Louis XIV’s fondness of war resulted his downfall

“I have been too fond of war”. To what extent does the study of Louis XIV’s reign after 1688 support his observation?

To some extent, I do believe that Louis XIV became a little too fond of war, through his foreign goals, his miss-interpretations and the way he threw his weight around, engulfing himself in many too conflicts. But, as I will go on to explain, I don’t think that Louis was in anyway a person that was hell-bent on involving himself in conflict after conflict, and that there were defining factors in these wars.

In this period of time, late 17th century Europe, war seemed to be something of a normality; a frequent occurrence often described as the sport of Kings. Just before Louis began his personal rule, many states of Europe were in involved in the 30 Years War, including France. Unlike the modern times of today, war wasn’t seen as immoral and its fabrications weren’t scrutinised in any way as thoroughly. In some instances, war was seen as necessary.

The pressures felt by Louis XIV, both internally and externally, would have played a major role in what many people felt were his frequent conquests in war after 1688. Internally, he would have wanted to use and keep his nobility busy as that was one of their major roles and, he would have wanted to establish his own prestige, this point being plausible in the start of his personal reign when he fought in the War of Devolution. Externally, he saw that many other states in Europe were participating in war, especially the Habsburgs, rivals of the Bourbon family, and so therefore Louis would be wishing to not get left behind while these countries waged war at his expense.

Firstly, we have to examine the circumstances in which Louis XIV said “I’ve been too fond of war”. Was this possibly just an ageing Roman Catholic confessing his sins in life before god, or did he truly feel that he may have failed France in some ways over his pursuit of personal glory. It could have been Louis regretting that he hadn’t achieved all of his foreign goals or due to a regret of leaving the French financial position in a severe deficit. Or maybe he was regretting that he had been too aggressive, not using peaceful means of agreement more frequently.

To answer this we must first go back to 1661, when he started personal rule and examine his priorities for France. His first goal was to consolidate the North and Eastern borders of France. There were ambiguities in the borders after the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 and the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659. Louis also strived for La Gloire which means glory, prestige and reputation. The succession of Spain was also another of Louis goals. He was half Spanish, was married to Marie Theresa, a Spanish princess, and wished for dynastic Bourbon succession. Louis also began his personal rule in a very good position. France had a large population, useful for an army, many resources and a striving economy through agriculture. These factors may have put Louis in a position of thinking that he was obliged to fight with this superior position.

Louis was the epitome of the absolute monarch and embodied the idea of divine monarchy. As God’s representative on earth, he felt he was due respect and that his word was the law; he was responsible for God alone. As an absolutist monarch, Louis wielded unlimited decisions made by him; however, it wasn’t despotism nor arbitrary power, as kings would have still had to justify their actions to the nobles and clergy.

From 1679 to 1688, many of Louis’ actions combined to cause the Nine Years War. During this period of time, there were vast changes in France and Europe, and most importantly, other peoples (other European leaders) views and feelings regarding Louis and his policies changed. His rash measures did make people in Europe more wary and cautious of him.

This period of time just before 1688 shaped the future of Louis and it was his actions and miss-anticipations that set the precedent of Louis enjoying war too much. Firstly, the Reunion policy distanced relations in Europe as Louis used a bogus law to clarify the status of French border towns. In Louis defence this could be seen as him trying to improve the safety and security of France’s borders, but there could be more subtle ways to do so. To me, this is an example of Louis not thinking the whole situation through and due to his earlier successes’, especially the War of Devolution which is similar in its case, Louis has been overconfident. This is a significant cause to the Nine Years War.

Louis numerous provocations before the Nine Years War were enough to cause the war and it was his boisterous policies that go on to show that possibly he did like war too much. The 1681 invasion of Strasbourg is a significant example of Louis throwing his weight around. In this instance Louis had no right to put troops there and this will have certainly been a significant cause for war. But there is an argument that this was a vital gate in which the Austrians could attack France and that Louis wasn’t provoking war but in fact trying to ensure the safety of the state.

