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French Sea Power in the Utrecht Era: 'Balance of Power' and the Strategic Context of Louis XIV's Navy

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNavies in Multipolar Worlds: From the Age of Sail to the Present
Place of PublicationLondon
Accepted/In press2020


  • Utrecht Author Accepted Version

    Utrecht_Author_Accepted_Version.docx, 94 KB, application/vnd.openxmlformats-officedocument.wordprocessingml.document

    Uploaded date:24 Jan 2020

    Version:Accepted author manuscript

King's Authors


The navy of Louis XIV is usually considered in light of its rapid rise, becoming the largest in Europe, under the direction of his secrétaire d’état, Colbert, and by its terminal decline by the end of the reign. The pressures that gave rise to this navy by new, emerging powers and the multipolarity of the seventeenth century are captured by the terms of the Peace of Utrecht, which brought an end to the long War of the Spanish Succession, 1701-1714. Indeed, the peace is often said to have introduced the principle of the balance of power which would govern the international system throughout the rest of the eighteenth century. A close analysis of the terms of the peace, however, reveals an essentially conservative and restorative purpose and an international order that was still based upon the traditional pillars of warfare and of competitive status and dynastic standing. Viewed through this lens, French naval strategy appears much more consistent and purposeful, and the collapse of the navy of Louis XIV looks less like a deep, structural and long-term institutional weakness.

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