After the death of Cardinal Mazarin in 1661, Louis XIV decided to rule by himself. By 1684, Louis’ foreign policy had enabled him to make significant gains in terms of land, gloire and hegemony. As a result, Louis was able to considerably increase national security and French status in Europe. While between 1559 and 1661 France was the sick man of Europe and constantly exploited and invaded, there had been no question of that during Louis’ personal rule. In the 17th century, France was surrounded by the Hapsburg countries of Spain and the Holy Roman Empire (Circle of Burgundy).
This made Louis feel unsafe and threatened. With the added factor of the Bourbon-Hapsburg dynastic struggle, Louis had to somehow improve his country’s security and make sure that France wouldn’t be abused or invaded by the encircling Hapsburg powers. In terms of land, Louis was able to make strategically important gains after the two wars and the Policy of Reunions. In the Treaty of Aix-La-Chapelle, which ended the War of Devolution, Louis gained land in the Spanish Netherlands, namely Dunkirk, Aire, Lille, Tournai, and Charleroi.
These areas strengthened the north-eastern border which had been the entrance for the Spanish invasion during the Frondes. Similarly, France retained Franche-Comte and towns in Flanders, such as Ypres, from the Treaty of Nymegen which had ended the Dutch War. These gains strengthened the eastern border and broke parts of the Circle of Burgundy (the Hapsburg encirclement of France). Likewise, Louis used the Policy of Reunions to claim land on the north-eastern and eastern border, most notably Strasbourg in Alsace. This policy gave the impression of Louis as an arbiter in Europe.
These gains strengthened a vulnerable north-eastern and eastern border which was important for French national security. These borders had originally been illogical and difficult to defend due to the lack of natural boundaries such as mountains and rivers (Louis had hoped to push his boundaries as far north as The Rhine). Therefore, these gains helped Louis to construct a more defensive frontier and at the same time provide a springboard for future expansion. Another of Louis’ key achievements in foreign policy was the increased gloire for both himself and his country. This can be seen in many ways.
Both the War of Devolution and the Dutch War enlarged his gloire because of the effectiveness of the French military machine during the wars and the diplomatic machine in preparation for the wars. The Policy of Reunions had highlighted French supremacy in Europe and allowed Louis to be an arbiter. All this suggests that France was the most powerful country in Europe at the time. Louis’ gloire can be seen through his influence in other countries. For example, he gave Charles II of England subsidies which ensured that England remained neutral at the beginning of the Dutch War.
The increasing Bourbon supremacy over the Hapsburgs also demonstrates Louis’ enhanced gloire. With his gains in Franche-Comti?? and Spanish Netherlands, Louis was demolishing the Circle of Burgundy. This was crucial because it diminished the influence of the Hapsburg powers, particularly the Holy Roman Emperor. Because of the nature of his foreign affairs and the successfulness of his diplomatic machine, Louis and France were able to have greater influence in the domestic affairs of other countries. For example, the Versailles system of government became widely admired and copied by leaders of other countries.
French had also become the polite language of many other courts including St. Petersburg. This suggests that France had gained a respected status in Europe which boosted Louis’ gloire. On the whole, Louis’ achievements were tremendous. He had strengthened a vulnerable country while being surrounded by jealous enemies in an unstable Europe. These achievements had resulted in the Parlement de Paris giving him the title of Louis the Great. Louis’ gains in land were remarkable and it had helped to fortify France greatly.
However, this success did not guarantee that France would still have those areas in the future; it did not ensure French national security in the future. On the other hand, the success in terms of increased gloire will always be remembered in the future regardless of France’s situation then; people will always remember Louis’ success over these years. Therefore, it would appear that the enhanced gloire was the most important achievement of Louis’ actions between 1661 and 1684. France was able to achieve this success by a combination her strengths and the weaknesses of her enemies.
Cardinal Mazarin had won peace with the Holy Roman Emperor through the Peace of Westphalia and Spain via the Treaty of the Pyrenees. The Thirty Year’s War had exhausted both Spain and the Holy Roman Empire. Spain had suffered from decades of total warfare meanwhile the Holy Roman Empire faced permanent threat from the Turks in the East. This implies that France’s two greatest rivals could not counter her. Meanwhile other countries also had other problems. For example, Charles II of England wanted to secure his standing at home without running into difficulty with his parliament, especially over money.
