War of Devolution
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|War of Devolution|
Louis XIV visiting a trench during the war.
Painting by Charles Le Brun.
|France|| Spanish Empire
Kingdom of England
|Commanders and leaders|
The War of Devolution (1667–68) saw Louis XIV's French armies overrun the Habsburg-controlled Spanish Netherlands and the Franche-Comté, but forced to give most of it back by a Triple Alliance of England, Sweden, and the Dutch Republic in the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.
Louis's claims to the Spanish Netherlands were tenuous: in 1659, France and Spain had concluded the Treaty of the Pyrenees, which ended 24 years of war between the two states. With the Treaty, King Philip IV of Spain had to cede certain territories, and also had to consent to the marriage of his daughter Maria Theresa of Spain to the young Louis XIV of France. Furthermore, it was agreed that with this marriage, Maria Theresa explicitly renounced all rights to her father's inheritance. As compensation, a dowry of 500 000 gold écus was promised to the Bourbon Louis XIV; this was not paid, however.
When Philip IV died on 17 September 1665, the French king immediately laid claim to parts of the Spanish Netherlands: the Duchies of Brabant and Limburg, Cambrai, the marquessate of Antwerpen, the Lordship of Mechelen, Guelders, the counties of Namur, Artois and Hainaut, a third of the County of Burgundy and a quarter of the Duchy of Luxembourg. Louis XIV justified this with the fact that the promised dowry had not been paid and that the Queen's renunciation of her inheritance was therefore invalid.
French legal scholars concluded from this and the clause of 'devolution' that the Spanish Netherlands should not go to the still underage heir to the Spanish throne Charles II of Spain, since he had been born as a result of the second marriage of Philip IV. Maria Theresa on the other hand was a result of his first marriage and was therefore entitled to the inheritance in Brabant, and, through her, Louis XIV. The Queen could not renounce this natural right for her children as well.
Maria Theresa's stepmother, Queen Mariana of Spain, who was taking care of government business for her underage son along with her confessor Cardinal Johann Eberhard Neidhardt, rejected these claims, referring to the renunciation by Maria Theresa of all inheritance rights. At this, the French king began preparations for a new campaign against Spain. His able financial minister Colbert reorganized the army and expanded it from 50,000 to 80,000 men. Spain, on the other hand, was a fragmented nation struggling to cope with major inflation.
Political preparations 
The international situation in 1667 was very advantageous for France. Spain had already been at war with Portugal for some years, a war that brought Spain a series of defeats and bound up a large portion of Spain's military potential. France supported Portugal, support that ultimately led the two states to conclude an alliance on 31 March 1667.
The United Provinces were another ally of France. After France had for a long time supported the Dutch in their war with Spain, both countries entered into a defence alliance in 1662. Louis XIV was anxious to gain the support of the United Provinces for a conquest of the Spanish Netherlands and therefore entered into negotiations. The United Provinces were at this time at war with England (the Second Anglo–Dutch War), and in the States-General there were fears of a rapprochement between England and France, if they did not take up the French offers. The influential Grand Pensionary Johan de Witt suggested that the Spanish Netherlands be mutually divided. Such plans were already being debated from 1663 onwards. But the share that Louis XIV demanded for himself alienated de Witt, and the deal was never concluded. At the same time, the Spanish suggested setting up a combined army if the French invaded. De Witt believed Spanish military power to be weak however, and the French emissary declared candidly that a Dutch alliance with Spain would amount to a declaration of war on France. Although the Franco-Dutch negotiations had not led to tangible results, Louis XIV was convinced of the benevolence of the United Provinces. He promised them that he would mediate in the conflict with England and in the end himself declared war on England, although the French navy was not engaged to a very large extent.
Therefore, the only remaining potential obstacle to French expansion was the Holy Roman Empire. As part of the Burgundian Circle, the Spanish Netherlands were subject of a special defence guarantee by the Empire, according to the agreement of Augsburg of 1548 between the Empire and Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (who was also King of Spain). In the event of an attack, the Imperial States of the Reichstag could declare an imperial war on France. The French diplomats however were very intent on eliminating this threat. To this end, they availed themselves of the members of the League of the Rhine. Bilateral treaties were concluded with the Prince-Bishopric of Münster, the Archbishopric of Mainz, Palatinate-Neuburg, the Electorate of Brandenburg, the Electorate of Cologne, in which these Imperial States pledged to deny their territories to foreign troops and to push for imperial neutrality in the Reichstag. Thus, the planned French campaign was also protected against intervention of the Empire from the East.
