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"Revolutionary France's War of Conquest in the Rhineland" Topic

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Tango0118 Dec 2018 10:30 p.m. PST

"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."
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Royston Papworth19 Dec 2018 4:30 a.m. PST

good find Armand, it does sound good,but at £90.00 GBP… :(

Red Jacket Supporting Member of TMP19 Dec 2018 8:06 a.m. PST

Welcome back Tango!

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP19 Dec 2018 9:54 a.m. PST

I think what is normally translated as "natural frontiers" might be better rendered into English as "what we think we can get away with now." You'll notice it never stopped a certain Corsican from claiming Catalonia or Lower Saxony as French, and no one in France raised any objection.

If they ever manage to hold the Rhineland, they'll be able to come up with someone to claim the "natural frontier" is somewhere else--possibly the Elbe.

Still good to have you back, Tango. But I'm not buying more military history without good tactical maps.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP19 Dec 2018 10:29 a.m. PST

When did Napoleon claim either Catalonia or Lower Saxony as French?

And the Rhineland was 'conquered' before Napoleon came to power, was it not?

And the Rhineland was part of France for twenty years, so they did 'manage to hold the Rhineland' for that period of time. And I don't think the Rhinelanders, in general, preferred Prussian rule to French.

Tango0119 Dec 2018 11:12 a.m. PST

Happy you like it my friends!. (smile)

Thanks for the welcome!. (smile)


robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP19 Dec 2018 3:14 p.m. PST

Brechtel, 1811 comes to mind--after he decided Holland was French, and before he decided invading Russia was a clever way of enforcing the Berlin and Milan Decrees. All officially departments of France, and if I were sharper this evening, I could give you the numbers of the regiments from the annexed territories. For two or three years, the French "natural frontiers" included Hamburg and Barcelona.

As for the feelings of the Rhinelanders, I expressed no opinion. No one consulted them at the time, any more than the Dutch, north Germans, Catalans or Italians were asked. I can certainly tell you what answer I'd give if one of Napoleon's flunkies asked me how I felt about living under the rule of His Imperial Majesty. Vincennes never seemed to be quite full. And if it was, the graveyards certainly never were. "You cannot crush a sect with cannonballs" he said, but he certainly tried.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP19 Dec 2018 3:32 p.m. PST

Ah. Catalonia was 1812, and it was about then that His Imperial Majesty decided Rome was really french and threw the Pope into Vincennes. Northwestern Germany can't be later than 1812, since it shows up as French departments on maps of the Empire in 1812, and it can't be earlier than 1810 when Holland was also made into French departments But I had forgotten the Slavs. They make up another four or five French departments.

If someone wants to argue that people of common descent, language or religion should constitute a nation, I'll give him a hearing. But it only seems to be a matter of "natural frontiers" when none of those apply, but someone still wants the land.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP19 Dec 2018 11:11 p.m. PST

Do you have sources for your claims regarding Catalonia and Lower Saxony?

Lower Saxony is a modern German state which encompasses Hanover and Brunswick. Perhaps you are referring to the Hanseatic Cities, Hamburg in particular?

What is your references to 'the Slavs'?

Do you actually understand that it wasn't Napoleon who annexed the Rhineland?

When the Papal States were annexed to France, Pius was 'interned' in Savonna, not sent to Vincennes. And the French then abolished the Inquisition in Rome as well as abolishing the Jewish ghetto there.

Seems to me that you're getting your territories confused.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP20 Dec 2018 7:52 a.m. PST

Oh, for crying out loud, Brechtel! I never said Napoleon annexed the Rhineland. And you keep telling me that the French sometimes did good things or were approved of in their annexations, which I have never denied. All I said was that they did not seem prone to stop at the alleged "natural borders."

Google a good map of the First Empire in 1812, take a good look at the "French" departments north and east of the former Kingdom of Holland/Batavian Republic and try to come up with your own term for the German area involved. Yes it included the Hanseatic states. But it also included portions of the Electorate of Hanover and I believe Brunswick as well.

That same map will show you about five "French" departments in what was Yugoslavia in my mature years. I'd need transparencies in common scales to figure out how much was Croat, Slovene or Serb, but the area was definitely south Slav, then and now. It will also show you "French" departments encompassing all of modern Catalonia. But that's only for detail. Any good history of the Peninsular War, or of the First Empire will tell you as much.

