Nine Years War

The Nine Years War (also known as the War of the League of Augsburg, the War of the Grand Alliance, the War of the Palatinian Succession, and the War of the English Succession) was a major war fought in Europe and America from 1688 to 1697, between France and the League of Augsburg (which, by 1689, was known as the "Grand Alliance"). The war was fought to resist French expansionism along the Rhine, as well as (on the part of England) to safeguard the results of the Glorious Revolution from a possible French-backed restoration of James II. The North American theatre of the war, fought between English and French colonists, was known in the English colonies as King William's War. Note:The Nine Years War can also refer to a conflict in Ireland 1594-1603 - see Nine Years War (Ireland)


The League of Augsburg

The League of Augsburg was formed in 1686 between the Emperor, Leopold I, and various of the German princes (including the Palatinate, Bavaria, and Brandenburg) to resist French aggression in Germany. The alliance was joined by Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Provinces.

France had expected a benevolent neutrality on the part of James II's England, but after James's deposition and replacement by his son-in-law William of Orange, Louis's inveterate enemy, England declared war on France in May of 1689, and the League of Augsburg became known as the "Grand Alliance", with England, Portugal, Spain, the United Provinces, and most of the German states joined together to fight France.

Opening Campaigns

The war began with the French invasion of the Palatinate in 1688, ostensibly to support the claims of Louis XIV's sister-in-law, the Duchess of Orleans, to the territory following the death of her nephew in 1685 and the territory's inheritance by the junior Neuburg branch of the family. The harshness of Louis's activities united all of Germany behind the Emperor, who was, however, still busy fighting a war in Hungary against the Ottoman Empire.

In pursuit of his new aggressive policy in Germany, Louis sent his troops into that country in the autumn of 1688. Some of their raiding parties plundered the country as far south as Augsburg, for the political intent of their advance suggested terrorism rather than conciliation as the best method. The League of Augsburg at once took up the challenge, and the addition of new members by the Treaty of Vienna in May 1689 converted it into the Grand Alliance of Spain, Holland, Sweden, Savoy and certain Italian states, Great Britain, the Emperor, and Brandenburg.

Louvois had completed the work of organizing the French army on a regular and permanent basis, and had made it not merely the best, but also by far the most numerous in Europe, for Louis disposed in 1688 of no fewer than 375,000 soldiers and 60,000 sailors. The infantry was uniformed and drilled, and the socket bayonet and the flintlock musket had been introduced. The only relic of the old armament was the pike, which was retained for one-quarter of the foot, though it had been discarded by the Imperialists in the course of the Turkish wars described below. The first artillery regiment was created in 1684, to replace the former semi-civilian organization by a body of artillerymen susceptible of uniform training and amenable to discipline and orders.

In 1689 Louis had six armies on foot. That in Germany, which had executed the raid of the previous autumn, was not in a position to resist the principal army of the coalition. Louvois therefore ordered it to lay waste the Palatinate, and the devastation of the country around Heidelberg, Mannheim, Spires, Oppenheim and Worms was pitilessly and methodically carried into effect in January and February of 1689. There had been devastations in previous wars, even the high-minded Turenne had used the argument of fire and sword to terrify a population or a prince, while the whole story of the last ten years of the great war had been one of incendiary armies leaving traces of their passage that it took a century to remove. But here the devastation was a purely military measure, executed systematically over a given strategic front for no other purpose than to delay the advance of the enemys army. It differed from the method of Turenne or Cromwell in that the sufferers were not those people whom it was the purpose of the war to reduce to submission, but others who had no interest in the quarrel. The feudal theory that every subject of a prince at war was an armed vassal, and therefore an enemy of the prince's enemy, had in practice been obsolete for two centuries past; by 1690 the organization of war, its causes, its methods and its instruments had passed out of touch with the people at large, and it had become thoroughly understood that the army alone was concerned with the armys business. Thus it was that this devastation excited universal reprobation; and that, in the words of a modern French writer, the idea of Germany came to birth in the flames of the Palatinate.

