Joseph I’s reign was dominated by the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714), which pitted Bourbon France and Spain against the ‘‘Grand Alliance’’ led by Austria and the Maritime Powers. Born to Emperor Leopold I and Eleonore of the Palatinate-Neuburg, Joseph’s upbringing was notable for the absence of Jesuit influence and the resurgence of German patriotism during lengthy struggles against France and the Ottoman Empire. In 1699 he married Wilhemine Amalie of Brunswick-Lüneburg, who his parents hoped would tame his youthful excesses, which included wild parties and a string of indiscriminate sexual escapades. He was soon admitted to the privy council, where he became the center of a ‘‘young court’’ of reform minded ministers eager to resolve the daunting financial and military crises that confronted the monarchy during the opening years of the war, which Leopold had entered to secure the far-flung Spanish inheritance for his second son, Archduke Charles (the future Holy Roman emperor Charles VI). Their first victory came in 1703, with the appointments of Prince Eugene of Savoy and Gundaker Starhemberg to head the war council (Hofkriegsrat) and treasury (Hofkammer). Shortly afterward, John Churchill, the duke of Marlborough, was induced to march a British army into southern Germany, where it combined with imperial troops in destroying a Franco-Bavarian force at Blenheim (August 1704).
Although the great victory saved the monarchy from imminent defeat, Joseph had to overcome a succession of new challenges after succeeding his father (5 May 1705), which included the need to wage war on multiple fronts in Germany, the Spanish Netherlands, Italy, the Low Countries, and Spain, while simultaneously suppressing a massive rebellion in Hungary led by Prince Ferenc II Rákóczi. Joseph’s strong German identity informed vigorous initiatives within the empire, including reform of the Imperial Aulic Council (Reichshofrat) and the banning of several renegade German and Italian princes who had sided with the Bourbons. Yet he gave little assistance to the imperial army fighting along the Rhine frontier or to the Maritime Powers campaigning in the Low Countries. Instead, he focused his resources (together with considerable Anglo-Dutch loans) on Italy, which Prince Eugene delivered in a single stroke at the battle of Turin (1706), after which the French evacuated northern Italy, much as they had abandoned Germany after Blenheim. A small force expelled Spanish forces from Naples the following spring. Joseph’s other principal concern was Hungary, where Rákóczi had aroused widespread support against Leopold’s regime of heavy taxation and religious persecution. Although Joseph dissociated himself from his father’s policies and promised to respect Hungary’s liberties, he refused Rákóczi’s demand that he cede Transylvania as a guarantee against future Habsburg tyranny. As a result, the war dragged on for eight years, as Joseph committed roughly half of all Austrian forces to the difficult process of reconquering the country. Once victory was assured, relatively generous terms were granted the rebels at the peace of Szatmár (April 1711), signed just ten days after Joseph’s death.
With Italy secured and the Hungarian rebellion under control, Joseph shifted his attention to the last and least pressing of his war aims—his brother’s acquisition of the rest of Spain’s European and American empire. Prince Eugene and a small force were sent to join Marlborough’s Anglo-Dutch army in the Spanish Netherlands, most of which fell after their victory at Oudenarde (1708). Joseph also instigated a short war with Pope Clement XI at the end of 1709, forcing him to recognize Charles as king of Spain. By 1710, the first Austrian troops were fighting alongside their British, Dutch, and Portuguese allies in Spain itself. Nonetheless, a combination of logistical difficulties, timely French reinforcements, and the Spanish people’s dogged support for the Bourbon claimant, Philip V, doomed the allied effort. Unsuccessful peace negotiations at The Hague (1709) and Gertruydenberg (1710) failed to deliver what the allies could not win for themselves. Finally, a new British cabinet initiated secret peace talks with Louis XIV at the beginning of 1711, foreshadowing the Peace of Utrecht two years later.
Despite his untimely death from smallpox (17 April 1711), Joseph attained his two main objectives: securing an Italian glacis to the southwest and reconciling Hungary to Austrian domination, albeit with constitutional safeguards. Indeed, both achievements endured until 1866. Much of his success rested with a talent for choosing and managing able ministers to whom he could delegate much of the responsibility for realizing policy objectives. At the same time, Joseph jeopardized these gains through extramarital liaisons, which prevented his wife from bearing children after he gave her a venereal infection in 1704. Although he was survived by two daughters, the absence of a male heir foreshadowed the dynasty’s extinction in 1740.
In the Great Interregnum that lasted from 1250 to 1273, all semblance of government evaporated. Since there was no agreement on who should succeed Frederick II, unlikely outsiders forced an entry. For reasons that even his latest biographer cannot fully explain, the Spanish Alfonso X of Castile put himself forward as ruler, but he never bothered to visit the empire. The rival Richard of Cornwall, younger son of England’s King John, had the broad support of the three archbishops and of the dozen or so lay lords that chose him as their king in 1257. But his interest was to outmanoeuvre the last of the Staufens to make good the fantastical English claim to Sicily. Richard was effective on those four occasions on which he visited the empire, but he stayed too briefly to leave any lasting mark.
The death of Frederick II in 1250 was followed by the wholesale destruction of the Staufen lands, offices, and revenues in Swabia. The Staufen possessions were invaded, and even the imperial lands that the Staufen rulers had held as emperors and not as family estates were seized. What was not taken was often given away by Frederick II’s hard-pressed heirs. Plundering soon gave way to feuding as quarrels arose over the spoils. In the general free-for-all, properties that had never been part of the Staufen patrimony were grabbed, illegal tolls collected, and many minor landowners dispossessed. ‘The days of evil approach, and the evil is growing,’ wrote one chronicler about 1270. Across the pillaged countryside, processions of penitents moved, whipping themselves to appease God’s wrath and rehearsing older heresies.
Foremost among the beneficiaries of the collapse of the Staufens was Count Rudolf of Habsburg (lived 1218–1291). The grandson of Rudolf the Old, Count Rudolf inherited the main body of the Habsburg lands upon the death of his father, Albert the Wise, in 1239. Much he obtained with the semblance of legality, convincing Frederick II’s heirs to assign him lands, revenues, and rights. Even so, he took advantage of the breakdown in authority to rob the widow of the last of the Kiburgs of her dowry. His greed earned him enemies, on which account Rudolf fought no fewer than eight feuds with his rivals. Although feuds were supposed to be conducted according to an etiquette, with days off and due concern shown for the vulnerable, Rudolf was, by his own admission, an insatiable warrior. The contemporary Annals of Basle give us a glimpse of him: in 1269, he slew some knights in Strasbourg; in 1270, he besieged Basle for three days; in 1271, he levied unprecedented taxes, burnt down a monastery, and seized villages; in 1272, he destroyed Tiefenstein Castle and marched on Freiburg, killing and burning the crops on the way; in 1273, he razed the village of Klingen, and so on.
The death of Richard of Cornwall in 1272 gave the electors an opportunity to reconvene and begin at least to consider the restoration of order. Notwithstanding the crowded circumstances of Richard’s election in 1257, it was generally held that there should be seven electors, but quite who they were was uncertain. Under intense pressure from Pope Gregory X, the leading lords of the empire agreed in advance that the vote should be unanimous, for a split threatened to throw the country into civil war. The problem was that there was no obvious candidate for the throne.
Holy Roman Empire was the king of Bohemia, Ottokar II
The most powerful prince in the Holy Roman Empire was the king of Bohemia, Ottokar II. He sought to become ruler of the Holy Roman Empire and considered that, since Bohemia was a part of the empire, he should have a vote for the next king of the Romans. But Ottokar was widely distrusted, and his Slavonic ancestry was invoked as a disqualification, on which account the duke of Bavaria took his place as an elector. Among the other great lords, there was not much interest in the office. For more than two centuries, the office of sovereign had been caught up with the politics of Swabia and the neighbouring duchy of Franconia, to such an extent that these two duchies were now considered synonymous with imperial affairs. Brandenburg and the Saxon duchies were remote from this heartland, and their rulers preoccupied with their own affairs and with expansion eastwards. The Wittelsbach dukes of Bavaria and the Palatinate were brothers, who were sufficiently at odds to sabotage each other’s interests.
There was no-one, therefore, among the electors with either the interest or support to muster a unanimous vote. Rudolf of Habsburg seized the opportunity. His interest was precisely the one that dissuaded others: the connection between the imperial office and the south-western part of the Holy Roman Empire, into which the Habsburgs were already expanding. But there was more to his ambition than just territorial politics. As the godson of Emperor Frederick II, Rudolf considered himself next in line to the throne, now that all of Frederick’s natural heirs had died. He was, moreover, the greatest lord in Swabia, which was the home of the Staufen rulers, and thus uniquely qualified to pursue the succession. In this respect, he stood not as an outsider but as the ‘continuity candidate.’
As far as the electors were concerned, Rudolf was a good choice. He was already fifty-five years old and so an improbable threat in the long term. Having pilfered from the Staufen lands, Rudolf was unlikely to demand that the lands that the other great lords had seized be returned. Cynical considerations aside, Rudolf looked the part. He was tall—one account gives his height at seven feet, at a time when the German Fuss was slightly longer than today’s British foot (30.48 cm)—and his appearance was distinctive. As one jibe put it, his nose was long enough to obstruct the traffic. Moreover, at a time when most princes only talked about going on crusade, Rudolf had actually taken the cross, fighting during the 1250s in the fastnesses along the Baltic shore against the pagan Prussians (albeit as penance for having burnt down a nunnery). Rudolf was elected in Aachen on 29 September 1273 and crowned the next month with the royal diadem.
Contemporaries recorded several scores of anecdotes about Rudolf, pointing to his wit, courage, piety, and wisdom. Doubtless, many of these emanated from Rudolf’s propaganda, but they hint at a man of exuberant character, who was the very reverse of how his tame clerks chose to depict him—‘as moderate in his eating and drinking and in all things.’ The most important lesson he had learned from a lifetime of soldiering and rapine, however, was patience and strategy, in which respect it may be no accident that he also played chess. The speech he gave immediately after his coronation in Aachen was a masterpiece of contrived modesty: ‘Today, I forgive all those wrongs that have been done to me, release the prisoners suffering in my gaols, and I promise from now on to be a defender of peace in the land, just as I was before a rapacious man of war.’
