French-Dutch War Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Making claims to territory and citing economic grievances, Louis XIV invaded the Netherlands. The Dutch people soon rioted and made William of Orange hereditary monarch, while gaining the support of Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, and Brandenburg. The French retreated and eventually ended hostilities by signing the Treaty of Nijmegen in 1678.

Summary of Event

In the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle Aix-la-Chapelle, Treaty of (1668)[Aix la Chapelle, Treaty of (1668)] that ended the War of Devolution Devolution, War of (1667-1668) on May 2, 1668, King Louis XIV Louis XIV;Spain and of France received several Spanish territories. The French were to withdraw from Franche-Comté and return several towns and territories in Flanders and Hainault, notably Cambrai and Saint-Omer. The French kept Lille, Oudenarde, Tournai, and nine other cities along their northern frontier. To guarantee Spain’s interests if Louis should overstep these territorial gains, Sweden, Spain, and the United Provinces of the Netherlands (the Dutch Republic) formed the Triple Alliance, also called the Grand Alliance. [kw]French-Dutch War (Apr. 6, 1672-Aug. 10, 1678)[French Dutch War] [kw]War, French-Dutch (Apr. 6, 1672-Aug. 10, 1678) Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Apr. 6, 1672-Aug. 10, 1678: French-Dutch War[2470] Government and politics;Apr. 6, 1672-Aug. 10, 1678: French-Dutch War[2470] Economics;Apr. 6, 1672-Aug. 10, 1678: French-Dutch War[2470] Expansion and land acquisition;Apr. 6, 1672-Aug. 10, 1678: French-Dutch War[2470] Belgium;Apr. 6, 1672-Aug. 10, 1678: French-Dutch War[2470] Netherlands;Apr. 6, 1672-Aug. 10, 1678: French-Dutch War[2470] Germany;Apr. 6, 1672-Aug. 10, 1678: French-Dutch War[2470] French-Dutch War (1672-1678)[French Dutch War (1672-1678)]

From 1668 to 1672, Louis had worked to isolate the Dutch, agreeing in principle with the English to attack the United Provinces. He also increased maritime pressure on the Dutch, paid the Swedes to block German aid to the Dutch in the event of hostilities, and fostered alliances with north German states. In 1671, Louis formally complained that Dutch bans on French products constituted economic retaliation, and he secretly prepared for war. Early in 1672, he added Cologne to Münster as German allies, and, on March 23, an English fleet opened the Third Anglo-Dutch War Anglo-Dutch War, Third (1672-1674)[Anglo Dutch War, Third (1672-1674)] by attacking the Dutch Levant fleet near the Isle of Wight. On April 6, Louis, too, declared war on the United Provinces.

Immediately, Viscount de Turenne Turenne took 23,000 French troops down the Sambre River and headed for Maastricht, while the Great Condé Condé, The Great led 30,000 French troops in an occupation of Lorraine, eventually meeting Turenne at Visé on the Meuse. The Dutch pulled back from their Rhineland fortresses in Cleves to protect Maastricht. On May 18, Münster declared war on the Dutch, with Cologne following suit shortly after. Meanwhile, a French fleet under the command of the comte d’Estrée was sailing to join the English fleet under James, the duke of York (the future King James II James II (king of England) ). Dutch Admiral Michiel Adriaanszoon de Ruyter Ruyter, Michiel Adriaanszoon de could not act quickly enough to prevent their joining forces, but he did manage to attack, divide, and badly damage the combined forces at Solebay on June 6. This Dutch victory temporarily prevented any Anglo-French naval interference in Dutch waters.

The French armies decided to bypass heavily defended Maastricht, isolating it and proceeding up the Rhine River through underdefended Cleves. Turenne mopped up the defenses on the left bank, and Condé those on the right. Münster invaded the Dutch provinces of Overijssel and Lingen, and, on June 11, the French army reunited at Emmerich near Arnhem. Outnumbered three to one and outflanked by the French, the Dutch field army retreated into the Netherlands proper, toward Utrecht, and was closely followed by the French. Though this greatly tightened the Dutch lines of communication and supply and presented a much more compact front, the Dutch government determined that it was necessary to open the sluices of the dikes and flood the polders, creating a water barrier between the French and the Dutch provinces of Holland, Zeeland, and Utrecht. This effectively halted the French advance, and so Louis symbolically departed from the army on August 1, to keep from being personally tainted by a defeat. Farther east, Cologne and Münster moved into the provinces of Groningen and Friesland, so that by early fall, nearly two-thirds of Dutch territory was in enemy hands.

The French, seeking land it thought was rightfully theirs, attacked the province of Holland, setting off another war between France and the Dutch Republic. In this depiction, the French pillage a Dutch village in 1672.

(Francis R. Niglutsch)

The military retreat was devastating to the Dutch people. They responded by rioting in Utrecht and Arnhem immediately before the French arrived in mid-June. In Holland and Zeeland, terrified people rebelled against the States Party, led by Johan de Witt Witt, Johan de , that controlled the country. The aristocratic leaders of the party openly advocated capitulation in late June, while the middle- and lower-class Dutch favored continued resistance. Riots broke out in Delft, Gouda, Rotterdam, and Scheidam on June 29, with rioters demanding that William of Orange William III (king of England) , leader of the opposition Orangist Party, be made stadtholder, or supreme military commander. Zeeland voted for William on July 2, Holland voted for him the next day, and others followed. In captured cities, Louis granted religious freedom but insisted on installing Catholic clergy in major churches, which was clearly a slap at the Calvinist hegemony.

