Jump to Content Jump to Main Navigation

The Wars of Louis XIV in Treaties (Part III): The Secret Alliance of Dover (1 June 1670)

By: Randall Lesaffer

The diplomatic manoeuvres surrounding the War of Devolution and the Peace of Aachen [Aix-la-Chapelle] had shown the French King Louis XIV (1638–1715) to be strung between his hopes for a peaceful acquisition of the Spanish Netherlands and Franche-Comté through his partition agreement with Emperor Leopold I (1640–1705) and his willingness to overrun them by force. This dilemma did not come to an end with the Peace of Aachen (2 May 1668, 11 CTS 11) but abated as the Spanish boy-king Charles II (1661–1700) continued to beat expectations for his early demise. However, the principal lesson that Louis XIV took from the events of 1667 and 1668 was that, in either of the two scenarios, the Dutch Republic stood in the way of France’s northward expansion. The Republic’s role in forming the Triple Alliance (23 January 1668, 10 CTS 409) and forcing France to accept a premature peace with Spain made up the French king’s mind. Before he could deal with the Spanish Monarchy, he first had to remove the Dutch Republic from the diplomatic equation.

Louis XIV’s assessment was not wrong. The Republic under the leadership of the Holland regents and their foreman, the Grand Pensionary of Holland John de Witt (1625–1672), had made it into the leading maxim of its security policy that the Spanish Netherlands had to be retained as a buffer against France (Gallia amica sed non vicina, ‘France as a friend but not as a neighbour’). The king’s anger and frustration at what he considered the betrayal of a historic ally which thanked its very existence to French support was fuelled by ideological differences. The sun king loathed the republican regime that held power in The Hague since the death of the last Stadholder, William II of Orange (1626–1650). On top of this, the French king received powerful backing in his own government from his major financial aide, Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619–1683). Louis XIV’s powerful minister saw the Dutch Republic’s domineering position in Europe’s maritime trade as the main impediment to the growth of France’s economy. In 1667, he had imposed heavy tariffs on Dutch trade to France, which he would further strengthen after 1670. In this trade war, the Republic, which had nothing to gain from trade restrictions, found itself on the losing side.

From 1668 onwards, Louis XIV and his government plotted war against the United Provinces of the Netherlands. They laid their plans carefully and took time for their preparations. In the following years, the French king gradually expanded his 70,000-man standing army back to a war footing of nearly twice that number. Meanwhile, a diplomatic offensive was launched to isolate the Republic and encircle it with French allies. In order to gain time, Louis XIV sent an experienced diplomat to The Hague, Simon Arnauld de Pomponne (1618–1699). His brief was to ensnare John de Witt in fruitless negotiations about the future of the Spanish Netherlands, assuage Dutch fears, and thus prevent or weaken diplomatic countermeasures.

The linchpin of the French diplomatic strategy was to break up the Triple Alliance of the Republic, the British Monarchy, and Sweden and to bring these allies of the Dutch over to the French side. The Triple Alliance had been a marriage of convenience and had locked two powers which were commercial competitors of the United Provinces into an alliance with them. The Swedish adherence to the alliance was only dictated by the promise of a Spanish subsidy, which had to be advanced by the Dutch. After the Peace of Aachen, Spanish unwillingness to continue the deal made Sweden less willing to stand by its commitment. In the end, Sweden remained on the fence between Paris and The Hague until after France’s game for alliances with Britain and some German powers had played out. In 1671, it abandoned the Triple Alliance, and in the spring of 1672, after France declared war on the Dutch Republic, it made a treaty of alliance with France. Under the Treaty of Stockholm of 14 April 1672 (12 CTS 195), France promised to pay Sweden a subsidy for the upkeep of its army (Articles 20–21). In the secret clauses to the treaty, the Swedes promised to fight any German princes, including the emperor, who would come to the aid of the Dutch. For this, France would pay an additional subsidy (Secret Article 10).

The Franco-Swedish alliance of 1672, however, was one of the last and least significant stones in Louis’s diplomatic wall of encirclement of the Republic. Far more important was the position of the Republic’s German neighbours, and of the British Monarchy.

The Triple Alliance had been built on a common understanding between London and The Hague that Louis XIV could not be allowed to conquer the Spanish Netherlands and gain control over the Flemish harbours. This understanding was frail on the British side and was counterbalanced by commercial enmity against the Republic, the raw and open wound of defeat in the Second Anglo-Dutch War, and the admiration of the British King Charles II (1630–1685) for Louis XIV. The Triple Alliance had come close on the heels of the Peace of Breda (31 July 1667, 10 CTS 231). Whereas the conditions of peace had been relatively generous for Britain after its defeat, many at the British court or in parliament were spoiling for new war to redress what they considered to be an unnatural balance in the shares both maritime powers had in the commerce of Europe. The failure of Dutch diplomacy to secure a new, long-term trade agreement did not, however, sufficiently alert John de Witt to the danger of isolation his country was facing.