Rudolf was so far only a king. To become emperor, he needed to be crowned by the pope in Rome. Even so, Rudolf spoke in elevated terms of ‘We and the Empire’, and he added to his title the phrase that would remain a part of the ruler’s style until the nineteenth century—‘forever an enlarger of the Empire.’ Rudolf also stuck pretty much true to his coronation address. He settled his feuds, albeit on terms advantageous to himself, and joined with the cities of the Rhineland to eliminate the brigands’ nests in the Rhine valley. The ruins of Sooneck Castle, near Rüdesheim, although partly rebuilt in the neo-Gothic style of the nineteenth century, still bear witness to the order he brought; likewise the legend of how Rudolf hanged the robber knights of nearby Reichenstein, with the wood from their gallows being recycled to build a chapel, where masses were said for their souls.
No less significant was Rudolf’s reorganization of the administration in the service of order. Many rulers had previously proclaimed a ‘peace of the land’, prohibiting all violence, and had ordained harsh penalties for any violation. Few, however, had established adequate mechanisms to police it, with the result that feuding and the ‘law of the fist’ had soon returned. Rudolf, however, linked the peace of the land to the appointment of ‘protectors of the land’ or Landvogts, who were charged with maintaining order by military means. In order to provide the cash for them, Rudolf ordered in 1274 a general tax on all the cities of the empire, which he repeated eight years later. The division of the empire into regions, each of which was responsible for maintaining a local peace, prefigured what became after 1500 the system of ‘imperial circles’ and of an institution of law enforcement that would last until the nineteenth century.
The Landvogts were not only charged with the maintenance of order but with the recovery of all imperial lands that had been given away after 1245. The policy, backed up by force, was implemented with moderate success in Swabia and neighbouring Franconia. The properties so recovered went straight to Rudolf, since he, as king, was considered their rightful owner. Rudolf, however, neither relinquished the imperial lands that he had merged into his own private domain nor surrendered the other territories that he had seized illegally. Nor did he think it worthwhile to inflame relations with the Wittelsbach dukes of Bavaria and the Palatinate by obliging them to disgorge the properties that they had seized.
The programme of recovering the lost imperial lands extended to legal rights and entitlements. None had infringed upon these more than King Ottokar of Bohemia (lived circa 1232–1278). While still heir apparent to the Bohemian throne, Ottokar had occupied the duchy of Austria, which had fallen vacant upon the death in 1246 of the last of the Babenberg line, Duke Frederick II. Ottokar had rested his claim upon the invitation of the Austrian nobility, and it does seem that he had a good measure of support in the duchy. To cement his rule, Ottokar married Duke Frederick’s sister, Margaret. Margaret had form. She had previously been married to the son of Emperor Frederick II, the leper Henry, and upon widowhood had become a nun, but she had relinquished the cloister to argue her own claim to the dukedom of Austria. Nearly fifty, she was almost thirty years older than Ottokar. Besides the obvious problem that no heir could come of their union, Ottokar had a further difficulty. As an imperial fief, Austria should have reverted to the crown upon the expiry of the Babenberg line and been apportioned to whomever the ruler chose. Notwithstanding the decision of the Austrian nobles and his own marriage, the duchy did not belong to Ottokar.
In the decades that followed, Ottokar extended his rule to Styria, which had previously been occupied by the Hungarian king, and to the neighbouring duchies of Carinthia and Carniola, both of which he claimed by a dubious right of inheritance. He also became king of Bohemia in 1253 upon the death of his father. The issue of the Babenberg inheritance remained, however, unresolved. Richard of Cornwall had in 1262 recognized Ottokar as the rightful heir, but Richard’s rule was contested, and what little influence remained to him vanished after his final departure for England in 1269. Moreover, Ottokar had after a few years of marriage repudiated Margaret and taken instead as his wife a sixteen-year-old Hungarian princess. The toothsome Kunigunda gave Ottokar the heir he wanted but was of no value in prosecuting Ottokar’s rights to Austria.
Ottokar was not only a usurper but also dangerous. In terms of territory, he was foremost in the empire, ruling a bloc of lands that reached across its eastern flank. His wealth was prodigious, being mostly derived from his Bohemian mines and from the lucrative mints he owned. His treasure lay, according to a contemporary account, piled up in four strong castles, and amounted to no less than two hundred thousand silver marks and eight hundred golden marks, held in coin, plate, and jewel-encrusted goblets. Ottokar’s annual income from Bohemia is further estimated at around a hundred thousand silver marks, to which may be added an equivalent sum from his Austrian possessions. To put these figures in context, the entire income of the archbishop of Cologne amounted at this time to fifty thousand silver marks and of the duke of Bavaria to twenty thousand of the same. The imperial revenues consisted then of just seven thousand silver marks. Rudolf’s celebrated remark that he had no need to employ an imperial treasurer because all he had was five shillings in bad coin was not entirely fanciful, nor the contemporary description of Ottokar as ‘the Golden King.’
Like Rudolf, Ottokar had also taken the cross—not once but twice—and the crusading Teutonic Knights of the north had named in his honour the city he helped found on the Baltic shore, Königsberg (literally ‘King’s Mountain’, now Kaliningrad in Russia). For Ottokar, Rudolf was a nobody who was unworthy of the royal title—and Ottokar did not hesitate to tell the pope so. Ottokar had opposed Rudolf’s election and continued to claim that it was illegal, since he had been denied a vote. Publicly, Ottokar flaunted his ambition, imitating in the style of his correspondence the forms of imperial charters and using the imperial eagle as one of his own devices. Although Bohemia was, like Austria, a fief of the empire, Ottokar ignored this, proclaiming that he held power not of the ruler but ‘by the grace of God, by whom kings reign and princes rule.’
Rudolf outmanoeuvred Ottokar. He reconciled himself with his enemies, binding them to him by marriages to his daughters, of whom he had no fewer than six to spare. He also presented Ottokar’s actions as a slight not against him but against the dignity of the Holy Roman Empire. Shortly after his election as king, Rudolf persuaded a court diet to condemn Ottokar’s retention of land that belonged by right to the empire. When Ottokar refused to submit to the diet’s decision, he was put under a ban of outlawry, which in the contemporary description reduced him to the status of a wild bird (Vogelfrei)—to be cared for by nobody, forced to dwell in the woods, and even killed at will. To press home the point, the archbishop of Mainz excommunicated Ottokar, absolved his subjects of their oaths of allegiance to him, and forbade the celebration of the sacraments in Bohemia. Throughout Ottokar’s kingdom, religious life came to a halt.
Rudolf bided his time, enlarging the number of his allies and fomenting rumours—that the pope had also excommunicated the Golden King; that Ottokar had banished his ten-year-old daughter to a nunnery to prevent her marrying one of Rudolf’s sons; that a hermit had dreamt of a sphinx, which had prophesied Ottokar’s imminent defeat, and so on. Finally, in the late summer of 1276, Rudolf struck, attacking down the Danube and not into Bohemia, as Ottokar had expected. Faced with rebellions at home and with his enemies already in Vienna, Ottokar capitulated. A contemporary chronicle describes how Ottokar, resplendent in his finery, submitted to Rudolf. Rudolf received the Golden King dressed only in the cheapest clothing, saying, ‘Often has he mocked my grey mantle, let him mock it now!’ Ottokar prostrated himself before Rudolf, who sat on a stool, and received back from him the Bohemian kingdom as a fief, but he did not recover his Austrian lands, which Rudolf instead conferred on himself.
The image of the overmighty and overjewelled king humbling himself before his meanly dressed adversary is a medieval trope intended to show Rudolf’s humility. Plainly, though, Ottokar had no intention of keeping faith with Rudolf. Once returned to Bohemia, he used his wealth to suborn Rudolf’s former allies and to foment discontent with Habsburg rule in Austria. Warfare recommenced in the summer of 1278, with Rudolf relying extensively on troops obtained from Hungary. The two armies met at Dürnkrut, forty kilometres (twenty-five miles) north-east of Vienna. With about ten thousand troops Rudolf’s army was numerically the larger, but most of his forces were light cavalry and infantry. So Rudolf resorted to subterfuge. Breaking the conventions of chivalry, which saw ruses on the battlefield as shameful, Rudolf hid his reserve of several hundred armoured knights. At a critical moment, they flung themselves on the enemy’s flank, routing Ottokar’s army and slaying the Bohemian king. Rudolf’s troops violated the dead king’s body, hacking at it as they stripped off the costly armour.
To ensure that no pretenders emerged claiming to be Ottokar, Rudolf had the Bohemian king’s remains eviscerated to delay putrefaction and put them on public display in Vienna for more than six months. The next year, in 1279, the corpse was carried to Bohemia, eventually to be interred in Prague’s St Vitus’s Cathedral, where it remains to this day. It is housed beneath a fourteenth-century effigy of the king that has been described in the secret language of German art historians as dumpf-erregt, which might just about be translated as ‘lumpishly animated.’ Rudolf, however, did not take possession of the Bohemian kingdom, reckoning it a hopeless entanglement, but instead married his last unwed daughter to Ottokar’s son and heir, the habitually dissolute Wenceslas II.
The remainder of Rudolf’s reign up until his death in 1291 was marked by failure. He did not manage to have himself crowned emperor by the pope but had to make do with the title of king. Like all his predecessors, he also failed to establish a hereditary monarchy in the Holy Roman Empire. Instead, he had to make do with packing the number of electors with princes whose loyalty he thought he had secured by marriage into his own family. Rudolf’s attempt to reestablish the duchy of Swabia for his heirs likewise came unstuck, not least because all but one of his four sons predeceased him.
In Dante’s Purgatory, written in the early fourteenth century, Rudolf and Ottokar are spotted together in ‘the valley of negligent princes’, which is reserved for monarchs who in return for worldly glory have disregarded their souls. Ottokar comforts Rudolf there. The epic clash between Rudolf and the Golden King determined more, however, than just their individual fates. The capture of the Austrian lands made Rudolf master of a large chunk of Central Europe and transformed the fortunes of the Habsburgs. With a solid body of territory in the east to add to the family’s Swabian lands, the Habsburgs looked ready to refashion the Holy Roman Empire, converting their private resources into public power and giving government. But it was a false dawn, both for the Holy Roman Empire and for the Habsburgs.
