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League of Augsburg, War of the (1688–1697)


LEAGUE OF AUGSBURG, WAR OF THE (16881697). This war is also known as the War of the Grand Alliance, the Nine Years' War, and King William's War.


French success at the Peace of Nijmegen (1678), which concluded the Dutch War (16721678), was followed a decade later by a diplomatic fiasco in which Louis XIV (ruled 16431715) began a war in which he had no allies and was opposed by a coalition comprising almost all the European powers. Indisputable characteristics of the years following Nijmegen were overconfidence in France's capacity to pursue political aims through military force and a dangerous contempt for international opinion. The "Chambers of Reunion" active between 1679 and 1682 may initially have presented spurious justifications for absorbing substantial territories lying across France's eastern frontier, but by the time French troops occupied Strasbourg and most of the duchy of Luxembourg, it was evident that Louis and his ministers were indulging the opportunism of the powerful. The lack of effective resistance owed much to the preoccupation of Emperor Leopold I (ruled 16581705) with the Ottoman threat, which climaxed in the 1683 siege of Vienna. The spectacular collapse of Ottoman power following the breaking of the siege caused concern at Versailles, but no modification of policy: Spain responded to France's "reunions" by a declaration of war in 1683, and in retaliation Louis sanctioned the seizure of the city of Luxembourg and the naval bombardment of Spain's ally Genoa. Although the Spanish, vainly expecting imperial leadership of an anti-French coalition, were forced to accept a truce at Regensburg in 1684, hostility and fear about French intentions were now widespread.

In this fragile situation French actions grew more provocative. The revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 completed the alienation of Protestant Europe: after 1685 no Protestant power would again make an alliance with Louis XIV. Intrigues over the archbishopric of Cologne and a hamhanded attempt to exploit the succession to the Palatine Electorate antagonized and frightened the German princes. Meanwhile the success of imperial forces in the Balkans, which culminated in the 1688 capture of Belgrade, freed Emperor Leopold to play an active role in an anti-French coalition in the West. In 1686 a number of German princes, Charles II (ruled 16651700) of Spain, and Leopold I signed the League of Augsburg (later known as the Grand Alliance) to coordinate resistance to France. Preoccupied by his attempt to bully Pope Innocent XI and the German princes into accepting a French client as archbishop-elector of Cologne, and convinced that a protracted civil war in England would be the most likelyand desirableconsequence of an armed challenge to James II (ruled 16851688), Louis and his ministers did nothing to block the invasion of England by William, the stadtholder of the Dutch Republic. Landing at Torbay in November 1688, William's forces rapidly undermined any resistance on behalf of James, and by December, William and his wife, Mary, the daughter of James II, were in London. Louis's most implacable enemy was now established at the head of both the great maritime powers.

A house of cards consisting of facile and inflexible assumptions about the international situation was collapsing; belatedly, Louis and his ministers sought to halt the momentum toward war, but a characteristic reliance on threats and violence simply compounded the crisis. Though demanding that the emperor and the German princes should convert the 1684 truce of Regensburg into a permanent peace, a simultaneous attack by French forces on the Rhineland fortress of Philippsburg ensured that the French ultimatum was ignored. Louis's response was the devastation of the Palatine cities and countryside, not by any means the only instance of such exemplary destructiveness in the period, but one that could hardly have been worse timed in the face of a hostile coalition of all the major western European powers.


There had been little attempt during the 1680s to prepare France for another long war, and even in 1689 Louis still hoped that it might be won quickly. The pattern of conflict had much in common with the preceding Dutch War. In the field the French armies proved superior to their opponents, and a group of capable and enterprising commanders were able to maintain the initiative during successive campaigns. French forces in the first few years of the war gained the military advantage in the Spanish Netherlands at Fleurus (July 1690), Steenkerque (August 1692), and Neerwinden (July 1693), while their victory at Staffarda (August 1690) in Piedmont threatened the collapse of allied power in northern Italy. But sustaining the war effort placed immense pressure upon France; the army was increased to at least 300,000 troops by the early 1690s. The allies could sustain heavy losses on campaign and still reinforce their army corps before the French could exploit a tactical advantage; French victories in the field and successful sieges did not, as Louis and his ministers hoped, bring the allies to the negotiating table. The French financial system and military administration were both under unprecedented strain. In 16931694 France suffered twin harvest failures accompanied by famine and disease, which killed upwards of 10 percent of the population. Tax revenues collapsed, much of the army went unpaid and unfed, and lingering hopes that Louis might be able to gain decisive victory evaporated. The French navy had acquitted itself impressively in 1690 with the victory over the combined Anglo-Dutch fleets at Bézeviers, and had continued to demonstrate tactical effectiveness in subsequent engagements. Yet in response to domestic crisis the navy was decommissioned (1695); some of the warships were contracted out to privateers, who continued a guerre de course (raiding campaign) against the allies, while the rest rotted in the dockyards.

