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War of the Grand Alliance (Humble Old Ironsides)

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Previous:

Franco-Dutch War

Next:

War of the Spanish Succession

War of the Quadruple Alliance
Beginning:

September 1688

End:

September 1695

Place:

Western Germany, Lowlands, Great Britain, North America

Outcome:

Treaty of Ryswick

Combatants

The Grand Alliance:

United Republic of Britain

Dutch Republic

Swedish Empire

Holy Roman Empire

Spanish Empire

Duchy of Savoy

France

English Royalists

Commanders

Charles Fleetwood

Edward Montagu

William III of Orange

Charles XI of Sweden

Leopold I

Marquis of Gastanaga

Victor Amadeus II of Sardinia

Louis XIV

Duc de Luxembourg

James, Duke of York

Strength

500,000

425,000

Casualties and Losses

65,000

95,000

The War of the Grand Alliance began in September of 1688 when the Kingdom of France under Louis XIV ordered his soldiers to cross into the Rhineland of the Holy Roman Empire. The invasion of the Holy Roman Empire required the Empire to call upon the Grand Alliance established in 1686, building upon the Triple Alliance of Britain, the Netherlands, and Sweden. Louis' actions in the past two decades had antagonized many of the nations around him, and although he and his generals were afraid of being surrounded by enemies. The war was characterized by French invasions of both the Rhineland of the Holy Roman Empire and the Spanish Netherlands ruled by the Habsburg Dynasty in Mainland Europe, as well as a Royalist invasion of Ireland under the Duke of York and one of the first major conflicts in the New World in what became known as Phips' War for the British captain and future Massachusetts governor who led the British war effort. The war was characterized by the Grand Alliance's inability to gain decisive victories against the slightly smaller French Army, leading to a war of attrition and sieges that resulted in the relatively even Treaty of Ryswick in 1695. Charles Fleetwood, the late Lord Protector of the United Republic of Britain and Ireland, had hoped to decisively contain the French, but the peace ended up lasting only until 1701 when the War of the Spanish Succession broke out around Europe.

Prelude

Throughout the 1670s and 1680s, tensions had been growing between the growing European powers of France and Britain. Britain had established a Protestant Alliance in the Netherlands and Sweden and the constant threat of France on the Netherlands, as well as the trio's collective access to world trade, kept the alliance together as France constantly made designs on both the Spanish Netherlands and the Dutch Republic itself. King Louis XIV of France had wished to bring France up as the foremost European power and saw Britain as his main rival. To undermine the authority of the British Republic, Louis took in the remaining court of the House of Stuart upon the death of Charles, Prince of Wales, in 1685 and accepted James, Duke of York as the pretender to the English throne. Louis was also instrumental in setting James up with a young and fertile wife in Mary of Modena, which allowed for James to father a son in 1688, providing a new threat to the British government. Also in this time period Louis began using the relaxing of British laws regarding Catholics and his own growing financial power to back a Royalist invasion/uprising to be led by James. Aware of this threat and the general presence of France, Charles Fleetwood, the Lord Protector of Britain, began a military buildup in 1686 that bolstered the size and strength of Britain's military.

Meanwhile, on the continent France had also made threats to both Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, angering the Habsburg rulers of both. Charles II of Spain and his generals had already fought several small conflicts with Louis and his army in the few decades, and were wary of his attempts to expand French territory. Louis also had designs on the Rhineland of the Holy Roman Empire, more specifically on the Electoral Palatinate, which worried both the Holy Roman Empire as well as those who thought it might spark an event similar to the Thirty Years' War which had wrought much devastation on Europe. Among the surrounding countries that Louis also scared was the Duchy of Savoy, whose Duke Victor Amadeus II was formerly a pawn of Louis and had now began to turn to the Spanish as a source for defense. Thus by 1688, Louis had managed to offend not only the Protestant powers to the North, but also the Catholic powers to the East and South. Among the growing Protestant powers worried about French influence in the Holy Roman Empire was Brandenburg under Frederick William and later his son Frederick, who both sought a higher rank for their Duchy in the waning Holy Roman Empire.

