Modern history


Virtue and Death


Enemies of the People?

Winter–Spring 1793


What was it about Talleyrand that moved people, especially the British, to compare him to lower forms of life? Hearing he had arrived in England in September 1792, old Horace Walpole, writing from Strawberry Hill, referred to him as “the viper who has cast his skin.” When he learned that Talleyrand had been seen in the company of Mme de Genlis, he described the pair as “Eve and the serpent,” though he trusted that “few would be disposed to taste their rotten apples.”

Perhaps it was Talleyrand’s sardonic self-possession that so provoked people. None of his British detractors would go as far as Napoleon, who, infuriated by his aplomb, would call him “a pile of shit in a silk stocking.” But Talleyrand’s notoriety as a clerical apostate, a political cynic and an amoral rake preceded him to the drawing rooms of polite British society. This was not at all the way he saw himself, either at that time or subsequently. The acts for which he was most reproached – his part in creating a constitutional monarchy – Talleyrand took to be the expression of consistent and genuinely held convictions. The misunderstanding of his politics was, he thought, all the more regrettable since, in the early autumn of 1792, he still hoped to be of service in preventing war between the two countries.

This was, at least, the pretext which led him to apply for a diplomatic passport to London after the revolution of August 10. He would, he told the Executive Council, renew his efforts, begun in the spring, to maintain British neutrality. Now that France was facing the hostility of Prussia as well as Austria, this seemed more than ever indispensable to its survival. Talleyrand’s memoirs, however, make it clear that the violence of August 10 had persuaded him that the citizen-nobles associated with the constitutional revolution were not just politically redundant but in mortal danger.

In the days that followed the overthrow of the monarchy, many of Talleyrand’s old friends had been turned into fugitives. Returning to find his home ransacked for a mythical cache of arms, Stanislas Clermont-Tonnerre was chased by a mob up to the fourth floor of Mme de Brissac’s house. There he was shot and his body thrown from the window to the street. Louis de La Rochefoucauld, who was arrested at Forges-les-Eaux, was dragged from his carriage at Gisors, stoned in front of his wife and mother and cut to a gory mess with sabers and hatchets. His cousin, de La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, who was commandant of the Rouen garrison, had attempted to rally his troops for the King. Faced with unsympathetic shouts of “Vive la Nation,” he escaped from Normandy by commandeering a small boat near Abbeville. Lying hidden with his servant beneath nets and bundles of wood, a pistol pressed to the side of the reluctant fisherman, Liancourt sailed off into the murky fog in the approximate direction of the English coast. At times they seemed so lost that his servant felt sure they were drifting back towards France. Landfall was made near Hastings, from where the two men walked to a tavern and asked for jugs of stout. Liancourt then passed out from the combination of heavy ale and exhaustion, awakening in a bleak room. For a moment, in a surge of panic, he feared that he was indeed back in France. Gradually reassured, he pieced his courage back together and ended up a few days later in East Anglia, where Arthur Young was repaying the Duc’s hospitality by lecturing him on the irresponsibility that had led directly to his plight. Fanny Burney saw him as a fallen Romantic, “enveloped in clouds of sadness and moroseness,” forcing himself from sheer politeness to entertain the aldermen of Bury St. Edmunds with the endlessly repeated story of his announcement to the King in July 1789 that Louis was indeed confronted with a revolution.

Characteristically, Talleyrand maintained his sang-froid while doing his best to ensure a safe and speedy exit. On August 31, Danton summoned him to the Ministry of Justice, in what was now called the place des Piques, to receive his passport. Barére found him there late at night, trying to look nonchalant dressed in hide breeches and boots, with his hair tied back in a pigtail as though prepared for a hard ride. But no passport was issued from Danton’s office that night or during the nights that followed. Anxious lest some fool jokingly, or spitefully, hail him in public as “The Bishop,” Talleyrand sweated out the week of the prison killings until, on the seventh, the precious document at last arrived. At the Channel ports he made his way through milling crowds of scared priests trying to get passages to England or Ireland. In that month alone seven hundred departed from Dieppe and Le Havre.

