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Old 02-19-2010, 10:49 AM
 
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I'm currently reading about Robespierre and the French Revolution and as all hell is starting to break loose in 1789 with the storming of the Bastille i'm thinking to myself as to where the heck is the commander of the entire French Army Marshall Rochambeau from 1789 until he was arrested in 1793 as it seems from my reading that he was a supporter of Louis XVI and infact he barely escaped the Guillotine during the ''Reign of Terror'' only because of Napoleon's influence on Robespierre.

I can't find much info about Rochambeau during the 1790's and so i wonder if anyone else has studied about him and the army during the early years of the revolution.
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Old 02-19-2010, 12:55 PM
 
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Well I can answer some of it - I am reading a book now "The War of Wars" about the Napoleonic era. It goes into alot of detail about the revelutionary period.

Now, I must say, Rochambeau is mentioned only once in this 1,000 page book, which spends the first 200 pages discussing the revolution. This tells me he was a minor figure in the revolution, powerless, a puppet, even with his lofty title and noble history in the American Revolution (Lafeyette had a part to play in the Revolution as well). He didn't last long in his position - I think actually he was only in command for a year or so in the early 1790s and by that the revolution was well underway, nothing would stop it.

It's important to note that the French Revolution was created not by the masses, they were only a tool, but by the new rich aristocratic society that was established via the industrial age/age of elightenment and wanted to overthrow the old money - land owners, the monarcy, the church. These in turn were made up of factions - jacobins, royalists, etc. These groups already had some power, they were in the army as commanders as well, and were carefully controlled. The revolutionist were very aware of the power of the army and quickly made moves to appoint there man in positions of power in the military. That's not to say that Louis XVI could have squased the revolution in the early days, but he waited too long and wanted to supplicate his subjects. Basically he lacked the ability to be ruthless and before long he found he had no more power. That gave the revolutionist time to control the army to their satisfaction.

Another thing. France was at war almost constantly during this entire time. They were off fighting in Austria, the Dutch countries, Italy, etc. The revolution fed off the military, and the military off the revolution, even during its most anarchistic period - they needed the military off fighting outside of France to continue the revolution. In turn, military leaders in support of the revolution were well rewarded, ones that were not eventually went under the blade. The point is - the people that had the military power in France were the local milita leaders, not the pre-Napoleonic version of the Grande Armee.

An amazing period of history to study. One note - Napolean had very little influence during the reign of terror. He did have a few powerful friends but he was a mere junior artillery officer. I can't see how he could have saved anyone from the guillitone but he did indeed know Robspieere. His role in the revolution was insignificant other than exposing his oppurtunitic ability to make powerful friends and/or be at the right place at the right time.

Last edited by Dd714; 02-19-2010 at 01:12 PM..
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Old 02-19-2010, 07:11 PM
 
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Very informative,Dd714... I will get that book. The French Revolution is very complicated and hard, at least for me, to understand all the aspects of it I have 2 book sale books on Napoleon and they are mostly bios, with very little on the Revolution and the battles. Thanks
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Old 02-19-2010, 08:50 PM
 
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It's important to note that the French Revolution was created not by the masses, they were only a tool, but by the new rich aristocratic society that was established via the industrial age/age of elightenment and wanted to overthrow the old money - land owners, the monarcy, the church. These in turn were made up of factions - jacobins, royalists, etc. These groups already had some power, they were in the army as commanders as well, and were carefully controlled.
I have to disagree with that reading of French history. The revolution was initiated primarily by the Paris urban population, supported by an explosion in the country side tied to serious agricultural distress. Notably the seizing of the Bastille and the arrest of the king. Notables built on this to end the monarchy, but they did not initiate it.

Calling groups like Jackobins aristocratic reflects a serious misunderstanding of the situation in 1789-92. First, they were not aristrocrats at all, they had few if any noble titles. Second they loathed the French aristrocracy. Even calling them elites, which may have been what you meant, is doubtful if by that you mean economic elites. They were not notably wealthy for the most part. Speaking of the industrial revolution in late 18th century France is an anachorism. The industrial age had not yet come to France, or any other European country other than England. Even there it was only in its early stages. Industrialists and industrial workers play only a limited role in France in the revolutionary era.

As for the original question there are several reasons. He was not a particularly influential general; the army he commanded in America was small by European standards (a single division). Lafayette not Rochambeau was the hero of the American revolution to those Frenchmen who cared about such. More importantly, no French general in 1789-92 could have stoped the revolution. The French army, primarily made up of poorly paid peasents, quickly abandoned the Bourbon monarchy which it had no reason to be loyal towards. Officers who tried to use it to attack the revolution were shot or guilotined - which Rochambeau himself barely escaped from (although for military referses not counterrevolutionary action). Most simply fled or changed sides.

