Book Review of Negotiator Out of Season: The Career of Wilhelm Egon von Fürstenberg, 1629 to 1704

John T. O’Connor. Negotiator Out of Season: The Career of Wilhelm Egon von Fürstenberg, 1629 to 1704. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1978. ISBN 978-0-820-30436-6. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. x, 263.

The Wars of Louis XIV have fascinated a small number of general readers, students, and scholars.  The origins of the Sun King’s fourth conflict, the Nine Years War or War of the League of Augsburg (1688-1697), has received little attention from historians.  In 1978, Dr John T. O’Connor, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of New Orleans, published his revised doctoral dissertation “William Egon von Fürstenberg and French Diplomacy in the Rhineland Prior to the Outbreak of the War of the League of Augsburg” (1965), prepared under the guidance of the late Professor John B. Wolf of the University of Minnesota.  In Negotiator Out of Season, O’Connor addresses the Cologne factor in Louis XIV’s diplomacy.  The author examines the diplomatic career of the German Wilhelm Egon von Fürstenberg in the service of France, arguing that the Sun King employed Fürstenberg as the foundation to French policy in Germany.

O’Connor begins by describing how Wilhelm and his brother Franz Egon von Fürstenberg became close friends of Maximilian Heinrich of Bavaria when they were young men.  Eventually Maximilian became the Archbishop-Elector of Cologne in 1650, and the Fürstenberg brothers rose to important positions in the electoral government.  In fact, O’Connor stresses that the brothers became the real rulers of Cologne and the other lands belonging to Maximilian Heinrich, including the Bishopric of Liège and Hildesheim.  Franz served as the chief minister and Wilhelm as the leading diplomat.  In the 1650s, the Fürstenbergs allied with Cardinal Mazarin, the chief minister of France, realizing that France, not Austria, was Europe’s strongest power.  Mazarin, and later Louis XIV, employed Wilhelm as their key negotiator with other German states.

In the service of Louis XIV, Wilhelm acquired for France the support of Cologne and an invasion route through Liège against the United Provinces in the Dutch War (1672-1678/79).  He also negotiated neutrality pacts and alliances with Münster, Osnabrück, Paderborn, and Bavaria.  However, Wilhelm paid the price once the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I (ruled 1658-1705) entered the Dutch War and the Electorate of Cologne was occupied by Imperial forces.  The German emperor held Wilhelm in a Viennese prison for six years.  He gained his release as part of France’s demands in the Peace of Nijmegen (1678).

During the next three years Wilhelm and his brother regained domination over Maximilian Heinrich.  In the meantime, Louis XIV pressed Wilhelm back into the French diplomatic service.  The Sun King needed his services to keep the minor German states in line while France took over Strasbourg and Casale (1681), attacked Luxembourg and Catalonia in the War of Reunions (1683-1684), and bombarded Genoa (1684).  For his loyalty and devoted service Wilhelm had the support of Louis XIV in his election as Bishop of Strasbourg and chief minister of Cologne (after the death of his brother in 1682).  But, the aggressive actions of Louis XIV slowly began to unite Europe against further French expansionism.  The German Empire, nevertheless, offered little resistance against French aggression until Austria could turn back the Ottoman threat in 1683-1688.

While Leopold I was busy with the Ottoman threat, Louis XIV pursued French policy in Germany.  First, the Sun King became involved in a dispute over the succession to the Rhine Palatinate (1685-1688).  Wilhelm and Cologne supported the French in their quest to acquire the Rhine Palatinate.  To ensure the continued support of Cologne for French policy in Germany, Louis XIV acquired the election of Wilhelm as the coadjutor of Cologne in January 1688, and hoped to acquire his election as the next Archbishop and Elector of Cologne.  The crisis came when Maximilian Heinrich died in June 1688.  The election of a new archbishop became the focal point in the Bourbon-Habsburg struggle.  Louis XIV supported Fürstenberg and Leopold I promoted the seventeen-year-old Joseph Clemens of Bavaria as the next archbishop.  With Austria and Bavaria united against France, and Wilhelm’s position in Cologne threatened, the Sun King decided to deploy French troops to Cologne to safeguard Fürstenberg’s hold on the electorate and France’s strategic frontier against Austro-Bavarian action.  France had the upper hand until the Imperial victory against the Ottomans at Belgrade in September 1688 allowed Leopold I to turn his attention westward to the French threat.  Moreover, with the Austrian victory, Pope Innocent XI supported the election of Joseph Clemens as the next Archbishop of Cologne.

With these setbacks, the Sun King launched an invasion of the Rhine Palatinate in September 1688.  French forces conquered, terrorized, and destroyed much of the Palatinate as well as occupied the Electorate of Mainz.  Such brutal action in German lands hardened Austria and the German states against France, and began the Nine Years War.  In the ensuing conflict Fürstenberg was forced to flee Cologne and spend his remaining days in Paris.

O’Connor’s study is an outstanding examination of French foreign policy in the German Empire.  It is based on research in French, Papal, Austrian, and Bavarian archives.  The work will appeal to individuals interested in the Wars of Louis XIV and the history of international relations in the late seventeenth century.  Other interesting studies that touch on issues related to the origins and outbreak of the Nine Years war include Geoffrey W. Symcox’s “Louis XIV and the Outbreak of the Nine Years War” in Louis XIV and Europe (edited by Ragnhild M. Hatton, 1976), Frank R. Place’s unpublished doctoral thesis “French Policy and the Turkish War, 1679-1688” (University of Minnesota, 1963), and Richard B. Bingham’s unpublished doctoral thesis “Louis XIV and the War for Peace: The Genesis of a Peace Offensive, 1686-1690” (University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, 1972).

Dr William Young
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota

About William Young

Dr William Young is a retired historian with more than 30 years of experience in teaching and research. He has 18 years of teaching experience at the University of North Dakota and Valley City State University. Moreover, he was a historian in the United States Air Force History Program for 15 years. He possesses a doctoral degree in international and military history and master’s degrees in history and international relations. Young is the author of German Diplomatic Relations, 1871-1945 (2006), International Politics and Warfare in the Age of Louis XIV and Peter the Great (2004), and European War and Diplomacy, 1337-1815 (2003). He has also written 42 official Air Force unit histories, two monographs, and other studies. Young is the recipient of many history awards, including three U.S. Air Force Historian of the Year Awards and a U.S. Air Force History Program of the Year Award. He has studied and worked for 13 years overseas in the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Germany, and Saudi Arabia. He has traveled extensively in Europe and the Middle East. His hobbies include collecting and reading history books and attending college ice hockey games.
This entry was posted in Austrian Foreign Policy, Book Reviews, Dutch War (1672-1778), Europe in the 17th Century (1598-1715), French Foreign Policy, Nine Years War (1688-1697), Wars of Louis XIV (1661-1715) and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Book Review of Negotiator Out of Season: The Career of Wilhelm Egon von Fürstenberg, 1629 to 1704

  1. MSW says:

    Reblogged this on War and Game and commented:
    Another good book on a little known diplomat.

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