"The Padua Circular" (5 July 1791)


"The Padua Circular" (5 July 1791)


Even after the aborted flight of the royal family in June 1791, Emperor Leopold von Habsburg of Austria, brother of Marie Antoinette, continued his efforts to organize a coalition of French émigré nobles and other European powers that would invade France and put an end to the Revolution. In this letter, written shortly after the forced return of Louis and Marie Antoinette to Paris (which Leopold considered their "arrest"), he proposes an alliance of Austria, Prussia, Britain, Spain, Russia, and other forces against the French Revolution and sets forth the principles for which this alliance would fight—most notably, the restoration of Louis to his full pre–1789 powers.


John Hall Stewart, A Documentary Survey of the French Revolution (New York: Macmillan, 1951), 221–23. (Slightly retranslated).


July 5, 1791






I am sure Your Majesty will have learned, with as much surprise and indignation as I, of the unprecedented outrage of the arrest of the King of France, of my sister the Queen, and of the Royal Family. I am also sure your sentiments cannot differ from mine with regard to this event which immediately compromises the honor of all sovereigns and the security of all governments by inspiring fear of still more dreadful acts to follow, and by placing the seal of illegality upon previous excesses in France.

I am determined to fulfill my obligation as to these considerations, both as chosen head of the Germanic State, with its support, and as Sovereign of the Austrian states. I therefore propose to you, as I propose to the Kings of Spain, England, Prussia, Naples, and Sardinia, as well as to the Empress of Russia, to unite with them and me to consult on cooperation and measures to restore the liberty and honor of the Most Christian King and his family, and to limit the dangerous extremes of the French Revolution.

The most pressing [need] appears to be our immediate cooperation . . . having our ministers in France deliver a common declaration, or numerous similar and simultaneous declarations, which may curb the leaders of the violent party and forestall desperate decisions. This will still leave them an opportunity for honest repentance and for the peaceful establishment of a regime in France that will preserve at least the dignity of the crown and the essential requirements for general tranquillity. For this purpose, I propose to Your Majesty the plan annexed hereto which appears to me satisfactory.

However, since the success of such a declaration is problematical, and since complete success can be assured only in so far as we are prepared to support it by sufficiently respectable means, my Minister to Your Majesty will receive at once the necessary instructions to discuss with your Minister such agreement on vigorous measures as circumstances may require. I also intend to have him inform you concerning the replies of the other powers as soon as I have received them.

I regard it as an infinitely precious advantage that the disposition they all show for the reestablishment of peace and harmony gives promise to the removal of the obstacles which might be detrimental to the unanimity of the views and sentiments concerning an event so closely associated with the welfare of all Europe.

Signed, Leopold

Plan of the Common Declaration

Padua, 5 July 1791.

The undersigned are charged with making known, on the part of their sovereigns, the following:

That, notwithstanding the notorious deeds of constraint and violence which have preceded and succeeded the acts of consent granted by the King of France to the decrees of the National Assembly, they had nevertheless still wished to withhold their opinion concerning the degree to which such consent represented, or did not represent, the conviction and free will of His Most Christian Majesty. But the effort undertaken by that prince to set himself at liberty, being a most certain proof of the state of confinement in which he found himself, no longer left any doubt that he had been forced to do violence to his religion in several respects, at the same time that the last outrage, the formal arrest of Him and of the Queen, the Dauphin, and Madame Elizabeth, inspires legitimate fears concerning the ulterior undertakings of the dominant party.

That the said sovereigns, unable to delay any longer the manifestation of sentiments and resolutions which, under the circumstances, the honor of their crowns, the ties of blood, and the maintenance of the public order and peace of Europe require of them, have ordered their undersigned ministers to declare:

That they demand that this prince and his family be set at liberty immediately, and that they claim for all said royal persons the inviolability and respect which the law of nature and of men imposes upon subjects towards their princes;

That they will unite in order to avenge in a forceful manner any future outrages which may be committed, or may be allowed to be committed, against the security, the person, and the honor of the King, the Queen, and the Royal Family.

That, finally, they will recognize as law and as a constitution legally established in France only those [measures] which they find bearing the voluntary approval of the King, in the enjoyment of perfect liberty; but that, in the contrary case, they will employ in concert all the means within their power to bring to an end the scandal of an usurpation of power which bears the character of an open revolt, and the disastrous example of which it is important for all governments to check.


“"The Padua Circular" (5 July 1791),” LIBERTY, EQUALITY, FRATERNITY: EXPLORING THE FRENCH REVOUTION, accessed July 20, 2024, https://revolution.chnm.org/d/420.