What is the Grand Alliance?

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  • Written By: Mike Howells
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 17 August 2019
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The original Grand Alliance, not to be confused with the Grand Alliance of World War Two, was a group of roughly a dozen European nations allied in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries against the expansionist French kingdom under Louis XIV. The alliance was known as the "League of Augsburg" for the first three years of its existence, but when England joined in 1689 the "Grand" prefix was added. The retraction of England from the coalition after roughly thirty years also signaled its dissolution around 1721.

Concern over France's borders in the middle of the 1680s led the Holy Roman Empire, which made up much of what is now Germany, to enter into a military alliance with with the Germanic kingdoms of Saxony and Bavaria as well as Spain and Sweden in 1686. The stated purpose of the original alliance was to bring France's borders back to what was agreed upon in the Treaties of Nijmegen, which were signed in 1679. Following those treaties, France had expanded northward and eastward, taking over Spanish territories in what is now the Netherlands.


It was not long following the establishment of the alliance that open conflict with France began. The Nine Years' War, also known as the War of the Grand Alliance, started with a pre-emptive attack by France against the Holy Roman Empire in 1688. The war consisted largely of a series of sieges taking place in various locations around the periphery of France's outer territories. England entered the fray in 1689, after William of Orange had been crowned King.

In 1697 the Treaty of Ryswick ended the Nine Years' War. Though it did not end in total victory for either side, France is generally considered to have gotten the better of the Grand Alliance. King Louis had to return some territories to Spain, but the new eastern border of France was expanded and drawn along the Rhine River, where it continues to be in the 21st century.

There was a general peace in Europe from 1698 to 1700. In 1701, however, the alliance was again called into action for more than a decade of conflicts that would come to be called the War of Spanish Succession. Fighting erupted following the death of Spanish King Charles II in 1700. With no direct heirs, rule of Spain was passed to Phillip, the grandson of Charles II's half-sister and King Louis XIV of France.

Concern over the possible unification of France and Spain as a result of Phillip's relation with King Louis prompted the Grand Alliance to intervene. Following thirteen years of fighting, with battles reaching as far abroad as North America, a peace was settled and Phillip, dubbed Phillip V, was required to forgo any claim to the French crown, but was able to remain king of Spain.

The alliance finally ended in 1721 following the conclusion of the Great Northern War, a conflict that began concurrently to the War of Spanish Succession but lasted nearly a decade more. The Great Northern War pitted Sweden, no longer part of the Grand Alliance, against its remaining members. It concluded with Sweden losing much of its territories in central and northern Europe. Following an end to hostilities the Grand Alliance itself broke up for the final time, in large part because England dropped out, owing to public disapproval of engaging in so many foreign wars.

During the Second World War, the Grand Alliance was also a nickname given to the coalition of the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union fighting against Nazi Germany. The two alliances, despite the centuries between them, do share some commonalities. In particular, both were formed in response to a growing military threat in northern Europe.


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