Devolution, War of (1667–1668)

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DEVOLUTION, WAR OF (16671668). The Franco-Spanish Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659) brought France modest territorial gains. The peace was sealed by a marriage in 1660 between the young Louis XIV (ruled 16431715) and the daughter of Philip IV, Marie-Thérèse (16381683). If both powers regarded the 1659 settlement as a welcome escape from twenty-five years of indecisive conflict, by the mid 1660s perceptions had hardened that France was the dominant military and political force in Europe, while the Spanish monarchy was locked into a spiral of instability, weakness, and diminishing resources. With Philip IV's death in 1665 and the minority of the young and sickly Charles II (ruled 16651700), the temptation for Louis XIV to exploit his once-powerful rival became overwhelming. Though dynastic convention would grant the inheritance of the entire Spanish monarchy to the male heir of Philip IV, Louis's jurists argued that local custom in parts of the Spanish Netherlands granted shares in an inheritance to the female heirs by a previous marriage. Because the Spanish had never paid Marie-Thérèse's dowry, it was claimed that her renunciation of rights to the Spanish inheritance was void, and that the private law of the Netherlands could thus be applied to territory coveted by the French king. This legal sophistry proved sufficient to justify Louis's aggressive designs, and in May 1667 three armies totaling 70,000 men poured across the frontiers of the Spanish Netherlands. Defensive capacity had been depleted since 1659 as many troops had been transferred back to the Iberian Peninsula to sustain the failing struggle against Portuguese independence. The French offensive was overwhelming: more major cities and fortresses fell to the French in a single campaign than in the previous twenty-five years of war.

However, the scale of this success concerned other European powers. Although the Dutch had previously been allies of the French, the prospect that the Spanish Netherlands would be entirely absorbed by Louis's armies caused them to join with the English and Swedish, committed if necessary to forcing France back to her 1659 frontiers. This Triple Alliance was ratified in January 1668. The French response was further military activitythe occupation of Spanish Franche-Comté. Yet shortly after this Louis XIV and his ministers agreed to the modest peace settlement of Aix-la-Chapelle (2 May1668). The critical factor in the settlement was the secret partition treaty for the division of the entire Spanish inheritance, drawn up in January 1668 between Louis and the Habsburg emperor, Leopold I (ruled 16551705), and based upon the assumption that Charles II would not survive his minority. Leopold had little doubt that he would then inherit the entire Spanish Empire but did not believe that he could make good his rights against a powerful France that would be nervous about a reunited Habsburg Empire. Hence a partition was arranged, giving France the Spanish Netherlands, Franche-Comté, Naples and Sicily, the Philippines, and Navarre, in return for accepting the emperor's succession to the rest of the empire. The partition treaty had the desired effect on Louis XIV, persuading him that a rapid settlement of the outstanding Netherlands conflict would facilitate the orderly acquisition of a greater prize than even the most successful military campaign in 1668 would offer.

See also Leopold I (Holy Roman Empire) ; Louis XIV (France) ; Military ; Netherlands, Southern ; Pyrenees, Peace of the (1659) .


Primary Source

Louis XIV. Mémoires for the Instruction of the Dauphin. Translated and edited by Paul Sonnino. London, 1970.

Secondary Sources

Bérenger, Jean. "An Attempted Rapprochement between France and the Emperor: the Secret Treaty for the Partition of the Spanish Succession, 19 January 1668." In Louis XIV and Europe, edited by Ragnhild Hatton, pp. 133152. London, 1976.

Corvisier, André. Louvois. Paris, 1983. Though untranslated, provides important material on the French army reforms of the 1660s and the growing recognition of French military strength.

Kamen, Henry. Spain in the Later Seventeenth Century, 16651700. London, 1980.

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

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.

Sonnino, Paul. "The Origins of Louis XIV's Wars." In The Origins of War in Early Modern Europe, edited by Jeremy Black, pp. 112131. Edinburgh, 1987.

Wolf, John B. Louis XIV. New York, 1968. Still the best biographical study available.

David Parrott

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War of Devolution

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