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Painting of the capture of <a href="/content/Coevorden" style="color:blue">Coevorden</a> by Dutch troops commanded by <a href="/content/Carl_von_Rabenhaupt" style="color:blue">Carl von Rabenhaupt</a> in December 1672
Painting of the capture of Coevorden by Dutch troops commanded by Carl von Rabenhaupt in December 1672

The Franco-Dutch War, often just the Dutch War (French: Guerre de Hollande; Dutch: Hollandse Oorlog), was a conflict that lasted from 1672 to 1678 between the Dutch Republic and France, each supported by allies. France had the support of England and Sweden, while the Dutch were supported by Spain, the Holy Roman Empire and Denmark.

The war began in May 1672 when France invaded the Netherlands and nearly overran it, an event still referred to as het Rampjaar or 'Disaster Year'.[3] By late July, the Dutch position had stabilised, with support from Emperor Leopold, Brandenburg-Prussia and Spain; this was formalised in the August 1673 Treaty of the Hague, joined by Denmark in January 1674.

Faced by a financial crisis, Sweden agreed to remain neutral in return for French subsidies, but became involved in the 1675–1679 Scanian War with its regional rivals Denmark and Brandenburg. On balance, the cost of funding the Swedish army made its support largely negative for France.

The period of English participation as an ally of France is also known as the Third Anglo-Dutch War; the alliance was always unpopular and domestic opposition led to its exit in the February 1674 Treaty of Westminster.[4] In November 1677, William of Orange married his cousin Mary, niece to Charles II of England and England agreed a defensive alliance with the Dutch in March 1678.

Under the Peace of Nijmegen, France returned Charleroi to Spain. In return, it received the Franche-Comté and cities in Flanders and Hainaut, essentially establishing modern France's northern border. However, it also marked the highpoint of French expansion under Louis and William's arrival as leader of an anti-French coalition, which would hold together in the 1688–1697 Nine Years War and 1701–1714 War of the Spanish Succession.


As part of its anti-Habsburg policy, France backed the Dutch Republic during the Eighty Years War with Spain.[5] The 1648 Peace of Münster confirmed Dutch independence and closed the Scheldt estuary, prior to 1585 the main trade outlet for North-West Europe. This benefited Amsterdam by eliminating their closest rival Antwerp; once the largest commercial port in Europe, it did not recover economically until the 19th century. Preserving this monopoly by opposing English and French ambitions in the Spanish Netherlands was a Dutch foreign policy objective for the next century.[6]

Johan de Witt, Grand Pensionary from 1653 to 1672, viewed Louis XIV as crucial to Dutch economic power and as a defence against his Orangist political rivals. Although victory in the 1665-1667 Second Anglo-Dutch War was in part due to French support, the Dutch viewed a weak Spain preferable as a neighbour to a strong France. [[CITE|a|undefined]] Frustrated by their refusal to agree territorial compensation, Louis launched the War of Devolution in 1667 and quickly overran most of the Spanish Netherlands and Franche-Comté.[7]

Dutch concerns over this gave Charles II of England an opportunity to improve his position at negotiations to end the Anglo-Dutch War and widen the rift between France and the Republic. When Louis rejected his first suggestion of an Anglo-French alliance, he instigated the Triple Alliance, between England, the Dutch and Sweden.[8] Forced to relinquish most of his gains in the 1668 Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, Louis' anger at Dutch ingratitude was heightened when Charles later revealed the Alliance agreed to provide Spain with military support if the war continued.[9]

Although the treaties of Breda and Aix-la-Chapelle were widely seen as a triumph for the Republic, they alienated Louis and over-stated Dutch power. Defeat at Lowestoft in 1665 exposed the shortcomings of the Dutch navy and the federal command system advocated by de Witt, while the Medway raid was largely due to English financial weakness. It also concealed the decline of their army and fortresses, deliberately neglected since they were viewed as bolstering the power of the Prince of Orange.[10]