Though Talleyrand was safely established in Woodstock Street, Kensington, his official position remained precarious. The credentials of the French Embassy to the Court of St. James’s had been damaged by virtue of the country’s transformation into a republic, so that Talleyrand’s reception from officials like Grenville, the Secretary of State, was even less cordial than it had been in the spring. Moreover, the pragmatic and defensive line he took in a memorandum to Paris written in early October was not in keeping with the increasingly messianic tone of the National Convention. “We have learned,” he wrote optimistically, “that the only policy suited to free and enlightened men is to be sovereign over one’s own affairs and not to have the ridiculous pretension of imposing it on others. The reign of illusions” (by which he meant the royal thirst for conquest) “is then over for France.”

In fact, a new era of illusions, indistinguishable in their aggression from the old, was just beginning. To its clamorous rhetoric Talleyrand’s pragmatic moderation was bound to seem suspect. On December 5, it was announced in the Convention that compromising documents linking him through the royal officer of the civil list, La Porte, had been discovered in the armoire de fer. Extremely courageously, his old assistant Desrenaudes, in a published memorandum, denied that Talleyrand had had any such communication with the court, and the evidence was, in fact, equivocal. But he was nonetheless placed on the list of proscribed émigrés. Arrest warrants were published including a description that asked citizens to be on the lookout for someone who limped “on either the left foot or the right.”

Always an outsider, Talleyrand was now stateless but not friendless. Though shunned by conservative society in London, he radiated a kind of dangerous glamour that appealed to the radical wing of the Whigs, who clung tenaciously to their enthusiasm for the constitutional revolution. So he was much taken up by Charles James Fox and the playwright Sheridan as well as the partisans of the London Revolution Society (named for the celebration of 1688). At Fox’s dinner table Talleyrand was paradoxically struck with the British orator’s eloquence when he saw him conversing in sign language with his deaf illegitimate son.

It was an extraordinary time to have landed in England, for the country was in political uproar. In Scotland and Ireland, clubs and societies openly sympathetic to the Revolution had become defiant, calling for conventions. In provincial cities like Sheffield and Manchester, meetings were held each week to demand constitutional reform and to read the second part of Tom Paine’s Rights of Man, with its astonishing demand for the introduction of a welfare state. The pamphlet’s circulation may well have reached into the hundreds of thousands. In the capital, the London Corresponding Society had sent fraternal greetings to the bar of the Convention in Paris. And against this tide of dangerous disaffection, a loyalist Association for the Preservation of Liberty and Property was drilling volunteer militia in the counties.

Talleyrand is likely to have found both extremes of opinion just as unappetizing as they had been in France. His view of events was not far from that of the inspired caricaturist James Gillray, whose visual denunciations, both of British Jacobinophobia and French sans-culotte atrocities, were impartially savage. The Zenith of French Liberty, published at the time of Louis’ execution, with its literally bare-assed sansculotte sitting on a lanterne from which a priest was suspended, was not that far from Talleyrand’s own increasingly bitter view of the fate of the Revolution. To his old friend Shelburne, now elevated as Marquess of Lansdowne and still the most friendly patron of the French citizen-nobles in exile, he wrote a damning account of recent events.

At a time when everything has been disfigured and perverted, the men who remain true to liberty, despite the mask of blood and filth with which atrocities have covered it, are excessively few in number. Trapped for two years between terror and defiance, the French have become accustomed to slavery and say only what can be said without danger. The clubs and the pikes, deadening all free initiative, have accustomed people to dissimulation and baseness, and if the people are allowed to acquire these sorry habits they will have only the happiness of exchanging tyrants. Since the leaders of the Jacobins down to the most honest citizens defer to the head-cutters, there is to-day nothing but a chain of villainy and lies, of which the first link is lost in filth.

