Monday, July 29, 2019

What happened during the Franco-Dutch War (1672 – 1678)?

The War of Devolution revealed Louis XIV’s ambition to expand his kingdom’s domain. And with the betrayal of the Dutch during the previous conflict, the Sun King desired revenge.
Louis XIV in Maastricht

Prologue to War

Louis wanted France to ascend as a European Empire. He set his eyes in expanding to the Low Countries in the early years of his reign using his wife’s inheritance leading to the War of Devolution (1667 – 1668). In this conflict, he expected Dutch support against the English, but the Low Country Republic thought otherwise and joined a coalition of countries that condemned the French invasion. In the end, France succeeded in capturing a number of towns and cities, but ultimately failed to annex the Spanish Netherlands.

Louis desired revenge against the Dutch. Moreover, besides the betrayal, he also viewed the Dutch as heretics hoping to bring Europe into his side by professing a war against the Protestant Dutch Republic. Furthermore, he also saw the Dutch as a thorn to the French economy. He wished to end Dutch domination of trade in favor of a French commercial empire.

For years after the War of Devolution, Louis plotted, however, questions loomed over the practicality of war within the government. The previous conflict already demonstrated Europe’s fear and efforts to foil French expansions and its implication in upsetting the balance of power. Minister such as Jean Baptiste Colbert argued about the huge cause of the war considering much of the strain in the treasury brought by the war and massive projects of the King such as Versailles. Hughes de Lionne, Louis’ top diplomat, feared of France’s isolation within the international community. Nevertheless, the absolute power of Louis XIV triumphed and preparations began at earnest.

France looked for allies in the upcoming conflict. Louis hoped for an alliance with King Charles II of England against the Dutch that culminated with the secret Treaty of Dover in 1670 signed on December 31, 1670. The Treaty guaranteed English support and recognition of French gains in the Dutch Republic as well as possible assumption by Louis of the Spanish throne in case of the death of King Charles IV of Spain. In exchange, France paid England an amount of £ 200,000 and 6,000 French troops to be placed under the command of King Charles. In addition to England, Louis sought also an alliance with the Northern superpower Sweden with the Treaty of Stockholm signed on 1672. He also enlisted the support of German states of Liege and Cologne, strategic alliances that would give France a route towards the Dutch Republic bypassing the Spanish Netherlands.
Charles II
As the French military drew battle plans, the Sun King saw the Dutch riddled with multiple problems in 1672. The Third Anglo-Dutch War began proving King Charles II’s commitment to Louis. Also within the Dutch Republic, Johan de Witt, de facto leader of the Republic, faced a challenger to his regime in form of William III of Orange. Louis then exploited the internal and external problems the Netherlands faced.

Initial Invasion

French invasion of the Dutch Republic began in May 1672. A massive army of 250,000 troops marched into the lands of allied German states of Liege and Cologne before finally striking against the Dutch. Renowned French commanders such Marshall Turenne and the Prince de Conde led the advance. Both commanders marched along the Rhine with Nijmegen as their objective. Meanwhile, Marshall Luxembourg led a Franco-German Army targeting Groningen in the north.

French forces besieged major cities along the route towards the primary target – Amsterdam. This led to the fall of Utrecht on June 30, 1672 and by Nijmegen on July 9, 1672. Louis stood poise to finally erase the Dutch Republic.

When the seemed closed to its end, the Sun King faced a setback. William III took power and the Dutch opened their dikes releasing water that blocked passage to the Dutch capital. Louis looked into the Dutch regrouping and amassing their forces along the so-called Water Line while he received news of resistance in Utrecht and Zeeland. This resistance threatened his armies route eastward back into friendly territories. Not to mention, it also threatened the French supply lines from the Rhine. Louis’ blitzkrieg turned into a protracted war.