By 16941695 the French government was desperate either to end the continental war outright or to reduce the scale of its military commitments; the allied capture of Namur (September 1695) provided alarming evidence that the military balance might be tipping against the French. Initiatives to divide the allies failed, and only in 1696 did Louis achieve a costly diplomatic breakthrough by a treaty (Turin) with Victor Amadeus II of Savoy (16661732), through which France gained the neutralization of the northern Italian theater at the price of abandoning the key French fortifications south of the Alps. Awareness that even with this scaling down of commitments in the south French forces on the northern and eastern frontiers would be heavily outnumbered during the 1696 campaign encouraged the first serious initiatives toward a general settlement.

Initial allied demands involved the restoration of all French acquisitions since Nijmegen, and negotiations foundered on Louis's refusal to return Strasbourg or to renounce any Bourbon claims in a future settlement of the Spanish succession. French negotiators finally settled with the Dutch and English representatives, recognizing William III as king of England, and conceding Dutch rights to garrison a fortress barrier in the Spanish Netherlands. The preliminary French settlement with the Dutch and English at Ryswick early in 1697 left the Austrians and the Spanish exposed diplomatically and militarily: the negotiations made major concessions to allied demands, returning most of France's conquests since 1678. Jeopardizing settlement over the refusal to surrender Strasbourg seemed disproportionate. Moreover, without the Maritime Powers' soldiers and warships, continuing the struggle against France looked less attractive. Indeed, deprived of the Anglo-Dutch navy, the Spanish were unable to prevent the French capture of Barcelona in August 1697. This provided a decisive inducement to accept the peace, signed at Ryswick by all the major combatants in September and October 1697. Although the emperor resented the abandonment of Strasbourg, and a party within Spain had wanted French concessions over earlier conquests in Flanders, Ryswick showed that France had been pushed to the limits of her resources by nine years of war.

See also Dutch War (16721678) ; James II (England) ; Leopold I (Holy Roman Empire) ; Louis XIV (France) ; William and Mary .


Primary Source

Actes et Mémoires des Négociations de la Paix de Ryswick. 4 vols. Reprint. Graz, Austria, 1974. Originally published The Hague, 1725.

Secondary Sources

Barker, Thomas M. Double Eagle and Crescent: Vienna's Second Turkish Siege in its Historical Setting. Albany, N.Y., 1967.

Bluche, François. Louis XIV. Translated by Mark Greengrass. London, 1990. A work of indefatigable chauvinism, which seeks to defend Louis XIV's policies on the eve of the war.

Childs, John. The Nine Years' War and the British Army, 16881697: The Operations in the Low Countries. Manchester, U.K., 1991.

Lossky, Andrew. "The General European Crisis of the 1680's." European Studies Review 10 (1980): 177197.

. "Maxims of State in Louis XIV's Foreign Policy in the 1680's." In William III and Louis XIV: Essays by and for Mark Thompson, edited by Ragnhild Hatton and John S. Bromley, pp. 723. Liverpool and Toronto, 1968.

Lynn, John A. The Wars of Louis XIV, 16671714. London, 1999.

Place, Richard. "The Self-Deception of the Strong: France on the Eve of the War of the League of Augsburg." French Historical Studies 6 (1970): 459473.

Rowen, Herbert H. The Princes of Orange: The Stadtholders in the Dutch Republic. Cambridge, U.K., 1988.

Rowlands, Guy R. The Dynastic State and the Army under Louis XIV: Royal Service and Private Interest in France, 1661 to 1701. Cambridge, U.K., 2002.

Spielmann, John P. Leopold I of Austria. London, 1977.

Storrs, Christopher. War, Diplomacy and the Rise of Savoy, 16901720. Cambridge, U.K., 1999.

Symcox, Geoffrey. The Crisis of French Sea Power, 16881697: From the guerre d'escadre to the guerre de course. The Hague, 1974.

. "Louis XIV and the Outbreak of the Nine Years War." In Louis XIV and Europe, edited by Ragnhild Hatton, pp. 179212. London, 1976.

Wolf, John B. Louis XIV. New York, 1968.

David Parrott

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