| The wars of Louis XIV
certain qu’il était passionné pour la gloire, et même encore plus
que pour la réalité de ses conquêtes. Dans l’acquisition de
l’Alsace et de la moitié de la Flandre, de toute la Franche-Comté,
ce qu’il aimait le mieux était le nom qu’il se faisait".
Voltaire on Louis XIV
[It is certain that he passionately wanted
glory, rather than the conquests themselves. In the acquisition of Alsace and
half of Flanders, and of all of Franche-Comté, what he really
liked was the name he made for himself].
From the 1660's onwards, Louis XIV aimed at expanding French territory
by force of arms. He thought in this way to acquire gloire
(glory). Another war aim was giving France a defensible frontier -
especially "the line of the Rhine" in the East. Louis XIV did not
doubt his right to "reunite" with France the territory once held by
Michel Le Tellier, Marquis of Louvois and Henri de la Tour d'Auvergne,
Viscount Turenne had created a large and efficient army that became
Louis's main instrument in overawing neighboring countries.
Louvois imposed a high level of discipline of the troops - his drill
master was Jean Martinet: - so strict an officer that to this
day the word martinet is used to mean a rigid disciplinarian.
Louvois also organized a commissariat department to supply the French
army. Until his system of magazines and supply dumps was introduced,
armies had to forage (often to loot) the surrounding area for food and
supplies. Efficient supply enabled the French army to concentrate on
The armies of Louis XIV were also more modern in their weaponry. The
introduction of the flintlock rifle (which used a flint to ignite the
gunpowder, rather than the burning twisted cord or "match" used until
then) made possible sustained fire even in wet and windy conditions,
and allowed surprise at night. Because the flintlock fired in all
conditions, pike men were no longer needed to protect the musketeers -
particularly after the introduction of the bayonet. The bayonet let
the musketeer defend himself in close-quarter fighting. The first
"plug" bayonets were inserted into the musket's barrel, but Vauban
perfected a socket bayonet that allowed the gun to be fired even when the
bayonet was in place.
|Louis XIV saw England as weak, and believed he could easily control its monarchs
by bribes. The Dutch he regarded as trading rivals, seditious
republicans, and heretics. Nonetheless, his first military
expedition was in the Spanish Netherlands.|
The War of Devolution (1667-68)
When Louis XIV married Maria Theresa, daughter
of Philip IV, she formally renounced her
claims to succeed as ruler of any Spanish territory. Louis insisted
that this renunciation was conditional on prompt payment by Spain of
Maria Theresa's dowry (500,000 gold
écus) - an
undertaking Spain failed to fulfill.
1665, Philip IV died, and was succeeded by his son by his second
marriage (to Mariana of Austria), the four-year-old
Charles (Carlos) II. Louis XIV announced
that because the dowry had not been paid, and because the local laws
of Brabant gave the children of a first marriage priority in
inheritance over those of a second, Maria Theresa was the true ruler
of much of the Spanish Netherlands.
[See family tree]
had an army of 72,000 troops, led by two veterans of the Thirty Years
War - Henri de la Tour d'Auvergne, Viscount Turenne and Louis
de Bourbon, Prince of Condé.
|The French army crossed
the border into the Spanish Netherlands, whose far smaller army
(about 20,000) was forced to give way. They also attacked the Spanish
territory of Franche Comté (left); Condé
took Artois, Besançon, Dôle, and Gray in 15
Turenne occupied Flanders, and
Le Prestre de Vauban, an expert military engineer took charge of
besieging the fortified towns. Louis took personal command at the
siege of Lille.
ease and rapidity of Louis XIV's invasion so alarmed the English and
the Dutch that they ended the trading war in which they were involved.
In May 1668, they joined with Sweden to form the
Alliance against France. Equally alarmed by French aggression,
Spain made peace with Portugal.
Recognizing the growing forces against him, Louis made a secret treaty
with the Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold I,
in which Leopold agreed to French expansion into the Spanish
Netherlands after the death of Charles II of Spain. (This death
was expected to be soon, as Charles was such a sickly child).