Chagrin was soothed only by ennui. In Woodstock Street, surrounded by the library that he had prudently sent ahead, and comforted by Adelaide de Flahaut, Talleyrand settled down to a humdrum routine. In the morning he would work on a biography of the Duc d’Orléans or, more enjoyably, his own memoirs. Adelaide had completed her novel Cécile de Senange and he helped her correct proofs. In the afternoons he might go to Half-Moon Street to visit Mme de Genlis and Orléans’ sixteen-year-old daughter, also named Adelaide, who were living in such modesty that they were making straw hats, of the kind made fashionable by Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun’s portraits, to support themselves.

There was only one bright spot in this dreary exile. Periodically, Talleyrand would take a post coach out to the Worthing Road and travel south to the Surrey Downs. About five miles north of Dorking, near the village of Mickleham, Germaine de Staël had rented a Georgian house known as Juniper Hall as a gathering place for the remnant of the Club of 1789 and especially her inconstant lover Narbonne. Though she did not herself arrive in England until January 1793, the house was open for whomever among their old Paris friends wanted to stay there, and for many of them Juniper Hall became a blessed refuge from poverty and boredom. Among the regular guests were Lally-Tollendal; Mathieu de Montmorency; Beaumetz; Jaucourt and his mistress the striking Vicomtesse de Châtre; Stanislas Girardin (who naturally demanded to be shown the only site in the area associated with the memory of Rousseau); and Lafayette’s second-in-command in 1789, General d’Arblay. Surrey society from Leatherhead to Reigate divided sharply between those who were scandalized and those who were fascinated. If there was muttering at Fetcham and West Humble, in Mickleham itself the Lockes of Norbury Park frequently entertained the French colony. There they met Mrs. Susanna Phillips, the daughter of the musicologist Dr. Charles Burney.

In November, Mrs. Phillips’s forty-year-old sister Fanny, drawn irresistibly to a company of such social and cultural exoticism, paid her first visit. “There can be nothing imagined more charming, more fascinating than this colony,” she wrote to her father, who was unnecessarily worried about the effect on her morals from exposure to French manners. Like almost everybody else outside the Lansdowne circle, she took an instant dislike to Talleyrand, but very soon fell under the spell of his considerable charm. “It is inconceivable what a convert M. de Talleyrand has made of me. I think him now one of the finest members and one of the most charming of this exquisite set. His powers of entertainment are astonishing both in information and raillery.” She was most impressed by the group’s obvious indifference to the horsey pleasures of the Surrey gentry and the unselfconscious liveliness with which they flung themselves into discussions of every kind: on history (especially their own), drama, poetry and philosophy.

Even more striking was the extent to which they all took their cue in these intellectual games from Germaine de Staël herself. They listened to her read passages from her Apologie de Rousseau and her dramatic essay in defense of suicide: The Influence of the Passions on Happiness. Typically, Talleyrand praised the piece but disparaged her manner of reading it in a singsong style as though, he said unkindly, it was verse. More trying for Fanny was Lally’s rendition of his own historical drama The Death of Strafford. She noticed him at dinner mumbling the lines to himself so that he could recite them by heart afterwards. The reading was about to begin when d’Arblay’s conspicuous absence was noticed. After more delay Germaine wanted to start but Talleyrand protested that “cela lui fera de la peine” (he would be upset by it) and limped off to find the absentee.