Naval Theater

The war in the seas suffered more difficulties than engagements in the continent. French navies joined the English navy which already engaged the Dutch in the Third Dutch War. The English, however, suffered from lack of budget. Parliament discovered a secret clause in the Treaty of Dover – a clause that guaranteed French support on the event of Charles II’s conversion to Catholicism. As a result of the scandal, Parliament blocked all budget to finance the French instigated conflict.

The allied navies further agonized with a defeat in the Battle of Sole Bay on May 28, 1672. English naval forces of 60 warships under the Duke of York and French navy of 40 warships of the Comte d’Estrees saw a pre-emptive strike by the Dutch navy of 70 to 80 warships under the Dutch naval genius Admiral Michiel de Ruyter. The attack prevented the Franco-English navy from threatening the Netherlands by sea.
Michiel de Ruyter
Allied navies continued to suffer from defeats under de Ruyter in multiple engagement. They lose in the Battle of Schooneveld in June 1672.  The war furthered until 1673 along with their string of defeats in the Battles of Ostend and Kijkduin.

Europe Turned Against Louis

Louis faced setbacks from land and sea. French navies continued to lose to the Dutch. The French army laid in waiting for the water line to freeze in winter, while occupied Dutch territories rose up in resistance to the French occupation. As quick victories turned into protracted war, European powers mobilized to foil Louis’ advance. The Holy Roman Empire and Brandenburg-Prussia declared war against France and their troops began to amass.

Though the French failed to advance to Amsterdam due to the water line, it also prevented the Dutch from moving out. To make the best out of the situation, the Prince de Conde moved south to capture Strasbourg in Alsace, while Marshall Turenne marched east to Westphalia to face the threat of the coalition forces of the Holy Roman Empire and Brandenburg-Prussia.

In the autumn of 1672, Brandenburg-Prussian forces under the leadership of the Great Elector Frederick William entered the Low Countries. The arrival of German allies of the Dutch distracted the French from advancing to Amsterdam in winter. Turenne fought the German armies until he exhausted them enough for the Great Elector to sue for peace on June 6, 1673. Meanwhile, Holy Roman Imperial forces under Raimondo Montecuccoli gathered in Bohemia and marched into the region. Turenne faced this imperial host and humbled them in Wetzlar.
Marshall Turenne

Siege of Maastricht

As the war progress, French forces needed to secure supply lines between France and the Dutch Republic. The city of Maastricht held a vital crossing in the River Meuse and the Dutch held it. French forces then besieged the city with Sebastien de Vauban taking the lead. He had 26 artillery and 45,000 troops ready to fight the Dutch forces in the city under the command of Jacques de Fariaux and his 6,000 troops.

The siege of Maastricht displayed the innovations in siege warfare of Vauban. He demonstrated the effectivity of his tactics using parallel lines to get close to the city walls. From June 8, 7,000 peasants dig trenches around the city. Vauban had the pleasure of explaining his tactic to King Louis XIV who visited the siege himself on June 10. From June 23, the French assaulted the city. By June 30, de Fariaux negotiated the surrender of the city and on July 1, 1673, French forces triumphantly entered Maastricht.
Marshall Vauban
Growing Threat

After visiting Maastricht fell, Louis himself led the French army to battle. He targeted the Duchy of Lorraine and overran it before advancing to the Electorate of Trier. Louis’ advances fell to fearful ears of European monarchs.

The coalition that began with the Holy Roman Empire and Brandenburg-Prussia grew to accept more support. Spain joined and remnants of the forces of the Duchy of Lorraine also pledged their support. The coalition forces then captured Bonn, another vital crossing along the Rhine River. The fall of the city forced Westphalia and Cologne to sue for peace and leave their alliance with France. Worse, by 1674 Denmark and Brandenburg joined the coalition and Brandenburg-Prussia rejoined the conflict. It seemed Europe banded together against France. Lionne’s prediction came true.

England gave Louis XIV a shock. In spring of 1674, withdrew from its alliance with France. Series of defeat led to the falling popularity of Charles II. The War also failed to galvanize the people and parliament. With this, France solely fought the war in the sea. Luckily for Louis, the tough battle the French army gave the Dutch forced them to divert much of their resources to the army rather than the navy.