As a military measure this action was, moreover, quite unprofitable; for it became impossible for Marshal Duras, the French commander, to hold out on the east side of the middle Rhine, and he could think of nothing better to do than to go farther south and to ravage Baden and Breisgau, which was not even a military necessity. The grand army of the Allies, coming farther north, was practically unopposed. Charles of Lorraine and Maximilian of Bavaria (lately comrades in the Turkish war) beseiged Mainz, and the elector of Brandenburg besieged Bonn. The latter, following the evil precedent of his enemies, shelled the town uselessly instead of making a breach in its walls and overpowering its French garrison. Mainz had to surrender on the September 8, 1688. The governor of Bonn, not in the least intimidated by the bombardment, held out until the army that had taken Mainz reinforced the elector of Brandenburg, and then, rejecting the hard terms of suriender offered him by the latter, he fell in resisting a last assault on October 12, 1688. Only 850 men out of his 6000 were left to surrender on the 16th, and the Duke of Lorraine, less truculent than the Elector, escorted them safely to Thionville. Boufflers, with another of Louis's armies, operated from Luxembourg (captured by the French in 1684) and Trarbach towards the Rhine, but in spite of a minor victory at Kochheim on August 21, he was unable to relieve either Mainz or Bonn.

Irish Campaign of 1690-91

For the main article, see Williamite war in Ireland

To try to restore James II and knock England out of the Grand Alliance, Louis XIV supplied men, military and financial aid to James' Jacobite supporters in Ireland. William of Orange was forced to go to Ireland to fight the subsequent war - defeating James at the Battle of the Boyne in July 1690 and ending his hopes of regaining his throne. The war dragged on until July 1691, when William's general Ginkel inflicted a crushing defeat on the French and Irish forces at the battle of Aughrim.

Campaign in the Netherlands

In the war's principal theatre, in continental Europe, the early military campaigns, which mostly occurred in the Spanish Netherlands, were generally successful for France. After a setback at the Battle of Walcourt in August 1689, in which the French were defeated by an allied army under Prince Georg Friedrich of Waldeck, the French under Marshal Luxembourg were successful at the Battle of Fleurus in 1690, but Louis prevented Luxembourg from following up on his victory. The French were also successful in the Alps in 1690, with Marshal Catinat defeating the Duke of Savoy at the Battle of Staffarda and occupying Savoy. The Turkish recapture of Belgrade in October of the same year proved a boon to the French, preventing the Emperor from making peace with the Turks and sending his full forces west. The French were also successful at sea, defeating the Anglo-Dutch fleet at Beachy Head, but failed to follow up on the victory by sending aid to the Jacobite forces in Ireland or pursuing control of the Channel.

The French followed up on their success in 1691 with Luxembourg's capture of Mons and Hal and his defeat of Waldeck at the Battle of Leuze, while Marshal Catinat continued his advance into Italy, and another French army advanced into Catalonia, and in 1692 Namur was captured by a French army under the direct command of the King, and the French beat back an allied offensive under William of Orange at the Battle of Steinkirk.

Naval Battles

The naval side of the war was not marked by any very conspicuous exhibition of energy or capacity, but it was singularly decisive in its results. At the beginning of the struggle the French fleet kept the sea in face of the united fleets of Great Britain and Holland. It displayed even in 1690 a marked superiority over them. Before the struggle ended it had been fairly driven into port, and though its failure was to a great extent due to the exhaustion of the French finances, yet the inability of the French admirals to make a proper use of their fleets, and the incapacity of the kings ministers to direct the efforts of his naval officers to the most effective aims, were largely responsible for the result.

Early French Dominance

When the war began in 1689, the British Admiralty was still suffering from the disorders of the reign of King Charles II, which had been only in part corrected during the short reign of James II. The first squadrons were sent out late and in insufficient strength. The Dutch, crushed by the obligation to maintain a great army, found an increasing difficulty in preparing their fleet for action early. Louis XIV, with as yet unexhausted resources, had it within his power to strike first. The opportunity offered him was a very tempting one. Ireland was still loyal to James II, and would therefore have afforded an admirable basis of operations to a French fleet, but no serious attempt was made to profit by the advantage thus presented. In March 1689, King James was landed and reinforcements were prepared for him at Brest. A British squadron under the command of Arthur Herbert, sent to intercept them, reached the French port too late, and on returning to the coast of Ireland sighted the convoy off the Old Head of Kinsale on May 10. The French admiral Chateaurenault held on to Bantry Bay, and an indecisive encounter took place on May 11. The troops and stores for King James were successfully landed. Then both admirals, the British and the French, returned home, and neither in that nor in the following year was any serious effort made by the French to gain command of the sea between Ireland and England.

English and Dutch Resurgence

On the contrary, a great French fleet entered the English Channel, and gained a success over the combined British and Dutch fleets on July 10, 1690 in the Battle of Beachy Head, which was not followed up by vigorous action. During the following year, while James's cause was finally ruined in Ireland, the main French fleet was cruising in the Bay of Biscay, principally for the purpose of avoiding battle. During the whole of 1689, 1690 and 1691, British squadrons were active on the Irish coast. One raised the siege of Londonderry in July 1689, and another convoyed the first British forces sent over under the Duke of Schomberg. Immediately after Beachy Head in 1690, a part of the Channel fleet carried out an expedition under the Earl of Marlborough, which took Cork and reduced a large part of the south of the island.

