THE DECLINE AND FALL OF FRENCH HEGEMONY

The Duc de Villars, a marshal of France, leading his troops during the Battle of Denain in 1712.

Map: Europe in 1700

The year 1683 represented the high-water mark of French hegemony in Europe. ‘Not a dog barks in Europe unless our king says he may’, was the hubristic boast of one French diplomat. There is good–if not conclusive-evidence that Louis was hoping (and expecting) to see the Turks defeat the Austrians, capture Vienna and annex the Habsburg Monarchy. That would allow him to step forward as the champion of Christendom and, more specifically, as the only possible defender of the Holy Roman Empire. He encouraged the Turks to begin their invasion, discouraged the Poles from intervening, and declined a request from the Pope to rally to the Christian cause on the grounds that crusades were no longer appropriate and that he would not risk French commercial interests in the Levant. By means of agreements with the Electors of Saxony, Bavaria, Brandenburg and Cologne, he had already paved the way for the election of himself or a member of his family as the next Holy Roman Emperor.

It was not to be. John Sobieski of Poland did bring an army south, the Turks were defeated, it was Leopold I who emerged as the champion of Christendom and the Holy Roman Empire, and it was Leopold’s son Joseph who was elected ‘King of the Romans’, thus guaranteeing him the imperial succession. At least part of Louis’ response was, first to bully the Huguenots into converting to the true faith and then, in 1685, to revoke the Edict of Nantes which had permitted freedom of worship for Protestants. Despite an official ban on emigration, around 200,000 refugees then gave the lie to Louis’ claim that his forcible conversion campaign had succeeded. Protestant Europe was outraged. It was not just universal monarchy that Louis now seemed to be seeking but a religious dictatorship too. What he had done to the Protestants in his own country, he might very well do to their co-religionists outside it. At the very least, it can be said that it made the task of the hawks easier in constructing an anti-French coalition. In Brandenburg, Frederick William the Great Elector abandoned his long-standing alliance with Louis. More crucially, in the Dutch Republic, William III now found it much easier to persuade the towns of Holland of the need to pursue a forward policy. The English envoy noted in October 1685, ‘they beginne to exclaime very loudly here against the usage which the French Protestants have in France and a day of humiliation and fasting is to be appointed throughout these provinces by reason of that persecution’. That cry of execration could only gain in strength as around 60,000 French refugees poured into the Dutch Republic. In August 1687 the Dutch in effect abrogated the commercial clauses of the Peace of Nyjmegen and resumed a trade war with France. By the early summer of 1688, the French envoy was reporting that the Dutch were convinced that Louis was seeking ‘to destroy their religion and especially their commerce’. On 10 June 1688 the birth of a healthy son to James II of England not only dashed the hopes of his daughter Mary and her husband William III of succeeding, it raised the awful spectre of a permanently Catholic England in alliance with an aggressively Catholic France. So when shortly afterwards ‘the immortal seven’ English grandees invited William over to liberate them from the Jacobite yoke, he was able to win the support of the States of Holland without which he could have done nothing. The French threat that a Dutch landing in England would be regarded as a declaration of war was ignored.

This marked the beginning of the ‘Second Hundred Years War’ which was to end only on the battlefield of Waterloo 127 years later. The first phase was dominated by James’s attempt to regain the throne he had abandoned so precipitately in November 1688. The decisive battle was fought in Ireland on the River Boyne north of Dublin on 12 June 1690, when William III’s multinational force defeated James II’s French and Irish troops. Among the casualties was Frederick Schomberg, once a marshal in the army of Louis XIV, until his refusal to abandon his Protestant faith sent him into exile and the service of William III, who made him a duke in the peerage of England. Meanwhile Louis XIV had embarked on what he hoped would be a limited war on the Rhine but which turned out to be a world war lasting nine years (and variously known as the Nine Years War, the Ten Years War, the War of the League of Augsburg or the War of the Grand Alliance).

