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The Nine Years' War (1688–97) – often called the War of the Grand Alliance or the War of the League of Augsburg〔Older texts may refer to the war as the War of the Palatine Succession, the War of the English Succession, or, in North American historiography as King William's War. This varying nomenclature reflects the fact that contemporaries – as well as later historians – viewed the general conflict from particular national or dynastic viewpoints.〕 – was a major war of the late 17th century fought between King Louis XIV of France, and a European-wide coalition, the Grand Alliance, led by the Anglo-Dutch Stadtholder-King William III, Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I, King Charles II of Spain, Victor Amadeus II of Savoy, and the major and minor princes of the Holy Roman Empire. The Nine Years' War was fought primarily on mainland Europe and its surrounding waters, but it also encompassed a theatre in Ireland and in Scotland, where William III and James II struggled for control of the British Isles, and a campaign in colonial North America between French and English settlers and their respective Indian allies, called “King William’s War” by the English colonists.
Louis XIV had emerged from the Franco-Dutch War in 1678 as the most powerful monarch in Europe; yet the "Sun King" remained unsatisfied. Using a combination of aggression, annexation, and quasi-legal means, Louis XIV immediately set about extending his gains to stabilise and strengthen France's frontiers, culminating in the brief War of the Reunions (1683–84). The resulting Truce of Ratisbon guaranteed France's new borders for twenty years, but Louis XIV's subsequent actions – notably his revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 – led to the deterioration of his military and political dominance. Louis XIV's decision to cross the Rhine in September 1688 was designed to extend his influence and pressure the Holy Roman Empire into accepting his territorial and dynastic claims. But when Leopold I and the German princes resolved to resist, and when the States General and William III brought the Dutch and the English into the war against France, the French King at last faced a powerful coalition aimed at curtailing his ambitions.
The main fighting took place around France's borders: in the Spanish Netherlands; the Rhineland; Duchy of Savoy; and Catalonia. The fighting generally favoured Louis XIV's armies, but by 1696 his country was in the grip of an economic crisis. The Maritime Powers (England and the Dutch Republic) were also financially exhausted, and when Savoy defected from the Alliance all parties were keen for a negotiated settlement. By the terms of the Treaty of Ryswick (1697) Louis XIV retained the whole of Alsace, but he was forced to return Lorraine to its ruler and give up any gains on the right bank of the Rhine. Louis XIV also accepted William III as the rightful King of England, while the Dutch acquired their Barrier fortress system in the Spanish Netherlands to help secure their own borders. However, with the ailing and childless Charles II of Spain approaching his end, a new conflict over the inheritance of the Spanish Empire would soon embroil Louis XIV and the Grand Alliance in a final war – the War of the Spanish Succession.
In the years following the Franco-Dutch War (1672–78) Louis XIV of France – now at the height of his powers – set about to impose religious unity in France, and solidify and expand his frontiers. Louis XIV had already won his personal glory by conquering new territory, but he was no longer willing to pursue an open-ended militarist policy of the kind he had undertaken in 1672, and instead relied upon France's clear military superiority to achieve specific strategic objectives along his borders. Proclaimed the 'Sun King', a more mature Louis XIV – conscious he had failed to achieve decisive results against the Dutch – had turned from conquest to security, using threats rather than open war to intimidate his neighbours into submission.〔McKay; Scott, p. 36.〕
Louis XIV, his chief advisor Louvois, his foreign minister Colbert de Croissy, and his technical expert, Vauban, developed France's defensive strategy.〔Lynn, p. 37.〕 Vauban had advocated a system of impregnable fortresses along the frontier that would keep Louis XIV's enemies out. To construct a proper system, however, the King needed to acquire more land from his neighbours to form a solid forward line. This rationalisation of the frontier would make it far more defensible while defining it more clearly in a political sense, yet it also created the paradox that while Louis XIV's ultimate goals were defensive, he pursued them by hostile means.〔 The King grabbed the necessary territory through what is known as the ''Réunions'': a strategy that combined legalism, arrogance, and aggression.〔Lynn, p. 161.〕
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