In 1691 the French did little more than help to carry away the wreckage of their allies and their own detachments. In 1692 a vigorous but tardy attempt was made to employ their fleet to cover an invasion of England at the Battle of La Hougue. It ended in defeat, and the allies remained masters of the Channel. The defeat of La Hogue did not do so much harm to Louis's naval power. In the next year, 1693, he was able to strike a severe blow at the Allies. The arrangements of the allied governments and admirals were not good. They made no effort to blockade Brest, nor did they take effective steps to discover whether or not the French fleet had left the port. The convoy was seen beyond the Scilly Isles by the main fleet. But as the French admiral Tourville had left Brest for the Straits of Gibraltar with a powerful force and had been joined by a squadron from Toulon, the whole convoy was scattered or taken by him, in the latter days of June, near Lagos. Although this success was a very fair equivalent for the defeat at La Hogue, it was the last serious effort made by the navy of Louis XIV in this war. Want of money compelled him to lay his fleet up. The allies were now free to make full use of their own, to harass the French coast, to intercept French commerce, and to cooperate with the armies acting against France. Some of the operations undertaken by them were more remarkable for the violence of the effort than for the magnitude of the results. Ihe numerous bombardments of French Channel ports, and the attempts to destroy St Malo, the great nursery of the active French privateers, by infernal machines, did little harm. A British attack on Brest in June 1694 was beaten off with heavy loss, the scheme having been betrayed by Jacobite correspondents. Yet the inability of the French king to avert these enterprises showed the weakness of his navy and the limitations of his power. The protection of British and Dutch commerce was never complete, for the French privateers were active to the end. But French commerce was wholly ruined.

Cooperation with the Spanish Navy

It was the misfortune of the allies that their co-operation with armies was largely with the forces of a power so languid and so bankrupt as Spain. Yet the series of operations directed by Russel in the Mediterranean throughout 1694 and 1695 demonstrated the superiority of the allied fleet, and checked the advance of the French in Catalonia. Contemporary with the campaigns in Europe was a long series of cruises against the French in the West Indies, undertaken by the British navy, with more or less help from the Dutch and a little feeble assistance from the Spanish. They began with the cruise of Captain Lawrence Wright in 1690-1691, and ended with that of Admiral John Nevell in 1696-1697. It cannot be said that they attained to any very honorable achievement, or even did much to weaken the French hold on their possessions in the West Indies and North America. Some, and notably the attack made on Quebec by Sir William Phips in 1690, with a force raised in the British colonies, ended in defeat. None of them was so triumphant as the plunder of Cartagena in South America by the Frenchman Pointis, in 1697, at the head of a semi-piratical force. Too often there was absolute misconduct. In the buccaneering and piratical atmosphere of the West Indies, the naval officers of the day, who calculated on distance from home to secure them immunity, sank nearly to the level of pirates and buccaneers. The indifference of the age to the laws of health, and its ignorance of them, caused the ravages of disease to be frightful. In the case of Admiral Nevil's squadron, the admiral himself and all his captains except one, died during the cruise, and the ships were unmanned. Yet it was their own vices which caused these expeditions to fail, and not the strength of the French defence. When the war ended, the navy of King Louis XIV had disappeared from the sea.

Continuing Campaign in the Netherlands

The war continued, however, as did the French successes on land. 1693 saw another victory by Luxembourg over William at Landen, and the capture of Charleroi by the French. The French also continued their successes in Piedmont with a decisive victory at Marsaglia, while in 1694 the French advanced into Catalonia and besieged Barcelona until forced to withdraw by an English fleet.

The French cause was significantly handicapped by the death of Luxembourg in 1695. In the campaign that followed that summer, William was successful, capturing Namur in September. The Treaty of Turin in 1696 ended Savoy's part in the war, and the French were now free to send more troops to the northern front, where they repulsed further offensive efforts by William.


The war ultimately came to an inconclusive conclusion with the Treaty of Ryswick, which restored the status quo ante. Louis also agreed to surrender fortifications at Mons, Luxembourg, and Courtrai to the Spanish, although this was widely seen as a decision taken to improve his chances of a Bourbon inheritance of the Spanish throne following the death of the childless Carlos II.

The period was marked by famine and recession.

See also

fr:Guerre de la ligue d'Augsbourg it:Guerra della Lega di Augusta ja:大同盟戦争 nl:Negenjarige Oorlog


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