Napoléon at the Battle of Austerlitz, by François Gérard
The French concentrated around the Rhine from early to mid-September. 210,000 troops of the Grande Armée prepared to cross into Germany and encircle the Austrians.
The small Bavarian town of Wertingen had rarely figured very prominently in German history. A sleepy place south of the Danube about twenty-five miles north-west of Augsburg, it had for most of its life remained a quiet backwater. In the War of the Spanish Succession two mighty armies had clashed with one another a few miles away on the other side of the Danube at Blenheim, but few ripples of that conflict had reached the local peasants and townsfolk. Equally, in August 1796 French troops from Moreau’s Army of the Rhine and Moselle had passed through the town en route for Augsburg, but there had been no fighting, and the town had also escaped seeing any action in the campaign of 1800. On 8 October 1805, however, Wertingen was suddenly pitchforked into the very heart of Europe’s affairs. Late the previous night it had without warning been occupied by about 5,000 men of the Austrian Army of the Danube under Baron Franz Auffenberg. Sent to the area to investigate rumours that enemy troops had crossed the Danube east of the Austrian base of Ulm, the troops were cooking their midday meal when suddenly news arrived that a large French force was approaching from the north-west. A pot-pourri of units that was a perfect representative of the polyglot Austrian army – Germans from the infantry regiments of Chasteler, Spork, and Kaunitz rubbed shoulders with Czechs from those of Stuart and Württemberg, Poles from that of Reuss-Greitz and Hungarians from that of Jellacic – the white-coated Habsburg troops rushed to form up, but it was too late. With over 8,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry, led by Marshals Murat and Lannes, the French fell upon the unfortunate Auffenberg without more ado. Fighting bravely, his men put up a fierce stand around Wertingen itself, but it was to no avail: by the end of the afternoon over 3,000 men had been killed, wounded or taken prisoner for the loss of perhaps 200 Frenchmen.
Unimportant though it was, this brief action set the scene for the next two years. In a series of outstanding campaigns, Napoleon was to overrun central Europe at the head of his grande armée, and inflict defeat after defeat on armies of the ancien régime that seemingly had no answer to his men, his methods and his genius. But the triumphs which for the rest of the Napoleonic age were to adorn the standards of so many French regiments were not just the result of superior tactics, organization or generalship. The French war-machine was anything but perfect in 1805, while Napoleon was quite capable of making serious errors. At the moment when Lannes and Murat collided with Auffenberg at Wertingen, for example, the emperor thought that the army of General Mack lay ahead of the grande armée to the south-east, rather than far to its right at Ulm. Equally, in 1805 much of the French cavalry was poorly mounted and cut a poor figure in the face of that of the Austrians and Russians. It is therefore important to remember that many other factors were crucial in the dramatic events of 1805-7. Thanks to Napoleon, the French state was far better able to sustain an offensive war than had ever been the case in the 1790s. But also important was the diplomatic context to Napoleon’s wars. From the very beginning the Third Coalition was a mismanaged and ill-coordinated venture, while resistance to the emperor was constantly undermined by the continuing belief of many European statesmen that the ‘great game’ of conventional eighteenth-century power politics was still in operation. As they were about to learn, nothing could be further from the truth.
A number of British statesmen had been unenthusiastic about seeking continental allies for fear that to do so would simply be to hand Napoleon fresh victories. Although a coalition was in the end vital to Great Britain, in the short term they were proven entirely right. For Napoleon, the end of the impasse on the Channel coast in all probability came as a great relief. Until the very last minute invasion appears to have been his intention: not only did he fly into a violent rage when news arrived that Villeneuve had made for Cádiz rather than the Channel (see below), but the troops were plucked from the midst of incessant amphibious exercises. ‘Twenty times’, wrote an artillery officer, Baron Hulot, ‘in the fifteen days that followed [the emperor’s] return [to Boulogne on 3 August 1805] I went down to . . . Calais or Dunkirk to . . . supervise the embarkation of the artillery.’ Yet there remained enormous obstacles that Napoleon cannot have been blind to even if he would not admit to them in public. Despite prodigious expenditure, the ports around which the grande armée was encamped were still insufficient to get all the troops to sea in a single tide, while the disaster of 20 July 1804 was anything but reassuring. In short, the French were simply not ready to make the attempt even if they could obtain the necessary naval superiority. And Napoleon knew it: as he observed to one of his aides-de-camp on 4 August, ‘This invasion is by no means a certainty.’ Yet nor could the ‘camp of Boulogne’ be maintained for very much longer. As the months dragged on, so the problem of boredom became ever more acute. As Raymond de Fezensac, a young ci-devant who had enlisted in the 59me Régiment d’Infanterie de Ligne as a gentleman volunteer in 1804 and went on to become an aide-de-camp to Marshal Ney, remembered of the soldiers, ‘Sleeping . . . singing songs, telling stories, getting into arguments over nothing, reading the few bad books that they managed to procure; this was their life.’ Nor, meanwhile, did the waiting suit Napoleon himself. Organizing the invasion was a project that had taken years and, dreams of winning control of the Channel notwithstanding, could well take many years more. How much longer could a fresh injection of martial glory be delayed?
The emergence of the Third Coalition came as manna from heaven, particularly as France was in the grip of a serious financial crisis brought on by heavy government borrowing and the slow manner in which the regime had been paying the numerous contractors engaged in the construction of the invasion flotillas. And, if any further pretext was required, on 23 August news arrived at Boulogne that there would be a further lengthy delay before the invasion flotilla could sail. Its only hope of success had been that the French and Spanish squadrons scattered around the coast of Europe from Toulon to Brest might somehow slip through the British blockade and either unite in the West Indies, thereby forcing the Royal Navy to leave the Channel unguarded, or else join together for a desperate struggle off the British coast itself. By 1805 it was the former plan that was in the ascendant and at the end of March the Toulon squadron had succeeded in dodging the British blockade, escaping through the Straits of Gibraltar and reaching the island of Martinique. No other ships succeeded in joining them there, however, and, with Nelson bearing down upon him, the French commander, Admiral Villeneuve, eventually decided to sail back to Europe in the hope of uniting with France’s other main battle squadrons, which were trapped in Brest and Rochefort. Encountering a British squadron off Finisterre, he was driven into port at El Ferrol. Here he might yet have accomplished much – there was a substantial Spanish squadron at Ferrol while the French ships at Rochefort had managed to get out of port in the confusion – but a mixture of disillusionment, misapprehension and muddle caused Villeneuve to flee for the safety of Cádiz, whither he was followed by the largest force the British could muster. Even more ominously, command of this force was given to the hero of Aboukir and Copenhagen, Horatio Nelson, a leader who radiated aggression and self-confidence, inspired absolute devotion amongst his subordinates, and united tactical genius with a savage hatred of the enemy.
All this left Napoleon both furious and disgusted. As Ségur recounts, even the relatively innocuous news that Villeneuve had taken shelter at El Ferrol provoked an explosion:
It was about four o’clock in the morning of August 13th that the news was brought to the emperor . . . Daru was summoned and on entering he gazed on his chief in utter astonishment. He told me afterwards that he looked perfectly wild, that his hat was thrust down to his eyes, and that his whole aspect was terrible. As soon as he saw Daru he rushed up and thus apostrophized him; ‘Do you know where that fool of a Villeneuve is now? He is at Ferrol. Do you know what that means? At Ferrol? You do not know? He has been beaten; he has gone to hide himself . . . That is the end of it: he will be blocked up there. What a navy! What an admiral! What useless sacrifices!’ And, becoming more and more excited, he walked up and down the room for about an hour giving vent to his justifiable anger in a torrent of bitter reproaches and sorrowful reflections.
That Napoleon was aggrieved that two years had been lost there was no doubt. But he was soon happily making the best of a bad job: ‘Well,’ he said, ‘if we must give that up, we will at any rate hear the Midnight Mass at Vienna.’ No sooner had he spent his rage at Villeneuve’s retreat to Ferrol, indeed, than he is supposed to have sat Daru down and dictated the plan of campaign that, exactly as he had predicted, saw him reach Vienna by Christmas. Before telling that story, we must first wrap up matters naval, however.
With the invasion attempt definitively abandoned, Napoleon might have done best to leave Villeneuve’s fleet in port. However, perturbed by Sir James Craig’s expedition to the Mediterranean, the emperor ordered him to make for Naples so as to put ashore the 4,000 troops who had been attached to his squadron and assist St Cyr in the task of overawing Ferdinand IV. Despite the fact that neither his own ships nor the Spanish squadron stationed in Cádiz were remotely fit for battle, the French admiral realized that compliance was the only hope of saving his career – Napoleon had in fact dispatched Admiral Rosily to replace him – and on 20 October he put to sea. Alongside him sailed fifteen Spanish men-of-war, commanded by Admiral Federico Gravina. The presence of these forces provides a useful opportunity to discuss the relationship that had developed between France and Spain since the latter’s forced re-entry into the conflict in November 1804. In brief, Franco-Spanish relations were extremely poor. Initially, the royal favourite and dominant figure in the regime, Manuel de Godoy, had affected enthusiasm for the war. In this, he may even have been genuine: once hostilities had become inevitable there was, after all, no barrier to dreams of retaking Gibraltar or seizing a slice of Portugal. But the fact is that Spain had little choice: Britain was clearly bent on making war on her, while Napoleon made it quite clear to the Spanish ambassador to Paris – none other than the same Admiral Gravina – that any other response than military action would incur great displeasure on his part.