By the late 1680s Louis had become increasingly alarmed by the continuing run of success enjoyed by the Habsburg Emperor Leopold I in the east. On 2 September 1686 Buda fell to an Austrian assault, bringing to an end 145 years of Turkish rule; on 12 August the following year, a Turkish counter-attack was crushed by an Austrian army commanded by Prince Charles of Lorraine at Mohács on the Danube, at a cost of 30,000 Turkish dead–a victory all the more sweet because it had been at the same place in 1526 that a Turkish victory had established their domination of Hungary; also in 1687 Transylvania recognized Austrian sovereignty; in 1688 the Hungarian Parliament recognized Leopold’s son Joseph as his heir to the Hungarian throne; and on 6 September Belgrade fell to an imperial army commanded by the Elector of Bavaria. With Austrian influence now extended deep into the Balkans and the Turks cowed for the foreseeable future, Louis might reasonably fear that Leopold would turn west and exact retribution for the reunions. Such a step had been prepared diplomatically in 1686 by a league formed at Augsburg by Austria, Spain, Sweden and several German princes.

Louis now committed what John Lynn has called ‘the great miscalculation’. He believed that, with William III preoccupied by events in England and almost certain to come to grief there, a short sharp campaign of intimidation on the Rhine would be sufficient to persuade the Emperor and the German princes to turn the truce agreed at Regensburg in 1684 into a permanent settlement. In the event, he had the worst of both worlds. His own move to the east allowed William III a free hand in the west, where far from coming to grief he had succeeded in deposing James II by the end of the year, while his intended Blitzkrieg turned into a prolonged war of attrition. However, one sinister aspect of the war does need to be identified, because of its far-reaching consequences. The manifesto of 24 September 1688 announcing the French war aims stressed their moderation. All Louis was seeking, it was stated, was formal recognition of the reunions, compensation for abandoning French claims to the Palatinate (where a cadet branch of the Wittelsbachs had just succeeded) and to make a protest against the election of Joseph Clement of Bavaria as Elector of Cologne.

As far as it went, that was a not entirely disingenuous summary. French policy and strategy can indeed be described as defensive from now on. The means adopted were quite a different matter. The same brutal scorched-earth tactics adopted during the Dutch War were now employed again, but magnified to the power of ten. The two men responsible for advising Louis on military policy–the marquis de Chamlay and the marquis de Louvois persuaded him to authorize the physical destruction of western Germany on such a scale that a buffer-zone of devastation would be created. As a bonus, it was believed, the other princes would be so intimidated as to offer no further resistance to French demands. At the very start of the campaign, Louvois instructed General Montclair to pillage Württemberg systematically, while Chamlay proposed to go further. In a letter to his colleague of 27 October 1688 he wrote: ‘I would dare to propose to you something that perhaps will not be to your taste, that is the day after we take Mannheim [in the Palatinate], I would put the city to the sword and plough it under.’ Mannheim was indeed levelled to the ground ‘like a field’ (Chamlay) the following March. When the inhabitants declined to help by destroying their own homes, peasants were conscripted to do the job for them. This was a policy dictated from the top, as Louvois revealed when he wrote to Montclair on 18 December 1688: ‘His Majesty recommends you to ruin completely all the places that you leave along the upper and lower Neckar so that the enemy, finding no forage or food whatever, will not try to approach there.’ The King gave his express approval to Louvois’ list of communities earmarked for eradication, exempting only certain religious buildings.

This ghastly process is usually referred to as ‘the devastation of the Palatinate’, but in fact it embraced a much more extensive swathe of German territory on both the left and the right banks of the Rhine. About twenty substantial towns were destroyed, including Bingen, Oppenheim, Worms and Speyer, and untold numbers of villages. Predictably, resistance and retaliation on the part of the wretched inhabitants unleashed a second, less organized but even more terrible wave of atrocities. Heidelberg had been targeted for destruction in March 1689, but the enterprising townspeople had made preparations to extinguish the flames, with the result that only about 10 per cent of the buildings were destroyed. It was to no avail, for the French came back in 1693 and this time made no mistake. They then advertised their achievement by striking a medal bearing the motto ‘Heidelberga deleta’ (Heidelberg obliterated), thus paraphrasing the demand with which Cato famously ended all his speeches in the Roman senate: ‘Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam’ (Furthermore it is my opinion that Carthage must be destroyed). Needless to say, those on the receiving end reciprocated with a flood of pamphlets and visual images recording French barbarism and calling for retribution. It was from this episode that German demonization of France as the ‘hereditary enemy’ (Erbfeind) dated and was utilized by Leopold I, for example in his submission to the Reichstag in 1689 which led the Holy Roman Empire to declare war: ‘Germans, arm yourselves against France…all Germans, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, have the most pressing reason to resist the French, as the common enemies of all Germans, with united hearts, means and weapons.’ This was no longer a war against Louis XIV and his armies but a war of German against French. The diabolic image of the French was to have a long future. That the events of 1689 lingered powerfully in the German collective memory was shown by the centenary, which occurred just before the fall of the Bastille, and was commemorated by a flood of pamphlets. Travelling through the Rhineland in the mid-1770s, John Moore wrote of the devastation of the Palatinate: ‘the particulars of that dismal scene have been transmitted from father to son, and are still spoke of with horror by the peasantry of this country, among whom the French nation is held in detestation to this day’.