Breaking the Alliance was the first step in Louis' plan to defeat the Dutch, then conquer the Spanish Netherlands. This was achieved in the 1670 Treaty of Dover, in which England agreed to support a French attack on the Dutch.[11] It also contained secret clauses not revealed until 1771, including payment of £230,000 per year to Charles for supplying a brigade of 6,000 English and Scottish troops.[12]

Additional agreements with the Bishopric of Münster and Electorate of Cologne allowed French forces to bypass the Spanish Netherlands, by attacking via the Bishopric of Liège, at the time a dependency of Cologne (see Map). Diplomatic preparations were completed in April 1672, when Charles XI of Sweden accepted French subsidies in return for neutrality and an undertaking to attack Brandenburg-Prussia, if it intervened on the side of the Dutch.[13]


In 1956, Michael Roberts proposed the hypothesis that between 1560 and 1660 a revolution in military affairs had taken place.[14] Later writers concluded that this revolution continued into the late seventeenth century, especially by modernisations introduced by François-Michel le Tellier, Marquis de Louvois, Louis' Secretary of War, allowing to operate far larger field armies.[15] De Louvois had wondered how the Romans had managed to move in short time very large armies of foot soldiers over considerable distances. He understood that this could be explained by their superior logistic support. He devised a system of forward supply bases, which in this case were prepared in a string stretching from the French border, through Liège, all the way to Neuss in the northern Rhineland. France mobilised about 180,000 men, of which 120,000 were allocated to operations directly against the Dutch Republic. This force was split into two main sections, one based in Charleroi, then held by France and led by Marshall Turenne, with another under Condé in Sedan. Both would march through the pro-French Prince-Bishopric of Liège, join near Maastricht and then gain control of the Duchy of Cleves at the Lower Rhine.[16]

A third army primarily composed of German mercenaries paid by France's allies of Münster and Cologne and supported by Marshall François-Henri de Montmorency, duc de Luxembourg was based on the Rhine itself, and would attack the east of the Republic.[16] Finally, a fourth element was the possible landing of an English amphibious force. Charles feared a total control of the continental coast by France. To assuage his concerns, Louis promised him possession of key ports in the Spanish Netherlands, such as Ostend.[17] To control Antwerp, England would be allowed possession of Sluys and Walcheren. Charles also wanted Brill to dominate Rotterdam, as well as more northern coastal key positions such as Texel, Terschelling and Delfzijl.

The United Provinces were ill-prepared for a land campaign against France. Since 1648, the defence budgets had been largely invested in the fleet. There were numerous fortresses but these had been completely neglected. As tensions with France grew, there was mounting political pressure to increase the size and preparedness of the Dutch States Army. However, such plans were greatly delayed by strive between the ruling States faction and the Orangists. After the death of the autocratic stadtholder William II of Orange, the class of city rulers, the regenten, had started the First Stadtholderless Period, not appointing a stadtholder for most of the provinces. William II's son, prince William Henry, had now come of age and his supporters in the various Estates blocked increased war budgets unless he would be appointed Captain-General of the army. Grand Pensionary Johan de Witt was unwilling to allow this because it would be the first step towards a full stadtholderate. The deadlock lasted well into 1672, when the compromise was reached to appoint the prince for a single year only. Charles, William Henry's uncle, exploited these political divisions by pretending that he had only involved himself in the conflict to support his nephew's justified claims to the stadtholderate. In 1670, he had agreed with Louis to make the province of Holland a puppet state with William as "Sovereign Prince".