On 8 May 1667 Louis XIV transmitted to the Spanish court a declaration, in which he repeated his demands. This declaration was likewise advertised by the French ambassadors in every court in Europe. They were to present the campaign of the Sun King not as an invasion, but as an entry into lands that already rightfully belonged to him. The King himself called the invasion a "voyage".
After the Treaty of the Pyrenees the French armed forces had been sharply reduced in order to save costs. In 1665 they numbered only 50,000 men. Louis XIV however authorised preparations through which the number of soldiers grew to 82,000 by the start of the war. In spring 1667 51,000 French soldiers, who had been raised in 4 days, deployed between Mézières and the sea. The main army consisted of 35,000 men personally commanded by Louis XIV. However, the actual commander was Maréchal Turenne. To the left of the main army, a further French corps drew up in Artois at the coast, under Maréchal Antoine d’Aumont de Rochebaron, whilst another corps under Lieutenant General François de Créquy, marquis de Marines, took over the protection of the main army on the right flank. All three armies were to enter the Spanish territories at the same time, in order to take advantage of the French numerical superiority and not allow the Spanish to concentrate their defence against a single French force.
Campaign in the Spanish Netherlands 
On 24 May 1667 French forces crossed the border into the Spanish Netherlands. The latter were badly prepared for war and could not expect reinforcement from the mother country in the foreseeable future. Indeed, the military forces in the Spanish Netherlands were not centrally organised. Every large town had its own area of responsibility and went about the maintenance of its own defence arrangements, which in practice however meant that they were badly prepared for a siege. Their commanders were relatively independent and responsible only to the Statthalter Marquis of Castel Rodrigo, who also commanded the few regular Spanish troops. Apart from this, he only had militias at his disposal, which were however only available in the utmost emergency. Thus the small number of available troops did not permit the establishment of a field army. Therefore, the few available forces were posted in the strongholds of the country, to hold out as long as possible. For this reason, during the whole war, not one large battle was fought; instead, small skirmishes and sieges ensued.
On 10 May 1667, Maréchal de Turenne had taken over the supreme command over the French forces. The first objective was the stronghold of Charleroi, which, due to its location on the Sambre, dominated the connection between the northern and southern Spanish possessions. The Marquis de Castel-Rodrigo did not have the means to hold this important position, and abandoned the fortress, after destroying all the fortifications. Maréchal de Turenne occupied Charleroi on 2 June and had the fortifications reconstructed by the prominent engineer Vauban, in order to advance from there against Mons or Namur. To this end, the whole main army encamped for 15 days around Charleroi.
The Spanish strengthened the fortresses of Mons and Namur. However, Turenne bypassed Mons and took Ath on 16 June, which the Spanish troops left without putting up resistance, surprised by the unexpected French advance. The French extended the fortifications of this town as well.
Maréchal de Turenne's objective was now to cut off all of Flanders, along with the capital city of Lille, from the large Spanish bases in the East (Bruges, Ghent, Brussels, Namur). Therefore, he next turned to Tournai. On 21 June the main army reached the stronghold and surrounded it. It surrendered a few days later, and the French entered it on 25 June.
After this, the main army marched westwards along the Scheldt and there successfully besieged Douai from 1–7 July. Meanwhile, further to the North the corps of the Maréchal d’Aumont de Rochebaron had also successfully advanced and, in taking the fortresses of Bergues (6 June) and Furnes (12 June), had cut Flanders off from the sea. After this, Maréchal de Turenne had ordered this corps to attack Courtrai. This city was conquered on 18 July, and shortly after, the Spanish force in Oudenaarde also surrendered to d'Aumont's troops (29–31 July).
Through the French advances, Maréchal de Turenne had isolated the most important Spanish fortresses of Ypres, Lille and Mons. However, instead of immediately besieging these locations, he decided to first move against Antwerp, in order to capitalise on the weakness of the Spanish forces. This move however failed at Dendermonde, between Ghent and Brussels. The small stronghold of Dendermonde, defended by 2500 Spanish, held out against the French army. Maréchal de Turenne therefore pulled back at the beginning of August via Oudenaarde and prepared to besiege Lille.
