Review Article: Louis XIV’s Dutch War (1672-1678/79)
Paul Sonnino. Louis XIV and the Origins of the Dutch War. Cambridge Studies in Early Modern History series. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. ISBN 978-0-5215-3134-4. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xii, 226. $43.00.
Carl J. Ekberg. The Failure of Louis XIV’s Dutch War. UNC Press Enduring Editions series. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0-8078-9657-0. Chronology. Illustrations. Maps. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xix, 240. $45.00.
George Satterfield. Princes, Posts, and Partisans: The Army of Louis XIV and Partisan Warfare in the Netherlands (1673-1678). History of Warfare series. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2003. ISBN 978-9-0041-3176-7. Maps. Plates. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xvi, 334. $203.00.
The Wars of Louis XIV have grabbed the attention of scholars. Most of this interest has been in the last two of the Sun King’s wars: the Nine Years War (1689-1697) and War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713/14). His first and third conflicts (the War of Devolution [1667-1668] and the War of Reunions [1683-1684]) still lack full treatments. But, Louis XIV’s second conflict, the Dutch War (1672-1678/79), has received attention from several historians. Dr Paul Sonnino, Professor of History at the University of California at Santa Barbara, researched and published a number of journal articles on the origins of the Dutch War. This led to the publication of his Louis XIV and the Origins of the Dutch War in 1988. The course of the first years of the conflict was examined by Dr Carl J. Ekberg, Professor Emeritus at Illinois State University, in The Failure of Louis XIV’s Dutch War in 1979. Both of these studies have been published in paperback editions during the last decade. Meanwhile, Dr George Satterfield, Associate Professor of Strategy and Policy at the United States Naval War College, added to our knowledge of the conflict in Princes, Posts, and Partisans: The Army of Louis XIV and Partisan Warfare in the Netherlands (1673-1678) in 2003. These contributions significantly increase our under-standing of the Dutch War.
What was the Dutch War? In 1667-1668, Louis XIV’s army invaded and overran the Spanish Netherlands and Franche-Comté in the War of Devolution. But, the newly formed Triple Alliance (1668) of Britain, the Dutch Republic, and Sweden forced the Sun King to withdraw from most of his conquests and come to terms in the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle (1668). Louis XIV then sought revenge. He blamed the United Provinces for the creation of the Triple Alliance. As such, the French king focused on launching a war to knock the Dutch Republic out of the picture to allow him to obtain territory in the Spanish Netherlands. In doing so, the Sun King negotiated a secret alliance (Treaty of Dover) with Charles II of England in 1670, and then gained alliances with Charles XI of Sweden and several German rulers, including the Elector of Cologne and Bishop of Münster.
In the spring of 1672, Louis XIV led a French army of 120,000 through the Bishopric of Liége, crossed the Rhine River at Tolhuis, and invaded the Dutch Republic from the east. The French would capture Utrecht and occupy half of the United Provinces, with the Dutch flooding the polders to protect Holland from the invading force. William III of Orange eventually obtained an alliance with Elector Frederick William of Brandenburg (the Great Elector), Leopold I of Austria, Carlos II of Spain, and others against France. This coalition forced Louis XIV to withdraw his overextended army from the United Provinces to protect his borders. The Dutch War turned into a European conflict with France on the defensive. The war continued until the Sun King managed to break apart the alliance and negotiate the Peace of Nijmegen (1678/79). France would acquire the Franche-Comté and about a dozen fortified places in the Spanish Netherlands.
Historians traditionally gave little attention to the origins and conduct of the Dutch War. Most concentrated on the so-called War of the League of Augsburg (Nine Years War) and War of the Spanish Succession. The Dutch War was usually mentioned briefly in studies of war and diplomacy in the late seventeenth century. There were a few exceptions. Herbert H. Rowen explored the origins of the conflict in The Ambassador Prepares for War: The Dutch Embassy of Arnauld de Pomponne, 1669-1671 (1957). Mary C. Trevelyan examined the war from a Dutch perspective in William the Third and the Defence of Holland, 1672-1674 (1930). Stephen B. Baxter, William III and the Defense of European Liberty, 1650-1702 (1966) and John B. Wolf, Louis XIV (1968) discussed the origins and conduct of the war in their important biographies. Moreover, Paul Sonnino provided a valuable brief essay in “Louis XIV and the Dutch War” in Ragnhild M. Hatton’s (editor) Louis XIV and Europe (1976).