When a larger war budget became available, it was too late to sufficiently expand the Dutch army. They had contracted nearly ninety thousand troops but the military entrepreneurs often failed to fully meet their obligations. The delays in subsidies meant that only on 6 May Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg signed the Treaty of Berlin, promising to advance with an army of thirty thousand. He would be unable to reach his possession Cleves in time. Initially, the Dutch assumed that the French would attack through Flanders. Arrangements had been made to reinforce Spanish Netherlands cities with Dutch troops. Even when these would fall unexpectedly fast, a French offensive would be blocked by the three strongest Dutch fortresses, in the south of the Republic: Breda, 's-Hertogenbosch and Maastricht. Most of the available troops were concentrated there. Only in the winter of 1671/1672, a Dutch task force supporting the rebellious citizens of Cologne against the bishop became aware of the French supply bases, revealing de Louvois' strategy. Hurried attempts were made to ready the six Rhine fortresses in Cleves and to reinforce the IJssel Line. The Dutch field army numbered less than thirty thousand professional mercenaries. The cities sent twelve thousand conscripts from their civil militias.[18] To erect sconces at the IJssel river, seventy thousand peasants were mobilised. They were provided with pikes also but their fighting value was considered minimal.[19] The Dutch increased the garrison of Maastricht, located between Liège and the Rhineland, to eleven thousand men, hoping that the city would hold or by a prolonged siege gain sufficient time to fully build up the Rhine-IJssel defences.

France declared war on 6 April 1672. England declared war on the Dutch Republic on 7 April 1672, using as pretext a manufactured diplomatic incident known as the 'Merlin' affair,[17] the Dutch fleet supposedly not having appropriately greeted a yacht with the wife of the English ambassador on board. Münster and Cologne declared war on 18 May 1672.

French Offensive: 1672

The French offensive began on 4 May, Condé marching from Sedan.[20] Louis, arriving in Charleroi, inspected the formed up troops of Turenne on 5 May 1672, in one of the most magnificent displays of military power in the seventeenth century.[20] On 11 May, Turenne too marched to the north with fifty thousand men, accompanied by Louis personally.[20] Both forces united at Visé on 17 May, just south of Maastricht. Louis desired to besiege the fortress and Condé agreed but Turenne managed to convince the king that it would be folly to allow the Dutch time to reinforce.[20] Avoiding a direct assault on Maastricht, the French first occupied the forts of Tongeren, Maaseik and Valkenburg.[16]

Leaving a force of ten thousand behind, the French army advanced along the Rhine, supported by troops from Münster and the Electorate of Cologne. The fortresses intended to block a French Rhine crossing were simultaneously besieged from 1 June onwards and taken in quick succession because they were still severely undermanned.[21] The French captured Rheinberg and Orsoy almost without meeting any resistance.[21] Burick, facing thirty thousand troops, was next.[21] Wesel was the most important fortress but the wives of the 1200 soldiers, threatening to literally butcher the commanders, forced a capitulation on 5 June.[21] Rees, with a garrison of just four hundred and attacked by twelve thousand men, was the last to fall, on 9 June.[21] At that moment, the bulk of the French army had already started to cross the Rhine at Emmerich am Rhein. Grand Pensionary De Witt was deeply shocked by the news of the catastrophe and concluded that "the fatherland is now lost".[22]

Whereas the situation on land had become critical for the Dutch, the events at sea were much more favourable to them. On 7 June, Dutch Lieutenant-Admiral Michiel de Ruyter boldly attacked the Anglo-French fleet resupplying on the English coast at Southwold. The Battle of Solebay was a tactical draw but a strategic Dutch victory, as it prevented an attempted Anglo-French blockade,[23] which would have starved the large Dutch urban population. During the battle the French squadron failed to properly coordinate its actions with the English main force which led to mutual suspicions and recriminations.

In early June, the Dutch headquarters at Arnhem prepared itself for a French onslaught on the IJssel Line. Only twenty thousand troops could be assembled to block a crossing and a dry spring meant that the river could be forded at many points. Nevertheless, there seemed to be no alternative but to make a last stand at the IJssel. However, should the enemy outflank this river by crossing the Lower Rhine into the Betuwe, the field army would fall back to the west to prevent being surrounded and quickly annihilated.[24] The commander of Fort Schenkenschanz protecting the Lower Rhine abandoned his position. When he arrived at Arnhem with his troops, immediately a force of two thousand horse and foot under Field Marshal Paulus Wirtz was sent out to cover the Betuwe. At arrival they intercepted French cavalry crossing at a ford pointed out to them by a farmer. A bloody encounter fight followed but in this Battle of Tolhuis on 12 June, the Dutch cavalry was eventually overwhelmed by French reinforcements. Louis personally observed the battle from the Elterberg.[25] Condé was shot through the wrist. This battle was in France celebrated as a major victory and paintings of the Passage du Rhin have this crossing as their subject,[26] not the earlier one at Emmerich.