So Louis gave Charles money which ensured English support. Sweden was in a period of Regency which meant that it was vulnerable. In the United Provinces, there was tension between the two parties. This meant other powers in Europe could not oppose France’s actions. Overall, France had made associations with other powers in Europe which restricted them from allying with the Hapsburg powers even though Spain was already declining and the Treaty of Westphalia had ended the growth of the Holy Roman Empire.
Unlike her rivals, France was emerging as a strong nation with a large supply of useful resources and a robust government by means of extremely capable ministers who unified the country. France was agriculturally rich by means of a plentiful supply of fertile land. She also had a huge population which meant that tax revenue was sufficient to support a large army. Louis also had a remarkable team of ministers and generals who were arguably the best in Europe at the time. Colbert made France economically stronger and reformed the navy. The Army was reformed by Le Tellier and Louvois.
During wartime, Turenne and Condi?? frequently led France to victory. Finally, Vauban worked hard to fortify the gained areas. France also had the advantage of being united by both government and ideology. France was an absolutist state with a monarch who did not share power with any representative assembly. This was maintained by the religious harmony in France; any opposition was crushed. Altogether, this made France one formidable country and suggested that France was going to be a great power in Europe. Furthermore, Europe was disunited.
Spain was involved in a war with Portugal. England and the United Provinces fought over trade. Since these wars did not involve France, she could take advantage of this situation which would enhance her standing in Europe. Therefore, upon Louis’ ascension to the throne in 1661, there was a power vacuum in Europe favourable for France to explore. Other nations had other problems to deal with and did not have the advantages which France enjoyed. Louis’ success in foreign affairs was absolutely great. However, this success had also created many setbacks for Louis.
His accomplishments had resulted in the creation of anti-French coalitions such as the 1st Grand Alliance of the Hague between Spain, Holy Roman Empire, Brandenburg and Lorraine. These alliances had proved that Louis’ power and ambitions could be curbed. He also made a number of enemies, most notably William of Orange who became the soul of any future anti-French coalitions. This implies that the success had brought Europe together against France. This could damage France’s situation in the future, since at the beginning of Louis’ reign there was relative disunity in Europe.
Similarly, his actions had created a lot of resentment from other countries; other countries felt offended because of the way France had treated them. In the Policy of Reunions, Louis had simply taken land away from other states. This provided a motive for those countries to fight back in the future. However, most importantly, Louis’ foreign policy had changed from that of the Cardinals. Both Cardinal Richilieu and Mazarin had used the Protestant powers of Europe to control the Catholics powers, specifically Spain and the Holy Roman Empire.
They had employed this policy extremely effectively. Louis’ attack on the Dutch in 1672, however, signified a change from this policy. This attack had offended the Dutch and other Protestant states, such as the Elector of Brandenburg, who formed alliances with the Catholic powers, namely Spain. This suggests that Europe was becoming united against France, which could harm France’s international situation in the future. Before France had used the Protestant powers to keep the Hapsburgs in check, whereas now the Hapsburgs are using the Protestant powers to restrain France.
Although all these setbacks were important, it would appear that the creation of anti-French coalitions was the most important setback to Louis. These alliances had already revealed how Louis’ ambitions could be limited. Plus, they had also brought unity in Europe which diminished the power vacuum in Europe and France’s ability to be an arbiter. Other setbacks, such as resentment from other states, were not as important because they did not affect France’s future as much as the anti-French coalitions.
In conclusion, Louis’ gains during these years are of unquestionable greatness. He had strengthened a nation, in the middle of a warlike race while being surrounded by jealous enemies, by acquiring land in weak areas and increasing his influence in other states. However, this greatness came at a huge cost to France’s international status in the future. Due to the manner of his acquisitions, other powers had come together and formed anti-French coalitions. This meant that France had more challenges facing her in the years to come, if she were to retain her standing in Europe.