The Age of Louis XIV and the French Dominance in Europe Part I

The Age of Louis XIV and the French Dominance in Europe 1

On the death of Mazarin, the young Louis XIV takes the effective direction of business; and almost immediately, French policy turns against Spain. It would be excessive to say that the Spanish succession was the pivot of all the international action of Louis XIV. It is certain, however, that he considered that state as an adversary that had to be overthrown in order for France to rise towards European hegemony: later he had to realize at his expense that this was not the most formidable enemy. Upon the death of his father-in-law Philip IV (1665), invoking a Flemish custom, Louis XIV demanded that the Spanish Netherlands belong to his wife. Thus came the war, and the French quickly occupied French Flanders and Franche-Comté (v.devolution, war of). Holland joined Sweden and England (Hague triple alliance) and interposed its mediation, which Louis XIV accepted. With the Peace of Aachen (1668), France retained the conquered cities in Flanders, but returned Franche-Comté.

Since then, French politics underwent a change, in the sense that it was now also directed against Holland. This overturning of the traditional system of alliances followed by Henry IV at Richelieu was not determined only by the personal resentment of Louis XIV who had seen himself arrested in his triumphal march, but above all by political-religious reasons, culminating in economic antagonism. In fact, to the protectionist tariffs set by Colbert in 1667, Holland had responded with higher tariffs and with a kind of boycott of the products of France, while its merchant navy found invincible competition in the Dutch navy. So that even Colbert, opposed to all adventures, supported the Dutch war which was to prove fatal to the hegemonic designs of Louis XIV. From 1668 to 1672 the diplomatic preparation aimed at isolating the adversary lasted. An alliance was made with Charles II of England, it was possible to acquire the neutrality of Sweden and the emperor. Success seemed certain, but William of Orange (v.) Assumed the state estate, managed to organize resistance and, breaking the dams and flooding the country, halted the march of the invaders. According to, the danger that Holland was running led to a vast coalition against France, in which the emperor, the king of Spain, the duke of Lorraine, ousted from his state in 1670 by Louis XIV, and the princes of Germany participated. England made peace on her behalf, leaving her ally alone. Then this turned against the Spaniards and the Imperials, which were repeatedly defeated by the armies of Turenne and Condé. Eventually, Louis XIV succeeded in imposing peace on all his adversaries (treaties of Nijmegen, Saint-Germain-en-Laye and Fontainebleau, 1678 and 1679), forcing Spain to cede Franche-Comté and other cities of Flanders to him. (Peace of Nijmegen; v.). However, to obscure this triumph, Holland maintained full territorial integrity, also obtaining the lifting of Colbert’s protectionist tariffs.

In the short period of peace that followed the treaty of Nijmegen, France, appealing to the vague wording of the articles that in the one and in the precedent of Westphalia spoke of territories dependent on the cities assigned to it, convened “meeting rooms” which proclaimed the annexation of many important places like Strasbourg and Casale. The other states rebelled in vain: Louis XIV, obtained the neutrality of Holland, easily beat the Spaniards who had declared war on him and forced them to recognize the “Reunions” and conclude the Regensburg truce (1684). This year marks the climax of French power. But the annexations, the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685), the bombing of Genoa, are all reasons that increase hostilities against France in Europe. Thus the league of Augusta (1686) between the emperor, Spain, Sweden and the Germanic states: a threat not serious at first, but then more and more dangerous as new allies join them. The Rhenish countries and Pinerolo in the hands of France pushed the elector of Brandenburg and the Duke of Savoy to join the League. But the event which, due to the European repercussions and the shift of forces and interests that it determined, was to mark the beginning of a crisis of French hegemony, was the English revolution (1688) with the fall of James II, the accession to the throne of William of Orange and the consequent Anglo-Dutch union, whereby France had all the most powerful nations coalesced against itself. During the course of the war (1688-1697; v. Orange and the consequent Anglo-Dutch union, for which France had all the most powerful nations coalesced against itself. During the course of the war (1688-1697; v. Orange and the consequent Anglo-Dutch union, for which France had all the most powerful nations coalesced against itself. During the course of the war (1688-1697; v.alliance, war of the great) Louis XIV gave James II extensive aid so that he could regain the crown, but in vain: in 1692 the French fleet suffered a decisive defeat near Cherbourg. On the continent, the struggle continued with varying fortunes, but the French were unable to achieve decisive success. The war still dragged on slowly until the defection of Vittorio Amedeo, who got all his states back from France including Pinerolo, led the League to peace which was signed in Ryswick (1697; v.). With this treaty, France had to return all the “reunited” lands, except Strasbourg, abandon James II and recognize William III. The Duke of Savoy saw his independence consolidated; the Duke of Lorraine recovered his state; Holland gained commercial advantages, and the French navy ceased.

But the general situation of France vis-à-vis Europe had not changed much; and the international conflicts were destined to worsen due to the precarious health conditions of Charles II, King of Spain, which made us believe the opening of a coveted succession to which, among others, Louis XIV, the emperor and the duke, aspired of Savoy. The same projects advanced on several occasions by France for a preventive division of the Spanish inheritance, in 1668 and 1699, increased the impression of a Bourbon will of dominance which was dangerous for the European equilibrium; nor did the promises made by Louis XIV to large and small states (such as the cession of Lombardy to the Duke of Savoy) appear to be sufficient guarantees or compensation. When, in 1700, Charles II died leaving his heir Philip of Anjou, on condition that he renounced his succession rights to the French throne, the collision was inevitable. The emperor felt impressed in his hereditary aspirations, Holland reacted to the occupation of the Spanish cities of Belgium by the soldiers of Louis XIV; but above all England was faced with the threat of a Franco-Spanish hegemony in the Mediterranean, just at the moment when the French colonial expansion in Canada was receiving a conspicuous impulse. In 1701 the great alliance of The Hague was stipulated and the following year hostilities opened. Louis XIV had only the king of Portugal, the elector of Bavaria and the duke of Savoy on his side, who however abandoned him almost immediately (v.succession, wars of). The war was fought in Italy, Spain, on the Rhine, with alternating luck; but the struggle took on a national character for France which it had not had in previous periods. The repercussions of the sustained effort appeared immediate throughout the country; and often economic hardship and moral fatigue found an outlet in the satirical reaction against Mme Maintenon and her favorite generals. The government was also vigilant: in 1706 Pontchartrain asked D’Argenson for information on the state of mind of the people “dans les circonstances présentes”, and in 1709, when the peace negotiations just started had to be interrupted, due to the excessive demands of the allies, the same sovereign with a letter to the archbishops, governors and intendants, addressed a warm appeal to public opinion for resistance.

The Age of Louis XIV and the French Dominance in Europe 1