The Wars of Louis XIV in Treaties (Part VI): The Truce of Regensburg (1684)
By: Randall Lesaffer
By the time his delegates made peace at Nijmegen [Nimeguen] in 1678 and 1679 with his enemies, Louis XIV (1638–1715) had long since scaled down his ambitions for war from subduing the Dutch Republic to making territorial gains on France’s northern and eastern borders against the Spanish Netherlands and the Empire. The Sun King’s territorial desires were now largely dictated by the new military strategy of surrounding France with a double line of fortresses—the so called pre-carré of Louis’s trusted military adviser and architect Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban (1633–1707). In this light, the territorial gains made at Nijmegen left the French government unsatisfied.
France’s success at Nijmegen had been made possible by the concentration of its military power against the Spanish Netherlands at the end of the war and its ability to blackmail its different enemies into peace one after another. In the following years, Louis XIV and his followers construed a strategy of expansion which was clearly inspired on these two pillars: avoid the reformation of a grand coalition against France and utilize concentrated military force for clear, attainable targets. The key to this strategy was trying to strike a balance between gradual but determined expansion without provoking a new war.
In the years after the Peace of Nijmegen, the French government rolled out a policy which aimed at securing some important towns along France’s northern border with the Spanish Netherlands, such as Kortrijk, Diksmuide, and above all Luxemburg, and in Lorraine and Alsace, where Strasburg with its major bridge over the Rhine was the ultimate prize. For many of these places, albeit not for Luxemburg and Strasburg, Louis XIV could make use and abuse of the legal obscurities and indeterminacies that were relics of the peace treaties of Nijmegen and older compacts, including the Peace of Münster of 24 October 1648 (1 CTS 271). Immediately following the peace, Louis’s lawyers, archivists, and diplomats began to raise demands based on the general principle of customary law that any cession of a town or fortress included all the lands, villages, and hamlets that legally depended upon it. Because of the often complex and diffuse allocation of different layers and dimensions of jurisdiction—secular, clerical, feudal, fiscal—these demands opened a Pandora’s box of claims and counterclaims. Therefore, when Louis’s advisers raised new demands to round off France’s territorial gains, the individual actions were in no way uncommon in and of themselves. What was uncommon, however, was how organized, how systematic, how relentless, how unilateral, and how limitless their drive for more lands was. Whereas for the northern border, the process was one of making unilateral demands and then sending troops to occupy the claimed fortresses and territories, for the eastern border—where the legal situation was much more complex—a more elaborate instrument was established. Shortly after peace had been made at Nijmegen with the Empire (5 February 1679, 15 CTS 1), Louis XIV had three special tribunals—the Chambres de Réunion—established at Metz, Breisach, and Besançon to examine and execute his claims on territories in Alsace, Lorraine, and the Franche-Comté. A major bone of contention here arose from the indeterminacy of the concessions the emperor had made to France for Alsace in the Peace of Münster (24 October 1648, paragraph 74, 1 CTS 271). After long and delicate negotiations at the Westphalia conference, the contenders had agreed to disagree on whether the cession of Alsace implied that the immediate vassals of the emperor in the region retained their allegiance to the Empire or whether they were brought fair and square under the full sovereignty of France. This and other doubts were now quickly dashed as the Chambres produced their verdicts and troops were sent to execute them.
The years 1681 to 1684 saw France make significant progress. Large tracts of the County of Flanders and the Duchy of Brabant in the Spanish Netherlands were occupied while Luxemburg was repeatedly besieged and finally taken in June 1684. In the east, the campaign also made great progress, with the occupation of Strasburg in September 1681 as the French army’s boldest and most successful move. Meanwhile, Casale, a key fortress belonging to the dukes of Mantua, was also occupied, and this occupation granted France a stranglehold on the Duchy of Savoy and an easy entrance into the northern Italian plains.