It was typical of Fanny’s innocence in this company that she assumed Talleyrand was performing an act of kindness by subjecting d’Arblay (who had almost certainly concealed himself somewhere with a bottle of port) to Lally’s performance. The “alternate howling and thundering of his voice… fatigued me excessively,” she admitted, but it never occurred to her that Talleyrand was being mischievous in winkling the soldier out. She was too moved by the deep melancholy into which the company was thrown on learning of the execution of the King to notice the subtle strategies of their sexual politics. Jaucourt and the Vicomtesse de Châtre as well as Narbonne and Germaine were living together openly. Germaine at twenty-seven, though no classical beauty, had matured into a high-colored blossom whose personality poured out of her like some very strong scent. It seems to have been too much for Narbonne (whose son she had borne in Geneva the previous November), and he resented the moral blackmail by which she threatened to kill herself if he indulged his own tragic fantasy of going to Paris to testify in defense of the King. As he cooled towards Mme de Staël she began to cultivate Talleyrand once more, both to provoke Narbonne (unsuccessfully) and to liberate him from Adelaide de Flahaut, whom she evidently disliked.

It was, in Duff Cooper’s memorable characterization (and he should have known), as if Les Liaisons Dangereuses had been transported to the landscape of Sense and Sensibility. For a long time, herself rather smitten with the gallant d’Arblay, Fanny was sublimely innocent of all these intrigues. To yet another wag of Dr. Burney’s admonishing finger, she responded indignantly that “I think you could not spend a day with them and not see that their commerce is that of pure but exalted and most elegant friendship.” When, finally, the truth dawned on her she rebuffed Germaine, who had taken her under her capacious wing, with shocked coldness. D’Arblay, however, was rescued from the den of iniquity by marriage to the virtuous Fanny and lived out his years as a charming curiosity among the English squirearchy.

Perhaps there were worse things than to be married to Fanny Burney. In March, Talleyrand’s predicament became quickly more miserable. With his money gone, he was forced to surrender his library to the sale room, from which he made but a paltry £750. He left his little house in Woodstock Street and moved to smaller quarters in Kensington Square. On the thirteenth of the month he was officially proscribed in France, which meant that not only his but his family’s property stood forfeit to the Republic. Finally, in May, under the provision of the Aliens Bill which granted summary powers of deportation to the government, Talleyrand was told he must leave Britain as a political undesirable. Germaine had already gone back to Switzerland to reacquaint herself with her son Albert, whom she had left at the age of five weeks to be with Narbonne in Surrey. Though she was looking for somewhere for him to live nearby, Talleyrand was given to understand, both in Geneva and Florence, to which city he also thought of removing himself, that his presence would not be appreciated. Only America was left as a possibility. Armed with letters of introduction from Lansdowne to George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, he took ship on the William Penn. Hardly had he departed than the ship nearly foundered in a violent tempest in the Solent that had Talleyrand fearful he would be washed up on the French coast. But the vessel rode it out and, before resuming the journey, put into Falmouth harbor for repairs. There he fell into conversation with another fallen hero, with whom he could compare extensive notes on the ingratitude and misunderstanding of the ignorant world. Thus it was that the ex-general Benedict Arnold sent the ex-bishop Maurice de Talleyrand on his way to America.

It seems unlikely that Talleyrand thought his public career was over at the age of thirty-nine. He reassured Adelaide de Flahaut that he would be back and told Germaine to continue hunting for a house by Lake Geneva. But for the time being he was certainly a casualty of the war with Britain that he had always thought disastrous for French interests. His only hope had been that Dumouriez would inherit the Fayettist strategy of using military popularity at the front against the Jacobins in Paris. This was indeed the General’s strategy but through the winter of 1792–93, its realization became more and more remote. His plan, following Jemappes, was to create an independent Belgian republic that would deny the southern Netherlands to the Austrians while not provoking the British into war. This meant supporting the more conservative of the two Belgian aspirant political groups, the “Statists,” against the democratic republicans. This was a calculated decision to co-opt the Belgian elite who had led the revolt against the Austrians and avoid alienating the majority of the population by extending French anticlericalism to one of the most fervently pious Catholic populations in Europe.