French plundering of the countryside led to further resentment and antigovernment rioting in Amsterdam, Delft, Haarlem, and Leiden in early September. The unseated de Witt was murdered by an angry mob in The Hague on August 20. The Holy Roman Empire, and Brandenburg’s Frederick William, the Great Elector Frederick William, the Great Elector —angered by the French violation of Cleves—had pledged assistance to the Dutch in late spring. By fall, their moves against the Rhineland diverted Louis’s attention from the stagnant “water line” in the Netherlands and forced Cologne’s army into a defensive mode.

The French campaign that began in the spring of 1673 focused on taking Maastricht, Maastricht, Battle of (1673) which it did on June 30. A renewed attempt by a joint Anglo-French fleet to secure the Dutch coast for a military landing was brilliantly thwarted by de Ruyter off the Zeeland coast on June 14, and again a week later near Schoneveldt. A fourth naval defeat—at Texel Texel, Battle of (1673) on August 21—forced the English to sue for peace, marking the end of the Third Anglo-Dutch War with the signing of a peace treaty on February 19, 1674.

In late summer, 1673, Spain and the Holy Roman Empire joined the Dutch in the Hague Convention Hague Convention , and William III went on the offensive. Allied armies freed Naarden and attacked Cologne. Louis moved his armies back from the water line, abandoned Utrecht, and sued for peace as well. Unwilling to leave Louis in possession of so much of the Netherlands, the allies rejected his offer. In April, 1674, the allies forced Münster out of the war, and by June, Louis held only Maastricht and Grave in Dutch territory.

On May 28, the German diet declared war on France, and soon after Denmark provided support, too. William’s army of 65,000 men unsuccessfully battled Condé’s 45,000 French troops around Grave, while Turenne managed to parry an imperial thrust in the Rhineland led by Count Aeneas Caprara Caprara, Aeneas . Turenne beat the imperial forces at Sinzheim Sinzheim, Battle of (1674) (June 16), later laying waste to much of the Palatinate and threatening Heidelberg. Granted a greatly enlarged army, Turenne defeated a much stronger imperial and Brandenburger army at Enzheim Enzheim, Battle of (1674) (October 4) and again in a daring midwinter attack near Colmar.

Despite England’s withdrawal, French naval forces continued to harry Dutch shipping, seriously interfering with Dutch commerce, depressing their economy, and forcing them to maintain high levels of taxation. Turenne died in 1675 at Nieder Sasbach, the same year the French retreated from the Rhineland, and in 1676, William attempted a siege of Maastricht, which was unsuccessful. In 1677, the French invaded the Spanish Netherlands again, seizing Valenciennes, Cambrai, and Saint Omer in a series of classic sieges directed by Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban Vauban, Sébastien Le Prestre de . William, with an army of 30,000 allied troops, tried desperately and unsuccessfully to retake Saint Omer at the Battle of Mont Cassel Mont Cassel, Battle of (1677) (April 11). In November, William married Mary Stuart Mary II (queen of England);marriage of (the future Queen Mary II), which led to an Anglo-Dutch treaty of defense (January 10, 1678) and put him in line for the English throne, which he gained in 1689.

Maneuvering before the inevitable peace negotiations, Louis besieged Ghent and Ypres in the spring of 1678 and offered peace terms on April 15. In the Treaties of Nijmegen, Nijmegen, Treaties of (1678-1679) he dealt with the Dutch (August 10), with Spain (September 17), and with the empire (February 6, 1679). Louis’s gains in the Spanish Netherlands included Franche-Comté, Valencienes, Cambrai, Aire, Saint Omer, Ypres, Condé, and Bouchain.


For all of Louis’s expenditures, his territorial gains were minimal. However, the territories he gained were strategically important, providing him with a deeper buffer and advanced line of defense. For the Dutch, however, the war brought important political and economic changes. During the more than six-year war, many merchants took flight from Amsterdam, and with them went a great deal of portable capital from the city, which led to its weakening as Europe’s financial center. The Dutch countryside was ravaged not only by the French armies but also by defensive flooding. On the positive side, de Ruyter’s naval campaigns effectively ended the Anglo-Dutch naval wars and curbed English naval pretensions—for the moment.

Constitutionally, the United Provinces fell into the hands of William of Orange, who would soon become King William III of England, uniting the interests of the two states. The replacement of the ruling aristocracy with a virtual monarch would prove a significant development in the history of the Dutch state. Furthermore, the United Provinces greatly enlarged and strengthened its army and fortifications, providing a far more effective defensive posture in the face of Louis’s continued hostility and desire for territorial aggrandizement.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Chartrand, René, and Francis Back. Louis XIV’s Army. London: Osprey, 1996. A well-illustrated account of the weapons, uniforms, and tactics of Louis’s military.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Childs, John. Warfare in the Seventeenth Century. London: Cassell, 2001. A broad discussion of warfare in the era, with specific treatments of the 1672 campaigns, the Battle of Maastricht, and Turenne’s Rhineland campaigns in 1674-1675.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Israel, Jonathan. The Dutch Republic: Its Rise, Greatness, and Fall, 1477-1806. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Provides a well-developed discussion of the war’s background, military phases, and effects on the Dutch state.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lynn, John A. The Wars of Louis XIV. New York: Longman, 1999. Provides a detailed study of the war in its various military and diplomatic phases.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

The Great Condé; Frederick William, the Great Elector; James II; Louis XIV; Mary II; Michiel Adriaanszoon de Ruyter; Viscount de Turenne; Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban; William III. French-Dutch War (1672-1678)[French Dutch War (1672-1678)]

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