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War of the Second Coalition

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

War of the Second Coalition
Part of the French Revolutionary Wars and the Coalition Wars
Battle of the PyramidsBattle of the NileSecond Battle of ZurichBattle of MarengoBattle of HohenlindenHaitian Revolution#Napoleon invades HaitiWar of the second coalition
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Left to right, top to bottom:
Battles of the Pyramids, the Nile, Zurich, Marengo, Hohenlinden, the Haitian Revolution
Date29 November 1798 – 25 March 1802
(3 years, 3 months, 3 weeks and 4 days)
Europe, Middle East, Mediterranean Sea, Caribbean Sea

French victory, Treaty of Lunéville, Treaty of Amiens


Second Coalition:
 Holy Roman Empire (until 1801)[note 1]

 Great Britain (pre-1801)
 United Kingdom (post-1801)
 Russia (until 1799)
 Ottoman Empire

 Naples (until 1801)
Tuscany Tuscany (until 1801)
Kingdom of France French Royalists


Sovereign Military Order of Malta Malta (1798)

 United States
(Quasi-War) (until 1800)

 French Republic
Spain Spain
Polish Legions
French client republics:

Commanders and leaders
Casualties and losses
Habsburg Monarchy 200,000 killed and wounded
140,000 captured[1]
French First Republic 75,000 killed in combat
140,000 captured[2]
First Coalition: France 1792:...Toulon...
Second Coalition: Egypt 1798:...Pyramids...
Second Coalition: Italy 1799:...Marengo...
Third Coalition: Germany 1803:...Austerlitz...
Fourth Coalition: Prussia 1806:...Jena...
Fifth Coalition: Austria 1809:...Wagram...
Sixth Coalition: Germany 1813:...Leipzig...
Sixth Coalition: France 1814:...Paris...
Seventh Coalition: Belgium 1815:...Waterloo...

The War of the Second Coalition (1798/9 – 1801/2, depending on periodisation) was the second war on revolutionary France by most of the European monarchies, led by Britain, Austria and Russia, and including the Ottoman Empire, Portugal, Naples and various German monarchies, though Prussia did not join this coalition, and Spain supported France.

The overall goal of Britain and Russia was to contain the expansion of the French Republic and to restore the monarchy in France, whereas Austria, which was still weakened and in deep financial debt from the War of the First Coalition, primarily sought to recover its position and come out of the war stronger than it entered.[3] Due in important part to this difference in strategy amongst the three major allied powers, the Second Coalition failed to overthrow the revolutionary regime, and French territorial gains since 1793 were confirmed.[3] In the Franco–Austrian Treaty of Lunéville in February 1801, France held all of its previous gains and obtained new lands in Tuscany, Italy, while Austria was granted Venetia and the Dalmatian coast. Most other allies would also sign separate peace treaties with the French Republic in 1801. Britain and France signed the Treaty of Amiens in March 1802, followed by the Ottomans in June 1802, bringing an interval of peace in Europe that lasted several months until Britain declared war on France again in May 1803. The renewed hostilities would culminate in the War of the Third Coalition.


On 20 April 1792, the French Legislative Assembly declared war on Austria. In the War of the First Coalition (1792–97), France fought against most of the states with which it shared a border, as well as Great Britain, Portugal and the Ottoman Empire. Although the Coalition forces achieved several victories at the outset of the war, they were ultimately repulsed from French territory and then lost significant territories to the French, who began to set up client republics in their occupied territories. The efforts of Napoleon Bonaparte in the northern Italian campaigns of the French Revolutionary Wars pushed Austrian forces back and resulted in the negotiation of the Treaty of Leoben (18 April 1797) and the subsequent Treaty of Campo Formio (October 1797).[4] leaving Britain to fight on alone and marking the end of the coalition.[citation needed]

Peace interrupted

From October 1797 until March 1799 France and Austria, the signatories of the Treaty of Campo Formio, avoided armed conflict but remained suspicious of each other and several diplomatic incidents undermined the agreement. The French demanded additional territory not mentioned in the Treaty. The Habsburgs were reluctant to hand over designated territories, much less additional ones. The Congress at Rastatt proved inept at orchestrating the transfer of territories to compensate the German princes for their losses. Ferdinand of Naples refused to pay tribute to France, followed by the Neapolitan rebellion and the subsequent establishment of the Parthenopaean Republic. Republicans in the Swiss cantons, supported by the French army, overthrew the central government in Bern and established the Helvetic Republic.[5]