Louis' decision to rescind the Edict of Nantes in 1685, leading to the continued persecution of Huguenots in France, hoping to unite the Catholic government in France further. The Huguenots fled to countries like Britain and even New France between the three years of 1685 and 1688, further enraging the Grand Alliance. Finally, in September of 1688, convinced of his army's superiority and the fractured nature of the Grand Alliance, Louis marched his army into the Rhineland and soon war was at Europe's doorstep once more.

War in the Rhineland

The first three months of the campaign in September, October, and November of 1689, saw little resistance by the small West German states as Louis and an army of 150,000 Frenchman marched throughout the Rhineland, securing cities like Landau and Trier. Louis took the fortified town of Mainz without a shot and soon began a campaign of scorched earth to suppress any resistance to his expansion in Central Germany. However, rather than crushing German resistance, this encouraged the German princes, like those in Saxony and Baden, to flock to the Holy Roman Emperor and the Duke of Brandenburg, allowing the size of the Holy Roman Army to swell from 50,000 in September of 1688 to 80,000 by the end pf the year. In the spring of 1689, Louis and his army secured the Rhineland and moved on to the city of Frankfurt, where the main German army was based. Louis and his generals formed a siege of the city in April, and through two months of fighting the Germans under Leopold I refused to surrender. Meanwhile the Duke of Brandenburg, Frederick, began a campaign to attack French-occupied territory in the North, including besieging the city of Bonn in May 1689. At this time the Dutch began to march an army of 20,000 through Liege, further threatening French gains.

In the summer of 1689, Louis left the command of the Siege of Frankfurt to the Duc de Luxembourg, still commanding 90,000 soldiers, while Louis and his other generals marched 60,000 soldiers, later reinforced to 80,000, to the North to fend off the advancing Brandenburg army. The two sides engaged at Bonn on the Rhine River on July 22, 1689 with the Allied army numbering at around the same size as Louis' by this point. In the battle Louis managed to cut a wedge between the two armies, and the Dutch were forced into a retreat, allowing Louis to focus on Frederick's army. Not willing to spend the remainder of his forces,

Grandalliance

French and German forces engaging along the Rhine River.

Frederick ordered a general retreat back to Mark to recuperate, in which time period Louis secured the Rhineland and began to plan an invasion of both Liege and the Spanish Netherlands for the Autumn. Meanwhile, the Germans continued to mount an impressive defense of Frankfurt, and prepared to mount another counter-attack, this one aimed at the southern end of the Rhine River near the city of Mannheim.In March 1692, the Grand Alliance army under Maximilian II Emanuel, Elector of Bavaria, led a German army of 45,000 soldiers to take the fortified city of Mannheim, with Maximilian also planning for a crossing of the Rhine into Alsace to further endanger the French. The Marquis de Vauban, however, the French commander in Alsace, was prepared and the two armies engaged in a minor battle at Breisach on the Rhine in April of 1692. The Holy Romans were forced to retreat of Breisach to Freiburg, where they managed to sizable victory against the French, allowing for the defense of Baden. As the Summer of 1692 wore on, fighting continued along the length of the Rhine River, during which the meager and divided German armies were continually unable to defeat the French, while the French were unable to successfully take Frankfurt. In this time, Frederick had successfully rallied his forced in Cleves and Mark, raising an army of around 35,000 and marching on the French-occupied city of Cobienz in August of 1692.