In the war against soldiers, the French achieved the same success they enjoyed against civilians, at least on land in the four main theatres of the Spanish Netherlands, the Rhineland, northern Italy and Catalonia. The war became a dreary succession of indecisive battles, sieges, manœuvres and counter-manœuvres, from whose narrative only the most dedicated military historian can derive much pleasure. It was now that the great dual necklace of fortresses around northern and eastern France constructed by Vauban proved its mettle. Suffice it to say that by 1693 it was clear that neither side would be able to land a knock-out blow and that some sort of compromise would have to be arranged by means of diplomacy. In one respect only was it decisive, but that was important enough. The battle of the Boyne really did put an end to James II’s attempt to impose a Catholic and absolutist regime on England and it really did lead to the imposition of a Protestant ascendancy on Ireland and the expropriation of its Catholic landowners. Across the water in London, the English were developing the political, administrative and, above all, financial institutions that would enable them to offset their demographic weakness in dealing with the French threat, founding a National Debt in 1693 and the Bank of England in 1694. It was during these years that the foundations of the English ‘military-fiscal state’ were laid. With Louis XIV committed to a Jacobite restoration, Anglo-French hostility became as much an axiom of the European states-system as did Franco-Dutch and Franco-Habsburg.

In negotiating a peace, Louis was greatly assisted by the mutual jealousies and resentments that naturally flourished in the enemy ‘grand coalition’ after so many years of indecisive warfare. The first to crack was the Duke of Savoy, extracted from the war by the generous terms of the separate Peace of Turin of 29 August 1696. That prompted the Austrians and Spanish to conclude a truce in Italy to protect their now dangerously exposed position there, thus allowing the French to move 30,000 troops to what became the main front in the Low Countries. This additional pressure increased William III’s determination to bring the war to an end. He had no qualms about abandoning his Austrian allies, for Leopold I had devoted most of his attention and resources to the war in the east against the Turks. All combatants, it need hardly be said, were by now so exhausted financially and economically that they were under pressure from their long-suffering subjects to settle. Once Louis XIV had decided to swallow the bitter pill of recognizing William III as King of England, the necessary treaties were signed at Ryswick in September and October 1697. France retained Alsace and Strassburg but was obliged to give up the rest of the ‘reunited’ territory and the Rhenish fortresses, to restore Lorraine to its duke and to evacuate the territory conquered in Spain. Although not obvious at the time, recognition of French sovereignty over Saint Domingue in the Caribbean opened the way for the development of the most profitable sugar-island in the region.

Did this rep resent a French victory? The marquis de Dangeau was in no doubt: ‘The king gave peace to Europe on conditions which he wished to impose. He was the master, and all his enemies acknowledged this and could not forbear from praising and admiring his moderation.’ Certainly Alsace and Strassburg were now more firmly part of France, but whether that was enough to justify nine years of ruinously expensive warfare is a different matter. Derek McKay’s summary of the French response suggests that Dangeau was whistling in the dark: ‘The peace was very unpopular in France, where it was difficult to understand why territory had been returned when France had not suffered military defeat.’ Leopold I was disgruntled too, for he had failed to return France to the frontiers of 1648, but he could draw consolation from his continuing success in the east. On 11 September 1697, or nine days before the first of the Ryswick treaties was signed, an Austrian army of about 50,000, commanded by Prince Eugène of Savoy, defeated a Turkish army twice that number and commanded by Sultan Mustafa II in person, at Zenta in central Hungary. So crushing was the victory–one of the most complete in the history of European warfare–that it effectively ended the centuries-old struggle between Habsburg and Turk for the domination of Hungary. By the Treaty of Karlowitz of January 1699, the Turks ceded Transylvania and all of Hungary except for the Bánát of Temesvár. Symbolic of its definitive nature was the fact that this was the first time that the Turks had agreed to make a peace rather than a truce with a non-Muslim power. For the next two centuries, Hungary was to prove a thorn in Austrian flesh, but its sheer size–much greater that the present-day state of that name–ensured that the Austrian Habsburgs had finally emerged from the shadow of the senior Spanish branch to become a truly major European power in their own right.