Other factors contributed to the rising tensions. In the summer of 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte led an expedition to Egypt and Syria. On his way to Egypt, Napoleon had stopped at the heavily fortified port city of Valletta, the capital city of Malta. Grand Master Ferdinand von Hompesch zu Bolheim, who ruled the island, would only allow two ships at a time into the harbour, in accordance with the island's neutrality. Bonaparte immediately ordered the bombardment of Valletta and on 11 June 1798, General Louis Baraguey d'Hilliers directed a landing of several thousand French troops at strategic locations around the island. The French Knights of the order deserted, and the remaining Knights failed to mount a successful resistance. Bonaparte forcibly removed the other Knights from their possessions, angering Paul, Tsar of Russia, who was the honorary head of the Order. The French Directory, furthermore, was convinced that the Austrians were conniving to start another war. Indeed, the weaker the French Republic seemed, the more seriously the Austrians, the Neapolitans, the Russians and the British actually discussed this possibility.[6] In Egypt, Napoleon's army got trapped, and after he returned to France (October 1799), it eventually surrendered (September 1801).

Meanwhile, during his absence from Europe, the outbreak of violence in Switzerland drew French support against the Old Swiss Confederacy. When revolutionaries overthrew the cantonal government in Bern, the French Army of the Alps invaded, ostensibly to support the Swiss Republicans. In northern Italy, Russian general Aleksandr Suvorov won a string of victories, driving the French under Moreau out of the Po Valley, forcing them back on the French Alps and the coast around Genoa. However, the Russian armies in the Helvetic Republic were defeated by French commander André Masséna, and Suvorov eventually withdrew. Ultimately the Russians left the Coalition when Great Britain insisted on the right to search all vessels it stopped at sea. In Germany, Archduke Charles of Austria drove the French under Jean-Baptiste Jourdan back across the Rhine and won several victories in Switzerland. Jourdan was replaced by Masséna, who then combined the Armies of the Danube and Helvetia.[citation needed]

Preliminaries to war

Strategic overview of operations in Europe and the Mediterranean in 1798–1799
Strategic overview of operations in Europe and the Mediterranean in 1798–1799

Military planners in Paris understood that the Upper Rhine Valley, the south-western German territories, and Switzerland were strategically important for the defence of the Republic. The Swiss passes commanded access to northern Italy; consequently, the army that held those passes could move troops to and from northern and southern theatres quickly.[7]

Toward this end, in early November 1798, Jourdan arrived in Hüningen to take command of the French forces there, the so-called Army of Observation because its function was to observe the security of the French border on the Rhine. Once there, he assessed the quality and disposition of the forces and identified needed supplies and manpower. He found the army woefully inadequate for its assignment. The Army of the Danube, and its two flanking armies, the Army of Helvetia and the Army of Mayence, or Mainz, were equally short of manpower, supplies, ammunition, and training; most resources were already directed to the Army in Northern Italy, and Army of Britain, and the Egyptian expedition. Jourdan documented assiduously these shortages, pointing out in lengthy correspondence to the Directory the consequences of an under-manned and under-supplied army; his petitions seemed to have little effect on the Directory, which sent neither significant additional manpower nor supplies.[8]

Jourdan's orders were to take the army into Germany and secure strategic positions, particularly on the south-west roads through Stockach and Schaffhausen, at the westernmost border of Lake Constance. Similarly, as commander of the Army of Helvetia (Switzerland), Andre Massena would acquire strategic positions in Switzerland, in particular the St. Gotthard Pass, the passes above Feldkirch, particularly Maienfeld (St. Luciensteig), and hold the central plateau in and around Zürich and Winterthur. These positions would prevent the Allies of the Second Coalition from moving troops back and forth between the northern Italian and German theatres, but would allow French access to these strategic passes. Ultimately, this positioning would allow the French to control all western roads leading to and from Vienna. Finally, the army of Mayence would sweep through the north, blocking further access to and from Vienna from any of the northern Provinces, or from Britain.[9]

Formation of the Second Coalition

The Second Coalition took several months to form, starting with Naples allying itself with Austria (19 May 1798) and Russia (29 November),[10] after which British Prime Minister Pitt and Austrian State Chancellor Thugut (the latter only on the condition that Russia would also enter the coalition) failed to persuade Prussia (which had left the First Coalition as early as April 1795) to join in.[10][11] Neither were Britain and Austria able to formalise an alliance due to the lack of an agreement on the loan convention that would cover Austria's outstanding debt to Britain from the previous war, let alone British subsidy to Austria for the upcoming war; they would end up resorting to ad hoc cooperation without formal agreement.[12] Next, Russia allied itself with the Ottoman Empire (23 December) and Great Britain (26 December).[10] By 1 December, the Kingdom of Naples had signed alliances with both Russia and Great Britain. And by 2 January 1799, additional alliances were in place between Russia, Great Britain, and the Ottoman Empire.[13][clarification needed]