It was, in fact, the only policy that had any chance of attaching Belgian loyalties to France, since, as Dumouriez understood, the rebellion against Austria had been fueled by the provinces’ determination to protect traditional institutions against imperial reforms. But to the militants in the Convention, it looked suspiciously like a lingering Feuillant compromise with the counter-revolution. Dumouriez was accused of wanting to create his own military and political base by selling the “liberation” of Belgium short, repudiating the true indigenous revolutionaries and intriguing with local aristocrats, priests and army contractors. His proposed native Belgian army, for example, was to be financed by a loan from the clergy, produced on the understanding that they would not besubjected to French clerical legislation. To Dumouriez this seemed a sensible compromise; to Cambon and his critics in the Convention it was flagrant evidence of a Caesarist plot.

The decree of December 15 was expressly aimed at thwarting Dumouriez’s autonomous policy by subjecting his authority to the Convention’s representatives. The full force of revolutionary decrees, including those concerning the Church, was to be imposed on the Belgian provinces. At the end of March 1793, with his military and political strategy in ruins, Dumouriez complained bitterly to the Convention that it was its brutal disregard for local susceptibilities that had wrecked the Belgian campaign. The Belgian people were, he said, “subjected to every kind of vexation; what, in their view, were sacred rights of liberty were violated; and their religious feeling impudently insulted.” The annexation of the province of Hainaut had been justified by a spurious “Convention” which in reality, Dumouriez said, was no more than twenty self-authorizing individuals in Brussels. Then its churches had been stripped of plate to pay for the “liberation.” “From then on you regarded the Belgians as French but even if they had been, it would still have been necessary to wait until this silver would have been given as a voluntary sacrifice. Without that willingness its forcible seizure was in their eyes nothing but sacrilege.”

Dumouriez’s indictment of French policy in Belgium was not, of course, without its own self-interest. The Convention had sabotaged his plans to create a power base in the Netherlands, and military defeat had finished them off completely. For all his personal bias, however, his account of the beginning of French revolutionary imperialism was absolutely accurate.

It is certain, at any rate, that the new policy of annexations and aggressive revolutionary expansionism moved Britain decisively closer to war. The policy of strict neutrality sustained by both Pitt and Grenville had survived the overthrow of the French monarchy. Even in late October they saw no compelling reason to alter that basic position. But the French decision to open the river Scheldt to navigation on November 16, in defiance of the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, confronted them with a much more provocative challenge. At the end of the long Dutch war for independence against Spain, the river had been closed in deference to Holland’s concern about preventing either the economic or strategic revival of the port city of Antwerp. Since the Dutch and British had become allies against Louis XIV at the end of the seventeenth century, maintaining the closure had become an article of faith in their system of containing French expansionism in the Netherlands. The unilateral abrogation of the treaty (and the sending of a French gunboat downriver) seemed the clearest possible test of British commitment to an ally and to its determination to preserve the status quo. There were, moreover, other indications that “natural law” and “natural frontiers” would be allowed to override traditional diplomatic convention. On the twenty-seventh of November, Savoy, which had been occupied by Montesquiou’s troops since mid-October, was formally annexed after a “Convention of the Allobroges” had voted to depose the King of Sardinia and to “reunite” the province with France. A day later, the President of the Convention, Grégoire, welcomed fraternal addresses from London with the announcement that “doubtless the moment is near when Frenchmen will bear congratulations to the National Convention of Great Britain.”

On December 1 Pitt’s government passed an act mobilizing the British militia, both to meet the challenge of domestic disorder and as a preliminary to hostilities. But its most urgent concern was less with revolution at home than in the Dutch Republic. For while the successful recruiting of a loyalist militia had given the government confidence it could contain the tide of revolutionary enthusiasm in England (it was less confident about Scotland and Ireland), it fretted that the Stadtholder’s regime, restored by Prussian troops in 1787, was on the point of crumbling. A resurgence of Patriot politics in the Netherlands would provide the French with an irresistible target of opportunity. Either the “natural frontiers” would be extended north beyond the Meuse, or Dumouriez would succeed in reassembling the old seventeen-province Great Netherlands he had long been imagining. In either event the British treaty commitment to maintaining the Prince of Orange’s government would be exposed as a feeble sham.