By the late Summer of 1692, Louis was suffering serious defeats to the North in the Spanish Netherlands and was now forced back to the Meuse River by the British-led army. French soldiers in the Northern Rhineland were becoming more ill-supplied as the campaign dragged on, and in August when the city of Cobienz was attacked by Frederick and his army, they were forced to split their forces to send 40,000 soldiers to aid in the city's defense. When the French arrived at Cobienz, the Brandenburg army surprised and soon routed them, surrounding the remainder of the city on the West Bank of the Rhine, cutting the city off, defeating the French, and capturing eight thousand French soldiers. The celebrated victory of Cobienz was the first major success for Frederick and his army, which now marched to cut the French-occupied Rhineland in half by advancing along the Moselle River. In December of 1692, Frederick approached the city of Trarbach, the last major step before retaking Trier. He mounted a month-long siege, and soon the French line was broken in half.

News of the fall of Trier hit both Louis and the Duc de Luxembourg hard, but rallied the Germans defending Frankfurt to break out, which they did under Leopold's command in February of 1693. The Duc de Luxembourg led his army into a full retreat back to the Rhine River, which they crossed near the end of March 1693. The Holy Romans rallied around the time that Louis and his army to the North was being forced back to the fortress city of Luxembourg, meaning he was unable to assist the French forces to the South. The Germans crossed the Rhine at Mainz, retaking the city and forcing the French into further retreat throughout the Summer of 1693. By November of that year, the two sides had reached the city of Landau, where Leopold hoped to launch an invasion to take Alsace from the French. However, the Germans, despite their victories, were now running low on supplies, and the French were recently reinforced back to 90,000 soldiers. This allowed the Duc de Luxembourg to defeat his enemy at Landau, and thus stave off an invasion of Alsace.

The remainder of the war in the Rhineland was characterized by a stalemate as the Duc de Luxembourg managed to defend the now minor French gains in the region from the attacking Holy Roman Empire, leading to a war of attrition and scorched earth that left the area devastated. By the time the war had ended, casualties on both sides had mounted and with the Treaty of Ryswick in 1695, the Duc was able to return his army to Alsace and then to Paris, lauded by Louis for keeping the French from total defeat in Germany. This move provided the French with much-needed leverage in the Treaty that kept it relatively even in nature.

War in the Spanish Netherlands

In early 1689, with the French growing ever-victorious in crushing the small German states West of the Rhine River, the French under the Duc de Boufflers began a campaign to seize the southern Spanish Netherlands. With 95,000 soldiers, the Duc marched from Eastern France toward the fortified city of Luxembourg, which he besieged for two months before it fell in April 1689. From there Boufflers spread his army throughout the Spanish Netherlands while planning to invade the territory of Liege. By the end of the year, however, Louis had changed France's strategy to engage better with the British, who had now landed with the Swedes in The Hague and were marching an army of 75,000 toward the Meuse River. Boufflers was ordered to march his army northwest toward Brussels and threaten said city, while Louis would lead an army North to engage the Allies near Guelder. Boufflers did so, and in doing so engaged few Spanish soldiers along the way, forcing the Allies to break up their army heading toward Guelder to fight the French off from Brussels.

The Allied army was led by Edward Montagu, a British general who combined forces with the Dutch and some Swedes to form an army around 100,000 men in size, facing off against the French, whose army combined to around 115,000 under Boufflers as reinforcements marched from Lille met with him. The two sides conducted minor battles throughout the Spanish Netherlands in early-to-mid-1690 before Boufflers finally reached the outskirts of Brussels on August 2. While this was going on, Louis was solidly defeating the Allied army to the North, threatening both the Netherlands as well as the Brandenburg territory in Cleves. Boufflers tried to fight a pitched battle with the Allies, where he knew he had the advantage, but the Allies retreated into the city and formed a series of impressive defenses around Brussels, anticipating a siege. The Siege began on August 23, and would soon last for seven months. Boufflers tried to starve the Allies out, ordered his mortars to launch burning shells into the city, and threatening a massacre of its citizens, but all to no avail. In the end, Boufflers was forced to retreat south of the city in March of 1691 when the Allies managed some minor counterattacks. This would eventually swell into the largest battle of the war.

