War of Devolution Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Determined to expand France’s boundaries north and east, King Louis XIV used an ancient legal inheritance statute as a pretext for attacking the Spanish Netherlands and Franche-Comté. Though successful militarily, the French saw their full ambitions stymied by the Triple Alliance of 1668 and had to surrender most of their gains in the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.

Summary of Event

King Louis XIV Louis XIV likely was never really in love with his wife, Marie-Thérèse Marie-Thérèse , daughter of King Philip IV Philip IV (king of Spain) of Spain. The marriage had been arranged during his minority by Queen Mother Anne of Austria Anne of Austria and Chief Minister Jules Mazarin Mazarin, Jules for diplomatic and political reasons, and King Louis (who really was in love with Marie Mancini, Mancini, Marie Mazarin’s niece) considered it to be little more than part of his dynastic duty. However, upon Philip IV’s death in 1665, the French saw the opportunity to exploit his marriage to Marie-Thérèse to expand France’s boundaries. [kw]War of Devolution (May 24, 1667-May 2, 1668) [kw]Devolution, War of (May 24, 1667-May 2, 1668) Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;May 24, 1667-May 2, 1668: War of Devolution[2310] Diplomacy and international relations;May 24, 1667-May 2, 1668: War of Devolution[2310] Expansion and land acquisition;May 24, 1667-May 2, 1668: War of Devolution[2310] Belgium;May 24, 1667-May 2, 1668: War of Devolution[2310] France;May 24, 1667-May 2, 1668: War of Devolution[2310] Devolution, War of (1667-1668)

The legal concept of “devolution” became the crux of Louis XIV’s claims to territories administered under the Spanish crown. Lawyers for the French court argued that the inheritance laws of Brabant, and some of the other provinces of the Spanish Netherlands (modern Belgium) and Franche-Comté specified that any children of a first marriage (including daughters) took precedence over children of any subsequent marriage (even over males). The French advocates submitted to the Spanish Council of Regency that the successor to Philip IV, the child-king Charles II Charles II (king of Spain) , was the child of Philip’s second marriage, to his cousin Mariana de Austria Mariana de Austria . On the other hand, the infanta (heir) Marie-Thérèse was the eldest daughter of Philip IV through his first marriage to Isabella (Elizabeth) of France; and therefore, even though Charles II was entitled to rule Spain under the inheritance laws of that country, Spanish possessions in the Netherlands should rightfully fall to Marie-Thérèse (and, in effect, to Louis XIV) under the statutes of devolution. When the regents rejected the idea, Louis XIV began making plans for war against Spain.

France believed it was necessary to neutralize England, which had a long history of interest and involvement in the Spanish Netherlands. The Stuart king, Charles II, was secretly given a subsidy by Louis, in return for a pledge of noninvolvement, good for one year. The new war minister, François-Michel Le Tellier, Louvois, marquis de had been organizing and equipping a massive army, which Louis deployed along the northern border with the Spanish Netherlands, and placed it under the command of his most accomplished marshal, Henri de La Tour d’Auvergne, Turenne Turenne . On May 24, 1667, Turenne, with King Louis riding alongside, crossed the border and encountered little effective resistance. Overrunning the provinces of Flanders and Hainault, French forces saw major fighting only at the city of Lille, which was besieged by Turenne from September 16 to September 26 1667, when it was finally taken by storm.

The phenomenal success of the French army, however, began to alarm Johan de Witt, Witt, Johan de grand pensionary for the Netherlands. Notwithstanding that the Dutch were at that time engaged in war with England and that Louis XIV had been providing them material assistance, the sudden collapse of Spain in the southern Netherlands meant that there was a genuine potential that the buffer between France and Holland would disappear and that de Witt’s country would have the powerful Bourbon state as its neighbor. To prevent this, de Witt heightened efforts to end the Anglo-Dutch conflict.