I stand corrected on where Napoleon interned the Pope. Keeping track of where he kept each trouble-maker would be a good book, but "Escape from Napoleon's Prisons" was never something I felt like wargaming,

138SquadronRAF Supporting Member of TMP20 Dec 2018 10:21 a.m. PST

If French rules was so great why do the Germans refer to the 1813 campaign as the Befreiungskriege? (or the "War of Liberation" if you prefer.) This rather like the Spanish calling the Peninsular War the "Guerra de la Independencia Española" (or the "Spanish War of Independence.) You'd rather get the idea that being part of Napoleonic Empire was all that it's cracked up to be. Asking for a friend.

Tango0120 Dec 2018 11:16 a.m. PST

Happy you like it my friend!. (smile)


MaggieC7020 Dec 2018 11:22 a.m. PST

I recall that Francis II first used the Befreiungskriege term prior to his 1809 campaign against Napoleon, but as you said, it became the rallying cry of the German-speaking stats of all sizes in 1813, when they could smell blood in the water. But this "liberation" was the idea of the rulers of these states, and a large segment of the aristocratic movers and shakers in their respective states, ad nit a groundswell of popular support as some folks have attempted to portray it.

Spain is a completely different case; everybody wanted Joseph B off the throne--I don't blame them since he was a nonentity with no discernible abilities. But the Spanish, from the aristocrats, clergy, peasants, and the three folks in the middle class all wanted Ferdinand on the throne, rather thn his inept father, Carlos VI.

And in the end, everyone got his dearest wish--a Napoleon-free environment. Austria and Russia would spend the remainder of the long 19th century as third-class nations, doomed to fail, which they each did. Prussia overcame weak monarchs to succeed, to a point, under Bismarck.

My favorite is Spain, who got their darling Ferdinand, who in turn declared the earth was flat, among other nonsensical 14th century ideas, and brought back the Inquisition. So Spain got its darling king and its independence and then sank ingloriously beneath the waves of history.

But hey, gotta love those wars of independence and liberation from the Tyrant/Ogre/Warmonger/Whatever.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP20 Dec 2018 12:09 p.m. PST

Or, looked at the other way, Maggie, Europe without Napoleon would enjoy a century of (relative) peace, The Habsburgs would postpone for a hundred years the descent of their domains into blood feuds, mass expulsions and purges, Russia would--late and reluctantly--free the serfs and attain the world's fastest economic growth (until the Bolsheviks took over) Prussia would become the cadre of a unified, industrial and more or less liberal Germany, and the Spanish would at least stop killing one another in serious numbers until 1936. If there were only one possible interpretation of the Napoleonic Wars, we'd have done it by now.

But a lot of the pro-Bonapartist interpretations are based on the notion that he would eventually have stopped finding more wars to fight, and that he would somehow have then morphed into George V, benign constitutional monarch at the head of a great empire which recognized individual rights, and granted at least some of its nations substantial self-government. I've always felt those interpretations less probable than most.

My persistent sniping at Napoleon is not based on any belief that his opponents were wiser or more benevolent, but that they were substantially less ruthless, efficient and ambitious. If you're going to be under the thumb of an absolute monarch, you do not want him to be the sort who works twenty hours a day and has plans for you. I've had that sort of boss, thanks.

MaggieC7020 Dec 2018 5:06 p.m. PST

Without Napoleon--at all--I think the Prussians would still chafe against being part of the HRE, and embark on whatever would set them free, whether war or realpolitik. Austria would never be anything but a backward absolute monarchy, slowly losing bits and pieces of itself. I doubt Russia would have freed the serfs for any reason other than the debacle of the Crimean War, which I believe would still have occurred because of British designs on the Ottoman Empire and the usual sacrosanct India concerns.

The only area that might not have achieved what it did in a world without Napoleon was the Italian states.

As for what Naps would have morphed into had he been allowed his constitutional monarchy, I don't think he'd be a George V--what a plain vanilla role model that is!--but a monarch less inclined to fight and more inclined to repair decades of wartime damages internally. I'm not seeing any "great empire" scenario, at least not post 1815.

Interesting that the idea of a monarch who is efficient and ambitious and works 20 hours a day is not appealing. Had more European monarchs gotten off their respective backsides and put in a good day's work, perhaps they would have fared much better.

Or not. You can't fix stupid.

von Winterfeldt21 Dec 2018 4:55 a.m. PST

Boney did certainly some good things for himself, for the rest of the world, naturally he did not bother.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP21 Dec 2018 3:30 p.m. PST

"Interesting that the idea of a monarch who is efficient and ambitious and works 20 hours a day is not appealing."

Of course it isn't Maggie. You've just described Alexander the Great, Phillip II, Charles XII, Peter the Great, Louis XIV, Frederick II, Napoleon I, Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mao…It isn't the drunken bums, the skirt-chasers and the art collectors who create those slaughters we recreate on the tabletop: it's the men who've sacrificed themselves for the good of the Nation/the Race/the Proletariat/Mankind. The sacrifice after that tends to be a bunch of kids still in their teens.