The Nine Years War undoubtedly marked a shift by Louis XIV to a more defensive strategy. The sudden death of the arch-hawk Louvois in 1691 may have contributed to this, as may Louis’ advancing age–he was now in his fifties and entering old age by contemporary standards. During the early stages of the war he still campaigned personally, as his war artists dutifully recorded, most sumptuously in Jean-Baptiste Martin’s painting of Louis directing the siege of Namur in 1692. But that proved to be his swan-song, for in the following year he formally announced that he would no longer command his armies in person. Yet if his youthful thirst for gloire was now sated, his concern to promote the interests of the house of Bourbon burnt no less intensely. This was revealed by his actions over the long-festering but now critical question of the Spanish inheritance. Although Charles II had surprised everyone by living so long, by the late 1690s it was becoming clear that he could not last much longer. The following much-simplified family tree reveals the conflicting claims of French Bourbons and Austrian Habsburgs.

As neither side could tolerate the entire Spanish inheritance passing to the other, and both sides were anxious to avoid yet another major war after the exertions of the Nine Years War, the obvious solution was to agree to a partition. In 1698 the first such treaty found what looked like a viable compromise by allocating the lion’s share–Spain itself, the Spanish Netherlands and the colonial empire to one of Philip III’s numerous great-great-grandsons, Joseph Ferdinand of Bavaria. France would get Naples, Sicily and some fortresses in Tuscany, while the Austrian Habsburgs would get the Duchy of Milan. Unfortunately, the Bavarian prince died the following year. Attempts to find another compromise foundered as the two main claimants in turn dug their heels in. First, the Austrians refused to consider an agreement reached by France and the Maritime Powers that would have given Leopold I’s second son, the Archduke Charles, the whole Spanish inheritance apart from the Italian possessions, insisting that they must have everything. Under this scheme, France hoped to obtain Lorraine and Savoy in exchange for Milan and Naples. When Charles II died on 1 November 1700, it was the turn of Louis XIV to reject a compromise. Anxious above all else to preserve the territorial integrity of his empire, the late king had left a will bequeathing everything to Philip duc d’Anjou, great-grandson of Philip IV and the younger of Louis XIV’s two grandsons. It did not take Louis long to make up his mind whether to stick to the partition agreement already reached with William III or va banque. He was encouraged to opt for the latter by the knowledge that if it was declined for Philip, the Spanish envoy bearing the invitation had orders to go straight on to Vienna to offer it to the Austrian candidate, the Archduke Charles. News of the death of the Spanish king reached the French court on 9 November; a week later, Louis presented the duc d’Anjou to his court with the words: ‘Messsieurs, before you stands the King of Spain. His birth has called him to this crown; the whole nation wished it and asked me for it without delay, and I granted it to them with pleasure. It is the command of Heaven.’

Take in Family Tree

War was not yet inevitable. In the wake of the Nine Years War, none of the weary combatants wished to sally forth yet again. In both England and the Dutch Republic, William III was restrained by constitutions that gave peace a voice. The Austrians had plenty on their hands in the east, digesting the enormous gains secured by the Peace of Karlowitz and nervously awaiting the expected reaction from the Hungarians. Whether Louis XIV’s subsequent actions should be regarded as a series of blunders depends on how one assesses his overall objective. If it were simply his intention to see his grandson peacefully installed as King of Spain, then he could hardly have been more ham-fisted. He declared that in principle the new King of Spain could also become King of France if the senior Bourbon line were to fail; Spain received not just a new king but a whole team of French experts too, thus advertising its satellite status; French troops were sent to take possession of the Spanish Netherlands and to expel Dutch garrisons from the ten ‘barrier fortresses’ established with Spanish agreement in 1698; the new King of Spain granted the fabulously lucrative right to supply the Spanish colonies with slaves–the asiento–to French merchants; and on the death of ex-King James II in September 1701, Louis recognized his son as the legitimate King of England, Scotland and Ireland as James III.

