King Louis foreign policy has always been an everlasting topic. Many of his critics say he had some similar goals like Hitler willing to risk wars, impassion with human anguish, the same consequent vanity. However Louis has also been a defender. Some great Historians like Francois Bluche and Ranganhild Hatton have said that Louis’ foreign policy was mainly in France affection and that Louis should be honored for his great achievements. King Louis XIV’s whole life, to a great extent, was foreign policy led. He viewed Tact and war similarly as a king’s distinctive feature.
This is why we can see war making was an instrument of Louis foreign policy as through war he was able to gain territory, establish greater power and make France economically strong which were also the major international aims louis had. But it is indeed undeniable that most of the problems that louis faced, ranging from depleted treasury, a weakened military and a great debt on France economy, were caused by wars. The war of devolution 1667-1668 was a main event in history where France emerged as a great power. After the death of Phillip IV of Spain in 1665, his son Carlos; son of his second wife succeeded him during infancy.
However according to the law of devolution, children of the king’s first wife were to be his rightful heirs. Eventually the claims by Maria Theresa as the rightful heir of King Phillip rose a dispute amongst France and Spain. As the husband of Maria, King Louis XIV had the advantage of demanding for her rightfully inherited territory. However the second wife Of Phillip and mother of Carlos denied the claims which eventually compelled Louis to start a campaign against Spain. The French military machine was well equipped and prepared to conquer the North-East Frontier and around May 1666 the cavalry marched towards Spain.
The three Armies were led by Marechal Turenne, Marachal Antoine d ‘Aumont de Rochebaron and General Francois de Crequy marquis de Marine. The armies took benefit of their numerical superiority by marching towards Spain at the same time. The Spanish army was not so equipped and prepared for the war. These disorganized troops were heavily outnumbered by the French army. Hence instead of a large battle or war, small sieges took place. On 10 may 1667 Turenne took command over the French forces. The favourable location of Charloei compelled Turenne to occupy the land as it was a strong link between Northern and Southern
Spanish possessions. Therefore through this war Louis was able to achieve his international aim as France became more secure geographically and emerged as a powerful state in front of all other European state. The war of devolution also resulted in anger and wrath that Louis had towards the Dutch because of their treachery in the war therefore determination of Louis to teach a lesson to the Dutch was also an outcome of this war. As discussed earlier, Louis determination to teach Dutch a lesson for their treachery and betrayals started the era of The Dutch War 1672-1679.
However the intention was not to spend extravagantly on a prolonged war, but rather manifest his wrath and power by punishing them. Colbert, who was certainly against the Dutch was delighted to know about the war. Arrangements were made to isolate the United provinces. Swedes were convinced to leave the triple alliances through bribery by Lionne. Charles claimed he was a Catholic in return for cash that was given to him. Threatened and panicked by the war arrangements made by Louis; the Dutch sent their ambassador to negotiate and avoid the war that was about to take place.
As described by Madamme de Sevigne the meeting held between the king and ambassador assured that war was inevitable and the French army was prepared to manifest their power and determination on the battle field. As quoted by Madamme de Sevigne “The king then spoke in a wonderfully majestic and gracious manner and said that he was aware that they were stirring up his enemies against him” . The war was declared on 6 April 1672. The battle continued with French soldiers capturing 40 Dutch towns and fortresses that were abandoned by the Dutch.
However the war prolonged beyond expectation and the French proved to be successful. The Dutch leader Jan De Witt insisted on negotiations and since the beginning he insisted on good relations with France. However Louis denied to negotiate and rejected his proposal as the concession terms were not negotiable and Louis believed they could achieve much more if they continued the war. William of Orange; one of the ruthful haters of France was underestimated by Louis. However the prolonged war did bring benefits to the king satisfying his international aim to some extent.
Many parts of the lower countries were captured. Turenne proved to be victorious. Although louis achieved one of his aim of gaining more territory the prolong war had devastating effect on France economy therefore it is not fair to say it was a total victory for louis but in fact it was , to some extent, a failure as the gain was far less than what louis lost in terms of money and international relations with rest of Europe as the striking victory and determination of the French army rose hatred and enemies amongst the allies which of course was not a good sign for the sun King.
After the peace of Nymegen, that ended the Dutch war, there was a power vacuum in Europe which lead to the Wars of Reunion 1679-1684. Charles II of England was happy to be helped by France monetarily, while the elector of Brandenburg realised that it was better for him to come under France protection. As for the emperor Leopold, he was busy fighting the Turks. Thus Louis saw this as an opportunity and decided to attack his enemy and seize some territories. The territory that was seized came mainly from the Spanish Netherlands and the western parts of the Holy Roman Empire, especially Alsace.