England’s king Charles II was himself under pressure from Parliament to take measures to limit growing French influence in the Low Countries, and his secret deal with Louis XIV was soon to expire. Taking the politically pragmatic approach, Charles sent Sir William Temple Temple, Sir William to negotiate with de Witt for an end to the conflict between the Dutch and the English (the Second Anglo-Dutch War), resulting in the Treaty of Breda Breda, Treaty of (1667) on July 31, 1667. (The treaty, ironically, also was fostered by Louis’s top diplomat, Hugues de Lionne Lionne, Hugues de .) Temple was also tasked with determining a course of action with regard to French successes against the Spanish. On January 23, 1668, the Dutch pensionary had forged the Triple (Grand) Alliance Triple Alliance between the United Provinces, England, and Sweden, which had entered into the agreement in return for secretly receiving Dutch subsidies. All was carried under such tight confidentiality that Louis XIV was totally unaware of the extent to which opposition was building against his schemes. At this stage, too, the allied countries limited themselves to rather mild statements urging cessation of hostilities and a negotiated settlement.

In early 1668, King Louis decided to expand hostilities to Spanish Franche-Comté, entrusting this attack to his next leading marshal, Louis II, the Great Condé. Condé, The Great Condé’s army entered the province in February, 1668, and Spanish resistance there proved even more futile: In two weeks, the French were in total control. At this juncture, however, the states of the Triple Alliance assumed a less moderate posture and implied that they might intervene militarily on the Spanish side if the war continued. Taken aback, Louis deeply resented this turn of events but, since Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I Leopold I (Holy Roman Emperor) had secretly given him assurances that the Spanish Empire would be divided between them after the death of Charles II, the French king agreed to come to the peace table.

Deliberations were carried forward during March and April, with de Lionne and Temple assuming prominent roles, and resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle Aix-la-Chapelle, Treaty of (1668)[Aix la Chapelle, Treaty of (1668)] on May 2, 1668. Under the terms of the agreement, the French army withdrew from Franche-Comté (fortifications there were demolished and the province was effectively demilitarized), and gave back certain towns and territories in Flanders and Hainault, notably Cambrai and Saint-Omer. The French were allowed to keep and garrison Lille, Oudenarde, Tournai, and nine other cities along their northern frontier.


Though Louis XIV put Europe on notice that France was willing and able to use its overwhelming military might as a foreign policy instrument, he received his first major international setback. The Triple Alliance of 1668 was a harbinger of the coalitions that would be forged during the course of the next forty-five years as a counterbalance to Louis’s territorial ambitions. In the short term, Louis was so indignant at what he perceived as ingratitude and treachery on the part of the Dutch government that he set about to diplomatically isolate the United Provinces in order to set up a massive military campaign there. The end result was the outbreak of the French-Dutch French-Dutch War (1672-1678)[French Dutch War (1672-1678)] War of 1672-1678.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Doyle, William. Old Regime France, 1648-1788. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. This is a helpful volume that places the war into its overall context. The work is one of the few sources that sets forth the significance of Leopold I’s secret proposal.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Goubert, Pierre. Louis XIV and Twenty Million Frenchmen. New York: Vintage Books, 1972. Goubert gives a good though somewhat limited outline of the events leading up to the conflict. He concentrates, however, on the overall, long-term effects.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lossky, Andrew. Louis XIV and the French Monarchy. New Brunswick, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994. Lossky explains in detail the legal concept of devolution and its implications for French policy.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lynn, John A. The Wars of Louis XIV. New York: Longman, 1999. In spite of the diplomatic setback, the War of Devolution is considered by the author to be one of Louis XIV’s more successful endeavors.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wolf, John B. Toward a European Balance of Power, 1620-1715. Chicago: Rand McNally, 1970. Wolf gives a fine, detailed account of the conflict, though he differs with some historians in seeing Sir William Temple as the actual instigator of the Triple Alliance.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

Charles II (of England); Charles II (of Spain); Jean-Baptiste Colbert; The Great Condé; Leopold I; Louis XIV; The Mancini Sisters; Marie-Thérèse; Philip IV; Viscount de Turenne; William III. Devolution, War of (1667-1668)

Categories: History