The British government moved towards war, then, not out of any desire to intervene in French politics, however distasteful the Republic might have been. On the eve of Jemappes, Grenville was, in fact, intelligently convinced that the worst thing opponents of republicanism could do would be to attempt some war of intervention that would infallibly be met by a further round of patriotic messianism. “I cannot but remain in the persuasion that the re-establishment of order in France, under any form, can be effected only by a long course of intestine struggles.” It was, however, imperative for the balance of power and the stability of Europe that the explosive power of revolutionary disorder be contained well within France itself. Astonishingly, George III seemed to feel the same way, commenting to his secretary of state that “it is peace alone that can place the French Revolution on a permanent ground as then all the European States must acknowledge the new Republic.” In December Grenville invited the Russian Empress Catherine to join in demanding “a withdrawing of their [French] arms within the limits of French territory, the abandoning of their conquests, the rescinding of any acts injurious to other nations and the giving in some public and unequivocal manner a pledge of their intention no longer to foment troubles and to excite disturbances against their own Governments.” Should such assurances be given, he added, the powers “might engage to abandon measures or views of hostility against France.”

A belligerent speech on January 1 by Kersaint, the naval hero of the American war, however, suggested that so far from the Convention accepting this kind of defensive pragmatism, it already regarded a conflict with the British Empire as both desirable and inevitable. Kersaint’s address was full of fraternal wishful thinking, imagining not only the Scots and Irish but English “sans-culottes” on the verge of insurrection. Just as Brissot had insisted a year before that the rotting despotisms of Austria and Prussia would be easy prey, so Kersaint told the Convention that the apparent might of the British Empire rested on the fragile and unstable foundation of the national debt, and the collaboration of a handful of bankers. Britain was vulnerable in south India and in the Caribbean; its Parliament was captious, its chief minister wicked, and its king mad. A carefully planned invasion would undoubtedly meet with massive popular enthusiasm among the British citizenry, so that “over the ruins of the Tower of London [evidently seen as London’s Bastille]… France will conclude with the liberated English people the Treaty which would guide the future development of the nations and establish the liberty of the world.”

Even this kind of messianic reworking of traditional French Anglophobic patriotism was not a conclusive demonstration to the British government that there could be no reasonable negotiations with revolutionary France. But the execution of Louis XVI had a profoundly shocking effect in London. Pitt called it “the foulest and most atrocious act the world has ever seen,” and Grenville wrote to the British Ambassador in The Hague, describing theater audiences demanding the curtain be lowered on hearing the news. Even more than the moral abhorrence felt by most of the British elite, it was the government’s sense that it was now dealing with a phenomenon of uncontainable barbarism and irrationality that rendered all further discussions moot.

Only one final possibility remained, as Talleyrand pointed out to Grenville on January 28: that Dumouriez conduct his own foreign policy independently, if necessary, of the Convention. Indeed, Dumouriez seemed to have the ear of the Foreign Minister, Lebrun. The Ambassador in London, Chauvelin, was instructed to tell Grenville and Pitt that the promise of “liberation” contained in the Convention’s decree of November 19 was not a blank check for insurrection. Rather it indicated that once freed by their own efforts, such “peoples” might reasonably expect France to come to their defense. But the apparently picayune matter of the Scheldt became a symbol of both sides’ intransigence. The French justified its opening to free navigation as a nonnegotiable “right of nature”; the British, its closure as a matter of compliance with international treaties. What if the French were allowed to alter these as their caprice dictated, to make themselves the arbiter of what was, and what was not, permissible in the relations between states? When Hugues Maret arrived in London with proposals from Dumouriez for a negotiated pacification, Grenville thought it was just a delaying tactic. On February 1, before the envoy could explain the plan, the Convention declared war on Great Britain and the Dutch Republic.

