complex relationship between ideas, politics, and war.' Alan Forrest, University of York

    'Hayworth comprehensively flips the myth of France's 'natural frontiers' on its head by showing that it was not rooted in French history, but rather in the diplomatic and military dimensions of the early years of the Revolution. By weaving together the philosophical and political debates with the unfolding military campaigns, we now have a clearer understanding of the relationship between revolutionary ideology and revolutionary strategy.' Philip Dwyer, University of Newcastle

    '… Prof. Hayworth (Air Command and Staff College), has written an impressive account of why and how, within a few years of renouncing wars of conquest, France undertook and carried out a successful war to secure the Rhineland … an excellent account [of] what has been a largely neglected war.' The NYMAS Review

    '… interesting reading for any military historian interested in social or cultural contexts … his greatest accomplishment the whole book is that he makes it look easy.' Julia Osman, The American Historical Review

    'Hayworth's book is an invaluable contribution to the historiography of the Revolutionary Wars. He revives an old debate, breathing new life into the natural frontiers idea by analyzing both strategic decision points and operational accounts. Scholarly and hobbyist readers alike will find a fine companion piece to the many books on Napoleon's war in Italy during the same time period, and hope that Hayworth will continue to produce accounts of other understudied Revolutionary campaigns.' Jonathan Abel, Journal of Military History

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    Product details

    • Date Published: March 2021
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781108703055
    • length: 358 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 19 mm
    • weight: 0.483kg
    • contains: 1 map
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. The Ancien Régime
    2. The Brissotin crusade for war
    3. War, conquest, and disaster
    4. The organization of victory
    5. The Thermidorean republic
    6. The Directory's war
    7. A shattered army
    8. The generals' war

  • Author

    Jordan R. Hayworth, United States Air Command and General Staff College, Alabama
    Jordan R. Hayworth is an Assistant Professor of Military and Security Studies at the United States Air Command and General Staff College, Alabama. He is a member of the Society for Military History and the Society for French Historical Studies. In 2016, he won the Society for Military History's Edward M. Coffman First Manuscript Prize.

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