War of Devolution

War of Devolution

Devolution, War of, 1667-68, undertaken by Louis XIV for the conquest of the Spanish Netherlands. On her marriage to Louis, Marie Thérèse, daughter of Philip IV of Spain, had renounced her rights of inheritance in return for a large dowry. Blaming Spain for having failed to pay the stipulated dowry, Louis declared war and invoked an old law of Brabant providing that property might "devolve" upon the children of a first marriage—in this case upon Marie Thérèse (rather than upon Charles II of Spain). The French easily captured (1667) the Spanish Netherlands. The United Provinces, in alarm, formed the Triple Alliance with England and Sweden (Jan., 1668). The French overran Franche-Comté (Feb., 1668) but came to terms with the Triple Alliance in the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (May, 1668).

The War of Devolution (16671668) saw Louis XIV's French armies overrun the Hapsburg 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.

Background

Louis's claims to the Spanish Netherlands were tenuous. His wife, Maria Theresa, the daughter of Philip IV, had renounced her rights of a Spanish inheritance in return for a large dowry at the time of her marriage. The dowry had yet to be paid, however. When Philip died in 1665, Louis' lawyers justified Louis's possible claims by arguing that, while Spanish laws of succession meant the throne of Philip IV would pass to his son Charles II, ancient laws of the Duchy of Brabant ruled that the Spanish Netherlands could "devolve" to Philip's daughter from his first marriage, Louis's wife. France pressed the claim in 1667; when Spain contested it, Louis began preparing for war. 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.

War

The war began on 24 May when a French army under the Vicomte de Turenne crossed the border and invaded the Spanish Netherlands. With no main Spanish army in Flanders, the initial stages of the war in 1667 involved a series of French sieges against Spanish-held towns and fortresses that were undermanned and with no hope of relief. Most of these sieges ended quickly and Turenne, at times with Louis in attendance, took towns such as Charleroi, Tournai, and Douai in a campaign dubbed the promenade militaire by the French. The only relatively long siege was that of Lille, which lasted from August 28 to September 25.

The great success of the French began to worry the other powers of Europe, including France's long-time ally, the Dutch Republic. The Dutch as well as England, the various German states, and Sweden had been quite content to have Spain, a weakened kingdom that no longer posed a serious threat to their borders, in control of the strategic southern Low Countries. If France gained control of the Spanish Netherlands it would mean a strong and aggressive state on the Dutch border, and in control of the excellent ports opposite England and the North Sea. Thus the Dutch formed the Triple Alliance with England and Sweden in January 1668. They issued a decree granting Louis the territory he had demanded at the start of the war, but warned that if the French continued their offensive beyond those lines, they would join the Spanish against France.

French troops under the skillful Prince de Condé (the "Grand Condé") swiftly occupied the Franche-Comté in February, but then, with his troops ranged across a long potential front and thus ill positioned to resist the Triple Alliance, Louis agreed to its demands.

Aftermath

France gained some territory in Flanders, but the Spanish Netherlands, as well as the Franche-Comté, were 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 16721678.

References

  • 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

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