Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Europe at war, 1689-1713

William of Orange’s primary motive for invading England had been to draw the nation into the European coalition against France, and his arrival produced a dramatic transformation of British foreign policy. From 1689 to 1714 it was at war for all but five of these years. These wars demolished the order Louis had constructed in the first thirty-five years of his reign.

The Glorious Revolution (1688-89): why it matters



1. The Revolution did not bring about democracy. After 1688-9 the crown still retained considerable prerogative power.

2. However, the Revolution and the Act of Settlement (1701) and the Act of Union (1707) established a Protestant succession to the crown. From this time onwards monarchs and their spouses had to follow the religion of the people. The Toleration Act of 1689 allowed Dissenters (not Catholics) freedom of worship. Although Dissenters were still deprived of public office by the Test Act, the practice of Occasional Conformity allowed many of them to sit on corporations and to vote.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

The Siege of Vienna

Go here to listen to the discussion on the Siege of Vienna in Melvyn Bragg's 'In Our Time'.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Three wars and an invasion

The War of the Reunions
In 1683-4 Louis XIV fought his third war, the War of the Reunions. In many respects it was a continuation of the two previous wars and was part of the ongoing struggle between France and Spain for the mastery of Europe.

In 1670 he had set up several Chambers of Reunion to investigate whether France had been given all the territories to which it was legally entitled following the Thirty Years’ War and the War of Devolution. The Chambers resolved that more areas, mainly small towns and villages surrounding the cities that had been ceded by treaty, should be awarded to Louis and when French troops were sent to these areas they were generally unopposed. In effect, the reunions were a legal veneer for annexations.


In 1680-1 the French attacked Orange, where the Dutch Stadhouder William’s family had its hereditary estates. In August 1681 they occupied the town, pulled down its walls and let loose the dragonnades. This was a final insult to William as a sovereign prince. For a while though he was helpless, as the States General would not allow him to increase the number of armed forces. In September 1681 the Protestant city of Strassburg was taken from the Empire and renamed Strasbourg, giving the French control of much of the lower Rhine. The barrier town of Luxembourg was then besieged (it fell in June 1684).

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Louis XIV and religion

During the reign of Louis XIV religion was still a vital issue. The king had been granted the title of ‘most Christian King’ by the pope. Though he could not define doctrine, it was the king’s right to direct affairs of religion in France and therefore to govern relations between church and state. The church was the strongest moral and ideological support for the monarchy. The crown made use of priests and bishops to inform the population of laws and victories and bishops often played an important role in local government. The Church formed the First Estate. Although it was exempt from the taille, the Assembly of Clergy which met every year was obliged to grant a free gift of several million livres to the monarchy.

Louis XIV: the early wars


[This painting by Pierre Mignard represents Lous'' capture of of Maastricht in 1673.]

France: the international situation
In 1661 France had just emerged from 25 years of foreign war against the Habsburgs of the Spanish and Austrian empires. Since her entry into the Thirty Years’ War in 1635 French foreign policy had aimed at breaking the potential stranglehold on France occasioned by the rise of Spanish power and Spain’s possession of territories round the borders. The costs of the war were such that in 1648 both France and Spain went bankrupt - but France slightly less so than Spain.

One of the ‘big stories’ of the late 17th century is the transformation of the military and financial institutions of the state to enable it to fight large-scale wars in Europe and beyond.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Louis XIV and absolute monarchy

‘For monarchists everywhere, the turbulent 1640s proved to be the darkest decade before the dawn of a new era of authoritarian government often characterized by historians as “the age of absolutism”. Tim Blanning, The Pursuit of Glory (Penguin, 2007, 207).
The inheritance of Louis XIV
Louis was born 5 September 1638, the ‘God-given’, ‘miraculous’ child of Louis XIII and his Habsburg wife, Anne of Austria, after twenty-two years of marriage; he was baptised Louis-Dieudonné. He succeeded his father in May1643 aged four. From the start he was treated as a king.  He was taught that if he ruled in accordance with the will of God, his reign would be numbered as one of the most glorious in the history of France.

Throughout his reign he was acutely aware of his inheritance. French jurists had defined that the line of kings had followed each other in legitimate succession from Hugh Capet (987-96). This succession had to be male. The Salic law had the advantage of keeping foreigners off the throne but it created problems if there was no male heir. Before Louis’ birth the Bourbon line had come uncomfortably close to extinction. Louis himself only raised one legitimate child and was succeeded by his great-grandson (his son, grandson and one great-grandson predeceased him).

In his Memoirs, begun in 1661 for his son, the Dauphin. Louis set out a view of himself as a wise ruler, appointed by God, a glorious prince, dedicated to the pursuit of la gloire (glory, reputation). His reign coincided with the greatest period of French cultural and political dominance Рle grand si̬cle.