The first military action under the alliance occurred on 29 November when Austrian General Karl Mack occupied Rome and restored Papal authority with a Neapolitan army.[13][clarification needed]



In Europe, the allies mounted several invasions, including campaigns in Italy and Switzerland and an Anglo-Russian invasion of the Netherlands. Russian general Alexander Suvorov inflicted a series of defeats on the French in Italy, driving them back to the Alps. However, the allies were less successful in the Anglo-Russian invasion of Holland, where the British and Russians retreated after a defeat at Castricum, and in Switzerland, where after initial victories an Austro-Russian army was completely routed at the Second Battle of Zurich. These reverses, as well as British insistence on searching shipping in the Baltic Sea led to Russia withdrawing from the Coalition.[14]

Napoleon himself invaded Syria from Egypt, but after a failed siege of Acre he retreated to Egypt, repelling a British-Turkish invasion. Alerted to the political and military crisis in France, he returned, leaving his army behind, and used his popularity and army support to mount a coup that made him First Consul, the head of the French government.[15]


Napoleon sent Moreau to campaign in Germany, and went himself to raise a new army at Dijon and march through Switzerland to attack the Austrian armies in Italy from behind.[citation needed]

Moreau meanwhile invaded Bavaria and won a great battle against Austria at Hohenlinden. Moreau continued toward Vienna and the Austrians sued for peace.[16] The result was the Armistice of Steyr on 25 December.[17]

In May 1800 Napoleon led his troops across the Alps through the Great St. Bernard Pass into Italy in a military campaign against the Austrians. Narrowly avoiding defeat, he defeated the Austrians at the Battle of Marengo. While the Austrians had a much larger force, Napoleon was able to organise a hurried retreat from the village before returning with reinforcements. The French successfully charged the Austrian flank with cavalry and Napoleon negotiated for Austria to leave Piedmont, Liguria and Lombardy. [18]


Prior to the Acts of Union of July/August 1800, Ireland was a separate kingdom, with its own Parliament, held in a personal union with Great Britain under the Crown. In response to the 1798 United Irishmen revolt, it became part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, effective 1 January 1801.[citation needed]

The Austrians signed the Armistice of Treviso on 16 January, ending the war in northern Italy.[17] On 9 February, they signed the Treaty of Lunéville for the entire Holy Roman Empire, basically accepting the terms of the previous Treaty of Campo Formio. In Egypt, the Ottomans and British invaded and finally compelled the French to surrender after the fall of Cairo and Alexandria.[19]

Britain continued the war at sea. A coalition of non-combatants including Prussia, Russia, Denmark, and Sweden joined to protect neutral shipping from Britain's blockade, resulting in Nelson's surprise attack on the Danish fleet in harbour at the Battle of Copenhagen.[20]

France and Spain invaded Portugal, in the War of Oranges, forcing Portugal to sign the Treaty of Badajoz (1801).[citation needed]

Russia formally made peace with France through the Treaty of Paris on 8 October, signing a secret alliance two days later.[21]

In December 1801, France despatched the Saint-Domingue expedition to recapture the island, which had been independent since the 1791 Haitian Revolution. This included over 30,000 troops, many experienced and elite veterans but ended in catastrophic failure; by the end of 1802, an estimated 15,000 – 22,000 had died of disease and yellow fever, among them Napoleon's brother-in-law, General Charles Leclerc.[citation needed]


On 25 March 1802, Britain and France signed the Treaty of Amiens, ending the British involvement in the war. After a preliminary treaty signed at Paris on 9 October 1801, the Treaty of Paris of 25 June 1802 finally ended the war between France and the Ottoman Empire, the last remaining member of the Second Coalition. Thus began the longest period of peace during the period 1792–1815. The treaty is generally considered to be the most appropriate point to mark the transition between the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars, although Napoleon was not crowned emperor until 1804.[citation needed]