On 9 January 1805, then, a convention had been signed whereby the Spaniards promised to arm naval squadrons at El Ferrol, Cádiz and Cartagena by the end of March. At first all went well enough: by a variety of means Napoleon encouraged Godoy to believe that Spain would indeed be permitted to move against Portugal and in response the favourite threw himself into the task of readying the Spanish navy for war. Much was achieved: six ships-of-the-line were able to join Villeneuve from Cádiz when he sailed through the Straits of Gibraltar into the Atlantic in April after escaping from Toulon, while strenuous efforts, not least on the financial front, had by the same date got another twelve ready in the other two naval bases mentioned in the convention. Naturally enough, these efforts, which had been made in the face of considerable opposition in the ministry and the naval establishment, persuaded Godoy that he was entitled to some reward and, in particular, to make use of Spain’s forces to pursue military objectives of interest to Madrid. One obvious possibility was an attack on Gibraltar and another a descent on one or other of Britain’s possessions in the Caribbean. To Napoleon, however, such designs were of no account, and the unfortunate Godoy found that he was expected to commit all Spain’s forces to the invasion of Britain. Still worse, it appeared that what Spain had achieved thus far was not enough: Napoleon not only wanted more ships mobilized than the Spaniards had promised, but was in effect demanding the transfer of a number of additional vessels to the French navy.
In the event this particular spectre did not become a reality, but neither did Godoy’s dreams of territorial acquisitions. On the contrary, these were pointedly ignored: no fewer than three attempts to interest Napoleon in a march on Lisbon received no response whatsoever. Only when it became clear that the Portuguese, for all their neutrality, remained loyal to their traditional friendship with Britain did Napoleon take an interest in the subject and even then Godoy’s hopes were soon dashed. Given the emergence of the Third Coalition, Napoleon no longer had any troops to spare for Portugal and began to speak in terms of the Spaniards sending troops to Italy or even Germany. An angry Godoy therefore began to drag his feet in Madrid. He was deeply conscious of the faulty state of many of the ships, the tactical superiority of the British and Spain’s chronic shortage of trained manpower. In recent years this had been exacerbated by successive epidemics of yellow fever that had killed many thousands of people in the coastal communities of Andalucía – in Málaga alone, there were 6,343 deaths between 22 August and 1 October 1804. Told that new orders had arrived, laying down that the combined squadron should sail for Naples and add the many soldiers embarked on Villeneuve’s ships to St Cyr’s army, in Cádiz Gravina and his officers fiercely opposed leaving port. Only through accusations of cowardice coupled with news that Nelson had detached a part of his squadron to replenish its supplies were they got to sea at all, and when they did so the results were much as both they (and, in fairness, Villeneuve) feared. Though somewhat outnumbered by his opponents, Nelson closed in immediately and attacked the French and Spaniards off Cape Trafalgar. Sailing in two parallel lines, the British fleet cut the straggling Franco-Spanish array into several different fragments, and then battered it to pieces. Nelson, of course, was killed, but the combined fleet was broken beyond repair – of its thirty-three men-of-war, eighteen were lost and most of the rest crippled.
Trafalgar’s significance is a matter of some dispute. In the short term it mattered little: Britain had already escaped the threat of invasion, and it did nothing to affect events in central Europe. Nor did it permanently establish the fact of British naval predominance, for the French shipyards were over the years able to make up Villeneuve’s losses and force the British to continue to commit immense resources to the naval struggle. All that can be said for certain is that, despite much bluster, Napoleon never again attempted to launch a frontal assault against Britain: henceforth victory would have to be attained by some form of economic warfare. In that sense, then, Trafalgar may be said to have changed the whole course of the war, for Napoleon was now set to embark on a course of action that carried with it at the very least the risk of pitching France against the whole of the rest of the Continent. And, for those with eyes to see, Trafalgar showed very clearly that there could be no partnership with Napoleon. Having been forced to enter the war against their will, the Spaniards found their strategic interests and their resources ruthlessly commandeered to serve France’s interests. A substantial portion of their remaining naval strength – the central pillar of their colonial empire – had in effect been thrown away on a futile plan to send a few thousand extra soldiers to overawe a state that was not just friendly to Spain but situated in a secondary theatre of operations. Already under great pressure, Godoy’s credit on the home front was squandered and with it a financial effort that had quite literally emptied Spain’s coffers: among other measures, a loan of million florins had had to be taken out in Holland to finance the fleet’s mobilization.
The Capitulation of Ulm by Charles Thévenin, where General Mack and 23,000 Austrian troops surrendered to Napoleon.
The strategic situation from 11 to 14 October. The French hurl themselves westwards to capture the Austrian army.
To talk of Trafalgar in this fashion is possibly to speak with the benefit of hindsight. But for Napoleon, the news was still irritating enough: hearing of the battle he supposedly ‘started up full of rage, exclaiming, “I cannot be everywhere!” ’. This is understandable enough, for Trafalgar constituted a considerable blow to his prestige. Yet marching through southern Germany, he was infinitely better off than he might have been. Let us here quote Pasquier:
What would have become of [Napoleon] if, having disembarked on the English coast with the élite of his forces, he had only kept control of the sea for a short time. What would have become of France had the great Austrian army commanded by the Archduke Charles marched across Bavaria and appeared on the banks of the Rhine? Given that there would not have been sufficient forces to put up an effective resistance, they would probably have got across and France would then have been invaded . . . In the face of that situation, the only answer would have been the one that he himself made to several people who dared to raise the possibility with him. ‘If the invasion had succeeded, such would have been the enthusiasm in France that the women and children of Strasbourg could have thrown back the Austrians by themselves.’ Is that answer not rather more clever than it is to the point?
As it was, the French experienced not tragedy but triumph. The allied plans had initially seemed threatening indeed. In the first place, the array of enemies facing France had grown yet again. The Franco-Neapolitan treaty of alliance, or strictly speaking, of neutrality, had originated in strategic considerations relating to the military situation in Italy: Masséna was badly outnumbered in the north, whilst St Cyr’s troops were scattered across the centre and south of the Italian peninsula in a number of small detachments and, in consequence, wide open to attack. Pulling them out in order to reinforce the French forces in Lombardy therefore made a great deal of sense, the only means of keeping Naples in line therefore being an agreement of some sort. No sooner had the resultant treaty of 9 October been signed than St Cyr got his men on the road. On this occasion, however, French policy failed. Freed from the threat of reprisals, the Neapolitans denounced their agreement with Paris, appealed for Anglo-Russian protection and mobilized their army. In the wake of this development a veritable war of encirclement threatened France. Linked by 53,000 troops in the Tyrol, 90,000 Austrians would invade northern Italy and 140,000 Bavaria, while 100,000 Russians marched to their aid. Joined by an Anglo-Russian army of 40,000 men which was being concentrated in the Mediterranean, the Neapolitans would threaten France’s southern flank, whilst 50,000 seaborne British, Russians and Swedes liberated Hanover and went on to assault Holland. Last but not least, 50,000 further Russians were to be dispatched to galvanize the Prussians into action and join with them in a victorious march across Germany. In short, over 500,000 men would join together in a concentric advance against a French force that, even counting the forces of Napoleon’s satellites, seemed unlikely to amount to much more than 350,000. Nor were operations neglected in the wider world, the end of August seeing a small British expedition taking ship to evict the Dutch from their strategically placed colony at the Cape of Good Hope.
Imposing as this array seemed, matters were by no means as one-sided as at first appeared. Sometimes described as the most proficient army the world has ever seen, the grande armée was not without its problems. For one thing, it was so short of horses that some of its cavalry had actually to fight as infantrymen. For another, it is certainly possible to question the received wisdom that its men had spent all their time at the ‘camp of Boulogne’ being drilled and trained without let-up. Some accounts do speak as if this was the case: ‘The troops assembled there’, wrote Emile de Saint-Hilaire, ‘were occupied and disciplined in the style of the Romans; every hour had its own job and the soldiers were forever swapping their muskets for their pickaxes.’ Much the same sort of thing, meanwhile, is recorded by Hulot: ‘Everywhere one saw nothing but parades, simulations of attack and defence, forced marches and changes of bivouac. This spectacle filled us all with the same impression: woe be to the foreigner who is set about by such an army!’ But other memories were less sanguine. To quote Fezensac, for example, ‘The regiment was rarely assembled to manoeuvre in line. There were one or two excursions – simple route marches that approximated to the sort of distance one might cover in the course of an easy day in the field – a few rounds of target practice conducted without any method, and that was about it: no training for our skirmishers, no bayonet practice . . . no attempt to construct the simplest work of fortification.’ Whether the army was ever quite the disciplined machine that it has been made out to be is therefore a moot point. Nor were its logistical capacities up to the task of supplying the troops, who not only suffered all the rigours of campaigning, but all too often went hungry. To quote Fezensac’s memories of the march into Germany:
This short campaign was a summary of all that was to follow. The excessive fatigue, the want of supplies, the rigours of the season, the disorders committed by marauders, nothing was wanting . . . The brigades and even the regiments were often dispersed and orders to get them to a certain place often arrived late as they had to pass through many different hands. The result was that my regiment often had to march day and night, and for the first time I saw men sleeping as they marched, which is something that I would never have believed possible. In this fashion, we would arrive at the position we were supposed to occupy but without having had anything to eat or drink. Marshal Berthier, the chief of staff, had written that in the war of invasion planned by the emperor, there would be no magazines with the result that generals would have to provide for their men from the countries through which they passed. However, the generals had neither the time nor the means . . . to feed so numerous an army. As the countryside found out in the most cruel fashion, what this amounted to was to authorize pillage, and yet for the whole length of that campaign we did not suffer any the less from hunger . . . The bad weather made our sufferings even worse. A cold rain fell, and sometimes wet snow in which we waded up to our knees, while such was the wind that we could never light a fire. The sixteenth of October in particular – the day when M. Phillippe de Ségur waited upon Mack with the first demand that he surrender – the weather was so awful that nobody stayed at their post. There were neither pickets nor sentries . . . [and] everyone sought such shelter as he could. At no other moment, except in the campaign in Russia, did I suffer so much or see the army in such disarray.
For all their problems, the French did possess many advantages. From Napoleon downwards, the men at the head of the army represented the very cream of revolutionary generalship. Officers and men alike were on the whole veterans of some years’ service; the army’s tactical system was more adaptable than that of its continental opponents; and Napoleon had greatly improved upon the organizational model that he had inherited from the Republic through the establishment of army corps and the concentration of part of the artillery and cavalry into special reserves of great fighting power. Able as a result to move very fast, operate on a broad front that facilitated attempts at envelopment, display an extraordinary level of flexibility and hit very hard on the actual battlefield, the army also enjoyed high morale. Spirits were lifted by the simple fact that the men were on the move at last: Hulot described feeling ‘sincere joy’; newly commissioned as an officer, Fezensac remembered, ‘I was delighted to make war’; while Jean-Baptiste Barrès wrote, ‘We left Paris quite content to go campaigning . . . War was the one thing I wanted.’