Adventure in Sicily

In 1674, France found a means to prevent Spain from intervening in the war in the continent. Sicily, an island south of Italy and controlled by the Kingdom of Naples who had the same sovereign as Spain. Louis then decided to support a revolt in the island. Soon French subsidy and weapons supported the Sicilian rebels. Spain then sought Dutch naval support who sent Admiral de Ruyter.

De Ruyter, however, did not arrived in Sicily until September 1675 with 18 warships and joined with the Spanish navy under the Marquis of Bayona. French naval forces too took a year before arriving in the island in 1676 with 20 warships under Abraham Duquesne. On January 8, 1676, French confronted the Dutch in the port of Messina forcing them to withdraw to Palermo.

Following the success, another confrontation underwent on April 22, 1676. This time, however, the Dutch and Spanish navies attacked the French off the coast of Agosta ensuing a furious battle. The Spanish lack of discipline led to confusion within the Spanish-Dutch navy. In the heat of battle, a French fire caught De Ruyter wounding the Dutch admiral. The battle ended with the withdrawal of the Dutch and Spanish navies to Syracuse where De Ruyter succumbed to his wounds.

Continental Battle

As the revolt and naval battle in Sicily progressed, the war in the continent also continued. In 1674, fresh attacks by the French began. Great French generals maneuvered towards victory and sometimes defeats.

In 1674, the Prince de Conde led a French invasion of the Spanish Netherlands. On August 11, 1674, Conde faced William III in the Battle of Seneffe – the Dutch commander’s first field battle. Conde won a victory adding another score in his belt of triumph.
Battle of Seneffe
Louis, on the other, led an invasion of Franche-Comte. He successfully overran the region with the assistance of his rising marshal Sebastien Vauban. Eventually, Franche-Comte’s capital of Besancon fell by the end of the year.

While Louis ravaged Franche-Comte, Turenne moved to intercept any relief forces from the Holy Roman Empire or the Dutch. He faced an imperial army under the command of Alexander von Bournonville whose forces centered in Cologne and Trier.  Another imperial army formed with troops from Southern German states under the command of Duke Charles IV of Lorraine and the Count of Caprara. This imperial army moved along the Rhine with the objective of linking up von Bournoville before striking the French.

Turenne moved against the imperial armies before they rendezvoused. Turenne first moved against the Count of Caprara and the Duke of Lorraine battling them in Sinsheim on June 16, 1674. Turenne also decided to raze the lands of the Palatinate to prevent the imperial army from foraging the land. The act terrified Europe, even the Prince Elizabeth Charlotte of Palatinate, wife of Louis XIV’s brother Philippe, Duc de Orleans.

The French marshal then turned his attention towards the army of Alexander Bournoville. Borunaville became a further nuisance as another army from Brandenburg-Prussia threatened to reinforce the imperial army. Turenne successfully marched against Bournaville in the Battle of Enzheim on October 4, 1674 before setting up camp in Dettweller in Alsace for winter.

From Dettweller, instead of awaiting spring, Turenne made the bold decision of launching an attack during winter with the objective of overrunning Alsace. On December 29, 1674 Turenne delivered French victory in the Battle of Mulhausen followed by another success on January 5, 1675 in the Battle of Turkheim. His onslaught finally led to the fall of Strasburg securing the region for Louis XIV. His winter campaign ended in success.

See also:


“Dutch War (1672 – 1678).” Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. Accessed on June 10, 2019. URL:

“Dutch Wars: War of 1672 – 1678.” The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. Accessed on June 11, 2019. URL:

Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Treaty of Dover.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed on July 28, 2019. URL:

Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Treaties of Nijmegen.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed on July 28, 2019. URL:

Field, Jacob. “Siege of Masstricht.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed on July 28, 2019. URL:

1 comment:

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