Another factor which made war more likely was the success of Leopold I of Austria against the Ottoman Turks after the siege of Vienna in 1683. Louis would have been correct to assume that this victory would mean that Leopold of Austria would be in a position to finally focus on the problems that Louis seemed to be posing and stop this rapid French expansionism. A significant cause of the war and especially its length was Louis’ inability to read this situation and continue his advances in to the German states. Leopold, who was the Holy Roman Emperor, of course saw this as a challenge to his authority. This though was an example of Louis not being able to predict the moves of his opposition and I don’t think that he necessarily wanted war to even occur in this instance, let alone last for nine years.

Louis behaviour regarding K�ln in 1686 showed that Louis was too aggressive in his methods. This aggressive behaviour could be perceived as significant cause for war therefore showing that Louis possibly did like war too much. Louis manifesto was almost the perfect recipe for the Nine Years War as he blamed every tension and crisis in Europe on his opponents. This is certainly one of the most crucial causes for the war.

In June 1688, Louis miscalculation by allowing William of Orange to travel to England and become King wasn’t an example of Louis enjoying war too much but was just an addition to a growing number of mistakes made by the French King. Surely if Louis did love war so much, he would have invaded the Netherlands (The United Provinces) and tried to topple William. This was just a vital miscalculation that allowed William to become King of one of the most powerful countries in the world, therefore allowing him to finally declare war on France with a stable enough backing.

Louis provocation of Europe by invading the German states in 1688 was one of the most sufficient causes of the Nine Years War. The way the French Army of 30,000 men captured Phillipsburg and other cities in the Palatinate was hugely controversial and ruthless even in the times of 17th Century warfare. This was a hugely significant sufficient cause for the Nine Years War and shows that Louis did love war too much, especially as he approved the tactics used by the French troops. In addition, the incidents at K�ln and the Palatinate showed that Louis still wanted some power in the German states so there could be arguments that Louis didn’t love war too much but was too narrow-minded to find a peaceful way to succeed in his foreign objectives.

This wasn’t a war that Louis XIV intended but it is clear that the war was provoked by Louis and initiated by his manifest ambitions in the Rhineland. The aggressive nature of his aims and the way he carried them out showed that Louis possibly was too fond of war, but it was his miss-interpretations which resulted in the war lasting as long as it did. His failures to realise the two large political changes in Europe was vital; these changes being the defeat of the Ottomans, and the arrival of William of Orange (now William III) in England. The war was also caused by many sufficient causes which added up to make it enough for war to occur, in which Louis was influenced by his earlier successes and became somewhat irrational and careless.

After the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697, Louis XIV’s immediate actions weren’t that of someone that loved war too much. It is clear that Louis initially sought to avoid the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714) by signing the two partition treaties. It was Louis that suggested peace negotiations to William III, one of his biggest rivals in Europe. Both of these two sides had successfully arranged peaceful means of Spanish succession in the First and Second Partition Treaties (they had to sign the second treaty due to the death of Prince Joseph Ferdinand of Bavaria, the heir to the Spanish throne). Surely someone that loved war too much wouldn’t have gone to these peaceful measures to sort out such a problem. It was in fact Leopold who didn’t accept the treaty, as he wished for Italian lands. This therefore resulted in Louis grandson, Philip D’Angou being named the heir.

The death of Carlos II was a necessary cause for the war of Spanish Succession. However, Louis made some huge mistakes and it was these that almost certainly provoked his enemies into war against France. The following miss-interpretations seemed to show Louis as someone that did enjoy conflict, as well as someone that threw his weight around, always thinking he could get what he desired. Louis made five blunders, all sufficient causes which added up to make it enough for war to occur. He said that Philip D’Angou could become French King, he invaded the Dutch barrier fortresses, he moved troops into Milan, and he acquired the asiento (slave trade) and recognized James III as the English King instead of William III. These were provocative, irrational measures that were sufficient enough to cause war. The invasion of the Dutch barrier fortresses and the recognition of James were extremely provocative and hugely miscalculated as he had virtually invited someone to wage war against him, whom only a year before, he had signed peaceful treaties with. This defiantly shows that Louis was too fond off war. There may though be a few explanations why he pursued in these crazy measures. Firstly, there is the case that he was poorly advised by his Court. Secondly, there is also the possibility that he was fuelled by previous successes, which encouraged him to act in a similar way. Finally, it is possible that he desired La Gloire, and the only way to improve his reputation was to engulf himself in conflict.