This spirit of confidence and enthusiasm was the fruit of much cos-setting. Ever since 1799 Napoleon had done all that he could to cultivate the army. Parades and reviews were a constant feature of public life; the new flags now carried by each regiment were inscribed with gold letters spelling out the personal relationship between the emperor and his soldiers; the extensive employment of generals as ambassadors was a clear statement of the intimate connection between Napoleon, French foreign policy and the military; and the vast majority of recipients of the Legion of Honour – the new decoration instituted by Napoleon for services to the state – proved to be members of the armed forces. Nor was the Legion of Honour the only reward open to the emperor’s followers. Few soldiers could aspire to rise so far – only twenty-six men ever received the title – but the glittering figures of Masséna, Murat, Ney, Lannes, Augereau and the other marshals of the empire served as living object lessons in what could be achieved by courage and devotion. Showered with estates, they became fabulously wealthy. As yet the greatest glory still lay in the future. But even so the result was a mood of real excitement. To quote Elzéar Blaze:
None but a soldier of that period can conceive what spell there was in the uniform. What lofty expectations inflamed all the young heads on which a plume of feathers waved for the first time! Every French soldier carries in his cartouche-box his truncheon of marshal of France; the only question is how to get it out.
Nor was it just a case of promotion. In his field garb of plain grey overcoat and unadorned black tricorn, the emperor looked the very epitome of the common soldier of the Revolution – his nickname, after all, was ‘the little corporal’ – and he was always displaying the affability, simplicity and familiarity of manner that invoked such love amongst the troops. To cite just one of the stories told of him at this time, a private soldier suddenly stepped out in front of Napoleon’s horse to present him with a petition. Badly startled, the mount shied, and Napoleon flew into a rage, striking the man with his whip. Almost immediately, though, he collected himself and made the soldier a sergeant on the spot.
Thus far we see only a force of the sort that the American scholar John Lynn referred to as ‘an army of honour’ – an army whose members sought to advance their own interests and were concerned only with their own status and prestige. Yet despite the eclipse of overtly Republican generals such as Moreau and Pichegru – who were either dead or in exile – and the cult of imperial glory in which the army was the centrepiece, many of the soldiers continued to persuade themselves that they were fighting, if not for the Republic, then at least for its ideals. In this they were encouraged by Napoleon. The very first bulletin of the campaign calls the army ‘only the advance guard of the people’. Inspired by such language, many soldiers could believe, along with Charles Parquin, that the army’s goals remained ‘the great ideals of the French Revolution – the ideals of liberty, of unity and of the future – which, as everyone knows, the emperor Napoleon personified’. As proof of the depth of feeling that underlay such comments one has only to point to the particular hatred with which many soldiers regarded the Catholic Church. Wherever popular resistance was encountered – in other words in Spain, Portugal, the Tyrol and southern Italy – it was the Church that got the blame, and the Church that paid the price. ‘It was the monks who did most to make war against us,’ wrote one soldier of the war in Spain. ‘We cornered fifty of them in a church and massacred them all with the points of our bayonets.’ Underlying all this was a sense of cultural superiority that deepened with every mile that the army moved east and south. As one hussar officer in Spain put it: ‘With regard to the knowledge and the progress of social habits, Spain was at least a century behind the other nations of the continent.’
To return to Parquin, we see here not just the conviction that the army was fighting for the Revolution, but also faith in the person of Napoleon himself. Confidence in its leader was one of the French army’s most potent weapons, and one that was, of course, sedulously cultivated by the French ruler, not least by the constant pretence that he made of sharing its privations. But if this was indeed pretence, Napoleon at least made a genuine point of moving amongst his troops: the scene that took place on the eve of Austerlitz is particularly famous:
His army was but half as strong as that of the enemy. His soldiers had hitherto always been victorious, but, with so small a force . . . it was of the utmost importance to him to know whether the confidence of the troops in their own superiority would . . . be sufficient to make up for their inferiority in numbers. It therefore occurred to him to go on foot, accompanied by Marshal Berthier only, throughout the camp and listen unnoticed to the chat of the soldiers round their fires. By eleven o’clock he had already traversed a great distance when he was recognized. The soldiers, surprised at finding him in the midst of them, and afraid that he might lose his way going back to his headquarters . . . hastened to break up the shelters they had made of branches and straw to use them as torches to light their emperor home. One bivouac after another took up the task, and in less than a quarter of an hour, torches lit up the camp, whilst passionate cries of ‘Vive l’empereur!’ resounded on every side.
Mixed in with the aura of greatness were little touches of humanity. At Ulm it was observed that the French ruler’s famous greatcoat got singed when he sat too close to the fire. Nor had Napoleon lost his common touch. Writing of the same battle, one soldier remembered, ‘We were eating jam made from quinces . . . The emperor laughed. “Ah!”, said he. “I see you are eating preserves; don’t get up. You must put new flints in your guns: tomorrow morning you will need them. Be ready!”’ Not many soldiers actually received the favour of a personal word of enquiry or encouragement from their commander, of course, but that is not the point: the stories of such encounters doubtless grew in the telling, while the troops believed that they were cared about. As one François Avril wrote, ‘We have observed with the greatest interest the tender care taken by His Majesty to improve the lot of [the] . . . warriors charged with the task of defending the integrity of French territory.’ Close proximity to the emperor, meanwhile, brought a genuine sense of well-being. Reviewed by Napoleon in the midst of some particularly inclement weather, a common soldier named André Dupont-Ferrier wrote, ‘I don’t think I have ever been as cold as I was that day, and I don’t know how the emperor could bear it . . . but it seemed that his very presence warmed us, and repeated shouts of “Vive l’empereur!” must have convinced him how much he is cherished.’ Just as important was the sense that Napoleon was looking to each and every soldier for his survival. ‘We saw the Emperor Napoleon pass . . . He was on horseback; the simplicity of his green uniform distinguished him amidst the richly clothed generals who surrounded him; he waved his hands to every individual officer as he passed, seeming to say, “I rely on you.” ’ The consequences were enormous. ‘The presence of the emperor,’ wrote one veteran of the Austerlitz campaign, ‘produced a powerful effect on the army. Everyone had the most implicit confidence in him; everyone knew, from experience, that his plans led to victory, and therefore . . . our moral force was redoubled.’ Well might Wellington remark, ‘His presence on the field made a difference of 40,000 men.’
On 8 February 1748, a distinguished group of senior officers met in Vienna to coordinate military reform. Under the presidency of Lorraine, the detailed work was to be carried out by Liechtenstein and Harrach with the support of Wenzel Wallis with two gifted officers, Daun and Schulenburg. Of these, Liechtenstein and Daun were perhaps the most enterprising. The former was an Alpine prince whose rank, wealth and status were, as it is for his descendants to this day, on a different level to that of the high Austrian aristocracy. (The fabulous wealth of the Liechtenstein family was founded, according to legend, on the secret of the Philosopher’s Stone.) With their uniquely corrupt vowels inflecting their speech, their enormous height and practical materialist outlook at once both realist and solemn, the Liechtensteins consequently were always far removed from the atmosphere and frivolity of the Austrian court. Field Marshal Joseph Wenzel Liechtenstein was no exception and it was no coincidence that the arm requiring the highest quotient of intelligence, the artillery, fell to his responsibility. Wounded at the head of his Dragoon regiment at the Battle of Chotusitz, Liechtenstein had been very impressed by the 82 well-served Prussian guns, which had compared so well with the antiquated Austrian cannon. With his active military career cut short by his wounds he was determined to devote the rest of his life to giving the Habsburgs the best artillery in Europe.
Assisted by his immense private wealth – not a ducat needed to come from the Austrian treasury to finance his experiments – he invited at his own expense the foremost artillerists of Europe to advise him: Alvson from Denmark, the brothers Feuerstein from Kolín, Schröeder from Prussia, ‘Fire Devil’ Rouvroy from Saxony and even the formidable Gribeauval from France. By the time Liechtenstein had finished his reorganisation a few years later Austrian artillery would be established as among the finest in Europe, a reputation that would more or less endure until 1918. All these later successes were built on the foundation stone of Liechtenstein’s reforms in the 1750s.
These reforms had a geographical and ethnic dimension to them for Liechtenstein soon realised that artillery could not be left to ordinary soldiers of no education. In a move which was to prove far-seeing and have significant consequences for the development of the Central European arms industry later in the twentieth century, the Prince established the home of the Habsburg artillery arm unequivocally once and for all in Bohemia. He knew that the Bohemians of mixed German and Czech race were not only the quickest wits in the Empire but that they combined resilience with toughness, humour with imagination, practicality with energy and above all a sense of theatre with coolness under fire. How did he know this? He knew this because vast tracts of Bohemia and Moravia belonged to his family, who administered them with tremendous care and intelligence. Truly can it be said that Bohemia elevated the House of Liechtenstein to something beyond mere Alpine aristocracy. Placing the artillery headquarters in Budweis, he also ensured that his artillerists were paid a third more than the rank and file infantry.
When Wenzel Liechtenstein began his work, there were only 800 trained artillerists in the Habsburg army. By 1755 there were three artillery brigades made up of some 33 companies. In addition Artillery Fusilier regiments were created to assist the gunners in moving and defending the guns. As well as these a munitions corps and mining company were established. The artillery ‘park’ was also increased, with 768 3-pounder guns and several batteries of 6-pounder cannon. At Ebergassing near Vienna the cannon foundry was ‘modernised’ with a new range of horizontal drilling machines invented by a Swiss mechanical but illiterate genius called Jacquet. By the end of Maria Theresa’s reign there were more than 600 heavy 6- and 12-pounder pieces and the artillery arm numbered nearly 15,000 men. Standardisation of wheels and other parts of the guns was an important feature of the new weapons.