This siege was the greatest undertaking of the entire campaign and lasted from the 10th to the 28 August, when the Spanish garrison capitulated in return for being allowed to freely withdraw. As the Marquis de Castel-Rodrigo had not yet been informed of the fall of the city, he sent another army of 12,000 men under the Marquis de Marchin, to relieve Lille. On 31 August this army came upon the corps of the French Marquis de Créquy, which Maréchal de Turenne had meanwhile drawn up to cover the siege. This battle was decided in favour of the French, and the troops of the Marquis de Marchin had to withdraw.
After the taking of Lille, Maréchal de Turenne only undertook one further manoeuver. On 12 September he conquered the stronghold of Aalst, thus breaking the connection lines between Ghent and Brussels. After this, the French troops limited themselves to a loose blockade of Ypres and Mons, and on 13 October turned in to their winter quarters.
In Spain, preparations to dispatch a military force to Flanders had already begun in June. The government of the Regent raised more than one million pesos and appointed Juan José de Austria as commander of the intended army. His reputation as a general was already tarnished after a number of defeats in the war against Portugal, and as he assessed the conditions in the Spanish Netherlands pessimistically, he delayed the departure for weeks and months. His pretext for this was the decision of a theological commission, that had declared itself against an alliance with the Protestant countries, England and the Netherlands. In the end, further complications of domestic politics meant that the Spanish army never arrived in Flanders.
Diplomatic turnaround 
Operations were suspended in winter, and in this time, decisive shifts occurred in European politics. Spain attempted to put itself in a more advantageous position. First, the Spanish government asked the United Provinces for help. Above all, the Marquis de Castel-Rodrigo asked for financial support (2 million guilders); in return, he offered to hand over the customs revenue of the trade on the Maas and the Scheldt to the United Provinces. The relinquishment of Bruges, Ostend and Damme was also discussed. De Witt, however, did not want to risk a direct confrontation with France and did not take up this offer of an alliance.
Furthermore, Spain entered into negotiations with the Portuguese court and on 13 February 1668 agreed the Peace of Lisbon. Spain would therefore be able to use all its armed forces against France from the coming spring.
To at least keep Emperor Leopold I out of the conflict, French diplomats entered secret negotiations with the court at Vienna. They offered the Emperor the partition of the Spanish Empire. King Charles II of Spain was a six-year-old child, whom no-one expected to live long, due to numerous physical and mental disablements. With him, the Spanish line of the Habsburgs would die out. The Emperor took up the offer. He was to receive Spain itself, along with its colonies and the Duchy of Milan. France, for its part, claimed the Spanish Netherlands, Franche-Comté, Navarre and the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily. The secret treaty of partition was agreed on 19 January 1668. The Emperor thus no longer had any reason to go to war with France, as it only occupied territories that the Emperor had agreed it should have. The treaty was however not ratified by the Emperor in the following years, so as not to worsen relations with Spain any further.
The rapid progress of the French had however greatly alarmed the United Provinces. Though they too were basically enemies of the Spanish monarchy, at the same time, "a tired and inactive Spain promised to be a better neighbour than a powerful and aggressive France" (Lynn 1999:108). They were desperate to maintain the Spanish Netherlands as a buffer state. The Netherlands therefore hurriedly ended their war with England, and despite the very successful conduct of the war, signed the Treaty of Breda on 31 July 1667. After this, they offered to mediate in the war between France and Spain. Louis XIV however rejected this in September and continued to try to persuade the Dutch to divide up the Spanish Netherlands with the French. These attempts were a failure, and Louis XIV played with the idea of a war against the Dutch.
Now attempts were made by the Dutch to set up a coalition against France, in order to set a limit to the French expansion. It was not de Witt's intention to damage their good relations with France in doing so, however. Charles II of England had, after the Treaty of Breda, started secretly negotiating an alliance with France, which would be hostile to the United Provinces. But at the same time, he started negotiations with the United Provinces over a common alliance against France. In the former case, French subsidies would make him independent of the English Parliament; in the latter case, his gain would be to have broken the Franco-Dutch alliance. Whilst Louis XIV rejected the English offer, De Witt was receptive. On 23 January 1668, the United Provinces and England concluded an alliance, whose declared aim was to bring about the Spanish relinquishment of certain territories and to persuade France to limit its claims. A secret added protocol, however, also provided that, if the French king extended his claims or were to continue his campaign of conquest, the alliance would use force to push France back to the borders of 1659. The Kingdom of Sweden also joined this alliance, to obtain urgently needed subsidies by these means. At the same time, De Witt assured the French diplomats that this alliance was not aimed against France, but had the purpose of making Spain relinquish the specified territories.