Captain-General William Henry now wanted the entire field army to fall back on Utrecht. However, in 1666 the provinces had regained full sovereignty of their forces. Overijssel and Guelders in June 1672 withdrew their troops from the confederate army. The French army made little effort to cut off the escape route of the Dutch field army. Turenne recrossed the Lower Rhine to attack Arnhem, while part of his army moved to the Waal towards Fort Knodsenburg at Nijmegen. Louis wanted to besiege Doesburg first, on the east side of the IJssel, taking it on 21 June.[27] The king delayed the capture somewhat to allow his brother Philippe I, Duke of Orléans to take Zutphen some days earlier.[28] On his right flank, the armies of Münster and Cologne, reinforced by a French corps under de Luxembourg, advanced to the north along the river, after having taken Grol on 10 June and Bredevoort on 18 June.[29] The IJssel cities panicked. Deventer seceded from the Republic and again joined the Holy Roman Empire on 25 June.[27] Then the province of Overijssel surrendered as a whole to the bishop of Münster, Bernard von Galen. Von Galen's troops plundered towns on the west side of the IJssel, such as Hattem, Elburg and Harderwijk, on 21 June.[27] Louis ordered de Luxembourg to kick them out again,[28] as he wanted to make the duchy of Guelders a French possession. Annoyed, Von Galen announced to advance to the north of the Republic and invited de Luxembourg to follow him by wading through the IJssel, as no pontoon bridge was available. Exasperated, de Luxembourg got permission from Louis to withhold his corps and the army of Cologne from the Münsterite forces.

From that point onwards, Von Galen would wage a largely separate campaign. He started to besiege Coevorden on 20 June. Von Galen, nicknamed "Bomb Berend", was an expert on artillery ammunition and had devised the first practical incendiary shell or carcass. With such fire shot he intimidated the garrison of Coevorden into a quick surrender on 1 July. He was advised by his subcommanders to subsequently plunder the hardly defended Friesland and use vessels captured there to isolate Groningen, the largest city in the north. Alternatively, he could take Delfzijl, allowing a landing by an English expeditionary force. But the bishop feared that the protestant British would make common cause with the calvinist Groningers and expected that his siege mortars would force a fast capitulation, starting the Siege of Groningen on 21 July.

On 14 June, William arrived with the remnants of the field army, some eight thousand men, at Utrecht.[30] The common citizens had taken over the city gates and refused him entrance.[31] In talks with the official city council, William had to admit that he had no intention to defend the city but would retreat behind the Holland Water Line, a series of inundations protecting the core province of Holland. Eventually, the council of Utrecht literally delivered the keys of the gates to Henri Louis d'Aloigny, Marquis de Rochefort, to avoid plundering. On 18 June, William withdrew his forces. The flooding was not ready yet, only having been ordered on 8 June, and the countryside of Holland was basically defenceless against the French.[32] On 19 June, the French took the fortress of Naarden close to Amsterdam.[33]

In a defeatist mood a divided States of Holland — Amsterdam was more pugnacious — sent a delegation to de Louvois in Zeist to ask for peace terms. The French king was offered the Generality Lands and ten million guilders. Compared to the eventual outcome of the war, these conditions were very favourable to France. It would have made territorial gains not equalled until 1810. The Generality Lands included the fortresses of Breda, 's-Hertogenbosch and Maastricht. Their possession would have ensured the conquest of the Spanish Netherlands and the remaining Republic would have been little more than a French satellite state. De Louvois, rather bemused that the Estates had not capitulated but still considered some damage control possible, demanded far harsher conditions though. The Dutch were given the choice of surrendering their southern fortresses, permitting religious freedom for Catholics and a payment of six million guilders, or France and Münster retaining their existing gains — thus the loss of Overijssel, Guelders and Utrecht — and a single payment of sixteen million livres. Louis knew perfectly well that the delegation did not have the mandate to agree such terms and would have to return for new instructions. However, he also did not continue his advance to the west.