Strategic analysis

American historian Paul W. Schroeder (1987) claimed that, at the time of his writing, most historians – exemplified by Piers Mackesy (1984) – had all too simplistically put the blame of the Second Coalition's failure on the '[requirement of]' Britain and Russia to trust Austria, when it was obvious that Austria could not be trusted'.[22] These historians had assumed that Austria failed to act in accordance with the Coalition's common goal of invading France, ending the Revolution and restoring the Bourbon monarchy, because Vienna was too selfish and too greedy for territorial expansion.[22] Schroeder argued that it wasn't that simple: while it was true that Austria did not have overthrowing the French Republic as its primary war aim, it was reasonable for Vienna to set its own conditions for entering a war with France. The enormous financial debt it still had from the War of the First Coalition jeopardised not just the Habsburg Monarchy's ability to field an army capable of defeating the French, but had also caused hyperinflation and internal instability which risked a revolution inside Austria itself.[23] The very survival of the Habsburg monarchy was at stake, and so Emperor Francis II and Thugut resolved not to enter a war in order to defeat France at all costs, but to make Austria come out stronger than it went in.[3] Moreover, Schroeder reasoned that all the other great powers that were negotiating to form the Second Coalition – Russia, Prussia (which ultimately remained neutral), Britain, and the Ottoman Empire – were duplicitous in their behaviour: each was afraid of and scheming against the other to make sure they gained the most from the war and the others would gain little or actually grow weaker with the new post-war balance of power.[24]

See also


  1. ^ Nominally the Holy Roman Empire, of which the Austrian Netherlands and the Duchy of Milan were under direct Austrian rule. Also encompassed many other Italian states, as well as other Habsburg states such as the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.
  2. ^ Short lived state that replaced the Kingdom of Naples in 1799.
  3. ^ Abolished following the restoration of the neutral Papal States in 1799.



  1. ^ Clodfelter, M. (2008). Warfare and Armed Conflicts: A Statistical Encyclopedia of Casualty and Other Figures, 1492–2015 (3rd ed.). McFarland. Page 115.
  2. ^ Clodfelter, p. 115.
  3. ^ a b c Schroeder 1987, p. 249–250.
  4. ^ Timothy Blanning, The French Revolutionary Wars pp. 41–59.
  5. ^ Blanning, pp. 230–32.
  6. ^ John Gallagher. Napoleon's enfant terrible: General Dominique Vandamme, Tulsa: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008, ISBN 978-0-8061-3875-6 p. 70.
  7. ^ Gunther E. Rothenberg. Napoleon's Great Adversaries: Archduke Charles and the Austrian Army, 1792–1914, Stroud, (Gloucester): Spellmount, 2007, ISBN 978-1-86227-383-2 pp. 70–74.
  8. ^ Jourdan, pp. 60–90.
  9. ^ Jourdan, pp. 50–60; Rothenberg, pp. 70–74.
  10. ^ a b c Encarta Winkler Prins Encyclopaedia (1993–2002) s.v. "coalitieoorlogen §2. Tweede Coalitieoorlogen (1799–1802)". Microsoft Corporation/Het Spectrum.
  11. ^ Schroeder 1987, p. 249.
  12. ^ Schroeder 1987, p. 252.
  13. ^ a b Emerson Kent
  14. ^ Christopher Duffy, Eagles over the Alps: Suvorov in Italy and Switzerland, 1799 (1999)
  15. ^ Georges Lefebvre, The French Revolution Volume II: from 1793 to 1799 (1964), chapter 13.
  16. ^ George Armand Furse, 1800 Marengo and Hohenlinden (2009)
  17. ^ a b L. M. Roberts, "The Negotiations Preceding the Peace of Lunéville", Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, New Series, Vol. 15 (1901), pp. 47–130, esp. 101–108. doi:10.2307/3678081 JSTOR 3678081
  18. ^ Zamoyski, Adam (2018). Napoleon: The Man Behind the Myth. William Collins Books. p. 275-277. ISBN 9780008116095.
  19. ^ Piers Mackesy, British Victory in Egypt, 1801: The End of Napoleon's Conquest (1995) online
  20. ^ Dudley Pope, The Great Gamble: Nelson at Copenhagen (1972).
  21. ^ Agatha Ramm (1967), Germany, 1789–1919: A Political History, Methuen, p. 52.
  22. ^ a b Schroeder 1987, p. 246.
  23. ^ Schroeder 1987, p. 250.
  24. ^ Schroeder 1987, p. 256–258.


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External links

Preceded by
Peasants' War (1798)
French Revolution: Revolutionary campaigns
War of the Second Coalition
Succeeded by
Siege of Acre (1799)
This page was last edited on 17 July 2022, at 11:44
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