The Nine Years' War, 1689-1697

This first episode in the long contest between England and France is also known as King William's War, and as the War of the Grand Alliance. William of Orange, ruler of the United Provinces (now the Netherlands), became King William III of England in 1688. His wife, a daughter of James II, ruled jointly as Queen Mary. One reason why William accepted the throne was to make England an active ally in his struggle against Louis XIV of France.

Louis' foreign policy was aimed at the Hapsburgs. This dynasty monopolized the office of Holy Roman Emperor, who controlled Austria, Hungary, Bohemia and parts of Italy, and ruled Spain and its overseas possessions. These included the Spanish Netherlands (now Belgium and part of northern France), and much of America. By 1688 Louis wanted not just to weaken the Hapsburgs: he wanted to take them over. In particular, he aimed to place his son, whose mother was a Spanish princess, on the throne of Spain.

So far as England was concerned, Louis supported the Stuart claim to the throne. James II, a Roman Catholic, had been deposed in 1688 and had fled to France. Thus William was also defending his own throne, and the Protestant line of succession.

Louis' ambitions alarmed other European states, and by mid-1689 he was confronted by the Grand Alliance of Spain, the United Provinces, England, the Emperor, and many German and Italian princes. William played a centrally important role in the alliance, mainly because he controlled the English and Dutch fleets which alone could link the allies together and try to throttle France from the sea.

Neither side could achieve victory, and by 1697 a stalemate had been reached. The war ended with the Peace of Ryswick in September. The Peace did not contain any clauses dealing with Newfoundland. However, there had been some dramatic campaigns on the island during the war, which showed the British government that if it was to maintain its position in Newfoundland, then it would have to defend it. These campaigns included the British naval attack on Plaisance (Placentia) in 1692, and the French attacks on Ferryland and St. John's in 1694 and D'Iberville's raid on the Avalon Peninsula in 1696.

©1998, J.K. Hiller


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