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Book Review of The Nine Years’ War and the British Army, 1688-1697: The Operations in the Low Countries

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John Childs. The Nine Years’ War and the British Army, 1688-1697: The Operations in the Low Countries. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1991. ISBN 978-0-71903-461-9. Maps. Notes. Index. Pp. xii, 372.

John ChildsThe Nine Years’ War was a major conflict between Louis XIV of France and a European-wide coalition consisting of Austria and the Holy Roman Empire, the Dutch Republic, Spain, Britain, and Savoy.  It was fought on the European continent and the surrounding seas, Ireland, and in North America.  It began with the Sun King’s invasion of Germany in 1688.  In this study, Dr John Childs, Emeritus Professor of Military History at the University of Leeds in England, examines the British army and military operations in the Low Countries against Louis XIV’s army in the Nine Years’ War.  Childs is well-known for such studies as Armies and Warfare in Europe, 1648-1789 (1982), Warfare in the Seventeenth Century (2001), The Army of Charles II (1976), The Army, James II and the Glorious Revolution (1980), The British Army of William III, 1689-1702 (1987), and The Williamite Wars in Ireland, 1688-1691 (2007).

William III at Torbay (1688)Childs discusses the employment of the British army in the Nine Years’ War, or what he likes to call “The War of the English Succession,” a conflict fought to protect the new political order in England (p.26).  The Protestant Dutch stadholder, William III, had replaced the Catholic King James II and ascended to the English crown in 1689.  Childs focuses on William III’s military campaigns against Louis XIV in the Spanish Netherlands.  He emphasizes that the British contingent of the Grand Alliance was small and mostly ineffective.  William III had lost the nucleus of James II’s standing army in the purges of the Glorious Revolution of 1688-1689.  Thus, the British contingents he deployed to Ireland and the Low Countries in 1689 were inexperienced and ill-equipped.  After the Williamite War in Ireland (1689-1691), the King-Stadholder took personal command of the Grand Alliance, including the British corps in the Low Countries.  He slowly ensured that the British troops acquired training, combat experience, modern arms and equipment, as well as improved logistics.  The British army, small in comparison to the Dutch army, increased from 6,000 men in 1689 to 43,000 in 1696 (p.73).  To effectively employ these inexperienced troops, William III divided them among the other forces of the Grand Alliance.

Low_Countries_1700The Spanish Netherlands served as the main theater of operations for the Nine Years’ War.  The conflict quickly became a war of attrition in a region studded with fortified towns and well-defended fortresses.  British contingents fought at the battles of Walcourt (1689), Fleurus (1690), Steenkirk (Steenkerque) (1692), and Landen (Neerwinden) (1693).  They also participated in the great sieges of the era, including William III’s capture of Namur in 1695.  Childs points out that the King-Stadholder built his reputation on his diplomatic efforts as the leader of the Grand Alliance, not as a military commander who could defeat the Sun King’s greatest generals.  He also stresses William III’s advantage with the naval and economic strength of the Maritime Powers of England and the Dutch Republic in the war of attrition against France.  The Maritime Powers achieved naval supremacy over France in 1692, ending the threat of a French invasion of the British Isles.  The economic, naval, and military strength of the Maritime Powers, combined with military assistance from other members of the Grand Alliance, kept France from achieving the decisive victory demanded by Louis XIV in the Nine Years’ War.  Childs calls the Peace of Rijswijk (1697) a major victory for the Grand Alliance because Britain not only acquired the Sun King’s recognition of William III as King of England, but the coalition served Louis XIV his first military setback.

Siege of Namur 1695Childs’ study is a rare account of military operations in the Nine Years’ War.   The author shows that the British army remained insignificant and achieved little success in the conflict.  The military efforts of the Grand Alliance, especially the Dutch army, contributed much more towards winning the War of the English Succession.  The strength of the English economy and navy played a more important role than the army in England’s first war against Louis XIV.  The study is based on archival research in England, The Netherlands, Belgium, and Ireland.  This study can be supplemented by Child’s journal article “Secondary Operations of the British Army during the Nine Years War, 1688-1697” in the  Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research 73 (Summer 1995).

The Nine Years’ War and the British Army, 1688-1697: The Operations in the Low Countries is highly recommended to those readers interested in military operations in the late seventeenth century.  Published in 1991, the study has long been out of print.  It strongly deserves to be brought back into print for the increasing number of readers interested in military history in Early Modern Europe.

Dr William Young
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota

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