Drill and exercise were the natural concomitants of this huge increase in firepower and Liechtenstein insisted on full-scale training at least twice a week. By 1772, also by Imperial decree, a brown uniform with red facings was established to distinguish the corps from the white-coated rank and file infantry. Maria Theresa noted – she always took a keen and practical interest in these details – ‘it is important for the uniform to be conspicuous but not more expensive’. More than a century later at the 1900 Paris Exhibition a modern version of this brown and red uniform would win the first prize for combining elegance and practicality.
Not only were the uniforms distinctive, the levels of rank were also unique, with archaic titles such as Buchsenmeister (gunner) or Alt-Feuerwerker (second lieutenant) or Stuckhauptmann (captain) or Stuckjuncker (first lieutenant). The artillery was in its atmosphere more a medieval guild of kindred spirits with its own rituals and language than a conventional regiment of the army. Promotion to officer rank was strictly meritocratic and almost always proceeded from within the corps. Candidates were first trained in the Budweis artillery depot where they were schooled in geometry, ballistics, hydraulics and the science of fortification.
In 1757 the artillery Reglement (Regulations) noted: ‘We must seek in the artillery to encourage the men in their duties more through a love of honour and good treatment than through brutality, untimely blows and beatings.’
In addition to these reforms, the Empress, on Liechtenstein’s advice, established institutes (Witwen und Waisen Confraternität) to look after the families of artillerists, especially widows and orphans in Prague, Kolín and Landshut. At the same time Liechtenstein introduced a radical overhaul of ordnance. Anton Feuerstein as head of the Feld Artillerie Corps sought to pare weight down to a minimum by shortening and lightening barrels. Gun carriages also benefited from this practical approach. He established a common axle and just two types of wheel for all artillery pieces. This uniformity meant that spares could be made available in the event of breakdown.
Moreover, each gun was given a number which in turn was painted on every item of equipment down to the mop-cum-rammer to help every soldier identify with his artillery piece, for ‘both officers and men feel their honour is engaged when taking a close interest in the upkeep of their equipment and ammunition. Thus the entire ordnance is most carefully engaged.’
Above all, to ensure an instantly recognisable and practical appearance the gun carriages and wheels were to be painted in the Imperial colours, schwarzgelb (black and gold, or rather yellow), with the result that this application of oil paint offered ‘much better protection than before against damp and other climatic conditions. In this way ‘the greater durability of the wood repays the cost many times over’. Not even Austrian gunpowder was immune from Liechtenstein’s zealous reforms. Renowned for its combustibility and strength, it was made even more effective when packaged in linen cartridges which were bound together with a sabot.
The linen surface of the cartridge was then painted with a covered paste and finally coated with white oil paint. Thus the powder was compressed tightly together for maximum effect.
Location: Hohenlinden in Bavaria (southern Germany)
Opponents (* winner)
General Jean-Viktor Moreau—Archduke Johann (John)
Approx. # Troops
The brilliant French victory at the Battle of Hohenlinden, in Bavaria, ended the War of the Second Coalition (1798-1800) against France. England, which had remained at war with France since 1793, at the end of 1798 signed a treaty with Russia to initiate the War of the Second Coalition (1798-1800). The allies included Russia, Austria, the Ottoman Empire, and Naples. Their plan called for an Anglo-Russian force to expel the French from the Netherlands, while Austrian forces under Archduke Charles forced the French from Germany and Switzerland, and Russian-Austrian forces drove them from Italy.
At first events went according to allied plan. Austro-Russian forces defeated the French in Italy, and Anglo-Russian forces campaigned in the Netherlands. Reversals and rivalries among the coalition members soon brought its collapse, however. The Austrians abandoned Russian general Alexander Korsakov’s forces in Switzerland in September 1799 when Vienna ordered forces under Archduke Charles to the Rhineland instead. General de Division Victor-Andre Massena defeated Korsakov at Zurich, obliging Russian forces under Alexander Suvorov to retreat over the Alps. Suvorov’s army was decimated in the process. In October the British were obliged to evacuate Holland, and Russia withdrew from the war.
Napoleon Bonaparte now returned from Egypt to France. In a November 1799 coup d’etat, he became first consul, effectively assuming full power. Napoleon then took the field against Austria, crossing the Alps and campaigning in Italy. On June 14, 1800, at Marengo, Napoleon lost a battle to the Austrians, having detached a corps under General de Division Louis Desaix to find them. Fortunately, Desaix marched his men to the sound of the guns and, on his arrival, informed Napoleon that there was still time in the day to win another battle. Desaix attacked, and although he fell mortally wounded, he won the day for Napoleon. Peace negotiations dragged on, however, until General de Division Jean-Viktor Moreau’s victory over Austrian forces under Archduke Johann (John) at Hohenlinden in Bavaria on December 3, 1800.
At the beginning of December Moreau commanded some 50,000 men, while Archduke Charles commanded 64,000 men. Moreau’s forces, which were moving west, were dispersed over a 30-mile front. Moreau assumed that he held the initiative and was surprised when he came under Austrian attack. Johann’s chief of staff, Colonel Franz Weyrother, had convinced the archduke to go on the offensive. Overwhelming Austrian numbers forced French General de Division Michel Ney and his 10,000 men into a fighting withdrawal from Ampfling on December 1. The Battle of Ampfling, however, cost the Austrians 3,070 casualties (1,077 prisoners) to only 1,707 (697 taken prisoner) for the French.
These figures should have given Johann pause, but he believed that the French were in full retreat and ordered his forces, advancing west on parallel axes, to continue toward Munchen (Munich) and concentrate near Hohenlinden. Johann expected that if Moreau were to give battle, the decisive encounter would occur the next day near Haag, about eight miles east of Hohenlinden.
Austrian patrols discovered that the French had departed, however, as the archduke pushed his principal column of some 22,000 men under General Johann Kol-lowrat down the only hard-surface road, which ran through the Forest of Hohenlinden. Weyrother sent three other columns paralleling the main column: one just to the north under General Maximilien Baillet with 11,000 men; another farther north, just south of the Isen River, under General Michael Kienmayer with 16,000 men; and one to the south under General Johann Riesch with 13,300 men. Moreau had 32,000 men in his main body with two divisions to the south, one of 10,000 men under General de Division Antoine Decaen and another of 8,400 men under General de Division Charles Richepence.
The Battle of Hohenlinden opened at about 7:00 a.m. on December 3 when Kollowrat’s main body, with the archduke and his staff, came under fire from French troops concealed in the forest on either side. Moreau was able to concentrate the bulk of his forces against the main Austrian body, while Johann was unable to bring his together in timely fashion. The Austrians pushed forward, and Ney and General de Division Emmanuel de Grouchy to his right deserve much credit for the success of their two outnumbered divisions in repelling the main Austrian attack.
On the night of December 2 Moreau, aware of the broad outline of the Austrian plan, had ordered both Richepance and Decaen to flank the Austrian left. Their attack late on the morning of December 3 with 18,000 men caught the Austrians by surprise and caused the Austrian left to hesitate. Moreau, judging that the sudden collapse of Austrian momentum was the result of the flanking attack, ordered Grouchy and the rest of his forces to shift to the offensive. Under attack from the flank and the front, the more numerous Austrians withdrew in disorder. The limited road net and topography had both worked against an Austrian concentration of force.
The Austrians sustained some 13,500 casualties (1,750 taken prisoner) and lost 26 guns. The French probably lost 3,000 men and 1 gun. It was the greatest casualty ratio of any major battle of the Napoleonic Wars. Moreau’s victory made possible the conclusion of peace with the Austrians in the Treaty of Luneville, in effect ending the War of the Second Coalition. Under the peace terms France secured the Rhineland, this time including all Austrian territory there. All fortresses on the right bank of the Rhine were to be demolished, opening the way for the French there. France also won recognition of its puppet Swiss (Helvetic), Dutch (Batavian), and Italian (Ligurian and Italian) republics. Napoleon came to terms with Czar Paul of Russia. The British also concluded peace, recognizing the French gains on the continent and securing in return Ceylon and Trinidad. For the first time in 10 years, Europe was at peace. Unfortunately for France and Europe, Napoleon used peace as he did war to further his own interests, especially in Italy, leading to resumption of war with Britain in May 1803 and a new coalition, the Third Coalition, against him in 1805.
Arnold, James R. Marengo and Hohenlinden: Napoleon’s Rise to Power. Lexington, VA: James R. Arnold, 1999.
Chandler, David G. The Campaigns of Napoleon. New York: Macmillan, 1966.
Connelly, Owen. Blundering to Glory: Napoleon’s Military Campaigns. Rev. ed. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 1999.
Rothenberg, Gunther E. Napoleon’s Great Adversaries: The Archduke Charles and the Austrian Army, 1792-1814. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982.
The relief of Vienna on September 12, 1683. In the decisive battle at Kahlenberg, the united imperial army succeeded in liberating Vienna after two months of siege at the hands of the Turkish army.
Plan of Vienna, with the Turkish approaches.
In June 1683 the Ottomans were at the gates of the city of their European dreams-Vienna. They had been battling the Habsburgs for centuries for dominance in the region, and Vienna was a strategic and cultural plum they had tried to take once before, in 1529. Now, with Vienna again under siege, an Ottoman draftsman recorded his own vision of the Imperial City-along with the offensive and defensive lines. As in 1529, the city had forewarning of the Ottoman advance, and Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor, had assembled an allied army of Habsburg, Polish-Lithuanian, Roman, and smaller regional forces. By mid- September, they were outside Vienna. On the heights of the Kahlenberg, in the Vienna Woods, the allies clashed with the army of Kara Mustafa Pasha. At one point Polish king John III Sobieski launched 18,000 horsemen at the Ottomans-the largest cavalry charge in history at that time. The Battle of Vienna not only freed the city, it stopped the Ottomans from advancing farther west, and it established Habsburg dominance in Central Europe.
