Louis XIV’s Wars | Western Civilization (2023)

Table of Contents
Learning Objective Key Points Terms

Learning Objective

  • Identify the consequences of Louis XIV’s wars

Key Points

  • In addition to sweeping domestic reforms, Louis XIV aspired to make France the leading European power. His ambitions pushed other leading European states to form alliances against an increasingly aggressive France.
  • The War of Devolution(1667–1668) saw the French forces overrun the Habsburg-controlled Spanish Netherlandsand the Franche-Comté. However, a Triple Allianceof England, Sweden, and the Dutch Republic forced France to give most of it back in the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.
  • The Franco-Dutch War(1672–1678) pittedFrance, Sweden, Münster, Cologne, and Englandagainst the Dutch Republic, which was later joined by the Austrian Habsburg lands, Brandenburg-Prussia, and Spainto form a Quadruple Alliance. After years of fighting and a series of exhausting battles, the 1678-1679 Treaties of Nijmegen declared the Franche-Comté and the Spanish Netherlands French territories, making France Europe’s strongest power.
  • The Nine Years’ War (1688–1697) once again pitted Louis XIV againsta European-wide coalition, the Grand Alliance. By the terms of the Treaty of Ryswick (1697) Louis XIV retained the whole of Alsace but was forced to return Lorraine to its ruler and give up any gains on the right bank of the Rhine. Louis also accepted William III as the rightful King of England.
  • All these wars exhausted France financially but turned it into the most powerful state in Europe.
  • Louis’s expansionist ambitions culminated in the final decisive war of his reign: the War of the Spanish Succession.

Terms

Treaties of Nijmegen

A series of treatiessigned in the Dutch city of Nijmegenbetween August 1678 and December 1679. The treaties ended various interconnected wars among France, the Dutch Republic, Spain, Brandenburg, Sweden, Denmark, the Prince-Bishopric of Münster, and the Holy Roman Empire. The most significant of the treaties was the first, which established peace between France and the Dutch Republic and placed the northern border of France in very nearly its modern position.

Grand Alliance

A European coalition, consisting (at various times) of Austria, Bavaria, Brandenburg, the Dutch Republic, England, the Holy Roman Empire, Ireland, the Palatinate of the Rhine, Portugal, Savoy, Saxony, Scotland, Spain, and Sweden. The organization was founded in 1686 as the League of Augsburg and was originally formed in an attempt to halt Louis XIV of France’s expansionist policies.

revocation of the Edict of Nantes

A 1685 edict, also known as the Edict of Fontainebleau,issued by Louis XIVof France, that revoked the right to practice the tolerated forms of Protestantism without persecution from the state granted by the Edict of Nantes(1598).

Truce of Ratisbon

A truce that concluded the War of the Reunionsbetween Spain and France. It was signed in 1684 at the Dominican convent at Ratisbonin Bavaria between Louis XIVof France on the one side and the Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold I, and the Spanish King, Charles II, on the other. The final agreements allowed King Louis to retain Strasbourg, Luxembourg, and other Reunion gains, and returned Kortrijkand Diksmuide, both now in Belgium, to Spain. It was not, however, a definitive peace but only a truce for twenty years.

War of the Reunions

A short conflict (1683–1684)between Franceand Spainand its allies. It was fueled by the long-running desire of Louis XIVto conquer new lands, many of them comprising part of the Spanish Netherlands, along France’s northern and eastern borders. The war was, in some sense, a continuation of the territorial and dynastic aims of Louis XIV as manifested in the War of Devolutionand the Franco–Dutch War.

Triple Alliance

A 1668 alliance of England, Sweden, and the Dutch Republic formed to halt the expansion of Louis XIV’s France in the War of Devolution. The alliance never engaged in combat against France, but it was enough of a threat to force Louis to halt his offensive and sign the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle with Spain.

In addition to making sweeping domestic reforms, which completed the process of turning France into the absolute monarchy under the sole authority of the king, Louis XIV aspired to make France the leading European power. His ambitions pushed other leading European states to form alliances against an increasingly aggressive France. Three major wars, the Franco-Dutch War, the Nine Years’ War, and the War of the Spanish Succession, as well as two lesser conflicts, the War of Devolutionand the War of the Reunions, enabled France to become the most powerful state in Europe. However, this success, which came with the price of massive foreign and military spending, kept France on the continuous verge of bankruptcy. While Louis’s detractors argued that the war-related expenditure impoverished France to an extreme extent, his supporters pointed out that while the state was impoverished, France, with all its territorial and political gains, was not.

Louis XIV’s Wars | Western Civilization (1)

Louis XIV in 1670, engraved portrait byRobert Nanteuil, Yale University Art Gallery. During Louis’s reign, France was the leading European power and fought three major wars: the Franco-Dutch War, the War of the League of Augsburg, and the War of the Spanish Succession. There were also two lesser conflicts: the War of Devolutionand the War of the Reunions.