Ever since the Triple Alliance was formed, French diplomacy never relented in working the British king’s dislike for the Holland regents and his inclinations to side with the strongest monarch in Europe. In large part through the endeavours of Charles II’s favourite sister, Henrietta (1644–1670), Duchess of Orléans and sister-in-law to Louis XIV, Charles I came round and signed a secret treaty of alliance with Paris against The Hague. The alliance was concluded on 1 June 1670 during a visit of Henrietta to her brother in Dover (11 CTS 295).

Whereas the treaty formally affirmed Charles II’s obligations under the Triple Alliance to sustain the status quo in the Spanish Netherlands, it consummated Charles’ betrayal of the Republic. In return for a subsidy he promised to join Louis XIV in his attack on the Republic at a time of the latter’s choosing. The British would send a corps of 6,000 men to fight under French command on land and carry the burden of the war at sea. In return, Britain would be allowed to keep the isles of Walcheren and Cadzand as well as the fortress of Sluys [Sluis or l’Ecluse] near the mouth of the Scheldt (Articles 5–7). Furthermore, Charles was able to secure only the vaguest of promises to safeguard the rights and interests of his nephew William III, Prince of Orange (1650–1702) (Article 7). One of Charles’s motives in accepting an offensive alliance against the Dutch Republic was his conviction that this would raise his popularity with much of the British population, and in particular with the merchant and colonial interests. He would need to assuage these often virulently Protestant constituencies if he were to survive the other plan hatched with his sister in the Dover Treaty. In Article 2 of the treaty, Charles II promised to declare himself openly as a Catholic at a convenient time in the future. For this, France promised him another subsidy and a corps of 6,000 soldiers in case of civil trouble.

Both the plan for an attack on the Republic and Charles’s commitment to convert to Catholicism made it absolutely necessary to keep the treaty secret. Therefore, it was agreed that the treaty would be ratified by each king under his own signature and his own privy seal. To reinforce their commitment, Louis and Charles, as well as Charles’s brother James, Duke of York (1633–1701), wrote an additional note in their own hand affirming their adherence to the treaty. The death of the Duchess of Orléans one month later, however, meant the loss of the greatest supporter at the French court of the British king’s conversion.

In the end, the plot to turn the British dynasty Catholic proved to be a bridge too far and endangered the whole fabric of the anti-Dutch alliance. To overcome this, a new secret treaty was made at the very end of the year, at Whitehall on 31 December 1670 (11 CTS 429), that left out Article 2 and Charles’s promise to convert to Catholicism. This was the treaty under which the Franco-British allies would prepare the war. However, just before the attack was launched in April 1672, an amending treaty was signed at Whitehall on 12 February 1672 (12 CTS 151). This amendment excused the British from sending the corps of 6,000 men for the year 1672.


Keith Feiling, ‘Henrietta Stuart, Duchess of Orleans, and the Origins of the Treaty of Dover’, English Historical Review, 47 (1932) 642–45.
Ronald Hutton, ‘The Making of the Secret Treaty of Dover, 1668-1670’, Historical Journal, 29 (1986) 297–318.
John A. Lynn, The Wars of Louis XIV 1667–1714 (London and New York: Longman 1999).
Herbert H. Rowen, The Ambassador Prepares for War: The Dutch Embassy of Arnauld de Pomponne, 1669–1671 (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff 1957).
Herbert H. Rowen, John de Witt, Grand Pensionary of Holland, 1625–1672 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press 1978).
Paul Sonnino, Louis XIV and the Origins of the Dutch War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1988).
Wouter Troost, Sir William Temple, William III and the Balance of Power in Europe (Dordrecht: Republic of Letters 2011).

Read more from The Wars of Louis XIV in Treaties series by Randall Lesaffer:

The Wars of Louis XIV in Treaties (Part I): The Secret Treaty of Vienna (19 January 1668)

The Wars of Louis XIV in Treaties (Part II): The Peace Treaty of Aachen [Aix-la-Chapelle] (2 May 1668)

The Wars of Louis XIV in Treaties (Part IV): The Second Peace of Westminster (19 February 1674)

The Wars of Louis XIV in Treaties (Part V): The Peace of Nijmegen (1678–1679)

The Wars of Louis XIV in Treaties (Part VI): The Truce of Regensburg (1684)

The Wars of Louis XIV in Treaties (Part VII): The Grand Alliance of 1689 and the Nine Years’ War