From Yorktown to Valmy: The Transformation of the French Army in an Age of Revolution

By Samuel F. Scott | Go to book overview

8

THE ROYAL ARMY CONFRONTS THE FRENCH REVOLUTION

AS POPULAR VIOLENCE MOUNTED in the early months of 1789, political activity reached unprecedented proportions as the French people prepared for the first meeting of their national representative body, the Estates General, in 175 years. The election of deputies and the preparation of lists of grievances, cahiers de doléances, to guide these deputies, together with a massive outpouring of political pamphlets and propaganda, affected every region of the country and precipitated all kinds of expectations—many unrealistic and some contradictory. Confronted with these unanticipated developments, the vacillating Louis XVI began to take measures to halt and, if possible, reverse the movement his earlier policies had unleashed. To enforce such a decision, he needed armed backing; the only force capable of coping with such a situation was the regular army. Consequently, beginning in late June the king ordered a massive military buildup in and around the capital that would reach its peak in mid-July. 1 Even a political moderate like Camusat de Belombre, a merchant from Troyes and deputy of the Third Estate for that bailliage, was convinced that an aristocratic plot was afoot to occupy Paris and Versailles, with a force of around fifty thousand soldiers, and crush all hope of reform. 2

The Troyes deputy was essentially correct about the objective, although he exaggerated the means for achieving it. In fact, Louis XVI had summoned more than 20,000 line troops to the capital where they were to join the elite regiments of French and Swiss Guards, approximately 3,600 and 2,300 men, respectively. Among the units that were to participate in the planned coup were the Bourbonnais and Saintonge Regiments, each about 1,100 strong, and a 300-man detachment of Lauzun Hussars; altogether, these

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