Mercantilism & the wars of Louis XIV

Mercantilism is an economic philosophy that aims to make a country wealthier by promoting exports and suppressing imports to a certain country in the name of “a favorable balance of trade”. Mercantilism was influential from the 16th to the 18th centuries. A common aim of the mercantilists was to keep the gold and silver in the country. Mercantilist countries gave subsidies to new industries and granted monopolies to certain companies over certain areas or products. Mercantilists favored tariffs, prohibitions on international trade, and quotas.

France was one example of a heavily mercantilist country. France’s heavily mercantilist policies along with the many wars it fought put a strain on the people during the reign of Louis XIV

France experienced several periods of warfare under Louis XIV, with diverse results. Louis thought that France’s borders were weak in several areas, and decided to engage in warfare to expand his territory to fix this problem. In 1667, Louis invaded what is now known as Belgium in the War of Devolution, which lasted until 1668. The French troops easily suppressed the local troops, which caused England, the Dutch, and Sweden to form a triple alliance against Louis. As a result, Louis decided to stop waging the war and hold on to some the land he had already gained.

In 1672, Louis returned to the battlefield by fighting the Dutch in The Franco-Dutch war, which lasted until 1678. Louis wanted to expand French territory, and did succeed in making some minor gains. However, these gains were made at a great expense to France. The heavy taxes Louis imposed on the people impoverished the country, but Louis continued to do so anyway.

In 1688, Louis began another war known as The Nine Years War. Louis claimed some German territories, and he decided to make good on his claim by invading it. The Holy Roman Emperor was not able to deal with Louis at first because he was fighting the Muslims, but was eventually able to face him. After Louis listened to the advice that he should destroy a territory called the Palatinate, half a dozen European powers lined up together in an alliance against Louis to stop his advances. France was completely exhausted by taxes, and the French expenses were about three times the amount of money that was coming in. Louis gave up, and the war ended with him giving away almost all of his territorial gains.

In 1702, The War of the Spanish Succession began. Louis and Leopold I, the Holy Roman Emperor, had rival candidates to succeed the childless king of Spain, Charles II. There was a concern over the balance of power in Europe and abroad, as Spain controlled a lot of territory in the Netherlands, the Philippines, Italy, and in the New World. There were various treaties proposed to divide the Spanish territory, but Charles insisted that the Spanish realm remain undivided. Louis agreed to the Second partition treaty, but Leopold did not. Louis took this as an annulment of the agreement, and war broke out between Leopold and Louis. The English were concerned they would lose their trading rights in the New World under mercantilist France, and joined the war on the side of Leopold.

Between 1708 and 1709, France itself was invaded. Louis was willing to give up a lot to get the invaders out of his territory, but his offers weren’t enough for the Dutch and the Holy Roman Empire. France was once again exhausted financially, and the taxes once again wore down on the people. The war finally began coming to a close with treaties in 1713 and 1714. France managed to keep it’s dynasty in Spain, but the Spanish Netherlands and it’s Italian holdings went to Austria. France also lost its conquests east of the Rhine river. The Dutch got a series of fortresses against French attack, but the Dutch were exhausted by the war and never regained their former strength.

England, on the other hand, gained Gibraltar, Minorca, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Hudson’s bay. They also gained the right to transport slaves to Spanish America. It was at about this time that England began to emerge as a great power. As for Austria, they now held Milan, Naples, Sicily, and Belgium.

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