Campaign in the Franche-Comté 
With a new campaign, Louis XIV planned to conquer as many Spanish territories as possible, so as to use these as bargaining counters at any peace negotiations. To this end, he planned to take the Spanish Franche-Comté. This was isolated, and practically devoid of Spanish troops, for several reasons: France had respected the territory's neutrality in the last war against Spain; furthermore, the Spanish generals did not expect an attack by the French in the middle of winter.
Louis XIV instructed the Prince de Condé to undertake preparations for a winter campaign against the Franche-Comté. Condé had fallen into disgrace as a former opponent of the King during the Fronde and was entrusted with a military command in 1668 for the first time in 9 years. As the Governor of Burgundy, Condé was in the best position to prepare an attack against the County. To this end, a second army of newly-raised troops was set up. Louis XIV once again personally accompanied the campaign. The King left Saint-Germain on 2 February 1668, in order to join up with the main army. It was at this point that he received news of the formation of the Triple Alliance; he was also informed by a spy that its members would be prepared to declare war on France.
Despite this, he persisted with the campaign, as he hoped to conquer territories that would be a suitable bargaining counter in later negotiations. General de Condé had started the invasion on 4 February, and on 7 February took Besançon, which also lay in Franche-Comté. On the same day a further French corps under General François-Henri de Montmorency, duc de Luxembourg (1628–1695) managed to take Salin. Both strongholds put up practically no resistance.
After this, the French army concentrated on taking the town of Dole. This town did not surrender until 14 February after a short siege of four days, in which 400–500 French soldiers lost their lives. Five days later, on 19 February, the stronghold of Gray also fell to the French. Shortly before, the Spanish Marquis de Yenne had surrendered to the French king, and now persuaded the Governor of Gray to capitulate. Louis XIV returned to Saint-Germain, arriving on 24 February 1668. After only 17 days, the whole County was occupied. The causes behind this quick success were surprise, and the fact that the Spanish were badly prepared. Furthermore, the local population tended to sympathise with the French, and mostly welcomed them.
Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle 
The conquest of the France-Comté was initially only supposed to be the prelude to a broad campaign in the spring. The army's size had been increased to 134,000 soldiers. The plan was that the King and the Maréchal de Turenne would conquer the remaining part of the Spanish Netherlands with 60,000 men. At the head of a force of 10,000 men, the brother of the King, Philippe I, Duke of Orléans (1640–1701), was to advance into Catalonia, whilst the Prince de Condé, with 22,000 men, would defend against any potential offensive by the Holy Roman Empire in the dioceses of Metz, Toul and Verdun.
But after Louis XIV had secured the Franche-Comté as a bargaining counter, the immediate question was whether he should bow to the demands of the triple alliance, or whether he should continue the war. The Marquis de Louvois, the Secretary of State for War, as well as Turenne and Condé were in favour of continuing the war, as the situation seemed advantageous, since the Spanish were significantly weakened. On the other hand, the foreign minister, Hugues de Lionne (1611–1671), and the finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619–1683), both would have preferred to see a peace treaty signed quickly, as the costs of continuing the war were incalculable (so far it had cost most than 18 million livres), and the international conditions did not make a victory seem likely. This was especially the case since Spain had in the meantime (13 February 1668) signed the Treaty of Lisbon with Portugal and could now concentrate on the war with France.
Louis XIV was forced to realize that France was no match for the coalition of Spain, the Netherlands, England, and Sweden, and therefore announced a cease-fire until the end of March 1668 and started negotiations. In April, the parties involved met in Saint-Germain and negotiated a peace treaty by the 13th. From the 25 April onwards, a congress met, chaired by the nuntius of Pope Clement IX, in Aachen, where the treaty was finally signed on 2 May 1668 (see Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1668)).
During these negotiations, the Triple Alliance managed to enforce their demands: France abandoned the Franche-Comté, including the free imperial city of Besançon, but first destroyed all fortifications of the cities of Gray and Dole. French troops also had to withdraw from the Spanish Netherlands. A total of 12 conquered cities would remain in the hands of the French king: Lille, Tournai, Oudenarde, Courtrai, Furnes, Bergues, Douai with la Scarpe, Binche, Charleroi, Ath and Armentiers.