Sonnino researched the topic of the origins of the Dutch War for over a decade before publishing his book. His journal articles included “Arnauld de Pomponne: Louis XIV’s Minister for Foreign Affairs during the Dutch War” (1974), “Hugues de Lionne and the Origins of the Dutch War” (1976), “Jean-Baptiste Colbert and the Origins of the Dutch War” (1983), and “The Marshal de Turenne and the Origins of the Dutch War” (1985). In Louis XIV and the Origins of the Dutch War (1988), Sonnino explores the motives of Louis XIV, the advice of his principal confidants, and the diplomatic maneuvers that led to the French invasion of the United Provinces in 1672. The work examines the decision-making process of Louis XIV’s court. His thesis is that the Sun King was impatient to win further military gloire and eager to annex the Spanish Netherlands. The French plan was to besiege a few outlying Dutch strongholds and force the much weaker Dutch into diplomatic concessions concerning the annexation of the Spanish Netherlands. Louis XIV hoped that Spain could be prodded into intervening in the Dutch War, thereby allowing France to immediately conquer and annex the Spanish Netherlands, instead of waiting for the death of Carlos II of Spain and the implementation of the secret partition treaty (1668) between France and Austria. A series of postponements, dramatic changes of plan, shifts of alliances, and the opposition of some ministers delayed a conflict which might have begun in 1669. Sonnino points out that the ministers in Louis XIV’s council of state were divided in their support of a war against the Dutch Republic. The author views Marshal Turenne as the “evil spirit” who convinced the Sun King of easy French victories and the need of an English alliance (p.7). Sonnino believes that the split among the members of the council of state meant that the conflict was not inevitable. He fully describes how the leading warmongers neutralized or won over their opponents to the war. The study is based on massive archival research in twelve countries.
In The Failure of Louis XIV’s Dutch War (1979), Carl J. Ekberg expands on his doctoral dissertation (1970) at Rutger’s University and subsequent journal articles “From Dutch to European War: Louis XIV and Louvois are Tested” (1974) and “The Great Captain’s Greatest Mistake: Turenne’s German Campaign of 1673″ (1977). Ekberg’s study focuses on the initial phase of the Dutch War from 1672 to 1674. The author discusses the invasion of the Dutch Republic and emphasizes the diplomatic and military events that led to the French withdrawal from the United Provinces in 1673. He argues that Louis XIV conducted the French invasion of the Dutch Republic paying little attention to the advice of his ministers, generals, and diplomats beyond that offered by his war minister the Marquis de Louvois. Ekberg notes that the Sun King disregarded the interests of the French state, namely the defense of the northeastern frontier of the realm, in search of his own personal military gloire and revenge against the Dutch for their part in the Triple Alliance (pp.173-74). Ekberg contends that Louis XIV and Louvois miscalculated the risks involved in the Dutch War and lacked firm political and military objectives during the first phase of the conflict. Both men expected a brief, limited war. This mistake resulted in the rise of William III of Orange as his arch-enemy and the beginnings of an anti-French coalition centered on the alliance of the United Provinces with the Austrian and Spanish Habsburgs. The Sun King had to abandon his conquest of the Dutch Republic to defend his own kingdom. The study is based on research in French diplomatic and military archives.
George Satterfield provides a military history of the Dutch War in Princes, Posts, and Partisans: The Army of Louis XIV and Partisan Warfare in the Netherlands (1673-1678). The author gives an overview of the conflict, and places his focus on the French conduct of petite guerre (partisan warfare). Partisan warfare consisted of all military actions beyond siege warfare and battles. The author argues that Louis XIV had limited objectives in the Dutch War, and that the conflict was a war of exhaustion or attrition. He professes that the Sun King’s “strategy of exhaustion emphasized partisan warfare over the mass bloodshed of battles and made partisan warfare equal to sieges as a means of attaining the objectives of war. The gathering of war taxes, raids, and blockades were as essential as sieges in French strategy, and more so than full-scale battles” (p.319). French military commanders planned and coordinated partisan warfare to achieve tactical victories, as well as meet the Sun King’s strategic goals. As such, Satterfield discusses important aspects of partisan warfare such as the use of garrison forces to carry out such warfare, the imposition of contributions and war taxes, conduct of raids, support for field armies, blockades, and the use of partisan warfare to defend the French frontier. The monograph is based on archival research in France and Belgium.
The three studies under review enlighten our understanding of the Dutch War. For those students and scholars interested in the Wars of Louis XIV, one should read John A. Lynn’s The Wars of Louis XIV, 1667-1714 (1999) and Giant of the Grand Siècle: The French Army, 1610-1715 (1997) along with James Falkner’s Marshal Vauban and the Defence of Louis XIV’s France (2011). The Dutch army is discussed in Olaf van Nimwegen’s The Dutch Army and the Military Revolutions 1588-1688 (2010). New biographies include Andrew Lossky’s Louis XIV and the French Monarchy (1994), Wout Troost’s William III, the Stadholder-King: A Political Biography (2005), Derek McKay’s The Great Elector (2001), and Anthony F. Upton’s Charles XI and Swedish Absolutism (1998). Aspects of the Dutch War and the peace settlement are explored in the essays in J.A.H. Bott’s (editor) The Peace of Nijmegen, 1676-1678/79 (1980). One can find a brief history of the Dutch War as well as reviews of books, journal articles, and essays regarding the conflict in William Young’s War and Diplomacy in the Age of Louis XIV and Peter the Great: A Guide to the Historical Literature (2004). Despite all this attention to the conflict, there is still a need for a full examination of the war within its European context.
Dr William Young
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota
Originally posted in International History (8 February 2012)