The Irony of the War With Austria

I love irony. Perhaps I’ve got a bit of cynic in me, but when I find something ironic in history, I find it so satisfying. One of my favorites is when I discovered during the last Presidential election that Boston had once been bombarded from sea by the HMS Romney. If you don’t find that at least a little bit funny, then we just don’t have the same sense of humor.  

Of course, not all ironies are humorous. Take Louis XVI, the Marquis de Lafayette, and the War The Great Courses: Living the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon. Let me explain…
Louis XVI
with Austria. The irony of these three things hit me as I was listening to

As though things hadn’t gotten bad enough in Paris during the Revolution, in 1792, France declared war with Austria. As Prof. Susanne M. Desan says in her lectures, there were several factions in France that wanted to go to war, but for vastly different reasons:

Various revolutionary factions because they thought it would weaken the king.
The Marquis de Lafayette who was in charge of the Garde nationale (National Guard) because he thought it would strengthen the king.
The Marquis de Lafayette
Louis XVI because he wanted to lose the war and be rescued. Remember, Marie Antoinette was an Austrian.

Quick side note for those of you who are wondering how Lafayette, the man who was so instrumental to the cause of liberty during the American Revolution could be on the side of the king during the French Revolution. Lafayette favored the revolution, but he wasn’t in favor of establishing a republic like the Americans had. He actually wanted a constitutional monarchy like the one in England.

You also have to keep in mind that the Americans, at least at the beginning, were fine with the constitutional monarchy. They simply wanted representation in
Leopold II of Austria
(Marie Antoinette's brother)

source for all images: Wikimedia Commons
click on links for details

And, like many Frenchman, the Marquis might have been at least a little bit inspired to help the American cause because it would weaken the English. The English for their part, were either for or against the French Revolution because of their views on whether it would weaken or strengthen France. Turnabout is fair play, but the French Revolution being a tad less…orderly than the American Revolution, there really wasn’t any side to supply with ammunition or funds.

Back to the irony…

The war heated the passions and the paranoia of the revolutionaries, and in the end Louis lost his head - literally. Hard to say, but it’s possible that things might not have ended so badly for him had France not gone to war.

Sentiments turned against Lafayette as well, and he fled to Austria. Despite declarations of neutrality from Lafayette, he was thrown in an Austrian prison for the next five years - a move that might very well have saved his life.

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