Several explanations have been given for this policy. The French were rather overwhelmed by their success. They had within a month captured three dozen fortresses. This strained their organisational and logistical capacities. All these strongholds had to be garrisoned and supplied. An intrusion into Holland proper seemed meaningless to them, unless Amsterdam could be besieged. This city would be a very problematic target. It had a population of 200,000 and could raise a large civil militia, reinforced by thousands of sailors. As the city had recently expanded, its fortifications were the most modern in the Republic. Their normal armament of three hundred pieces was being enlarged by the militia hauling the reserve ordnance of the Admiralty of Amsterdam upon the ramparts which began to bristle with thousands of cannon. The low-lying surrounding terrain, below sea level, was easily flooded, making a traditional attack via trenches impractical. The river Amstel ran along the eastern part, allowing the Dutch to use gun boats. The battle fleet could support the fortifications from the IJ and Zuyderzee with gun fire, meanwhile ensuring a constant resupply of the food and ammunition stocks. A deeper problem was that Amsterdam was the world's main financial centre. The promissory notes with which many of the French military and the contractors had been paid, were covered by the gold and silver reserves of the Amsterdam banks. Their loss would mean the collapse of Europe's financial system and the personal bankruptcy of large segments of the French elite.

Relations with England were also delicate. Louis had promised Charles to make William Henry the Sovereign Prince of a Holland rump state and puppet state. He very much preferred that it would be France pulling the strings but there was a distinct possibility that the uncle of the prince would be in control. Louis had not mentioned William in his peace conditions. The very patricians that the French king desired to punish were traditionally pro-French and his natural allies against the pro-English Orangists. He wanted to simply annex Holland and hoped that fear of the Orangists would cause the regenten to surrender the province to him. Of course, the opposite might happen too: that a French advance would lead to the Orangists taking power and capitulating to England. The province of Zealand had already decided to rather make Charles their lord than be subjugated by the French. Only fear of the military power of De Ruyter's fleet had kept them from surrendering outright to the English. De Ruyter did not tolerate any talk of capitulation and intended, if necessary, to take the fleet overseas to continue the fight. Louis feared that the English wanted to claim Staats-Vlaanderen which he saw as French territory because the County of Flanders was a fief of the French crown. In secret he arranged an informal warband of six thousand under Claude Antoine de Dreux to quickly cross the officially neutral Spanish Flanders and execute a surprise assault on the Dutch fortress of Aardenburg, on 25 and 26 June. The attempt was a total failure, the small garrison killing hundreds of attackers and taking prisoner over six hundred Frenchmen who had become pinned down in a ravelin.

Louis also allowed his honour to take precedence over the raison d'état. With the harsh peace conditions he deliberately wanted to humiliate the Dutch. He demanded an annual embassy to the French court asking pardon for their perfidy and presenting a plaquette extolling the magnanimity of the French king. For Louis, a campaign was not complete without some major siege to enhance his personal glory. The quick surrender of so many cities had been somewhat disappointing in this respect. Maastricht having escaped him for the time being, he turned his attention on an even more prestigious object: 's-Hertogenbosch which was considered "inexpugnable". The city was not only a formidable fortress in itself, it was surrounded by a rare fortification girdle. Normally its marshy surroundings would make a siege impossible but its presently weak garrison seemed to offer some possibility of success. After Nijmegen had been taken on 9 July, Turenne captured near 's-Hertogenbosch Fort Crèvecœur,[23] which controlled the sluice outlets of the area, halting further inundations. The main French force, thus removed from the Holland war theatre, camped around Boxtel and Louis took residence in Heeswijk Castle.

