Why did the Nine Year War evolve?

Essay, 2015

10 Pages, Grade: 1,3





Conducive Circumstances





The Nine Years’ War, also often called the War of the Grand Alliance was a major war between France and the Grand Alliance. Louis XIV, king of France fought against the Grand Alliance which consisted out of England, Spain, Sweden, Bavaria and the Holy Roman Empire. During the war from 1688-1697 major territories of south-west Germany and of the Palatinate were destroyed. For instance, cities like Mannheim or Heidelberg were completely destroyed. However, this war did not only take place on German ground but also in many different parts of Europe and colonies of the European forces.

This paper will investigate why this war evolved. In order to do this, three factors will be distinguished: Firstly, the causes of the war will be evaluated. Moreover, these causes will be discussed in order to find out whether this military conflict was actually unavoidable or if these causes were used under pretence to start a war. Secondly, the circumstances under which Louis XIV decided to go on a military strike are going to be examined. Thirdly, this essay will make the actual reasons for the outbreak of the war a subject of discussion. The historical background and the French policy and the concept of gloire will be considered in order to understand the motives of Louis XIV. This paper is a research-oriented essay. The points that are mentioned will be analysed on the basis of the research results and critically and controversially discussed. In particular, the work of Roland Vetter, John A. Lynn and Bernd Wunder will be enlarged upon.


The conflict about the Palatinate succession is usually the first cause that one might associate with the Nine Years’ War. Louis XIV raised the illegitimate claim for the legacy of the elector Carlos II who passed away on May the 26th 1865. His sister, Duchess Elisabeth- Charlotte of Orléans was related to Louis XIV by marriage which is why Louis XIV claimed the legacy of Carlos II in her name. However, according to the imperial law the catholic Duke Philipp William of Palatinate-Neuburg was ought to be the inheritor of Carlos’ II legacy.[1] Duchess Elizabeth Charlotte was married to Duke Philipp. In their marriage contract, the Duchess explicitly waived all rights and claims regarding the Palatine legacy. But this was revised by a French legal proceeding on order of Louis XIV.[2] If this issue really was the cause for the outbreak of the war remains to be a controversy among researchers. Roland Vetter argues in his work “Die ganze Stadt ist abgebrannt” (2009) about the Nine Years’ War that this conflict is just pretence for the outbreak. Furthermore, he claims that this conflict can be seen as an inflammable matter for Louvois and the King Louis XIV to start a war.[3] Another historian Bernd Wunder takes on a more extreme view by saying that he believes that the whole legacy conflict had nothing to do with the Nine Years’ War itself.[4]

Another cause for the Nine Years’ War might also be the emulation negotiation for the archdiocese of Cologne. The elector Maximilian Heinrich of Cologne died in June 1688. After that, Louis XIV attempted to assert his protégé cardinal Wilhelm von Fürstenberg to become the new elector. As a result, Fürstenburg did not receive the required two-thirds majority.[5] Cardinal Joseph Clemens from Wittelsbach was the one who successfully won the election. Consequently, Louis XIV had to fear that he might lose his last sympathizer among the electors.[6] For this reason, the French king decided to take military action in 1688. Even though this incident is not always considered as a cause for the war, the historian Christoph Kampmann takes this into account. He believes that if the candidate from Louis XIV had won the election, the war could have been avoided. In fact, he claims that this incident was a deliberate conflict escalation among all the participants.[7]

Above all, the whole political situation during that time has to be considered. The isolation of France was the result of Louis’ policy. The mistrust in the French king increased due to his Reunion policy and the fight against the Protestants. The violent expulsion of the Protestants was a domestic political mistake. Furthermore, the Edict of Fontainebleau or better known as the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in the year 1685 is seen as a crucial domestic political mistake.

Additionally, the Glorious Revolution in England did not proceed very successful. Another aspect why Louis XIV feared the hegemony to be lost was the military success of Kaiser Leopold I against the Ottoman Empire because this meant the rise of the House of Austria. Seemingly, the European forces were acting to the disadvantages of France. These developments evolved in the establishment of the Grand Alliance in 1686. The only solution Louis XIV saw to stop his opponents was war. This thesis is widely known in the field of research. For instance, William Young stated in his book that Louis “launched a preventive war in the Rhineland to secure Cologne as an ally, occupy the strategic fortress of Philippsburg to enhance French security, relieve the Turks from Imperial military pressure in Hungary, and maintain French prestige in Germany”[8] Likewise, Berhard Vogler assumes that the assault on the Palatinate was a preventive move in order to deny an opportunity to attack France.[9] It becomes more and more clear that Louis had more fear of invasion than outlived the lust of conquest. The devastation of the Palatinate would soon become a media event that depictured Louis’ cruelty. Moreover, this incident is perceived to be a symbol for war atrocity.[10] However, research remains divided about this action since paradoxically “Louis’s ultimate goals were essentially defensive [but were] […] pursued […] by aggressive means”.[11]

