France declared war on Britain in 1793 (War of First Coalition). What was its motivation for declaring war? It was already at war with many European powers at the moment, and it was not likely in a position to defeat or conquer Britain. I understand if Britain had motivation to be at war with France (e.g. to stop republicanism or the French conquests in Europe), but I don't know what was to be gained by France from this. Wouldn't it be better to let Britain be neutral and deal with them later if needed?

  • "You can't declare war on us, because we declare war on you first. So take that!" Note that the British had already recalled their ambassador in preparation for declaring war (possibly concerned that he might be denied safe passage if he didn't leave France first). Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 4:17
  • @PieterGeerkens is there such a logic? :) Isn't it better to not be the declarer, because at least you can claim you're not the aggressor?
    – user69715
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 5:13
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    @user69715: I think you're mistakenly trying to apply 21st century western values to the late 19th century. Earlier times were perhaps more honest, in that countries often admitted that they went to war just 'cause they wanted to conquer the other country.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 6:34
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    @user69715 Not all decisions/actions are rational or optimal. In this case the French perceived a coalition against them (as PieterGeerkens noted, partially justified in that England was mustering for war, though the ambassador was recalled much earlier upon the deposition of Louis XVI). The National Convention perceived London's dithering as a play for time, and believed it was better to attack before its enemies were ready. As it turns out they played straight into England's hands by taking on the role of the aggressor.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 6:50
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    Note that the concept of casus beli has been long been integral to international relations in Europe. In this case, Britain certainly responded to the French declaration with the indignation of a victim of unprovoked aggression. The OP is not "mistakenly applying 21st century values" by any means.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 11:11

1 Answer 1


According to the OP's own link, "Britain began military preparations in late 1792 and declared that war was inevitable unless France gave up its conquests, notwithstanding French assurances they would not attack Holland or annex the Low Countries."

France felt that she needed the outposts that she had captured in (modern) Belgium to further her Revolution. Britain was opposed to any such French expansion, and France knew that war was inevitable. Over a century later, in 1914, Britain and Germany went to war for essentially the same reason.

Being the "revolutionary" country, France wanted to make the first "declaration" and strike the first blow.

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