In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Wars of Louis XIV

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Journals and Edited Collections
  • Countries
  • Diplomacy
  • War and Society

Military History Wars of Louis XIV
Jamel Ostwald
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 July 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 July 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0065


Along with Napoleon, Louis XIV (b. 1638–d. 1715) is one of the most famous Frenchmen in history. The long-standing interest in Louis has been driven by several factors, foremost among them the king’s larger-than-life persona. Self-proclaimed Sun King (le Roi-Soleil) and builder of much-imitated Versailles, Louis’ taming of recalcitrant French nobles spawned the concept of political absolutism that has come to dominate the historiography of the 17th century. His behavior in his wars brought as much attention to himself as his political centralization and patronage of culture. His insistence that Roman and Spanish representatives beg forgiveness for altercations involving Frenchmen on foreign soil, his naval bombardment of neutral Genoa for assisting his Spanish foe, his devastation of the Palatinate: All these actions speak of a monarch eager to establish and maintain by force his reputation. Military successes over the first half of his reign cemented his reputation as the greatest (and most threatening) monarch in Europe, and his territorial conquests helped define the boundaries of modern France. As Louis would have wished, much of the historical writing on this period has revolved around him and his actions, justifying the common framing of the wars in western Europe between 1667 to 1714 as “his” wars. National schools have debated the merits and faults of Louis’ foreign policies ever since his first declaration of war, and this nationalistic bias is still present in even the most recent literature. This dominance of the Great Man school of history has perpetuated itself even as historians leave the Court of Versailles, for the standard historical writing on almost every aspect of Louis’ wars has been, until the past few decades, dominated by biographies of Great Captains who waged war for or against Louis le Grand. By the 1960s a “new military history” emerged among academic historians to supplant the Great Man biography with quantitative analysis of the social structures of military institutions. By the 1980s another wave of academic historians and political scientists had taken up the question of state formation and the role that army growth and administrative/fiscal reforms played in the creation of the modern bureaucratic state (see the article Fiscal-Military State in the Atlantic History module of Oxford Bibliographies Online). Yet these newer historiographical tendencies have failed to overtake a continued interest in the narratives of military campaigns for and against Louis. The wars of Louis XIV, much like his Court rituals, still revolve around the rise and fall of the spectacular Sun King.

General Overviews

There are very few overviews of Louis XIV’s wars as a whole, as most works focus on War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714) in particular. English and French authors dominate discussion of the Sun King’s wars; Lynn 1999 represents the only modern survey of the entire period, though much of his operational detail comes from the earlier Quincy 1726. Recent works tend toward either monographic specialization or broader thematic surveys, so it is often necessary to return to earlier works such as Carsten 1961 for overviews of the period that balance discussion of each country with adequate detail on the politics and diplomacy of the period as a whole.

  • Carsten, F. L., ed. The New Cambridge Modern History. Vol. 5, The Ascendancy of France, 1648–88. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1961.

    A dated reference work that provides a historical narrative on each region of Europe as well as thematic chapters. While many of its interpretations have been superseded, its basic narrative is still useful, as is the atlas volume that illustrates campaign theaters and territorial modifications resulting from the various treaties. Volume 6, The Rise of Great Britain and Russia, continues the account up through 1725.

  • Lynn, John. The Wars of Louis XIV, 1667–1714. Modern Wars in Perspective. New York: Longman, 1999.

    The only modern overview of all of Louis’ wars; heavy reliance on French sources, especially Quincy 1726. Helpfully for undergraduates, it synthesizes existing secondary accounts and explains Louis’ many conflicts in terms of war-as-process, attritional struggles that dragged out over many years without decisive victory by either side.

  • Quincy, Charles Sévin, marquis de. Histoire militaire du règne de Louis le Grand, Roy de France, où on trouve un détail de toutes les Batailles, Sièges, Combats particuliers, et généralement de toutes les actions de Guerre qui se sont passées pendant le cours de son Règne, tant sur Terre que sur Mer, Enrichie des plans nécessaires. On y a joint un traité particulier de Pratiques et de Maximes de l’Art Militaire. Par M. le marquis de Quincy, Brigadier des Armées du Roy, Lieutenant Général de l’Artillerie, Lieutenant pour le Roy au Gouvernement d’Auvergne, Chevalier de l’Ordre Militaire de S. Louis. 8 vols. Paris: D. Mariette, 1726.

    A near-contemporary, multivolume account of Louis’ wars on land and sea. Includes detailed operational narratives, as well as maps of battles and sieges. Volume 8 is a treatise on the art of war, also published separately as L’Art de la guerre in two volumes.

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