The diplomatic map of Europe in the five years after the Peace of Nijmegen left Louis XIV with the space to make these manoeuvres relatively unopposed and with little trepidation about provoking a general war. The Dutch Stadholder, William III (1650–1702), had the most reasons to fear Louis XIV. Not only did he see the shrinking of the buffer zone between the Dutch Republic and France’s armies that was the Spanish Netherlands, but moreover the fierce prosecution of the French Huguenots—culminating in the 1685 revocation of the Edict of Nantes of 1598 that had secured some level of tolerance for them—confirmed suspicions that the Sun King had grand ambitions to overthrow the order of Europe and would one day, as the champion of a renewed Catholic Counter-Reformation, aim his arrows at the Protestant powers, first and foremost the Republic, once again. But William III found himself with little support either within or outside the Republic to resume or even threaten war. The British king Charles II (1630–1685) was locked in a battle to secure the succession of his Catholic brother James, Duke of York (1633–1701), and was keeping the lines of support from Versailles open. In the east, the Emperor Leopold I (1640–1705) was hampered by the fact that some of the most powerful estates of the Empire—above all Brandenburg—were in alliance with France, while the invasion of Hungary and the siege of Vienna by the Ottomans in 1682–1683 impeded any chance for an intervention in the West. Despite France’s aggression, William III could do nothing beyond signing alliance treaties with Sweden (Treaty of The Hague, 10 October 1681, 16 CTS 133), the emperor, and Spain, but stood aside when the Spanish Netherlands were invaded time and again, both before and after the alliance was signed. When Spain declared war on France in late 1683, William III saw himself forced to remain neutral and renege on his alliance with Madrid. Abandoned by its allies, the Spanish Monarchy was no match for France and saw large tracts of the Spanish Netherlands—including the city of Luxemburg—fall while Catalonia was invaded. However, the lifting of the siege of Vienna in September 1683 by a rescue expedition led by the Polish King Jan Sobieski (1629–1696)—despite French diplomacy’s best efforts to convince him not to intervene—provided a sign that Louis’s run of good fortune was coming to its end.
In 1684, the French government decided to cash in on its gains and try to consolidate them at the negotiation table. Leopold I proved a willing accomplice, as he still wanted to avoid war with France in order to concentrate on the now-promising war against the Ottomans. With little or no back-up from The Hague or Vienna and under the threat of a new French offensive, in August 1684 the Spanish government saw no alternative but to accept the treaty that had been proposed by France.
On 15 August, the Spanish plenipotentiaries signed a twenty years’ truce with France at Regensburg [Ratisbon] (17 CTS 151), as did their imperial counterparts (17 CTS 127). Under the treaties, France would retain Strasburg and Luxemburg and certain other places, but would return Kortrijk and Diksmuide. The treaty failed to solidify France’s territorial gains, or its restitutions, in an eternal peace. By settling for a temporary truce of twenty years—a solution which France had proposed—the territorial concessions were made only for the duration of the truce and all sides reserved their claims and alleged rights for future reference. It was clear that all parties expected new wars to erupt over these lands. For Louis XIV the truce meant that the important conquest of Strasburg and Luxemburg would be legally secured against an immediate attempt at recapture by a grand coalition while he kept his options open to make new demands in the future. For his opponents, the truce created a new platform on which to rebuild their coalition.
Derek Croxton, Westphalia. The Last Christian Peace (New York: Palgrave Macmillan 2013).
Randall Lesaffer, Erik-Jan Broers, and Johanna Waelkens, ‘From Antwerp to Munster (1609/1648): Truce and Peace under the Law of Nations’, in Randall Lesaffer (ed.), The Twelve Years Truce (1609). Peace, Truce, War and Law in the Low Countries at the Turn of the 17th Century (Leiden and Boston: Brill/Nijhoff 2014) 233–55.
John A. Lynn, The Wars of Louis XIV 1667–1714 (Modern Wars in Perspective; London and New York: Longman 1999).
Wout Troost, William III, the Stadholder-King. A Political Biography (Aldershot: Ashgate 2005).
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