The Battle of Brussels would be waged for ten days as Montagu would constantly attack the lines of Frenchmen who surrounded him and his army. After many long days of battle, Montagu grew tired of his men's failure and so planned a new strategy: part of Boufflers army was stationed in a forest on the outskirts of Brussels. In the night of March 26, 1691, Montagu sent out a small group of soldiers from Brussels to set fire to the forest and from there some of Boufflers soldiers burned alive, but many more were set into chaos, which Montagu soon used to his advantage. On the tenth of battle, Montagu personally led a huge

Montagu

Edward Montagu, posing for a portrait upon his victorious return to Britian in 1694.

counterattack on the French Army, now disorganized, and broke out of Brussels, forcing Boufflers and his army into retreat. Montagu had achieved the greatest British success of the war, and this did not go unnoticed at home where he became a favorite of the Parliament to replace Fleetwood as the next Lord Protector. From Brussels onward, Montagu led a continuously more successful campaign against Boufflers, who soon retreated back to France to prevent the Allies from crossing the border to Lille. Meanwhile Montagu turned his army toward Louis himself and his army that was marching through Liege and taking aim at Cleves, the Netherlands, and the city of Guelder.

In October 1691, Montagu arrived outside Guelder, finding the outer limits of Louis' large army, and soon began nipping on said army's rear. Louis was surprised by the rapid pace of Montagu's advance, and ordered his army to make ready for a battle and stand against the British. For the first two days of the battle, Montagu tried fruitlessly to outflank the French, before on the battle's third day the Dutch emerged from the North and finally Louis was outflanked. Although the French suffered fewer casualties than the Allies, Louis was wary of the effect on his army, now with poor supply lines, that a major defeat would have and thus he ordered a retreat back to the Rhineland. Throughout the rest of the year, Louis would try to establish a successful line of defense to mount a counterattack, but by now the Allies had gained the initiative and the war was now in their favor. This turn of events was the first major success for the Allies in the war, and Louis sent word back to France about the news, ordering action from his generals to turn the tide of the war back into French favor.

The first such action was a new arm of the French Navy's plan, which to this point had barely been involved in the affairs of the war. The French Navy fought their way around an Anglo-Dutch blockade of France's northern ports, with a small dispatch of ships traveling all of the way around Scotland in secret to fight the blockade from the East and cause chaos among the Allies. The French Navy soon broke through and made their way to the Dutch cities of Antwerp and The Hague, hoping that naval-based assaults on those cities would draw the Allies back to the North Sea. The strategy was largely effective, as William III was forced to recall some Dutch soldiers to return to the Netherlands to defend against the French Navy. The Allied Navy was engaged on both sides now, and Fleetwood demanded a decisive naval battle to turn the tide. He got just such an action in June 1692, when the British Navy engaged the French outside the French port of Cherbourg. The British demolished the French fleet and Swedish and Dutch reinforcements would turn the tide of the naval war again into Allied favor.

The rest of 1692 was largely uneventful in the Dutch theatre, as both armies took time to recover from the bloody battles earlier in the war, the French back to the Meuse River. Then in October of 1692, the war took a turn against the British when Charles Fleetwood died at the age of 74, leaving the office of Lord Protector open. The Parliament convened to select a replacement, and decided upon Montagu as their choice, even though he was still in the Netherlands and thus could not be sworn into office in London. As a result, Montagu was sworn in in Guelder, reinforcing the importance of one of the battles that was making him a war hero in London. By the end of the year, Montagu was on the offensive again, with the French Army in the Rhineland now cut in half by Brandenburg's soldiers, and thus Louis was forced to retreat back into the southern Spanish Netherlands to prevent himself from being flanked again. Now Boufflers was again being brought back to the front, now to allow the French Army more flexibility in their defense of the area. The British soon took back most of Liege, however, and began the march to Luxembourg.

