European History Pt. 16 — French Wars

Last time I looked at French sophistication and power in the 17th century. This time I’m going to look at France’s military endeavors.

There are a lot. In fact, I won’t cover them all in detail because basically, starting in 1667 (after Louis XIV took the throne in 1661) he continually tried to expand the French empire, most noticeably in Spanish territory (since Spain was now ruled by the weak Charles II). He took advantage of Turkish aggression to keep the Austrian Hapsburgs subdued while he plotted the takeover of the Spanish Hapsburg holdings.

The big war came in 1686 in which an  enormous alliance, the League of Augsburg, waged war against Louis XIV. The League was made up of the usual opponents to Louis, the Dutch and English and the Hapsburgs, but even protestants from Germany got involved because Louis had recently revoked the edict of nantes, which gave rights to protestants in France.

However, an even bigger war was brewing, the War of Spanish Succession. Trouble began  when both Austria Emperor and France’s king could claim, by marriage to a sister of Charles II, inheritance of the Spanish possessions. It was thought that this difficulty could be solved by dividing the territories; parceling them out. But in Charles’ will there was a bombshell. He was going to give  EVERYTHING to France. Wow! Specifically, the Spanish holdings would go to Louis’ grandson. Everyone else hated that idea and so began the war of Spanish succession. It was basically France and Spain against everyone else.

The alliance against France was the Grand Alliance, and I’ll just go through everyone’s motivations.

The Dutch wanted to keep France out of Belgium and retain control of the river Scheldt. The English were fighting to preserve the glorious revolution (remember they suspected rightly that France would restore James II). Austria fought to keep Bavaria off its back and to extend influence to the alps and most obviously to keep the Hapsburg house unified (and so to be united with Spain). Austria succeeded in invading Spain which sparked a civil war there.

Peace was made at Utrecht and Rastadt. England got gibraltar from Spain and Nova Scotia and Newfoundland from France. Austria got the Spanish Mediterranean holdings (naples, Milan, etc.) as well as Belgium, which went from being called the Spanish Netherlands to being the Austrian Netherlands. Louis XIV’s grandson became Philip V of Spain on the understanding that no single person should be king of Spain and France at the same time.

The treaty of Utrecht marked the decline of the Dutch in world affairs, and the ascendancy of Sardinia and Brandenburg, whose rulers were named kings. Eventually these territories would help create Germany and Italy.


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