The fact that he commanded the revolutionary army on the Belgian frontier, the Armer du Nord, suggest that he felt no particular loyalty to the monarchy. Had he, the army would never have been given to him and he would never have accepted the command.
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Old 02-20-2010, 11:54 AM
 
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Dd714 and Noetsi thanks for your thoughts and knowledge here. Since i first asked this question i've now come to the understanding that the army was constantly fighting at or beyond the french borders from 1792 until Napoleon ascended to power as i assume that in itself would've been enough to allow the Revolutionaries to have a firm holding on Paris and the rest of the country with the army constantly away in the Italian Alps or Rhineland etc.

One more question ... thoughts about why Lafayette didn't try to quash it in Paris as he was Commander in Chief of the National Guard with some 20,000 troops if i'm correct .... and i believe that he was an ardent supporter of the monarchy?
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Old 02-20-2010, 06:10 PM
 
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Noetsi my point, or more accuratly the point of the book I am reading, was that the common conception of the people against the king and nobles for the french revolution is incorrect. It was really, more accurately, the bourgeoisie class (the new rich). I used "new" aristocracy which confused you I think (and is a misstatement of terms), as you probably thought I was talking about the noble class. Ironically, the nobles/"old" aristocracy brought on the revolution however by insisting on a national assembly to counter the monarchies increased taxes to pay for years of deficits brought on by things like French assistance in the American Revolution. This book was also clear to point out the mobs, particularly in Paris, were very effective forces in the revolution but were mere tools. Jacobins controlled the mobs, that's not to say the jacobin leaders weren't part of the Bourgeoisie class as well.

Again, this new bourgeoisie class of merchants and industrialists was indeed brought on by the advance of the industrial and economic revolutions, which can accurately be described as starting in the mid 18th century. "Economic revolution" should be perhaps more stressed - private land ownership, increases in population. France was a paradox - many of the nobles were poor, but had titles. The bourgeoisie were rich, but lacked power. Again the point I was trying to make - social change and creation of a different class structure brought on the revolution.

Now, I come to this debate with a clean slate, and the source of the above is Robert Harvey's "War of Wars". So a caviet here - he is an opinionated author, biased toward Britian and having the typical BSS ("british superiority syndrome" - so common there is a name for it) that typically plagues british historians when discussing Brittania in their height of glory. Trudy Rose - that is not to discourage you from reading the book, it is very readable and very enjoyable and probably the only all encompasing book on the Napoleonic period from the revolution to Waterloo and his exile.

Bigfoot - Again from Harvey's interpretation, Lafayette was too wishy washy. He wanted to appease the king and also the revolution and lost both. He could not control the mobs (again, Jacobins controlled them) and was also reluctant to use force on them, when he did (Champ de Mars indicent) it was too late and his supporters left him. Too bad, he was a moderating force, actually working with Jefferson to draft a constitution for France, only to be pushed aside and replaced with the radical forces that plunged France into terror, anarchy, dictatorship, and war for 20 years.

Last edited by Dd714; 02-20-2010 at 06:39 PM..
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Old 02-20-2010, 07:14 PM
 
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I disagree, as I did with Rochambeau, that Layfayette could have crushed the rebellion. Had he ordered the troops to do so, they would have shot him. Or simply disobeyed. Its why Louis XIV could not do so. But that is besides the point - because it misunderstands how the revolution proceded. As late as 1792 the revolution had accepted a constitutional monarchy. People like Rochambeau and Layfayette accepted the revolution either because they agreed with it (as Layfayette probably did at first) or because they realized most Frenchman did. Then when French armies fell back before the initial foreign onslaught and the king conspired with them, the army came over firmly to the revolution. By that time trying to restore the monarchy by force internally was unthinkable and impossible.

A minor point. Rochambeau was never the commander in chief of the French army. As far as I know no such title existed then, or indeed even under Napoleon although he obviously commanded it. Rochambeau commanded one specific French army, and then only briefly.

Quote:
Ironically, the nobles/"old" aristocracy brought on the revolution however by insisting on a national assembly to counter the monarchies increased taxes to pay for years of deficits brought on by things like French assistance in the American Revolution.
This is essentially correct. The nobles forced the calling of the Estates General. They did not do so because they objected to taxes, however. By law French nobles did not pay taxes and few sympathised with those that did. They objected to the centralized power of the Bourbon kings which had in the previous two centuries taken away most of their power. Blocking new taxes through their control of the parlements (law courts which had to give their approval for new taxes) was the way they did this. They destroyed the monarchy and themselves in the process...but they were never the brightest group in the world.

Quote:
This book was also clear to point out the mobs, particularly in Paris, were very effective forces in the revolution but were mere tools. Jacobins controlled the mobs, that's not to say the jacobin leaders weren't part of the Bourgeoisie class as well.
First, I disagree that the Paris population (which was not a mob commonly) was manipulated by others in the early days of the revolution. They reacted instead to a general sense that the country was failing badly and to serious grain shortages caused by bad weather. The situation was similar, except for the level of violence, to the fall of the communist system in 91. The Bourbons lost legitimacy and there was a crisis. No one manufactured it.