Throughout 1693 and 1694, the French Army, freshly resupplied and reinforced, were able to turn the war from a victory for the Grand Alliance, into a stalemate. Multiple attempts by both the Western Allies and Frederick of Brandenburg to seize at Luxembourg failed, three times in total in this time period. Montagu, now worried about his standing among the Parliament due to his inability to land a decisive blow against the French, prepared an armed lunge at the French, and despite heavy losses was soon able to force Louis back to Luxembourg in January of 1694. But throwing Louis out of the heavily-defended city of Luxembourg would prove to be harder than getting him there. In the city Louis and his army had better lines of supply, and much better defended then the Allied armies that approached it with little artillery were able to take on. It is from Luxembourg that Louis managed to keep the war on an even keel and this is where the war would stay until the end of the war in 1695. In September of 1695, both sides by now tired of war and with little hope of a breakthrough for either army, signed a treaty in Ryswick in the Netherlands.

Royalist invasion of Ireland

In 1691, with the French Navy able to break out from the Allied blockade, James, Duke of York, had raised an army of 22,000 soldiers, both rebellious Royalists in Ireland and France, as well as some actual French soldiers, and landed what he had on the southeastern coast of Ireland. Fleetwood was immediately worried about what this might mean if the Royalists were able to rally the Catholic Irish against the Republic and then cross the Irish Sea into Scotland, and so called for action. Frederick Schomberg, a Lutheran Anglo-German soldier, chosen for his dedication to the Republic and opposition to the Royalist cause, was given an army of 40,000 soldiers, largely fresh English and Welsh soldiers, and crossed the Irish Sea. The British fleet turned on the French who had landed the Royalist force and incapacitated them in a campaign during the early Spring of 1691. Thus James was trapped in Ireland and would have to wait some months before he had the hope of crossing over to Ireland and so took advantage of the situation to take Ireland.

James and his soldiers had foolishly believed that the Irish would all join in a general uprising against the British government, which was largely Protestant, but they did not do so in a general rising as the Royalists had hoped. Many of the Irish had grown accustomed to the representative British rule, although some minor groups of soldiers did join the Royalist Army, they numbered around 1,200, an indecisive number and far smaller than James had hoped for. The Irish also did not prove so willing to provide supplies to the Royalists after Schomberg arrived in Ireland and promised to have anyone who assisted the Royalist cause executed and their family imprisoned. Thus James and his soldiers took to raiding the Irish countryside to take the supplies they needed and to deny the British the chance to fight them, but also James was unable to take any large cities as he needed to to get supplies and reinforcements. Despite these numerous disadvantages, however, the Royalists were encouraged to fight with great vigor and so were able to crush many Irish militiamen that they encountered in the first months of their campaign. This allowed them to take Wexford in September 1691, and from there they began to march North.

James' army marched along the Wicklow Mountains and by the end of the year had continued to largely evade Schomberg's army, while even raiding the outskirts of Dublin, the capital of Ireland. Finally on November 12, 1691, Schomberg caught a 2,000 man contingent of James' army on the River Liffey, and slaughtered them in a quick battle in which the Royalists were surrounded. This marked the first real defeat for the Royalists, and from there James continued to march his army North, trying to cut a line of scorched earth through Eastern Ireland, including destroying the roads that led to Dublin. This left Schomberg with a tough situation: he wanted to sit in Dublin and wait for the Irish militias to bring the Royalists' numbers down and allowing Schomberg to attack, but doing so would only enrage the Irish. In the end Schomberg decided that this would be the best for the Winter of 1691-92, during which Royalist attacks only grew harsher as they needed supplies to survive the Winter. When news of this came back to Fleetwood, he lambasted Schomberg publicly, but refused to do anything about it, much to the chagrin of the Irish Representatives in Parliament who threatened to order for Schomberg's dislodging from the Army.

Boyne

British artillery attacking the Royalist Army at the Battle of Enniscorthy.

