When the King of France Louis XVI betrayed his people by handing them over to foreigners, he had no idea what his fate would be. With the Prussian army at its borders and Austria ready to intervene, the days of revolutionary government seemed numbered. Worried by the imminent collapse, the French Government called all citizens to arms in defense of the homeland by proclaiming the famous levée en masse. The conscripts were all volunteers. Compared to the Austrians or Prussians soldiers, they looked like a bunch of tramps without discipline. Moreover, the French soldiers were dressed in blue cloth uniforms. Almost all were barefoot and many were drunk. Yet, the levée en masse marked the beginning of a new era in military history.
On September 20, 1792, a French national army defeated the fearsome Prussian army in the battle of Valmy. General Dumouriez’s artillery thus dashed Louis XVI’s hopes of returning to power by sacrificing his people. In Paris, after the victory, the Convention met and abolished the institution of the monarchy. From that moment on, all the laws and governmental acts would be dated An Ier (Year First) of the French Republic.
The fate of Louis XVI was sealed: traitors and homeland’s enemies were to be executed without mercy. On January 21, 1793, the king of France climbed the scaffold to be guillotined. The king’s last words to the people, as he was walking up the stairs to the guillotine were: “People, I die innocent!” The decision to behead the king was not unanimous. Moderates and the Girondins thought that imprisonment was a sufficient measure. But the Parisian Sans-culottes and the Montagnards wanted betrayal to be punished with the blood.
The death of Louis XVI and the fear that the revolutionary ideas would spread to other parts of Europe gave life to the first anti-French coalition. The coalition included England, Russia, Austria, Spain, Prussia, the Kingdom of Sardinia, and other Italian and German states.