Two of these territories seized by Louis as part of the Reunions were Strasbourg and Luxembourg . Taking a huge town like Strasbourg helped Louis to achieve his aim of strengthening his territory especially from the north east border. In 1684 louis signed the treaty of Ratisbon which helped him to retain the key cities of Strasbourg and Luxembourg and France was proven to be the dominating power in the war. So arguably, through this event, Louis had finally achieved supremacy over Europe achieving his aim of gaining more territory .
However, the further destruction of relations with the rest of Europe does have to be considered as a draw back for louis which we were able to see in later years of his reign. The calamitous impact of Louis involvement in war for the last quarter-century of his reign cannot be denied. The outbreak of one of the most costly war in the Sun king’s regime was the League of Augsburg also known as the Nine Years War 1688-1697. Although Louis did not want this war but in fact he brought this war upon himself because of his obsession over national security.
Louis ambition of destroying the Hapsburgs and capturing their territory alarmed the other European states. by the mid of 1689 Louis was confronted by the great Alliance of the United Provinces, England, Spain, the Emperor Leopold, and many German and Italian princes. William of Orange, who had become the king William III of England, played a vital role in alliance, mainly because he was the one who was controlling the English and the Dutch fleets which alone were powerful enough to link the allies in order to control France from the sea.
Most of the battles took place around the borders of France the battles were dominated by siege operations. Although these engagements generally favored Louis XIV’s armies but by 1696 France was in the grip of an economic crisis. Not only France the other sides were also financially exhausted. Finally the effects of the war convinced all the parties to come to a negotiating table and on 1697 the treaty of Ryswick was signed. By the terms of the treaty Louis maintained the whole of Alsace but he was conditioned to give Lorraine back to its owner and also agreed to accept William of orange as the king of England.
However the forthcoming death of heirless Charles II of Spain was about to spark another conflict between France and the Grand Alliance. As discussed earlier after the death of Charles II, who left the world without a legal heir; a great deal of conflict rose regarding the Spanish succession. Dispute rose between England, Dutch, Republic and France who claimed to succeed the throne of Charles II. However a treaty was signed in which they agreed that the throne of Spanish Netherlands would be succeeded by Prince Joseph Ferdinand who was the son of the elector of Bavaria.
France and Austria were to partition the Italian dependencies of Spain. However after the death of Joseph Ferdinand which was on February 1699; another treaty was signed by England and France on June 11 1699. The colonies were given to Archduke Charles who was the second son of Leopold. Other Spanish territories were awarded to Italy. Leopold demanded that Charles should inherit all the territories and hence refused to sign the treaty. On the other hand Spanish were completely against the partition. In 1700, Charles who was not willing to inherit the territories, decided to hand them over to Phillip who was the grandson of Louis.
The Sun King demanded his grandson to be the King of Spain after the death of Charles and eventually conquered the Spanish Netherlands. Hatred by enemies and the rise of an opposition was inevitable for France. Leopold, the Dutch republic and England formed an alliance against France. On the other hand France had allies with the electors of Bavaria and cologne and the duke of Mantua and Savoy. Queen Anne succeeded William III who was known as a strong enemy of Louis. The duke of Marlborough; John Churchill played a diplomatic approach and was a rising sensation and a person of immense importance in the events that followed.
Eugene along with Marlborough won many battles against France from 1704 to 1709. The French faced ruthless defeats in the battles of Ramillies and Qudenaarde. However in Spain, Phillip V managed to maintain his successful position. Louis almost accepted the defeat and was willing to end the battle. He was ready to negotiate with the allies but the irrational demand of British to dethrone his grandson from Spain was unacceptable for Louis. Hence he resumed the war. During this period the local public of France suffered economic crisis and poverty was at its peak.
However the tables turned for France in 1711 when Archduke Charles claimed the heir to all the territories and possessions of Austria. Nevertheless treaties were signed, between France, Britain, Holland, Portugal, Savoy and Brandenburg-Prussia. Charles VI and Philip V opposed any autopsy of Spanish empire. However they both submitted later. Philip V signed a treaty with Britain and Holland in July 1713 followed by the treaty of Rastatt on March 1714 between the emperor and France putting an end to what we call the war of Spanish succession.
In this way Philip V remained the king of Spain . However because of this he had to renounce his claim to French throne. Thus, the major aim of Louis to make a Franco-Spanish empire under a single ruler was not achieved. Secondly Louis also had to give up some major territories that he captured before during his reign, because of the treaties that were signed, and the adverse effect of war on the French economy widened the gap between Louis and his major international aims.