In February 1683 Quartermaster-General Haslingen drew up a complete list of Leopold’s troops and of the areas in which they were stationed. He counted seventy companies in Bohemia, forty-five in Moravia, and forty-eight in Silesia—with a complement, in theory, of 7,600 foot and 10,000 cuirassiers and dragoons. There were seventy-five companies in western Hungary and thirty-eight in Upper Hungary, although a comparison with another of his memoranda seems to show that he was here counting some regiments and companies twice over; nor could he, or anyone else, rely on the estimates of men serving in the various types of Hungarian militia. In the Inner Austrian lands (Styria, Carinthia and Carniola) Haslingen enumerated forty-three companies—5,600 foot and 1,200 horse; in Upper and Lower Austria forty companies—4,000 foot and 1,600 horse; and in the empire eighty companies of foot and one of horse—16,400 men. His figures for the number of companies were correct (except, no doubt, for Hungary); but on the premise that the full complement in foot and mounted companies was 200 and 80 men respectively, the grand totals of 44,800 infantry and 17,600 cavalry were no more than the roughest of guides to the size of the whole Habsburg force. They much exceeded the actual number of effective soldiers. However, the quartermaster could soon hope to add to it the bands of irregulars to be raised by Magyar magnates, three mounted regiments which Prince Lubomirski was commissioned to bring from Poland, and also the new regiments of the patentees nominated by Leopold during the winter.
The immediate problem, for the War Council, was to decide how many men could be safely moved east from the empire, in spite of Louis XIV’s aggressive policy, in order to reinforce the contingents sent south from the Bohemian lands, building up by this concentration the strongest possible force in Hungary to oppose the Turks. The decision involved some of the best regiments at Leopold’s disposal; it had also to take into account the treaty recently agreed with Max Emmanuel of Bavaria, which obliged the Emperor to leave 15,000 men always available for the defence of the Empire. In fact, about 7,500 infantry from the old regiments were finally ordered to march from the western front to a rendezvous at Kittsee, near Pressburg, to join there the great majority of the regiments recently quartered in Bohemia and the various Austrian duchies. In due course, 5,000 men from the new regiments were also available for the campaign in Hungary.
It was soon realised that one miscalculation had already been made. The troops, especially those in the Empire, took much longer than expected to make the long journey to the eastern front, and the date for the rendezvous at Kittsee had to be altered from 21 April to 6 May. Sixteen days were thus lost, and the chance of taking the initiative before the Turks could arrive dwindled fast.
Another difficult point was the appointment of a commander in the field. Leopold, unlike his father, unlike such militant contemporary rulers as Max Emmanuel and William of Orange or John Sobieski, never imagined himself a victorious commanding general. He had always to choose a deputy, after taking into account the ticklish animosities of the military and political grandees of his court. In the last war against France, Montecuccoli, by combining the presidency of the War Council with the supreme command in the field, had caused them the greatest offence. Enemies and critics of Baden, the new President, were determined to deny him the same monopoly of power and they relied on the pledge, previously given by Leopold, to appoint Charles of Lorraine commander-in-chief if war broke out again. This could not bind the Emperor. Circumstances alter cases, Charles had often been ill in recent years, while Herman of Baden certainly disliked and perhaps under-estimated him. In 1683, in spite of counter-intrigues, Lorraine’s party at the court persevered and finally triumphed, so that he was instructed to be in Vienna by 10 April in order to discuss the strategy of the coming campaign.
Money without manpower was useless. Lorraine and Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg, military governor of Vienna from 1680, had immediately agreed that the infantry regiments marching up the Danube from Pressburg should move at once into Vienna. On 10 July, troops of the vanguard first appeared. More arrived on the following day, and on the 13th the mass of Leslie’s command completed their long journey from Györ; the great majority of his infantry regiments were sent over the river with the utmost despatch. Early that day, therefore, Starhemberg commanded 5,000 men. By evening he had some 11,000. The prospects were at least less dismal than the week before, when the Turks were expected to invest or storm a city held by no more than the ghost of a garrison.
Yet the foremost Ottoman raiders now appeared, and in the distance the smoke of burning villages in the neighbourhood rose skywards. Starhemberg did not dare delay in performing one of his most disagreeable duties: the speedy and forcible clearing of the glacis. Since earlier demolition orders had not been obeyed, he began—on 13 July—to burn down everything in the area outside the counterscarp which would obviously hamper the garrison. Most of all he wanted to clear the ground west of the city, where suburbs came closest to the moat. More smoke rose skywards. The sparks flew. They flew over the walls as far as the roof of the Schotten monastery by the Schottengate, where a fire broke out in the afternoon of Wednesday, the 14th; and it almost altered the course of history. The wind blew sparks against the neighbouring buildings, an inn, and from the inn to a wall of the Arsenal, where supplies of every kind were stored, including 1,800 barrels of powder. Nearby, other powder magazines adjoined the New-gate. If the defence-works here were seriously damaged by explosion, or the stores lost, resistance to the Turks was hardly thinkable. The flames moved along a wooden gallery into the Arsenal. Townsmen and soldiers gathered, there was a muddle about keys which could not be found, but soldiers broke through a door and cleared the points of greatest danger. A hysterical mob, looking on, smelt treason at once and lynched two suspects, a poor lunatic and a boy wearing woman’s clothes. It also destroyed the baggage which an inoffensive mining official from Hungary, then in Vienna, was trying to get out of a second inn near the Arsenal; and it panicked at the sight of a flag flying unaccountably from a roof close to the fire, fearing some kind of a signal to the enemy. More effectively, the wind then veered. Flames swept towards and into aristocratic properties on the other side, away from the Arsenal, and proceeded to burn out the Auersperg palace where the ruins went on smouldering for days. The crisis had passed before the arrival of the Turks; but the danger of yet more fires, set off by Turkish bombs or by traitors and spies inside the walls, was to be a constant nightmare in Vienna later on.
Starhemberg very properly ordered the municipality to requisition cellars for the storage of powder. It took over a number of crypts or cellars under churches and convents for this purpose.
On the same day, the 14th, Lorraine began pulling his cavalry out of Leopoldstadt and the islands. Breaking down the bridges as they went, they crossed right over the Danube and took up a new position on the north bank. Only the final bridge was left intact, guarded by a small force. Leslie’s infantry continued to move into the city. Stores, coming downstream by boat and raft, were still being unloaded by townsmen and units of the garrison.
Kara Mustafa completed his investment of Vienna on July 15, 1683, and then commenced a heavy bombardment of the bastions, curtain, and town. The Ottoman bombardment continued for two months, which was longer than a comparable shelling by a European army would have taken because, after leading in siege artillery for generations, the Ottomans had finally fallen behind the European powers in the quality and hitting power of their siege guns. The Viennese replied with their more numerous wall and bastion cannon, but counter-battery and harassing fire against Ottoman sappers was severely limited by a shortage of powder and shot. Many batteries were ordered to fire only a few times per day, in order to conserve shot and conceal their location until the final assault by Janissaries and berserkers. Ottoman miners were highly skilled, and their saps steadily approached the town walls. On August 12th mines were detonated and Ottoman infantry broke through Vienna’s outer works. On September 2 they overcame several outer ravelins. Four days later engineers blew a huge mine beneath the “Burg bastion.” This cratered a section of wall, leaving a ten-meter gap. Into this Mustafa poured crack Janissaries. They were met by improvised barriers and lines of pikemen, behind which Austrian musketeers poured volley after volley into the Janissary ranks, driving them out of the breach. As these events were occurring, the Allied relief army approached and assembled northwest of Vienna. Some 40,000 assorted Germans joined 20,000 Imperials and 16,000 Poles, the latter led personally by their king. The Tatar light cavalry screen and other Ottoman scouts failed to detect this relief army or block it from transiting key mountain passes and river crossings. The fight that ensued marked the first time in history that a European army outnumbered an Ottoman army in a major field battle.
On September 12, the German, Imperial, and Polish armies, jointly led by Sobieski, destroyed the Tatar and Ottoman cavalry at Kahlenberg, in front of Vienna’s walls. Mustafa made the critical error of leaving most of his infantry in the siege trenches, sending 28,000 unsupported horse and insufficient field artillery (just 60 light guns) to meet the enemy in the field. That is the number most often cited by historians of the Ottoman military, possibly underestimating the extent of the defeat suffered in the baking heat that day. Similarly exaggerating the scale of the “Christian victory,” some European sources claim that as many as 50,000 Ottoman cavalry fought at Kahlenberg. In either case, the fight began at dawn, with heavy action first on the Christian left, where Charles of Lorraine commanded the Imperials and Saxons. The Bavarians and Franconians soon joined this attack on the Ottoman right, which spread to the center as the two armies fully engaged. Sobieski’s Polish cavalry and dragoons needed until 1 P. M. to traverse broken countryside as they approached the Ottoman left. But when they emerged and charged into the Tatars, they pushed them back in hard cavalry-on-cavalry fighting. Around 3 P. M., a massed Allied infantry and cavalry assault began against the Ottoman center, behind which Kara Mustafa looked on in disbelief at his misfortune and the size of the enemy army he faced. Fighting continued until about 6 P. M., when the Ottoman lines were wholly shattered and all their positions overrun. Christian troops moved over the battlefield as the sun set, sabering and shooting wounded sipahis and Tatars while Allied cavalry hotly pursued fleeing survivors. When it was over, 10,000 Ottoman and Tatar dead lay in the fields, with more bodies strewn across abandoned siege lines around the city and in overrun camps.
Kara Mustafa was forced into a desperate and disorderly retreat, following what had become a decisive rout. The Allies even captured part of the Ottoman baggage train that had been left behind in their haste to depart. The grand vezier’s retreat took him and the remnants of the siege army across mountainous and river-crossed Hungary just as the weather turned truly nasty in mid-October. Heavy rains slowed the withdrawal and cost the lives of more men, along with most of the remaining siege guns, pack animals, and supplies. The worst episode came while crossing the Leitha River, widened and swollen with flash runoff from the mountain rains. During the night of October 19-20, hundreds of draught animals became mired in mud along the river’s banks and nearly all remaining baggage was lost, including all tents. Along the way, Mustafa executed officers who were openly critical of his leadership. It did not avail: when he arrived in Belgrade, news of the catastrophe had preceded him, and he was strangled to death by order of the sultan. Mehmed survived in power for four more years, until deposed as part of the wider political aftermath within the Ottoman Empire of the catastrophe outside the walls of Vienna and at Kahlenberg.
