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Louis XIVs foreign policy Essay

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Assess to what extent was Louis XIV’s foreign policy less successful after 1684.

Up to 1684, Louis XIV’s foreign policy had allowed him to acquire strategically important territory which made France more secure. In doing so, he also defended the reputation of the House of Bourbon on the battlefield and thus increased its gloire. However after 1684, his foreign policy enjoyed less success due to a combination of factors.

The latter half of Louis’ reign was marked by two major wars: the Nine Years War and the War of Spanish Succession. Both of these wars emphasized a decline in France after its peak in 1684. For instance, the results of the Nine Years War suggest that France had clearly lost most of the territory gained at the Treaty of Nymegen in 1678. Meanwhile, the War of Spanish Succession did not result in as much success as Louis’ previous wars. This indicates a less successful foreign policy after 1684.

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In terms of territory, Louis’ only real gain was Spain from the War of Spanish Succession. On the other hand, Louis surrendered all possessions gained since Nymegen, with the exception of Strasbourg, such as Trier, Breisach, Philippsburg and most of Lorraine. Plus, the Spanish Empire had to been carved up, with parts of it going to other European powers. These losses imply that Louis no longer possessed a dominating influence over Europe; the North-Eastern border was yet again vulnerable to attacks from other nations. To add insult to injury, France and Spain could not unite to become one country.

Prior to 1684, the French had been undefeated since Louis took his majority in 1661. However post-1684, there were several defeats for the French army, most notably at Blenheim in 1704 and Oudenarde in 1708 after which France was invaded. These defeats weakened the gloire of the French army, which had been feared prior to these defeats. France’s gloire was further diminished when the Allies invaded her during 1708 and 1709. These defeats suggest poor leadership and a deteriorating army which no longer held its former feared reputation.

Other setbacks include destruction of the French navy at the Battle of Cap de la Hogue in 1692. This ended any chances of restoring James II as King of England. Restoring James would alter the balance of power in Europe in favour of Louis. The balance of power was extremely important because the balance of power had been in favour of France from 1661 – 1688.

Despite these setbacks, both Louis and France were still able to gain some gloire. Firstly, gaining the Spanish Succession implied that the Bourbons had the upper hand in the dynastic struggle with the Hapsburgs. Secondly, although the French were defeated on several occasions, it did win some important battles, namely at Brihuega and Villa Victoba in 1710. Plus, the results of the Treaty of Utrecht suggest that France was still the dominating power in Europe.

It would appear that the achievements of the latter half of Louis’ reign did not match the first half. This is reflected in the French gains in terms of territory and gloire. While the former half of the reign was characterised by territorial acquisitions such as Franche-Comt�, Aire, Ypres, etc, the latter half was highlighted by losing land gained since the Treaty of Nymegen. These losses weakened France’s north-eastern and eastern border, which Louis had worked so hard to protect in the first half of his sovereignty. This loss also meant diminished gloire and reduced hegemony. Compared with the initial half of his reign, Louis appears to achieve less in the second half.

This decline can be attributed to a combination of factors. Louis’ foreign policy before 1684 had created plenty of enemies in Europe, namely England, United Provinces, Spain, Holy Roman Empire and the German Princes. While before the Holy Roman Emperor had to deal with the Turks in the east, Leopold now had a free hand to intervene in the west.

Louis’ foreign policy prior to 1684 had united Europe in hatred of him and France. The Dutch opposed him because he had fought them in the Dutch War, which resulted in sever disruption to Dutch trade. German Princes opposed him because Louis had taken land from them via the Policy of Reunion. Leopold also wanted revenge because Louis had “illegally” seized Strasbourg. Compared to the beginning of Louis’ reign, the European balance of power has shifted against France; whereas before there was disunity in Europe, now Europe was unified in hatred of France.

This unity is very important because it shifts the balance of power against France. Whereas in previous wars France was able to isolate enemies, now she had to fight against the whole of Europe.

Previous wars had used up France’s resources. Even by 1680 France was already in debt. On the other hand, her enemies enjoyed better provisions for finance, for example the William III was able to borrow money at low rates from of interest from the Bank of England. The minister and generals in the latter part of the reign did not have the same standard as at the beginning. This is particularly true of the army; Villeroi and Villars were mere shadows of their predecessors. The Allies, on the contrary, had excellent and able generals such as the Duke of Marlborough, Prince Eugene of Savoy and Heinsius. Whereas before France had the “dream team” of ministers and army generals, now the Allies have superior personnel.

France was further weakened by the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, which forced plenty Huguenots to leave the country. This had a devastating effect on the French economy since many of the Huguenots were merchants, industrialists, engineers, etc. France’s loss was the Allies’ gain as many of these Huguenots moved to Allied countries. As a result, the Allied human resources grew at the expense of France.

Although the change in the balance of power in Europe is importantly, ultimately the loss of resources was a more important factor in explaining why France was less successful after 1688. Hugue de Lionne was able to alienate opponents during the War of Devolution and Dutch War, whilst his successors were not able to do that in the Nine Years War or War of Spanish Succession. If French diplomats had been able to alienate opponents, then she wouldn’t have had to fight the whole Europe. While Conde and Turenne remained undefeated, Villeroi and Villars suffered frequent defeats in the hands of the Allies. Had the French army stayed undefeated during the Nine Years War and War of Spanish Succession, then no doubt her gains would have been much more than what she actually received.

Part of Louis’ success in the former half of his reign was due the fact that there was a power vacuum in Europe for France to explore. However, by the second half of the reign, that power vacuum had disappeared. Emperor Leopold had dealt with the Turks on his eastern frontier and could turn his full attention onto the west. While Charles II didn’t want to be involved in expensive European warfare, there was no question of that after William III became King of England. This suggests that other European countries no longer had internal problems and were able to take part in European affairs.

Another reason for the less successful latter half is the foreign policy of the former half of his reign had caused deep resentment and anger from other powers in Europe. Many countries had been offended by French actions; particularly regarding French aggression during the Policy of Reunions. This resulted in them wanting revenge against France.

It would appear that Leopold’s availability to intervene in the west was a more important factor than other countries wanting revenge against France. Leopold can be seen as Louis’ nearest contemporary. So, if any nation or coalition was going to match France, then Leopold had to be in it. This can be seen in the Grand Alliance of the Hague. Therefore, one of the main reasons for a less successful foreign policy post-1688 is because of Leopold’s availability to intervene in the west.

There is a combination of reasons as to why Louis was less successful after 1688. Some reasons are more than important than others; for example, the hatred of France from the Policy of Reunion drove other nations together against France and so the power vacuum, which was there at the beginning of the reign, disappeared. However, ultimately it was the combination of these reasons which caused French foreign policy to be less successful following 1688. Unity in Europe alone wouldn’t have stopped French aggression. Similarly loss of French resources alone wouldn’t have had as much effect had Europe been in disarray.

In conclusion, the foreign policy in the latter half of Louis’ reign was clearly less successful than pre-1684. In terms of achievements she had secured her status in Europe by acquiring the Spanish Succession, which ensured that she was no longer surrounded by Hapsburgs; Louis had built a Bourbon base in Western Europe which would secure and strengthen both France and Spain. He also left behind a legacy of unprecedented French supremacy during which France was arguably the most powerful country in the world. However, there were failures from his foreign policy as well. The North-Eastern and Eastern frontiers was yet again weakened by the loss of lands which he had worked so hard to acquire before 1684. Furthermore, he left his successor with a Europe united in hatred of France who wanted to curb French power and hegemony.

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