First put serious restraints on government. Put MORE serious restraints on the executive. Then try to find someone who doesn't want the job. Trust me, a lot more people will grow old and prosperous and die in their beds. But if a short, glorious life is what you're after, pick a Napoleon type every time. If you live to be arthritic, it won't be his fault.

MaggieC7021 Dec 2018 4:19 p.m. PST

Mon Dieu, Robert! Someone definitely licked the red off your lollipop at some point.

I will nevertheless argue that the ambitious, efficient, and intelligent heads of state are preferable to the skirt-chasers, misogynists, bigots, grifters, con men, and intellectually bereft idiots because the latter is precisely what we have in the US at the moment.

I'd love to have Fred the Great for a while.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP21 Dec 2018 5:15 p.m. PST

I read history, Maggie, and not just tactics and uniforms. I know these people. You've lived with more or less restrained government for so long you have no conception of what these people are like in unrestricted power. You imagine them accomplishing whatever you think is "good government"--roads, schools or maybe making the Bad People stop thinking the way they do.

But people don't betray and murder their way to absolute power so you can have a four-lane highway, or low carbon dioxide emissions. They do it for the Glory of France, the Catholic Faith, or The People. And if we're ever given--as I'm very much afraid we deserve--that sort of Leader, I recommend you pray on your knees every day that he doesn't decide you're an obstacle to whatever his cause is. The foundation of absolute power is unmarked graves.

Efficiency in government is good--but only in restrained constitutional government, which everyone on that list including Napoleon despised. (Oh, yes! Things were going to be different in 1815. If His Imperial Majesty wanted France to have something other than the naked will of Napoleon for a governing principle, he'd had about 15 years of chances by then, and somehow he never got around to it. Ask the other consuls about that.)

Actually, ambitious executives are what we've had most of for the past sixty years. Can't say I've been impressed. But far more important than intelligence and efficiency is that the chief executive not want the job. Find me one who dreams of going back home and never seeing Washington again when his term is up, and he can be as hard-working and efficient as you please--for four or maybe eight years.

But if you live long enough for the United States to be gifted with our very own Hereditary, Absolute President for Life--remember what I told you.

You'd love Frederick for about a week. The second week, he'd invade Silesia. In the third, the draft would get a lot more inclusive. And he was the best of that lot.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP22 Dec 2018 3:44 p.m. PST

Oh, and if having a misogynist head of state troubles you, you might want to reconsider the late Emperor of France. Apart from his personal conduct, take a good look at the changes he made to the new civil code before he put his name on it.

"Bigot" would cover about half my list. But you might want in particular to watch the beloved child of the Enlightenment trying to reimpose slavery on Haiti.

However, hardly any absolute rulers are grifters and con men. Once you own whole countries, what is there to steal? Personally, I'd rather have something of my own I have to guard from the government than have everything be in service for the good of the state.

MaggieC7022 Dec 2018 8:00 p.m. PST

I always told my students that the Civil Code undid the gains of the revolution and set the cause of women back to the patriarchal dark ages. Nothing like the Corsican mindset to screw thing up.

I also take exception to the treatment of Pius VII, as well as the obvious issues with Haiti.

von Winterfeldt23 Dec 2018 1:04 a.m. PST

@robert piepenbrink

well said.

Boney officially abolished torture, on the same breath he advises one of his marshals to apply thumbscrews.
Palm, who isn't even a French citizen, gets executed only because he published a pamphlet with anti Boney sentiments. He refused to disclose his source and off you go in front of a firing squad.

Oh yes and tell me if such a thing happened in this time period in Prussia and Austria, did they execute a French publisher?

For the Rhineland, it was not bad in the beginning, as
Haasis, Helmut G. – Gebt der Freiheit Flügel – Die Zeit der Deutschen Jakobiner 179´89 – 1805, 2 volumes shows. But then of course re actionary terror struck when Boney crowned himself Emperor.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP22 Jan 2019 9:03 a.m. PST

This is an interesting article:


An excerpt:

The Rhineland under the French (1794 – 1813):

"In 1815 the time of French influence was over, but had left behind far-reaching changes, which had been appreciated as a change for the better, especially in the areas of commercial law and administration. Therefore the population also resisted having to sacrifice such achievements for the sake of Prussian citizenship. Consequently, the Code Civil, also known as the Code Napoleon, remained in force as the first citizens' compendium of laws left of the Rhine until it was superseded by the "Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch" (modern German civil code). Prussia itself had been forced to adopt the superior French State as a model and to carry out reforms. These reforms paved the way
for the constitutional state of the 19th century."

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