The news that the French had penetrated into the heart of the Republic led to a general panic in the cities of the province of Holland. Blaming the States regime for the Dutch collapse, their populations rioted. Members of the city councils were by force replaced by Orangist partisans or in fear of reprisals declared for the cause of the Prince of Orange. Pamphlets accused the regenten of having betrayed the Republic to Louis and De Ruyter of wanting to deliver the fleet to the French. When the French peace terms became known on 1 July, they caused outrage.[34] The result was to bolster Dutch resistance. On 2 July, William was appointed stadtholder of Zealand and on 4 June of Holland.[35] He was given a general mandate to negotiate. Meanwhile, the polders of the Holland Water Line had slowly filled, forming an obstacle to a possible French advance.

Charles thought that William's rise to power allowed to quickly obtain a peace favourable to England. He sent two of his ministers to Holland. They were received with jubilation by the population, who assumed they came to save them from the French. Arriving at the Dutch army camp in Nieuwerbrug, they proposed to install William as monarch of a Principality of Holland. In return he should pay ten million guilders as "indemnities" and formalise a permanent military English occupation of the ports of Brill, Sluys and Flushing. England would respect the French and Münsterite conquests. To their surprise, William flatly refused. He indicated that he might be more pliable if they managed to moderate the French peace terms. They then travelled to Heeswijk Castle, but the Accord of Heeswijk they agreed there was even harsher, England and France promising never to conclude a separate peace. Charles tried to right matters by writing a very moderate letter to William, claiming that the only obstacle to peace was the influence of De Witt. William made counteroffers unacceptable to Charles but also on 15 August published the letter to incite the population. On 20 August, Johan and Cornelis de Witt were lynched by an Orangist civil militia, leaving William in control.[36]

The Dutch position had stabilised, while concern at French gains brought the support of Brandenburg-Prussia, Emperor Leopold and Charles II of Spain.[37] Münster had to lift the Siege of Groningen in August, the Dutch subsequently liberating Drenthe. Instead of a rapid victory, Louis was forced into another war of attrition around the French frontiers; in August, Turenne ended his offensive against the Dutch and proceeded to Germany with 25,000 infantry and 18,000 cavalry.[38] Frederick William and Leopold combined their forces of around 25,000 under the Imperial general Raimondo Montecuccoli; he crossed the Rhine at Koblenz in January 1673 but Turenne forced him to retreat into northern Germany.[39]


Until the advent of railways in the 19th century, goods and supplies were largely transported by water, making rivers such as the Lys, Sambre and Meuse vital for trade and military operations.[40] The primary French objective in 1673 was the capture of Maastricht, which controlled a key access point on the Meuse; the city surrendered on 30 June.[41]

In June 1673, the French occupation of Kleve and lack of money temporarily drove Brandenburg-Prussia out of the war in the Peace of Vossem.[42] However, in August, the Dutch, Spain and Austria, supported by other German states, agreed the anti-French Alliance of the Hague, joined by Charles IV of Lorraine in October. In September, William recaptured Naarden, while Münster and Cologne left the war in November; with the war expanding into the Rhineland and Spain, French troops withdrew from the Dutch Republic, retaining only Grave and Maastricht.[43]

The alliance between England and Catholic France had been unpopular from the start and although the real terms of the Treaty of Dover remained secret, many suspected them.[44] The Cabal ministry that managed government for Charles had gambled on a short war but when this proved not to be the case, opinion quickly turned against it, while the French were also accused of abandoning the English at Solebay.[45]

Opposition to the alliance with France further increased when Charles' heir, his Catholic brother James, was given permission to marry Mary of Modena, also a devout Catholic. In February 1673, Parliament refused to continue funding the war unless Charles withdrew a proposed Declaration of Indulgence and accepted a Test Act barring Catholics from public office.[46]

After Dutch naval forces defeated an Anglo-French fleet at Texel in August and captured the English settlement of New York City, pressure to end the war became unstoppable and England made peace with the Republic in the February 1674 Treaty of Westminster.[47] To offset these losses, Swedish forces in Swedish Pomerania attacked Brandenburg-Prussia in December 1674 after Louis threatened to withhold their subsidies; this sparked Swedish involvement in the 1675–1679 Scanian War, but their intervention proved of limited value to France.[48]