Image of the "Sun King" 
For the young French king, the war against Spain was an opportunity to secure a great reputation for himself. As was customary, he personally commanded the army, at least nominally, and accompanied it on campaigns. He reached the main army on 3 June 1667 near Charleroi and left it again on 2 September 1667. From 2–24 February 1668 he was once again in the field with the army of Prince Condé in the Franche-Comté. Although Louis took part in the council of war, it was in fact experienced generals who decided matters on the battlefield. The King drew some attention to himself, however, by constantly putting himself in personal danger; during sieges, for example, he visited the trenches at the front line, and spent many nights in bivouac shelters. This did not, however, come close to the "heroism" of some of his predecessors; Voltaire unfavourably compared his actions with those of Francis I and Henry IV.
During this period the King did, however, travel with his entire royal household and all the luxuries that he was accustomed to and would not dispense with even in wartime. This alone required a huge logistical effort. Louis XIV was accompanied by, amongst others, the Queen, his two mistresses, (Louise de La Vallière and Madame de Montespan), as well as all his ministers and generals who were not involved in the war. The latter in particular tended to scheme against the marshals in command, especially against the Maréchal de Turenne, which impaired his ability to lead.
The two leading court painters, Adam Frans van der Meulen and Charles Le Brun, were also amongst the King's retinue; they were instructed to record the Sun King's deeds, as were various other artists. Thus numerous paintings and Gobelin tapestries were created, as well as medals and poems. After peace was declared, a great victory celebration took place in Versailles; various important figures of the time participated in arranging this, including Molière, Jean-Baptiste Lully, Louis Le Vau and Carlo Vigarani. At all these events and in every representation, the King was constantly portrayed as having personally been in sole command; the numerous marshals and generals were not mentioned. In the years following the war (after 1671) the King was often praised as Louis le Grand or Ludovicus Magnus (Ludwig the Great), and on the suggestion of Colbert, the finance minister, even a triumphal arch was to be built in Paris; however, construction was abandoned in 1671.
France gained some territory in Flanders, but nearly all of the Spanish Netherlands, as well as the Franche-Comté, was returned to Spain. Inwardly, Louis XIV was seething. He had hoped to take the entirety of the Spanish Netherlands and felt betrayed by the Dutch, who, to French eyes, were only independent due to French assistance in the Eighty Years' War. The War of Devolution thus led directly to the Franco-Dutch War of 1672–1678.
The consequences of the War of Devolution were manifold. From a purely military perspective, France had gained some advantages, by breaking through the ring of fortresses that surrounded the Spanish Netherlands. This simultaneously increased the French defensive power, as Vauban immediately set about expanding the conquered cities into strong fortifications. These in turn served as starting points from which further French campaigns of conquest could be launched in later wars. It is not possible to determine how high the French and Spanish losses of troops were during the war, or to ascertain civilian losses. Due to the short duration of the conflict, however, they were probably fairly low. For example, it is known that the French army sustained more than 4,000 casualties (dead or wounded) in the siege of Lille alone. The Spanish troops then lost 180 men in fighting in Brussels.
On the political level, the results were less positive for Louis XIV. The King's reputation in the Holy Roman Empire had certainly been damaged, above all due to taking the free imperial city of Besançon. Due to the perceived French expansionist drive, the League of the Rhine dissolved itself already in 1668, and other allies such as the Elector of Brandenburg also abandoned France. This U-turn of many Imperial States was made vivid when, in 1673, at the beginning of the second war of Louis XIV, they declared an imperial war on France.
The most important consequence, however, was the changed attitude of Louis XIV towards the United Provinces. The King mostly blamed them, his former close allies, for the creation of the Triple Alliance, whose pressure had put a halt to his conquests. The French foreign policy of the following years was therefore completely geared towards isolating the United Provinces, in order to attack them at a convenient opportunity. After succeeding in isolating them through alliances with several German princes, England and Sweden, Louis XIV started the Franco-Dutch War in 1672, which was to expand into a pan-European conflict. Many historians see this war as merely a continuation of the War of Devolution.
- Childs, John. Warfare in the Seventeenth Century. London: Cassel & Co, 2001. ISBN 0-304-35289-6
- Lynn, John A. The French Wars 1667–1714. London: Osprey Publishing, 2002. ISBN 1-84176-361-6