Monday, July 29, 2019

What was the War of the Reunions (1683 - 1684)?

If China brought fears to world from its ambitions and impunity, the same could be said for to the greatest rogue state of Europe in the 17th century – France and its ambitious Sun King Louis XIV.
Fall of Strasbourg, 1681

Louis dreamed of a powerful Kingdom of France. He wanted his kingdom to safe from invasion from its powerful neighbor. Hence, he needed buffer lands to keep his heartland and in doing so emerge the idea of an empire. A French Empire that stood astride the continent boasting with its power, wealth, and taste. An Empire that stood as the center of Europe just as Louis sat at the center of the monarchs of Europe.

War clouded Louis’ reign from 1668 until 1679. A decade of wars against the Dutch through the War of Devolution (1668 -1669) and the Franco-Dutch War (1672 – 1679) pitted France against Europe. Louis displayed the strong might of his military and the talents of his commanders.

The Treaties of Nijmegen from 1678 and 1679 ended the Franco-Dutch War. Europe thought it could have a sigh of relief from war and conflict. Demobilization of armies began and reconstruction started at earnest. Never had they imagined that Louis had the audacity to provoke for another conflict. The Treaties did not satisfied Louis and even said “he won the war, but lost the peace.” So much his frustration, he sacked his foreign secretary.

Charles Marquis de Colbert de Croissy became the new Secretary State for Foreign Affairs and War. Brother of the Comptroller-General of Finance Jean-Baptiste Colbert, he understood Louis’ desire of an empire and had the talent and mind to achieve it. He then brought up an idea in which France to gain extra territories without declaring war. A means through use of legal justification and intimidation. While Europe relaxed and disbanded their armies, Louis kept his and ready to execute Colbert de Croissy’s plan.
Charles Colbert, Marquis de Croissy
Chambre de RĂ©union

Colbert de Croissy’s plan relied in the idea of dependencies. During the 17th century geo-politics, cities taken by treaties not only gained the city proper but also surrounding lands and villages that supported it. France exploited this idea.

Louis and Colbert de Croissy established several courts known as Chambre de RĂ©union or Chamber of Reunion. Courts placed in charge of making judgments called arret whether the land depended to the city based not from the Nijmegen Treaties but the late Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. These judgments gave France the mandate to place the land under their protection.

Series of Chambers established across the frontier regions of the Kingdom from 1679. A Chamber of Reunion formed in Bresach for Alsace, Besancon for Franche-Comte, and Metz for Lorraine and Bar Region. Gradually, the judgment of these chambers added new lands into the French fold.

Besides the Chambers, Louis utilized the carrot and stick tactic to enforce the judgments. He used his standing army to intimidate the towns and cities that had been declared under French procession. On September 1681, French forces surrounded Strasbourg while in November Luxembourg saw the same fate with Marshall Crequy and Vauban leading the French armies. Strasbourg fell to the French within a month as France bribed members of the city council to bend to the will of Louis XIV.

On the other hand, Louis also made gains in Italy. French forces mobilized into Italy and Louis purchased the fortress of Cassale to the dismay of French ally the Duchy of Savoy. Italian states began to fear French aggression.

Bread and Circuses

Europe found Louis’ scheme stunning and brazen. They never thought Louis found ways to expand his territory with any means possible. Despite condemnation, the continent stood powerless to stop him. In this matter, Colbert de Croissy and Louis diplomatic masterstroke unfolded through the use of panem et circenses – bread and circuses.

The circuses came in form of a distraction that took the attention of most powerful European states. Next to France, the Ottoman Empire frightened Europe which Louis exploited to his benefit. Louis warmed French relations with Ottoman Turkey starting in 1679. He sent Gabriel de Guilleragues as the new French ambassador to Istanbul with the objective of forming a secret alliance with the Ottoman Empire. Relations furthered when Louis disavowed a raid in the island of Chios. Lastly, France promised French indifference in the event of Ottoman invasion of the Holy Roman Empire. Louis hoped the invasion to distract the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I.
Emperor Leopold
The Holy Roman Empire and its Emperor Leopold condemned Louis actions with the Chambers. An Imperial Diet met in January 1681 that called for the mobilization of a 40,000-man army. This, however, failed to materialize as the Holy Roman Empire continued to reel its wounds from the Franco-Dutch War and much of its forces prepared for a war in the East with the Ottomans.

Other than the Ottomans, Louis burdened Leopold I further by supporting Hungarian rebellion led by Emeric (Imre) Thokoly. For years, the Hungarians struggled for freedom against Habsburg oppression. France gave them support through money and weapons alongside the Ottoman Empire. The rebellion along with the Ottoman invasion that materialized in 1683 terrified Europe. The Ottoman invasion advanced to the point that the Islamic army besieged the capital of the Holy Roman Empire itself Vienna.
While the Holy Roman Empire fought the Ottom
Ottoman Besieging Vienna
ans, Louis also needed to find another distraction for his other nemesis William III Prince of Orange, Standholder of the Netherlands. Within the Netherlands, many feared the power William mustered for years. Louis used this and supported anti-Orange parties within the Republic to paralyze William from moving against the Reunions.

Besides distractions, France offered bread to many European countries. From 1681, France provided subsidies to growing kingdoms and great powers. The situation came in his favor as most European kingdoms felt exhausted of war and needed money to finance their reconstruction. Kingdoms such as Brandenburg-Prussia and Denmark received subsidies from Louis. In 1683, he also secured Polish neutrality with hefty bribes. England’s Charles II also sat idly with the offer of money.

In June 1683, the Holy Roman Empire proposed another Diet to inquire on the legality of Arrats. Louis refused knowing the disadvantages he would face with the Diet. He responded with a peace settlement based on the current territorial status.

Despite attempts for peace, France continued their advances. In September 1683 French forces marched into the Spanish Netherlands. The act prompted Spain to declare war, thus began the War of Reunions. As most Europe reeled from the previous war or faced internal and external threats, France had the opportunity to face only Spain. As the war progressed, France invaded Catalonia. In June 1684, French forces also took Luxembourg. French naval forces under Abraham Duquesne also bombarded the Spanish ally of Genoa, an important lenders to Spain and provider of mariners and troops for their military.
Bombardment of Genoa
The Settlement

As France and Spain battled out, Europe turned their attention back to French expansion. The Ottoman invasion failed and the William III of Orange remained in power. They then began to pressure France in settling the matter.

On August 1684, a peace settlement began to be forged in an Imperial Diet on august 1684. It resulted to the Treaty of Ratisbon (Regensburg). In the Treaty, Louis finally received his highly coveted fortress of Luxembourg. France also kept most of the lands it took through the Reunions. The Agreement also pushed for a 20 year truce between France and Spain.

Summing Up

The War of Reunions displayed the determination of Louis to expand French dominion through any means necessary. He employed various tactics from distraction, intimidation, and bribery to achieve his goals. Eventually his tactics work which eventually resulted to huge French gains.

See also:

Campbell, Peter Robert. Louis XIV, 1661 – 1715. New York, New York: Routledge, 2013.

Carsten, F.L. The New Cambridge Modern History: Volume V, The Ascendancy of France, 1648-88. New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1961.

Lynn, John A. The French Wars 1667 – 1714, The Sun King at War. New York, New York: Osprey Publishing, 2002.

Smith, Rhea Marsh. Spain: A Modern History. Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1965.

Wolf, John. The Emergence of the Great Powers: 1685 -1715. New York, New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1951. 

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