Second, the Jacobins were not a class of people. They were a political party that crossed class and regional divides. Many of the most important were not involved in industry at all. Robespierre for example was a lawyer. What characterized them was a decision to eliminate the monarchy after 1792. They were the primary radical party. They barely existed in the initial period of the rebellion and there is no evidence they led events such as the rural riots or the storming of the bastille.


Quote:
Again, this new bourgeoisie class of merchants and industrialists was indeed brought on by the advance of the industrial and economic revolutions, which can accurately be described as starting in the mid 18th century. "Economic revolution" should be perhaps more stressed - private land ownership, increases in population. France was a paradox - many of the nobles were poor, but had titles. The bourgeoisie were rich, but lacked power. Again the point I was trying to make - social change and creation of a different class structure brought on the revolution.
I have to respectfully disagree. Nothing I have seen supports the view that the revolution was led or controlled by industrialist or the mercantile class. In honesty that sounds like a Marxist interpretation, was the author writing in that intellectual tradition?


Quote:
Now, I come to this debate with a clean slate, and the source of the above is Robert Harvey's "War of Wars". So a caviet here - he is an opinionated author, biased toward Britian and having the typical BSS ("british superiority syndrome" - so common there is a name for it) that typically plagues british historians when discussing Brittania in their height of glory.
If he called the paris urban class a mob then he likely was British I don't know him personally.


I go with the classical interpretation. There was a growing sense that the Bourbons were incompetent, autocratic, and unable to lead France effectively. Bad weather led to serious if temporary food shortages. The calling of the estates general, rural disruptions, and a serious of bad decisions by Louis the XIV let the situation get out of hand and turn disruptions into a revolution. Then, after things had calmed down, foreign powers seeking to restore the bourbons to full power, infuriated the French people leading to the true revolution and the terror.

Incidently anyone familiar with the Honor Harrington universe (written I think by an Englishman) may be familar with how cleverly David Webber has taken the conflict between the French and English in the revolutionary era and transfered it into outerspace. The Star Kingdom of Manticore is a poorly disguised version of England and the Republic of Haven obviously based on the French revolutionary government (at least until recently when Webber chose a new enemy for Manticore).
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Old 02-22-2010, 09:13 AM
 
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Originally Posted by Dd714 View Post

Bigfoot - Again from Harvey's interpretation, Lafayette was too wishy washy. He wanted to appease the king and also the revolution and lost both. He could not control the mobs (again, Jacobins controlled them) and was also reluctant to use force on them, when he did (Champ de Mars indicent) it was too late and his supporters left him. Too bad, he was a moderating force, actually working with Jefferson to draft a constitution for France, only to be pushed aside and replaced with the radical forces that plunged France into terror, anarchy, dictatorship, and war for 20 years.
Well i watched this past weekend on Youtube the six hour movie ''La Revolution Francaise'' (english version) with Jane Seymour as Marie Antionette and Christopher Lee as high executioner Sanson and while it was just a movie with actors/actresses playing the parts it did kind of put a face on the revolution and of it's participants back during the 1790's.

I was pondering as to why Louis XVI didn't offer an agreement for him to abdicate and go into exile to another country during the early stages of the revolution so he could had saved himself and his family.
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Old 02-22-2010, 12:31 PM
 
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Originally Posted by 6 FOOT 3 View Post
I was pondering as to why Louis XVI didn't offer an agreement for him to abdicate and go into exile to another country during the early stages of the revolution so he could had saved himself and his family.
Again - by the time he figured out his life may be in danger, it was too late. He was trying to hold on to power, thinking the monarchy could survive as a constitutionary monarcy as in England at that time. The real ending came when he was foced out of Versailles by the revolutionary-led mobs in late 1789 and was all but a prisoner in Paris by 1791. They would not let him leave. Even then he was still vainly making decisions on behalf of France, most of which were ignored, Harvey describes him as "suicidally stubborn". For awhile the revolutionary forces didn't know what to do with them, some of the factions certainly wanted him dead, and of course everyone knows they were finally executed in 1793. The kings daugheter was allowed to live. The 7 year old son was given to a shoemaker tied in with the revolution and, according to the book, "died of cold, malnutrition, beatings, and general ill-treatement in June 1795."

Last edited by Dd714; 02-22-2010 at 01:25 PM..
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Old 02-22-2010, 07:30 PM
 
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I think the real end was not the Versailles incident. The National Assembly voted for a constitutional monarchy that was still in place in 1792. Then Louis involved himself idiotically with the armies of other states invading France, destroying support for him entirely. It was a self inflicted wound.
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