Armed with this secret treaty, Louis made the
"generous" peace of Aix-la-Chapelle (May 1668) by which he kept many
of his conquests in Flanders but withdrew from Franche-Comté.
|The towns that Louis retained in the Spanish
Netherlands - especially Lille - were expertly fortified by Vauban.
These fortresses served both as defensive strong-points and as
spring-boards for future invasion.
Louis XIV's expansion into the
inherited by Louis XIV
captured by 1659
||captured by 1680
1680, given back 1713
boundary of France
|Louis did not reduce his troop strength after the Peace of
Aix-la-Chapelle, but increased it. By 1672, the French army numbered
almost 120,000 men - 8,000 household troops, 86,000 infantry and
|Louis XIV's foreign minister, Arnauld de Pomponne, worked
diplomatically to isolate the Netherlands. The French arranged
alliances or benevolent neutrality with Charles II of England (the
Treaty of Dover), the Swedes, and various German princes (including
Bavaria, Münster, Cologne and Hanover).|
|Louis saw the Dutch both as obstacles to French expansion into
the Spanish Netherlands and as trading rivals.|
Late 17th century French battleship
England declared war first and the Dutch Admiral, De Ruyter,
immediately launched a pre-emptive strike against the Anglo-French
Fleet. At the Battle of Sole Bay (28 May 1672), the Dutch took
advantage of poor communications between the English and French
vessels and inflicted serious losses, which included the death of the
English Admiral, Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich.
The French army was initially extremely successful and soon overran
the whole Province of Utrecht. The frightened Dutch Pensionary, John
de Witt sued for peace, but Louis made such exorbitant demands that he
provoked a violent reaction. The Dutch opened the sluices and flooded
large portions of the Netherlands to hold up the French troops.
The Dutch then removed De Witt from power (he was murdered soon
afterwards) and placed the young
William of Orange in power.
French success created new allies for the Dutch. Turenne had to detach
troops to send against Frederick William of Brandenburg-Prussia, who
was soon forced to make peace (June 1673).
Michiel Adriaenszoon de Ruyter
|In August 1673 the French and English fleets
fought another battle against the Dutch at Texel. The French
ships never properly engaged and the English fleet bore the
brunt of De Ruyter's fierce attack. The Dutch ships were
eventually forced to withdraw because they had exhausted their
supplies of ammunition. The English fleet limped home and
Charles II concluded a separate peace in the Treaty of
Westminster (February 1674).
The Holy Roman Empire and Spain also allied with the Dutch in the
Grand Alliance of The Hague (1674). Denmark joined the alliance
and attacked Sweden - France's only remaining friend. In June 1675,
Sweden sent a poorly-equipped army against Brandenburg, but it was
defeated at Fehrbellin (near Berlin). However the Danes invading
Sweden were defeated at the
Lund (December 1676)
Despite the many forces arrayed against him, Louis XIV's vast army had
some success. At Seneffe in 1674, the young William III was defeated
by the veteran Condé in a battle with high
casualties on both sides, but the Dutch were able to withdraw intact.
Through Vauban's expertise, Louis was able to capture the fortresses
of Maastricht and Trier (important for their control of inland
waterways and the river Moselle).
"When a general makes no mistakes in war,
it is because he has not been at it long"
Turenne took Franch-Comté and in summer 1674 laid waste to much of the
Palatinate so as to prevent the region being a source of supply for
imperial troops. In January 1675, he won a victory at Türkheim that
gave France control of Alsace (Elsass), but was killed by a cannon
ball in July 1675.
The cost of war was producing discontent - high taxation led to
revolts in Normandy and Brittany. Louis XIV made the Peace of
(Nymegen) - in 1678 he was confirmed by Spain in possession of
Franche-Comté, but surrendered Maastricht to the Dutch.
In 1679, the
Holy Roman Empire also made peace. France continued to occupy
Lorraine, but the Danes and Prussians were obliged to return Stettin
and their Baltic conquests to Sweden.
The Dutch War left France with
a deficit of 16 million livres, but Colbert died in 1683, and Louvois believed that
continued war was the route to French