War Expands; 1674–1675

In broad terms, French strategy now focused on retaking Spanish possessions gained in 1667–1668 but returned at Aix-La-Chappelle, while preventing Imperialist advances in the Rhineland. They also supported minor campaigns in Roussillon and Sicily that absorbed Spanish and Dutch naval resources.[49]

In Northern Europe, the French recaptured Franche-Comté by July 1674, while Condé's army in the Spanish Netherlands remained on the defensive. With the advantage of superior numbers, the main Allied field army under William of Orange sought to take the initiative by invading French Flanders, supported by the Spanish, who wanted to recapture Charleroi.[50] This resulted in the indecisive Battle of Seneffe in August 1674; both sides suffered heavy casualties but while the Allies quickly replaced theirs, the French could not.[51] Seneffe confirmed Louis' preference for positional warfare, ushering in a period where siege and manoeuvre dominated military tactics.[52]

The biggest obstacle to Allied success in Flanders were their diverging objectives; the Imperialists wanted to prevent reinforcements reaching Turenne in the Rhineland while the Spanish aimed at recovering losses in the Spanish Netherlands. The Dutch were further split by internal disputes; the powerful Amsterdam mercantile body were anxious to end an expensive war once their commercial interests were secured, while William saw France as a long-term enemy that had to be defeated. This conflict increased once ending the war became a distinct possibility with the recapture of Grave in October 1674, leaving only Maastricht.[53]

During the winter of 1673–1674, Turenne based his troops in Alsace and the Palatinate; despite England's withdrawal from the war in February, his army of less than 8,000 retained a number of English regiments, as Charles II encouraged members to continue serving in order to keep his French subsidies. Monmouth and Churchill were among those who did so, but many others enrolled in the Dutch Scots Brigade, including John Graham, later Viscount Dundee.[54]

Turenne opened the 1674 campaign by crossing the Rhine in June with 7,000 men, hoping to attack Charles of Lorraine before he could combine with forces under Alexander von Bournonville. At the Battle of Sinsheim, the French routed a separate Imperial army led by Aeneas de Caprara but the delay allowed Bournonville to link up with Charles at Heidelberg; reinforced by additional troops, Turenne began crossing the Neckar river and as he did so, the Imperial troops retreated.[55]

Bournonville marched south to the Imperial City of Strasbourg, giving him a base for an attack on Alsace but before doing so, he awaited the arrival of 20,000 troops under Frederick William. To prevent this, Turenne made a night march that enabled him to surprise the Imperial army and comprehensively defeated it at Entzheim on 4 October. As was then accepted practice, Bournonville halted operations until spring but in his Winter Campaign 1674/1675, Turenne inflicted a series of defeats that secured Alsace.[56]

The 1675 Imperial campaign was directed by Montecuccoli, one of the few considered Turenne's equal, who was killed at the Battle of Salzbach on 27 July.[57] This was a serious blow for the French, who were forced back to the Vosges and defeated at the Battle of Konzer Brücke on 11 August. Condé, previously commander in Flanders, took over and stabilised the front but health issues forced him to retire in December 1675 and he was replaced by Créquy.

Activity on this front was largely limited to skirmishing in Roussillon between a French army under Frederick von Schomberg and Spanish forces led by the Duque de San Germán. The Spanish won a minor victory at Maureillas in June 1674 and captured Fort Bellegarde, ceded to France in 1659 and retaken by Schomberg in 1675.[58]

In Sicily, the French supported a successful revolt by the city of Messina against their Spanish overlords in 1674, obliging San Germán to transfer some of his troops. A French naval force under Jean-Baptiste de Valbelle managed to resupply the city in early 1675 and establish local naval supremacy.[59]

