Austria’s Leopold II on the French Revolution (1791)


In July 1791 Emperor Leopold II of Austria wrote to Catherine the Great of Russia and the rulers of England, Spain and Prussia, following the flight to Varennes and the detention of the French royal family:


“I am sure that Your Majesty will have learned of the unheard of attempt to arrest the King of France, the Queen, my sister, and the royal family, with as much surprise and indignation as myself; and that your feelings cannot differ from mine about an event which gives rise to fears of consequences still more atrocious, fixes the seal of illegality to the excesses which had already been perpetrated in France, and compromises the honour of all sovereigns and the security of all governments.

Determined to carry out my duty in regard to these considerations, both as head of the Germanic body and its assembly, and as sovereign of the Austrian dominions, I propose to the Kings of Spain, England, Prussia, Naples and Sardinia, as well as to the Empress of Russia, that they should join together with myself in advising, co-ordinating and taking measures aimed at restoring the liberty and honour of the Most Christian King and his family, and to set limits to the dangerous excesses of the French Revolution.

The most urgent task seems to me to be that we should all join in conveying immediately, through our ministers in France, a common declaration, or similar simultaneous declarations, such as may bring the heads of the violent party to their senses and prevent any desperate decisions, while leaving them the way open to an honourable retreat and to the peaceful establishment of a state of affairs in France which should at least preserve the dignity of the crown and the conditions essential for general tranquillity.”