By then war really was inevitable. It followed with the declaration of war on France by England, the Dutch Republic and the Habsburg Monarchy on 15 May 1702. The War of the Spanish Succession had begun. The campaigns of the 1660s and 1670s had shown that in military terms, the French were predominant; the campaigns of the late 1680s and 1690s showed that in military terms the two sides were now more or less evenly balanced; the campaigns of the 1700s showed that the allies had now achieved a decisive military advantage. This was partly due to the superior quality of the respective high commands. Following the retirement or death of the three French generals acknowledged by military historians to be of exceptional ability–Condéin 1674, Turenne in 1675 and Luxembourg in 1695–the next generation proved to be sadly lacking in enterprise, although Villars did prove capable of effective direction, as he demonstrated in 1711–13.

On the other side, Prince Eugène for the Austrians and the Duke of Marlborough for the English demonstrated repeatedly a degree of energy, enterprise and aggression that their opponents could not match. Ironically, Eugène had first sought to enter the service of Louis XIV. It was only when he was rebuffed, in 1683, that he went to Vienna, arriving just in time to grab the opportunity offered by the Turkish siege to catch the imperial eye. Rewarded for his distinguished service with the command of a regiment of dragoons, he was a field marshal before he reached the age of thirty. His meteoric career well illustrates the cosmopolitan nature of the Habsburg army; nothing indeed could sum it up better than his trilingual signature: ‘Eugenio von Savoie’. His three great building projects–the winter palace in the old city of Vienna, the summer palace ‘Belvedere’ just outside it and his hunting lodge Schlosshof–provide three-dimensional evidence of the riches that could be accumulated by the gifted and the lucky. It was said that Eugène had arrived in Vienna with just twenty-five gulden in his pocket but that when he died in 1736 he left an estate worth twenty-five million.

Not the least of Prince Eugène’s merits was his ability to establish a good relationship with allied commanders, most notably the Duke of Marlborough, who deserves similar credit for his diplomatic skills. Their most important joint achievement was the victory at Blenheim on 13 August 1704, when they routed a Franco-Bavarian army, taking 14,000 prisoners, including the French commander the comte de Tallard, and inflicting 20,000 casualties. As the first major land victory (part-) won by an English army since Agincourt nearly three centuries earlier, its importance has been consistently overrated by English historians. Yet, if it did not open to England ‘the gateways of the modern world’, as Marlborough’s descendant Winston Churchill claimed, it did have a major impact on the course of the War of the Spanish Succession. With Hungary and Transylvania in revolt, there was every danger that the French, supported by their Bavarian allies, would be able to march on Vienna and knock the Habsburg Monarchy out of the war. Blenheim put a stop to that potentially decisive initiative, turned Bavaria into an Austrian dependency for the duration of the war, and forced the French to adopt a defensive strategy.

The allied victories kept coming. On 23 May 1706 Marlborough, commanding 62,000 allied troops, defeated a slightly smaller French army under the duc de Villeroi at Ramillies, south-east of Brussels in the Spanish Netherlands, and then spent the rest of the campaigning season seizing one city after another. On the Italian front, on 7 September Prince Eugène with an Austro-Piedmontese army defeated the duc d’Orléans at Turin, with the result that the French signed a convention the following March by which they withdrew from northern Italy altogether. After inconclusive campaigning in 1707, Marlborough and Eugène together inflicted another heavy defeat on the French at Oudenarde on 11 July 1708 which led to the conquest of most of the Spanish Netherlands. The last great set-piece victory was at Malplaquet near Mons on 11 September 1709, but it was bought at so great a cost that it hardly deserves to be called a victory. As the French commander, the duc de Villars, reported to his King: ‘if God gives us the grace to lose another similar battle, your Majesty can count on his enemies being destroyed.’

After this Pyrrhic victory, the war became a stalemate. French forces had been ejected from northern Italy and the Spanish Netherlands, but the allies had neither the military means nor the political will to deliver a knock-out punch to metropolitan France. In Spain, the war had become a messy civil conflict between Castile, supporting Philip V, and Catalonia, Aragon and Valencia supporting the Archduke Charles, with neither side able to achieve a decisive advantage. All parties were beginning to scrape the bottom of the financial and demographic barrel, not least due to poor harvests and, in 1708–09, one of the coldest winters in recorded history. Peace negotiations were long overdue, but so much was at stake for so many that they took a long time to get going and even longer to reach a conclusion. An important step in the right direction was taken in England in the course of 1710, when Queen Anne freed herself from the ‘duumvirs’, the Earl of Godolphin and Marlborough (and his wife Sarah), and called an election which brought a Tory landslide. Both the dominant figures in the new administration, Robert Harley (Earl of Oxford from 1711) and Henry St John (Viscount Bolingbroke from 1712) were keen to bring the war to an end. Their enthusiasm was strengthened by the sudden death of the Emperor Joseph I in April 1711, leaving his younger brother, the Archduke Charles, as his sole heir. This created the prospect of a Habsburg hegemony in Europe no more appealing to the English than the Bourbon version against which they had been fighting for so long.