Conducive Circumstances

The following paragraph will present the factors that favoured Louis XIV to start a war. It can be said that Louis XIV expected advantages from the policy of Jacob II. In fact, People in France hoped for a civil war between the Catholics and the Protestants. As for England there were no intervention expected[12]. This was due to the fact that England was a member of the Grand Alliance since 1689 and therefore taken sides of the Holy Roman Empire. Accordingly, John A. Lynn said in his book “The French Wars 1667-1714. The Sun King at war“ that “Louis misplayed his hand during the Glorious Revolution”.[13] Beyond that, the territorialism in the German Empire was an essential factor for Louis’ decision. Since the reformation, the German Empire was divided and as a result did not stand as a nation. The Holy Roman Empire seemed weakened through the nation’s division and Louis XIV saw the opportunity for military success.[14] In the same way, Lynn believes that Leopold’s authority was limited and could be of great use for the French foreign policy.[15] But the war with the Ottoman Empire has to be considered as well. Despite the military success of the German army in this war Leopold I was occupied in this area. This was a great opportunity for Louis to violently prevail his demands. He even supported the Turks through financial help and military advisors.[16] Louis did not want to leave the German Kaiser enough space to fight the aggressive expansion policy. This thinking can also be associated with the idea of a preventive war. This plan seemed to work out right when the French army did not face any opposition in the first few months of the war. Nevertheless, the course of the war would soon show that Louis XIV greatly misconceived these seemingly beneficial factors.


Now, the reasons for the Nine Years‘ War will be the subject of discussion. Therefore, I will show an interest in the Reunion policy. In the year 1864, the Reunions were for the following 20 years state approved. And so a definitive statement was deferred.[17] Louis XIV wanted to reach the final approval through military pressure. This opinion is according to the historical background obvious and commonly supported in the field of research. Wunder emphasizes that the possession of the territories was Louis’ actual goal.[18]


[1] Pleticha, Heinrich (Publ.): Deutsche Geschichte. Dreißigjähriger Krieg und Absolutismus 1618-1740, Gütersloh 1993, p. 176.

[2] Vogler, Bernhard: Die Politik Ludwigs XIV. im Elsaß und in der Pfalz. In: Fritz, Gerhard / Schurig, Roland: Der Franzoseneinfall 1693 in Südwestdeutschland. Ursachen, Folgen, Probleme. Beiträge des Backnanger Symposions vom 10. und 11. September 1993, Remshalden 1996, p. 22f.

[3] Vetter, Roland: “Die ganze Stadt ist abgebrannt“. Heidelbergs zweite Zerstörung im Pfälzischen Erbfolgekrieg 1693, 3., edited by “Heidelberga deleta“, Karlsruhe 2009, p. 16, 19.

[4] Wunder, Bernd: Kleine Geschichte der Kriege und Festungen am Oberrhein 1630-1945, Karlsruhe 2013, p. 87.

[5] Kampmann, Christoph: Ein großes Bündnis der katholischen Dynastien 1688? Neue Perspektiven auf die Entstehung des Neunjährigen Krieges und der Glorious Revoloution. In: Historische Zeitschrift 294 (2012), p. 45.

[6] Wunder, Bernd: Kriege und Festungen, p. 80.

[7] Kampmann, Christoph: Bündnis der katholischen Dynastien, p. 45.

[8] Young, William: International Politics and Warfare in the Age of Louis XIV and Peter the Great. Lincoln 2004, p. 258.

[9] Vogler, Bernhard: Die Politik Ludwigs XIV., p. 24.

[10] Dosquet, Emelie: Die Verwüstung der Pfalz als (Medien-) Ereignis. Von der rheinländischen Kriegshandlung zum europäischen Skandal. p. 369. In: Rutz, Andreas (Publ.): Krieg uns Kriegserfahrung im Westen des Reiches 1568-1714, Göttingen 2016.

[11] Lynn, John A.: The Wars of Louis XIV 1667-1714, p. 37.

[12] Vetter, Roland: “Die ganze Stadt ist abgebrannt“, p.18.

[13] Lynn, John A.: The French Wars 1667 – 1714. The Sun King at war, Oxford 2002, p. 23.

[14] Vetter, Roland: “Die ganze Stadt ist abgebrannt“, p. 27.

[15] Lynn, John A.: French Wars, p. 25.

[16] Pleticha, Heinrich (Publ..): Deutsche Geschichte, p. 168.

[17] Wunder, Bernd: Kriege und Festungen, p. 79.

[18] Wunder, Bernd: Der Franzoseneinfall von 1693, p. 11.

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Why did the Nine Year War evolve?
University of Trier
Une terre “d’entre-deux”: Lothringen in der Frühen Neuzeit (1500-1815)
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ISBN (Book)
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Elsaß, Lothringen, Geschichte, Frühe Neuzeit, Nine Years War, Sonnenkönig
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Susan Marsland (Author), 2015, Why did the Nine Year War evolve?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/381173


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