In the end, Schomberg's strategy had worked, the Royalist Army was dwindled down to 16,000 men by the Spring of 1692, and those that remained were tired and hungry. James retreated down one of the major road routes, planning to return to Wexford, which Schomberg soon learned off and cut him off before he could return to his city for supplies. Schomberg engaged James at Enniscorthy in County Wexford, where Schomberg caught James and his beleaguered army, by surprise and slaughtered them, capturing the Irish soldiers as they tried to flee and cutting down the Royalists, including James. The Irish were brutally executed by the British for their role in the uprising, and for a time the threat of a Royalist return to London would subside. This campaign was successful but made Schomberg into one of the most controversial generals in British history, and sowed seeds of discontent among the Irish for the British Army

Phips' War

Phips' War was the first of the many colonial wars that the French and British would fight over the next century or so in the New World. The war was named for Sir William Phips, who was the British general who was tasked with commanding the forces defending New England during the war, during which he was promoted to Governor of Massachusetts for his efforts. New England served as the main base of the British Army during the period, with a number of naval battles being engaged throughout the Atlantic Sea and its offshoots. Throughout the war, John Fletcher, and English captain, was tasked with leading a small squadron of frigates that defended British trade around the Hudson Bay, which was constantly being threatened by French squadrons of varying sizes. This finally led to the greatest battle under Fletcher's command in 1694, when Fletcher and his frigates were confronted by a French ship of the line. The battle took two days before the frigates were finally able to defeat the giant French ship, and from then on the Hudson Bay area was free of French ships, earning Fletcher note in the British Navy.

Meanwhile, Phips led an army of around 2,200 soldiers into French Canada in 1690, during which they advanced as far as the city of Quebec before they were defeated by the French commander Louis de Baude de Frontenac, even with great assistance from Native soldiers. From there on out, Phips would not attempt to lead a serious attempt on the French city, from then on taking to various raids along the St. Laurence River with both British and Native soldiers. Angered by the British assaults, de Frontenac ordered an army to follow the British into New England. From there between 1691 and 1692, the French not only raided the British colonies, but soon an army of 1,200 French soldiers crossed into Maine and then New Hampshire. Worried what the loss of these colonies would mean to the British, Phips led his army hastily into a battle at Falmouth, Maine in September 1691. The French and their Native allies managed to surprise Phips, who was injured in the French attack and forced his tattered army into a retreat. From there the French marched along the Maine coast, before stopping them in a small pitched battle near the modern-day city of Ellsworth. From there Phips was able to turn the tide of the war.

Throughout the rest of the war between 1692 and 1695, Phips and his army were in constant battle against the French, including taking both Port Royal and even St. John. By the end of the war, Phips and his soldiers had managed some minor gains against the French, but those gains were sacrificed in the Treaty of Ryswick as the British needed leverage against the French in the diplomatic proceedings. Phips initially raised objections, but the position of Governor was sufficient for him once the treaty had been signed, but this did anger some of his soldiers, and soon would become part of a long legacy of colonial discontent with the British for their returning of French territory seized by colonial soldiers.

Conclusion and the Treaty of Ryswick

In early 1694, a treaty was signed in the Dutch city of Ryswick by representatives of the British, Dutch, Holy Roman Empire, French, Spanish, and Brandenburg, the last of said group hoping to use their army's success in the Rhineland campaign to work their way into the proceedings while the Bavarians were not. The terms of the treaty were worked out over the course of seven months, and the terms were the following:

  • France would be allowed to keep Alsace, but had to return all territory in the Spanish Netherlands and the Holy Roman Empire
  • The British returned to France their gains in the New World during Phips' War
  • Several border fortresses were allowed to remain in French control, including Luxembourg

Montagu, who was led the British through the brunt of the fighting, used the treaty as a way to gain diplomatic experience, of which he had little at the time. Montagu had hoped that this treaty would provide the area a meaningful peace after the war of attrition and high levels of casualties on both side, which mounted near 200,000 men. In the end, the peace would last little over five years, but did change Louis' mind about the need for a major ally for France to avoid being surrounded by enemies again, which would present itself in the place of the Spanish Crown. The Grand Alliance was secured against France by the victory, but it was one that could not lost forever, despite Montagu's wishes.

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