In 1665, Louis believed that he had a pretext to go to war with Spain and allow him to claim the Spanish Netherlands(present-day Belgium). However, his claims to the Spanish Netherlands were tenuous; in 1659, France and Spain had concluded the Treaty of the Pyrenees, which ended twenty-four years of war between the two states. With the treaty, King Philip IV of Spainhad to cede certain territories and consent to the marriage of his daughter Maria Theresa of Spain to young Louis XIV.With this marriage, Maria Theresa explicitly renounced all rights to her father’s inheritance. When Philip IV died in 1665, the French king immediately laid claim to parts of the Spanish Netherlands. He justified this with the fact that the dowry promised at the time of his marriage to Maria Theresa had not been paid and that the French queen’s renunciation of her Spanish inheritance was therefore invalid.

The conflict that followed is known as the War of Devolution(1667–1668). It saw the French forces overrun the Habsburg-controlled Spanish Netherlandsand the Franche-Comté. However, a Triple Allianceof England, Sweden, and the Dutch Republic forced France to give most of it back in the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. During the negotiations, the Triple Alliance managed to enforce their demands: France abandoned the Franche-Comté and French troops had to withdraw from the Spanish Netherlands. A total of twelve conquered cities remained in the hands of the French king. The most important consequence of the war, however, was the changed attitude of Louis XIV towards the Dutch Republic. The king blamed it, his former close ally, for the creation of the Triple Alliance, whose pressure had put a halt to his conquests. The French foreign policy of the following years was therefore completely geared towards the Dutch Republic’s isolation.

The Franco-Dutch War(1672–78), called also the Dutch War, was a war that pittedFrance, Sweden, Münster, Cologne, and Englandagainst the Dutch Republic, which was later joined by the Austrian Habsburg lands, Brandenburg-Prussia, and Spainto form a Quadruple Alliance. Continuing his mission to isolate and attack the Dutch Republic, which Louis considered to be a trading rival consisting of seditious republicans and Protestant heretics, the French king made another move on the Spanish Netherlands. His first and primary objective was to gain the support of England. England felt threatened by the Dutch naval power and did not need much encouragement to leave the Triple Alliance. Sweden agreed to indirectly support the invasion of the Republic by threatening Brandenburg-Prussia if that state should intervene.

After years of fighting and a series of exhausting battles, the 1678-1679 Treaties of Nijmegen were signed between France, the Dutch Republic, the Holy Roman Empire, the Spanish Empire, the Prince-Bishopric of Münster, and the Swedish Empire, ending the Franco-Dutch War with the Franche-Comté and the Spanish Netherlands belonging to France, making France Europe’s strongest power. The war sparked the rivalry between William III, who later conquered England as part of the Glorious Revolution, and Louis XIV. It also resulted in the decline of the Dutch Republic’s dominance in overseas trade.

The Nine Years’ War (1688–1697), often called the War of the Grand Alliance or the War of the League of Augsburg, once again pitted Louis XIV againsta European-wide coalition, the Grand Alliance, led by the Anglo-Dutch King William III, Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I, King Charles II of Spain, Victor Amadeus II of Savoy, and several princes of the Holy Roman Empire. It was fought primarily on mainland Europe and its surrounding waters, but it also encompassed a theater in Ireland and in Scotland, where William III and James II struggled for control of Britain and Ireland, and a campaign in colonial North America between French and English settlers and their respective Indian allies (known as King William’s War).

Although Louis XIV had emerged from the Franco-Dutch War as the most powerful monarch in Europe, he immediately set about extending his gains to stabilize and strengthen France’s frontiers, culminating in the brief War of the Reunions (1683–1684). The resulting Truce of Ratisbon guaranteed France’s new borders for twenty years, but Louis’ subsequent actions—notably his revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685—led to the deterioration of his military and political dominance. His decision to cross the Rhine in September 1688 aimed to extend his influence and pressure the Holy Roman Empire into accepting his territorial and dynastic claims. But when Leopold I and the German princes resolved to resist, and when the States General and William III brought the Dutch and the English into the war against France, the French king at last faced a powerful coalition aimed at curtailing his ambitions.

The main fighting took place around France’s borders: in the Spanish Netherlands, the Rhineland, the Duchy of Savoy, and Catalonia. The fighting generally favored Louis XIV’s armies, but by 1696 his country was in the grip of an economic crisis. The Maritime Powers (England and the Dutch Republic) were also financially exhausted, and when Savoy defected from the Alliance, all parties were keen for a negotiated settlement. By the terms of the Treaty of Ryswick (1697) Louis XIV retained the whole of Alsace but was forced to return Lorraine to its ruler and give up any gains on the right bank of the Rhine. Louis also accepted William III as the rightful King of England, while the Dutch acquired their barrier fortress system in the Spanish Netherlands to help secure their own borders. However, with the ailing and childless Charles II of Spain approaching his end, a new conflict over the inheritance of the Spanish Empire would soon embroil Louis XIV and the Grand Alliance in a final war—the War of the Spanish Succession.

Louis XIV’s Wars | Western Civilization (2)

Territorial expansion of France under Louis XIV (1643–1715) is depicted in orange. While Louis’s detractors argued that the war-related expenditure impoverished France to an extreme extent, his supporters pointed out that while the state was impoverished, France, with all its territorial and political gains, was not.

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