War of the Grand Coalition
Date 1790-1792
Location Austria, Hungary, Bohemia, Prussia, Austrian Netherlands, United Provinces, Northern Italy, Naples and France
Result Franco-Spanish victory, Congress of Paris
  • End of the great monarchies in Europe
  • Entrenchment of the French Republic
  • Various territorial changes
Flag of France French Republic

Flag of the Spanish Republic Spanish Republic

Banner of the Holy Roman Emperor with haloes (1400-1806) Holy Roman Empire

Flag of the Kingdom of Prussia (1750-1801) Kingdom of Prussia
Flag of the Kingdom of Sardinia Sardinia-Piedmont
Prinsenvlag Dutch Republic
Flag of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (1816) Sicily
Flag of the Kingdom of Naples Naples
Flag of the Duchy of Florence Tuscany

The War of the Grand Coalition (1790-1792) was the first major effort of the European monarchies to contain Revolutionary France. France was responding to distress calls from Hungary and Bohemia when it declared war on the Hapsburg monarchy of Austria on 25 May 1790. Prussia and Sardinia joined the Austrian side a few weeks later as the Spanish Republic joined France on May 29 to uphold their defensive pact.

Great Britain stayed out of the conlict to avoid the costs of mobilizing its military and focus on preserving King George's family in Hanover which had fallen into popular unrest similar to France. The Dutch Republic joined Austria when news spread that France was annexing the Austrian Netherlands and had ambitions for the rest of Northern Europe in its quest to bring the West into the fold of republicanism.

The radical goals of France in this war shocked beneficiaries of the anciens régimes who failed to take the threat of revolution seriously and were intent on carving up waning powers like Poland and the Ottoman Empire. When the end of the old order was realized it was too late to halt the wave of support for democratic ideals and governments for the people, by the people, without autocratic monarchs.


Preceding the violent pangs of overthrown dynasties which would change Europe forever was the French Revolution. As King Louis XVI of France threw scorn upon the democratic desires of his people a surge of support for the National Assembly - National Constituent Assembly since 9 July 1789 - gave the new government the necessary impetus to end the anciens régimes of France with the execution of its king.

A nascent République Française inspired the nation's youth to leap into growing revolutionary fervor, swelling the ranks of its new Armée Revolutionnaire - 220,000 soldiers in August. When its government formally abolished feudalism and the French monarchy, whose royal family remained only in Spain, on August 4th, the need to bring democracy to the rest of Europe seemed obvious.

Charles IV's Kingdom of Spain was the first monarchy that fell to the European Revolution, expelling Charles and adopting a rudimentary constitution on 25 December 1789 that turned the country into the Republica Española. Within the same month, Saxony fell to revolution, marking the eruption of the Holy Roman Empire into a tangle of rebellions across its elector states - including the revolution of Vienna and the Austrian Netherlands. When the Reichstag reinstated a Habsburg monarch, Leopold II, onto the throne of the HRE the resurgence of centralized control of Hungary and Bohemia prompted them to send emissaries pleading for help in France.

Seeing a request from a people to overthrow their monarch as an opportunity, President Robespierre of France motioned for the Assembly to declare war on Austria, beginning the short war against the Grand Coalition.

Political Effects

Revolutionary France spread the ideals of its foundations by the "liberation wars" it fought across Europe in the early 1790s. Rebellions were only powerful enough to overthrow Spain, Saxony, Bavaria and a number of minor German states before the war but virtually all the major powers including Austria, Prussia, Portugal, the remainder of the HRE and all the states of Italy joined republican France at the end. However, political ideals were all that united these disparate states and the majority had yet to form stable governments. France took it upon itself to keep the peace and provide its headstart to the others.

One country that garnered substantial influence during this time was the United States. Eager to see Europe experience the freedom enjoyed by his people, President George Washington offered assistance in structuring the continent's constitutions and legislatures, sending political theorist Thomas Paine and ambassador Thomas Jefferson to lead America's involvement in the reformation of Europe.

Russia, meanwhile, took advantage of Eastern Europe's disorder by accelerating its conquest of Poland in the latter's War in Defense of the Constitution of 3 May. Gaining ground by allying with the Polish nobility against the people, Catherine was decried by political activists in France. Tensions between Russia and the revolutionary countries would result in open hostilities within a few years.

Great Britain had stabilized its remaining ally Hanover by 1793 and was doing what it could to maintain cordial relations with continental Europe. The significance of Atlantic trade with the United States reinforced London's intent to keep the peace and accustom itself to a republican Europe.