It took very little time before it became apparent that this was a dreadful mistake. In the event of war Dumouriez had been anxious to avoid a complicated amphibious operation in Zeeland. But his preferred southern route through Dutch Brabant was almost equally laborious, since it necessarily involved besieging fortifications at Maastricht, Geetruidenberg and Breda before crossing the rivers to south Holland. More ominously, the French lines were already seriously overextended even before the Dutch invasion. In the aftermath of Jemappes, volunteers who had responded to the patriotic appeals of autumn 1792 had returned home, halving the army’s effective strength. Exploiting the thinness of its forward positions, the Austrians and Prussians had succeeded in driving a wedge between the armies of the Moselle and Rhine in Germany and Dumouriez’s main force in Belgium.

With Mainz under siege there were simply too many imponderables (and too many Austrians and Prussians) for a systematic advance into the Dutch Republic. While Dumouriez was planting a liberty tree in the main square of Breda on February 26 after a week’s siege, General Miranda, to the south, was stuck in front of Maastricht, which had been heavily reinforced by the Prussians. On March 1 he heard that an army of forty thousand, nearly twice the size of his, had crossed the river Roer behind him. Hurriedly dropping back and abandoning Maastricht, he fought a disorganized action on the following day. His volunteers were cut to pieces by repeated Austrian cavalry charges. By the end of the day the French had lost over three thousand dead and wounded to the Austrians’ forty.

Over the next week, Dumouriez tried to repair what he euphemistically described to the Convention as un échec. Leaving his expeditionary force in Holland, he concentrated on reinforcing Miranda’s defensive position and taking dramatic action to reconcile the Belgians. Jacobin clubs were closed, revolutionary decrees revoked, a fulminating letter of complaint sent to the Convention. It was an exact rehearsal of Bonapartism, but it was too soon for France and too late for Belgium. Like Bonapartism, the politics of retrenchment meant nothing without military success. And on the eighteenth at Neerwinden, Dumouriez’s army first failed to dislodge the Austrians, then buckled under their counter-assault. With the expeditionary force desperately trying to get out of Holland, the entire French position in the Netherlands, south and north, collapsed in a matter of days.

On the twenty-third Dumouriez opened negotiations with Coburg for evacuating Belgium on the condition that his army remain unmolested. The Austrian commander agreed to these terms because it was evident that Dumouriez meant to use his troops against the Convention itself. The following day, to the regret of few of the native population, the French marched out of Brussels, and by the last day of the month had recrossed the frontier. Worse was to follow. General Beurnonville, the Minister of War, who had been sent to the front to investigate Dumouriez’s conduct, was himself arrested with his fellow commissioners and delivered to the Austrians. During the first days of April, Dumouriez attempted to persuade his own troops to go over to the Allies in a march on Paris. Much as many of the regulars mistrusted the Convention, their disaffection stopped well short of treason. So on April 5 Dumouriez, like Lafayette before him, rode to the Austrian lines, taking a handful of high officers, among them Philippe-Egalité’s son the Duc de Chartres, the future Louis-Philippe.

When the news of this betrayal reached Paris, it seemed to vindicate the most exaggerated versions of the conspiracy theory. With hindsight, it seemed to the Jacobins in particular that the entire Dutch expedition had been a deliberate design by Dumouriez to hand over the army to Austria. Like the spurious white flag fluttering from the towers of the Bastille or the lull in firing from the château of the Tuileries, there had been a calculated attempt to lure Patriots to their doom. In a revolutionary culture where aristocracy was itself stigmatized by its addiction to stratagems and deceits, this latest betrayal seemed of a piece with the fifth-column saboteurs of the old regime.

To those skeptical of his patriotism, it came as no surprise to discover that it had been Dumouriez who had been responsible for the military defense of western France. For in the same week that the tricolor fell in the Flemish mud at Neerwinden, the Department of the Vendée had risen in bloody insurrection against the Republic.

You can support our site by clicking on this link and watching the advertisement.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!