This war began in 1688 and went until 1697 and is sometimes called the War of the Grand Alliance or, on the American continent, King William's War. It accomplished virtually nothing. As for combatants, on the one side there were the aggressive French and on the other was the rest of Europe, which had grown increasingly weary of France's inordinate Frenchness.

Of course, this war wasn't actually fought over Frenchness. Louis XIV, French ruler at the time, had had designs on the rest of the European continent for some time indeed, especially the Holy Roman Empire and Germany. In 1688, Emperor Leopold I was out of the country campaigning against the Ottoman Turks when Louis XIV got to talking to King James II of England. James and Louis decided that they would really like a piece of Germany, and Louis went ahead and sent his troops to raid German territory, almost reaching Munich.

Of course, by that time, James II had been overthrown and replaced by King William III, formerly prince of Orange. He not only didn't want Louis to invade Germany, he didn't want it bad enough to declare war on France. The same is true not only of the Holy Roman Empire and a large number of small German states, but also Holland, naturally enough backing William III, as well as Spain, a country which had been closely tied to the Holy Roman Empire at least since the time of Phillip II. The Duke of Savoy got into the act as well, as did Sweden, apparently. The whole bunch all decided that they were sick and tired of France's armed forces constantly trying to bully the entire European continent, so under the name The League of Augsburg everyone prepared to stick it to King Louis XIV.

France had decided as soon as the war began that its four primary frontiers, all of which bordered a hostile power, needed to be shored up. Of the four frontiers (Spanish, Italian, the Rhine, and Dutch), the Rhine was the weakest, so the French decided to ensure that no armies would be able to pass there. What followed was a rather ill-advised attempt by the French cavalry to destroy all means of subsistence for an army in the Rhenish Palatinate. I say ill-advised because the French lost something along the lines of 4000 cavalrymen during this action, mostly because looting soldiers have a lot more reason to desert with both their lives and a hunk of valuable loot than to stay and maybe get paid and shot in the head. Not only were simple manpower resources depleted this way, but the opposition thus aroused in Germany greatly intensified anti-French feeling as well as support and solidarity (especially important in then-fragmented Germany) for the war. The strategy not only failed in those senses, but when the newly renamed Grand Alliance captured a few important Rhenish towns the French were put on the defensive, thereby eliminating most advantages gained from the devastation of the Rhenish Palatinate.

From here on, the course of the war is frustrating for everyone involved. France, in an effort to keep William III from leading English troops against France on the European continent, supported an uprising in Ireland in 1690. The battle of the Boyne effectively ended that gambit, though. Also in 1690, the French defeated an unlucky and outgunned Anglo-Dutch fleet whose failure to form properly for battle allowed the ships to be outflanked by the French. This brief advantage was totally lost, however, when the English and Dutch won the battle of La Hogue in 1692, effectively ruling the oceans for the rest of the war as well as repelling any French invasions of England. The French, blockaded in their ports, then proceeded to raid the Alliance's merchant marine using smaller ships that were more maneuverable, capturing about 4000 vessels in the course of the war.

The war also penetrated the New World, and French colonists in the region of the Hudson Bay began to attack English settlements and the French in the Mohawk-St. Lawrence areas began to attack the native Iroquois. Although each side had major military successes and failures, each giving a sizable portion of its territory to the enemy, the end of the war brought a return to the way things were before, meaning that King William's War accomplished nothing whatsoever in the Americas.

The French fielded several armies simultaneously and did not fare poorly considering the number of states against them. Although they did lose control of the sea as previously stated, the French managed to win several decisive land battles that eventually brought a stalemated end to the war. Their best commander, the hunchbacked duke of Luxembourg, was deployed in the Netherlands and managed to defeat not only the Dutch at Fleurus in 1690 via a brilliant encirclement around a village and through a forest but also William III at both Steenkerke and Neerwinden in 1692 and 1693, respectively.

On other fronts, the French managed to add enough nickle-and-dime successes together that they eventually drew a stalemate. French troops successfully penetrated Spain at one point, even besieging Barcelona. France also successfully repelled an Allied invasion in the southeast. The Alliance and France had been duking it out in Italy, each gaining and losing enormous tracts of land on any given day, until the Alliance almost accidentally invaded southeastern France. The Allied commanders had so much trouble with the very hostile French peasantry, though, that they were unable to obtain enough food to feed their army and were forced to retreat back into Italy just to find a decent restaraunt. France additionally managed to capture Namur in 1692 and defeat the duke of Savoy the next year quite decisively.

This war reminds me of World War I in many ways, not the least of which is its end. In keeping with the futility of most of the exercise, the war ended mostly because of the fact that everyone was just plain tired of it. When the duke of Savoy left the Grand Alliance in 1696, the Alliance decided to engage in peace talks which concluded a year later in 1697 with the Treaty of Ryswick. This treaty gave Strasbourg to France but returned all other conquests from after 1679 to their rightful owners. The Dutch got trade concessions, and Savoy's independence was officially recognized. William III also got a clause thrown in about how he was the rightful ruler of England, as well.

The war in general was fairly inconclusive. On the one hand, the French didn't manage to conquer Europe and did get to display the fact that they aren't total military failures. On the other, this war accomplished virtually nothing other than keeping everyone in Germany from having to speak French. All in all, the world probably could've done alright if this one hadn't ever happened, in my humble opinion.

and Archer Jones' excellent book, The Art of War in the Western World.

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