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War of Devolution

The War of Devolution (May 24, 1667May 2, 1668) was a war between Louis XIV's France and Habsburg Spain fought in the Spanish Netherlands. It was resolved in the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.

The war was the first of Louis' wars of territorial aggrandizement. The prize: the rich market cities of the Catholic Low Countries and their long-established textile trade, which competed with French interests; the ports that offered advantageous positions opening on the English Channel and the North Sea; and opportunity to control river traffic at the mouth of the Rhine.

Louis' claims upon the Spanish Netherlands were tenuous. His wife, Marie Thérêse, the daughter of Philip IV of Spain, 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 finally died in 1665, Louis' lawyers justified Louis' possible claims by arguing that, while Spanish laws of succession meant the throne of Philip IV would pass to his son Carlos II, ancient laws of Brabant ruled that the Spanish Netherlands could "devolve" to Philip's daughter from his first marriage, Louis' wife. The French pressed the claim in 1667; the Spanish 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, a cumbersome fragmented nation struggling with the first modern bout of inflation, could put up little resistance to the French assault, under the wise veteran, the vicomte de Turenne. With no main Spanish army in Flanders, the initial stages of the war in 1667 became 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 the French remembered as the "promenade militaire." The only long siege was that of Lille, from August 28 to September 25.

The great success of the French began to worry the other powers of Europe, especially long-time French allies the Dutch. The Dutch as well as the English, the various German states, and the Swedes had been quite content to have the weak and non-threatening Spanish in control of the strategically vital region. If France gained control of the region 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 Triple Alliance was formed in January 1668, joining the Netherlands, England, and Sweden. 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 the three would join the Spanish in repelling them.

French troops under the skilful Prince de Condé (the "Grand Condé") swiftly occupied Franche-Comté in February, but then, with his troops ranged across a long possible front, ill positioned to resist the Triple Alliance, Louis agreed to their demands. France gained some territory in Flanders, but the Spanish Netherlands, as well as Franche-Comté, were returned to Spain. Inwardly he 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 help in their war of independence. The War of Devolution thus led directly to the Dutch War of 16721678, with Charles II co-opted by Louis' gold to fight against the Dutch.

Last updated: 05-06-2005 05:47:30
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04