Negotiating the Peace; 1676-1678

On both sides, the last years of the war saw minimal return for their investment of men and money.[60] French strategy in Flanders was largely based on Vauban's proposed line of fortresses known as the Ceinture de fer or iron belt (see Map).[61] This aligned with Louis' preference for siege warfare, which was further reinforced by the death of Turenne and Condé's retirement; their passing removed two of the most talented and aggressive French generals of the 17th century and the only ones with sufficient stature to challenge him.[62]

In Germany, Imperial forces recaptured Philippsburg in September 1676 but the French stabilised their front. In an attempt to regain some of their losses, the Imperialists assembled an army in the Rhineland under Charles of Lorraine but minor defeats at Rheinfelden and Ortenbach in July 1678 ended these hops. The French followed up by capturing Kehl and the bridge over the Rhine near Strasbourg, thus ensuring control of Alsace. The Spanish theatre remained largely static; French victory at Espolla in July 1677 left the strategic position unchanged but their losses worsened the crisis faced by the Spanish administration.[63]

Dutch admiral De Ruyter was killed at Augusta in April 1676 and the French achieved naval supremacy in the Western Mediterranean when their galleys surprised the Dutch/Spanish fleet at anchor at Palermo in June.[64] However, French intervention had been opportunistic; friction arose with the anti-Spanish rebels, the cost of operations was prohibitive and Messina was evacuated in early 1678.[65]

The peace talks that began at Nijmegen in 1676 were given a greater sense of urgency in November 1677 when William married his cousin Mary, Charles II of England's niece. An Anglo-Dutch defensive alliance followed in March 1678, although English troops did not arrive in significant numbers until late May. This allowed Louis to improve his negotiating position by capturing Ypres and Ghent in early March, before signing a peace treaty with the Dutch on 10 August.[66]

The Battle of Saint-Denis was fought three days later on 13 August, when a combined Dutch-Spanish force attacked the French army under Luxembourg. While a French tactical victory, it ensured Mons would remain in Spanish hands and on 19 August, Spain and France agreed an armistice, followed by a formal peace treaty on 17 September.

1678; The Peace of Nijmegen and its consequences

Louis' title of the 'Sun King' dates from after the Peace of Nijmegen but while undoubtedly a French victory, the terms were significantly worse than those available in July 1672 and it marked the highpoint of French expansion under his rule.[67] France returned Charleroi, Ghent and other towns in the Spanish Netherlands, in return for Spain ceding Franche-Comté, Ypres, Maubeuge, Câteau-Cambrésis, Valenciennes, Saint-Omer and Cassel; with the exception of Ypres, all of these remain part of modern France.[68]

France's ally Sweden regained Swedish Pomerania by the 1679 Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye but this did little to improve its parlous financial position. In addition, Frederick William's resentment at being forced to give up what he saw as his own territory turned Brandenburg-Prussia into an implacable opponent.[69]

The Dutch recovered from the near disaster of 1672 to prove they were a permanent and significant power in Northern Europe. Arguably, their most lasting gain was William's marriage to Mary and his arrival as one of the most powerful statesmen in Europe, with sufficient stature to hold together an anti-French coalition. It also showed that while significant sections of the English mercantile and political class were anti-Dutch on commercial grounds, there was no popular support for an alliance with France.

In Spain, defeat led to the Queen Regent, Mariana of Austria, being replaced by her long-term rival, the pro-French John of Austria the Younger. She returned to power after his death in September 1679 but not before he arranged the marriage of Charles II of Spain to Louis' niece, 17-year-old Marie Louise of Orléans in November 1679.[70]

Louis had the enormous advantage of a unified strategy, in contrast to the differing objectives of his opponents; while this remained a factor, 1672-1678 showed the threat of French expansion over-ruled all other considerations and that France was not strong enough to impose its objectives without support. His inability to recognise this and the 1683–1684 War of the Reunions led to the creation of the anti-French Grand Alliance in 1688, which held together through the 1688–1697 Nine Years War and the 1701–1714 War of the Spanish Succession.[71]

Chronological list of key events

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