Louis XIV, Vittorio Amedeo II and French Military Failure in Italy, 1689-96(*)

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Date: June 2000
From: The English Historical Review(Vol. 115, Issue 462)
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Document Type: Biography
Length: 19,498 words

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THE Nine Years War (1688-97) was the most intensive war fought by France before the eighteenth century, but it has also been one of the most overlooked and under-researched conflicts in French history. Received wisdom pronounces the war something of a draw, with neither France nor the members of the opposing `Grand Alliance' able to claim significant achievements during the conflict or at the negotiating table. In reality, the Nine Years War helped to recast the European international system and was a major reverse for Louis XIV: fighting on four European fronts, bereft of allies and unable to sustain a full fleet, France won a string of military victories on land but could not win the war. Louis's decision to invade the Rhineland and besiege Philippsburg in September 1688 was intended to pre-empt a strike against France by Emperor Leopold I and to force the Holy Roman Empire into converting the 1684 Truce of Ratisbon into a permanent peace which would confirm Louis's possession of the territories, known as the `reunions', which he had annexed since 1679.(1) By 1698 Louis had been forced to disgorge almost all these gains, including Lorraine (seized in 1670). If the 1697 Treaty of Ryswick put the clock back to 1679 in the Rhineland and the Low Countries, the Treaty of Turin, signed one year earlier, returned France's position in northern Italy to the status quo ante-1628, when she had no toehold in the peninsula. However, while Vauban and others since have claimed that France won the war only to lose the peace,(2) the reasons for French humiliation at the hands of the Allies have never been explored, and are in fact inextricably linked with the failure of her war effort, nowhere more so than in the conflict with Duke Vittorio Amedeo II of Savoy between 1690 and 1696.

The traditional approach to the Nine Years War in northern Italy argues that two French battlefield victories, at Staffarda in 1690 and La Marsaglia in 1693, accompanied by the 1690-91 conquest of the duchy of Savoie and the county of Nice, forced Vittorio Amedeo to negotiate an end to hostilities, the outcome which France was seeking. A century ago one distinguished historian even went so far as to portray the Treaty of Turin as an example of how sensible and magnanimous the French could be.(1) Only by completely ignoring French war aims and the actual terms of the peace of 1696, however, can such a view be sustained. A recent thesis illuminated a great deal of the diplomatic activity of French and Sabaudian agents between 1693 and 1696, but it stopped short of actually explaining why and how France was forced into a series of diplomatic retreats in its negotiations with Savoy, giving little attention to French and Sabaudian aspirations and concerns.(2) Works written from the perspective of Turin cast equally little light on reasons for the outcome of the war.(3)

In order that Louis XIV's massive diplomatic climbdown in 1696 can be more clearly understood,...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A62980102