Once the English paymasters had decided to settle, their allies had no option but to follow suit, although the Austrians in particular did so very slowly and reluctantly. Indeed, they declined to sign the Peace of Utrecht when England, France, the Dutch Republic, Savoy, Philip V of Spain, Portugal and Prussia did so on 11–12 April 1713. Only after Villars had captured Landau and Freiburg in Breisgau later that year were they finally convinced that they could gain nothing further and might lose a lot if they continued the war alone. So peace was concluded between France and the Habsburg Monarchy on 7 March 1714 at Rastatt. In effect, the Utrecht–Rastatt agreements amounted to a new partition treaty. Louis XIV secured his primary war aim by gaining international recognition of his grandson Philip V as King of Spain. But there was no question of Philip or his descendants ever succeeding to the French throne. This was less academic than it might seem, for between April 1711 and March the following year, a rash of fatalities in the house of Bourbon had carried off Louis XIV’s son, grandson and eldest great-grandson, leaving just one legitimate heir, born in 1710. The Treaty of Utrecht stated categorically that, if this senior line were to fail, succession would pass to the descendants of Louis XIV’s brother, the duc d’Orlèans. Moreover, Philip V did not succeed to the entire Spanish inheritance, only to Spain itself and its overseas possessions, and was obliged to recognize the English conquest of Gibraltar and Minorca. Louis might console himself, however, with the thought that he had retained Alsace and Strassburg and had only had to give up a few towns in Flanders, a result which compared very favourably with the catastrophe that had threatened in 1709.

For all their mutterings about English perfidy, the Habsburgs had done very well, becoming a major force in western Europe by the acquisition of the Spanish Netherlands, and the dominant force in Italy by the acquisition of the Duchy of Milan, the enclaves in Tuscany known as the ‘Stato dei Presidii’, and the Kingdom of Naples. Sicily and a royal title went to the Duke of Savoy. Of the two ‘Maritime Powers’, the Dutch certainly achieved a greater degree of security by the restoration of the ‘barrier fortresses’ in what should now be called the Austrian Netherlands. The Austrians were also obliged to confirm their adhesion to the clauses of the Peace of Westphalia relating to their new possessions, including the continued closure of the River Scheldt. This modest return for a decade of exertion was made no more palatable by the knowledge that the British (as the English should be called following the Treaty of Union with Scotland of 1707) had negotiated the peace with France without reference to their Dutch allies. Another bone of contention was their failure to win British support for their claim to Gelderland, most of which passed to Prussia. That the latter now had its feet firmly under the top table of European powers was confirmed by French recognition of its status as a kingdom and its inheritance of the principality of Neuchâtel in Switzerland.

Such was the ‘rage of party’ in Great Britain that the Peace of Utrecht was bound to be divisive. This was not helped by the accession of George I in August 1714, for he was known to regard the treaty as a betrayal of the Protestant cause, indeed the French were even afraid that he might abrogate it altogether. Responding to his first speech from the throne, the new Whig-dominated Parliament lamented ‘the reproach brought on the nation by the unsuitable conclusion of a war, which…was attended with such unparalleled successes’. Oxford went to the Tower and Bolingbroke went into exile. Yet not too much hindsight should have been required to see that Utrecht marked a major step on England/Great Britain’s march to world-power status. Louis XIV was now obliged, not just to recognize the Protestant succession but to expel James II’s son, the ‘Old Pretender’, from France. While France was still the dominant power in Canada, recognition of Britain’s possession of the Hudson Bay territory and the return of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland had obvious political implications as well as immediate economic benefits. The same might be said of the cession of St Kitt’s in the Caribbean. The acquisition of Gibraltar and Minorca made Britain the dominant power in the western Mediterranean. The transfer of the asiento from French to British merchants was lucrative in its own right and also symbolized the defeat of the threat that Spain would become a French satellite. On the European continent, the best possible result was achieved: Louis XIV’s bid for hegemony had been finally defeated; the Low Countries were now buffered against French pressure; and a balance of power had been achieved. More generally, the peace treaties established the British objective of a continental ‘balance of power’ as the goal of the European states-system.

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