Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Nine Years' War

William’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

In February 1689 the Dutch declared war on France. In May a Grand Alliance was singed between the Republic, England, Spain, Sweden, Savoy and the Holy Roman Emperor. In the same month England and Scotland entered the Nine Years’ War against France.

The war began badly when in May 1690 the French defeated a combined Anglo-Dutch fleet off Beachy Head, which gave them command of the Channel, and highlighted the constant danger of a French backed Jacobite invasion, a threat only partly ameliorated by the defeat of the French in the Bay of La Hogue in May 1692.

The result of the early set-back was a massive ship-building programme. In 1660 the navy comprised 156 ships; in 1688 173; in 1702 224; in 1710 313. By 1713 the British navy was the largest and strongest in the world. The navy supported over 40,000 men. The army comprised 70,000 of which 20,000 were foreigners. Average expenditure on the armed forces reached £2.5 million per annum.

The Nine Years’ War was a war of prolonged sieges fought mainly in the Spanish Netherlands. It was a war of attrition and ended with all parties in a state of exhaustion. It was ended by the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697. Louis recognised William as king of Great Britain (without fully abandoning James’s claims) and abandoned his conquests in the Netherlands and the Rhineland since 1688.

But the treaty failed to resolve the dominating question of late 17th century Europe: what would happen to Spain when Carlos II died. There were three candidates for the throne: the Imperial, the Bavarian, and the French. Two partition treaties of 1698 and 1700 tried to settle the issue by providing for the division of the Spanish Empire after Carlos’s death, but nobody bothered to consult the poor sick king.