It was Louis stubbornness that resulted in him being involved in long wars. There is also the factor that war in this time did last for a long time, but if we take the example of 1709, Louis may have included himself in wars for a longer time compared to others due to his inability to read situations but to also opt out of them. Louis’ decided against dethroning his grandson from Madrid, and this is sufficient cause for him to carry on his fighting. This resulted in better terms at the end of the war. From this evidence though, it is clear that Louis did enjoy war to some extents.

Louis had used Cardinal Mazarin’s legacy well to help serve his interests, some which had already been paved by Mazarin. The War of Devolution is an example of this as Mazarin had set up Louis’ marriage to Marie Theresa knowing that a possible outcome could be for Louis to gain lands in the Spanish Netherlands. At the start of his personal reign, Louis had been put in a very good position by Cardinal Mazarin, whom had run France while Louis was still an infant. He was chief negotiator of the end of Thirty Years War. Louis also had influence over the electorate and other important German states due to Mazarin setting up the League of the Rhine. Mazarin put Louis in these positions and Louis sensibly used them to his advantage to make intelligent territorial gains but later on he had lost some influence in Germany. This time before 1688, shows that Louis wasn’t in love with war but used it as a sensible ploy to achieve his goals.

Louis constant drive for La Gloire may have led him into becoming a little too fond of war. La Gloire basically means prestige, reputation, something that every person who believes they have been put in a place by God, would desire. A fine example of this is Louis construction of the Palace of Versailles. This palace is a constant reminder to the people of France to Louis XIV and went on to increase his reputation. Victories in battle and territorial gains were a way to gain reputation and this may be a reason why Louis found himself in many conflicts. Louis believed that he needed La Gloire to restore the prestige of the monarchy, especially after the Frondes. It could also have been a way to occupy the nobles. Louis pursuit of glory may have led him into many wars meaning that he did enjoy going to war. He did have medals that celebrated his military successes so he probably wanted to be presented as a military hero, seeing as La Gloire needed war.

The way in which Louis regarded religion in France may have had adverse affects on him externally, possibly in some cases leading to war. The way he dealt with these religious issues weren’t intended to cause controversy and possible warfare, but from the outset, his drastic, irrational behaviour gave the appearance of someone that may have loved war too much. The Edict of Nantes was very provocative and irrational, making him new enemies in Europe, as did the Four Gallican Articles. The way Louis dealt with these issues alienated himself from his biggest ally, and caused significant damage in Europe. It was policies like these that show Louis as someone who would never shy away from conflict, therefore someone that enjoyed war.

The death of one of Louis most important minister, Colbert, was a very significant reason for Louis increasing amount of irrational behaviour. From the years of 1661 to 1683, Louis had led France into a successful era, with undoubted success in his foreign policies. However, the death of Colbert in 1683 led to a change in the way things were done. Louis began to be rasher in his decisions. He banned Protestants in the Edict of Nantes in 1685, as well as invading the Palatinate. This evidence suggests that earlier in Louis reign, he may have been pushed in a different direction by Colbert and the rest of his advisers. Therefore some of the blame can be put on his Court after the death of Colbert, as they failed to inform Louis of the mistakes he made. Therefore, it may have been that Louis wasn’t too fond of war, but that he made poor decisions without good advice from his Court.

The fact that France had monumental debts by the end of Louis’ reign does show that maybe he did love war too much. He had led a country that was rich in population, resources and the economy, to incredible debt and mass suffering. Louis’ ultimate flaw was his utter inability to leave well alone as he ended up waging wars forgetting about France’s poor position. He had though succeeded in many of his foreign goals and it may be that he was fighting war for justified reasons. There were however flaws in his foreign policies and the way he executed them, forgetting about the cost to his country and his people. From this, it is conceivable to say that Louis loved war too much.