It was the French revolutionary armies that had proved most innovating. Their striking success rested on various factors. The remarkable mobility which the French restored to warfare was crucial. It was based on the old principle, largely proscribed during the ‘age of cabinet wars’, that war should feed war. Increasingly fighting on enemy territory after 1793–94 and thus cut off from any logistical infrastructure, revolutionary generals were able, and even forced, to act more ruthlessly than their allied counter-parts who, trapped by the demands of coalition and defensive warfare, were expected to treat the theatres of war, mostly allied or own territories, with greater consideration and therefore remained strongly dependent on orderly provisioning from depots. The French revolutionary armies demonstrated to a disconcerted Europe what to live at the expense of enemy territory really meant. This ‘locust-strategy’, seldom seen since the seventeenth century, could of course redound to their disadvantage. At times, certain principal theatres of operations such as the Rhineland or the Palatinate were so exhausted that armies simply could not operate.
The structure of high command was yet another point where the French armies differed largely from their enemies, most notably the Austrians who concern us here. Significant emigration along with large-scale resignations during the first years of the Revolution followed by summary executions of either politically suspect or simply unfortunate generals during the Terror fundamentally transformed the French officer corps and high command, creating almost a tabula rasa from which a military meritocracy could rise rapidly however humble their social background. Continuous and often violent recasting at the top made sure that only the most talented, or at least the most fortunate, generals would remain at their posts. Against this background, the revolutionary army was of necessity a young army. Most of its leading generals were born in the 1760s and were thus in their twenties or thirties when promoted to army commands: Jean-Charles Pichegru was born in 1761, Jean-Baptiste Jourdan in 1762, Jean-Victor Moreau in 1763, Lazare Hoche in 1768 and Napoleon Bonaparte in 1769. The Emperor’s generals, by way of contrast, were at least one generation older. Sachsen-Coburg was born in 1737, Sachsen-Teschen in 1738, Clerfayt in 1733, Alvinczy in 1735, Beaulieu in 1725, Wurmser, almost deaf, in 1724 and field marshal Blasius Kolumban Bender (d. 1798), the defender of Luxemburg in 1794–95, as long ago as 1713. Archduke Karl, born in 1771, was a shining exception to the rule, but, after all, he was the Emperor’s brother. He could thus be promoted Feldzeugmeister in 1794 at the sensational age of 23 and put in charge of the Austrian army in Germany with the rank of Reichsgeneralfeldmarschall two years later without provoking a major outcry. On average, however, a certain senile decay coupled with the corresponding lack of mental flexibility and a conservative belief in the cautious norms of old-regime warfare seemed a characteristic feature of Austrian military leadership – affecting most of the 355 generals on duty in 1792 … and many of the staff officers. Advancement by seniority only was openly criticized as suffocating merit, encouraging adherence to established nostrums and discouraging initiative. The administrative top echelons, too, were staffed by elderly generals and swamped by paperwork. Count Michael Johann Wallis (d. 1798), president of the Hofkriegsrat 1790–96, was born in 1732 and Count Friedrich Moritz Nostitz-Rieneck (d. 1796), briefly his successor, in 1728. Field marshal Lacy (born in 1725), the great old man of cautious warfare and ‘military pedantry’, still exerted considerable influence behind the scenes.
As a military writer Karl, though an admirer of Lacy, criticized both the enormous bureaucratization and the excessive defensive-mindedness that characterized the Austrian way of waging war. He pleaded instead, as did Thugut, for a more energetic and daring approach, though he himself was no breakneck strategist. Even if dynastic historiography may have overrated his military abilities, the Archduke was undoubtedly the best, certainly the most successful Austrian general at this point. He was able to inspire his troops, while as an army reformer he advocated a more humane treatment of the common soldier in order to improve motivation and fighting spirit. The reduction of the term of military service from life to between ten and fourteen years in 1802 was one important step in the right direction.
Yet Archduke Karl’s control was by no means undisputed. The Habsburg war effort, unlike the French, in fact lacked a unified political and military command and, in addition, had to face the problems customarily inherent in coalition warfare, with political rivalry, especially vis-à-vis Prussia, hindering effective cooperation to a large extent. Thugut’s efforts to lay down the law in military matters lacked the omnipresent guillotine to enforce strict obedience from the Emperor’s generals but, instead, had to calculate with a latent spirit of contradiction, insubordination and even self-laceration. Rivalries in Vienna fuelled feuds between senior generals in the field and vice versa. In particular, Thugut, fearing the Archduke’s political influence, and Karl had a cat-and-dog life, and it was only after the former’s fall that, in 1801, Karl could take over as Minister of War to overhaul radically Austria’s military system. But even the suspicious Emperor had serious problems with his more charismatic brother. As half a century earlier, the crisis of the Austrian army was first and foremost a crisis of leadership. While all critics agreed that the rank-and-file fought bravely (even though desertion rates rose very sharply in 1795, particularly among recruits on their way to the front), many complained that officers, always grumbling and increasingly defeatist, and soldiers were too wide apart to create an esprit de corps. The French declared that it was difficult to vanquish the Emperor’s soldiers but easy to defeat his generals. Despite repeated defeats suffered at the hands of the allegedly ill-disciplined and inexperienced revolutionary forces, many old-regime officers – and even Thugut at the State Chancellery – still could not get rid of their arrogant contempt for the French army’s alleged shortcomings. By 1794 at the latest, the armies of the coalition, having gambled away their initial advantage, no longer outnumbered or outclassed the French. The principal reason for French military success, however, was France’s decision in the summer of 1793 to wage ‘total war’ and to mobilize all its resources against the enemy. Levée en masse and conscription, however defective and incomplete, put the French war effort on a radically new basis. Whereas old-regime powers were still shrinking back from full mobilization, which they considered socially and economically disruptive, the French set all their hopes on revolutionary élan and overall numerical superiority (which did not rule out that the French were outnumbered in individual battles and campaigns). In 1794, France fielded more than 1 million citizen-soldiers – at least on paper. But with some 800,000 men even the total effective strength of the revolutionary armies surpassed by far the totals which the entire First Coalition could muster (460,000 men in 1794 according to the most optimistic estimates). As there were no more serious manpower problems, French tactics and strategy could soon return to the ‘natural state’ of war with more willingness to accept high casualties, in contrast to the high price attached to trained soldiers in most Ancien Régime armies.
French commanders were under instructions to seek clear-cut decisions in open battle, and employed skirmishers (tirailleurs) to weaken the enemy lines and then mass-attacks in column-formation to win through. Offensive and even aggressive warfare triumphed over old-regime manoeuvring and the defensive and methodical cordon-system to which the Austrians in particular adhered. The superiority of the French artillery thoroughly modernized in the final decades of the Ancien Régime was an additional trump-card, while the Austrian regimental artillery largely proved a failure because it squandered fire power by dispersing the guns along the front line. Furthermore, the Austrian army had too high a proportion of cavalry, which often proved more of a burden and had little opportunity to intervene in its traditional role as the decisive arm on the battlefield. The battle of Würzburg in 1796 was the principal exception.
Despite the human cost of France’s military expeditions across the continent for many French families, the nationalization of the military effort by full mobilization after 1793 and the creation of the sense of fighting to save the Revolution were important foundations of French success. Although we should avoid idealizing French enthusiasm, France’s citizen-soldiers were fighting to defend a political community and political values. There was no comparable unifying national effort and of course no revolutionary élan in Austria; historic privileges even protected important parts of the Monarchy, most notably Hungary, from having to pull their full weight. The Habsburg army remained ‘primarily a dynastic instrument’, as Gunther Rothenberg once observed. A handful of exceptions confirm the rule. As we have seen, the French threat to Vienna in spring 1797 unleashed an outburst of patriotic enthusiasm in the capital. The city of Vienna and the university raised volunteer units that marched out to the accompaniment of a brand-new anthem, the famous Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser cribbed from the English ‘God save the King’ but set to music by no less a composer than Joseph Haydn. The Tyrolean militia performed very well in 1796–97 as they had done against the Bavarians at the beginning of the century; in the face of a French invasion in summer 1796, even the peasants in Vorarlberg showed more energy than the local authorities and helped drive the French back.
Self-organizing popular resistance against the French flared up in all theatres of war when plundering and requisitioning went too far, as was the case in northern Italy, Swabia and Franconia in 1796: the revolutionary armies, contrary to what had been announced in 1792, simply could not spare the huts of the peasants and plunder the palaces of the aristocrats. Guerilla warfare was tolerated from above and even actively encouraged by allied commanders (as in Anterior Austria where the provincial militia was called up in 1793) when it could be expected to support regular operations. In January 1794 Emperor Franz II called for a general arming of the population along the Franco-German border, but the Imperial Diet refused to back this. Yet old-regime governments were traditionally suspicious of subjects in arms outside the regular army. Despite its increasing manpower problems after 1794, the Habsburg Monarchy, almost as populous as France, stuck to its system of limited conscription as introduced in 1770–81. The only concession to the pressures of war was a cautious reduction of exemptions and even appeals for voluntary enlistment. Whatever the limitations of the Konskription system, nothing would be more erroneous than to depict a battle between French and Austrian forces simply as a confrontation between motivated citizens-in-arms and reluctant mercenaries. Once again, the differences were more subtle and gradual than established textbook clichés might suggest.
Finally, in 1808, with a view to the imminent show-down against Napoleonic France, Vienna went one step further, instituting a regular militia (Landwehr) in the Austro-Bohemian provinces. This was certainly no levée en masse, but it provided useful support for the line army and allowed the Monarchy to make better use of its rich native manpower potential which the extremely high standards of the recruitment system let slip to a large extent, while at the same time fertile recruiting grounds had been lost following the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806. Despite widespread initial reserve (shared by a sceptical Archduke Karl) some Landwehr and volunteer units fought bravely in the campaign of 1809 and helped Karl gain the first victory ever won over Napoleon in a land battle at Aspern near Vienna (21/22 May 1809). But it was only in 1868 that universal conscription, demanded by reform-conscious officers as early as 1796, was introduced in Austria and Hungary.
As Albert Sorel put it, the Habsburg Monarchy may have always been one idea and one army behind, yet it always had an idea and an army – even if both seemed increasingly superannuated in the age of the French Revolution and Napoleon. Within just a few years revolutionary France had clearly outdone Europe’s most highly militarized monarchies, Prussia and Austria.