War of the Spanish Succession

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SPANISH SUCCESSION, WAR OF THE (17011714). The succession to the extensive Spanish empire had been a live issue since the 1660s, when rumors spread that Philip IV's (ruled 16051665) only surviving son, crowned Charles II in 1665, was unlikely to survive childhood.


The assumption that the new reign would be short motivated the first partition treaty between the head of the Austrian branch of the Habsburgs, Leopold I (ruled 16581705), and Louis XIV (ruled 16431715) of France in January 1668. This treaty remained a dead letter since Charles II, though not siring an heir, survived the next three decades and only finally weakened during the 1690s. During this time the issue of the Spanish succession had not become less contentious. After the War of the League of Augsburg (16881697), Louis believed that France could not afford another major conflict. But this new realism about military resources was counterbalanced by considerations of dynastic honor and future French security; Louis could not accept that the entire Spanish inheritance might pass to the Austrian Habsburgs. This, however, was precisely what Leopold I now wanted, and, thanks to his conquests in Ottoman-controlled Hungary and his successful leadership of a substantial coalition of German princes in the recent war, he was unprepared to discuss partition. Louis nonetheless found an apparent ally in his previous archenemy, William III (ruled 16891702), king of England and de facto ruler of the Dutch Republic. William was equally anxious to avoid another costly war and had no wish to establish the same branch of the Habsburg family across western and central Europe. Bilateral negotiations in the summer and autumn 1698 proposed the exclusion of both Habsburg and Bourbon dynasties from the full succession, nominating instead Joseph Ferdinand, young son of the Bavarian Elector, as heir to most of Charles II's inheritance. As compensation it was proposed that Louis's son would receive the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily, and Milan would go to Leopold's second son, Archduke Charles. The sudden death of Joseph Ferdinand in 1699 annulled the plan, and Louis XIV's diplomats now proposed that France, Britain, and the Dutch Republic should sponsor a simple partition: France would receive all of Spanish Italy but would allow the rest of the empire to pass to Leopold I's son, Archduke Charles. Despite the apparent generosity of the offer, the Austrians realized that without the linchpin of Milan, the two Habsburg dominions could never function together, and the security of much of the Spanish inheritance would be jeopardized. Nevertheless Louis and William signed this new partition treaty in March 1700, hoping that Leopold would follow. Leopold had still refused to sign on 1 November when Charles II finally died. Against expectationsthough rumors had been flying around the Spanish court for the previous monthCharles II's final will did not name Archduke Charles as his universal heir of choice. Giving priority to maintaining the territorial integrity of the empire, Charles II's councillors had persuaded him to make over the entire inheritance to Philip of Anjou (16831746), Louis's second grandson.

Historians have long debated Louis's decision to accept the will in the name of his grandson, but it is difficult to see that he could have done otherwise. Leopold had refused to ratify the partition treaty; if Louis rejected the Spanish offer, Charles II's testament then offered the entire inheritance to Archduke Charles. Louis could call on the military support of the English and the Dutch to make good his claims under the partition treaty, but there was little chance that either would act to uphold French dynastic rights. France would be left to fight the combined Habsburg powers to try to prize Italy from their grip. In contrast, by accepting Charles's will Louis would ensure that Spain and her territories would be his allies in any confrontation with the Austrian Habsburgs.

Louis's real error lay in the inability to see that consolidating the position of his grandson without provoking European war required qualities of restraint and empathy in dealing with other states. Leopold soon declared war, but so long as the Maritime Powers were reluctant to intervene, any conflict might be contained by France. Yet a succession of preemptive moves and provocations turned an ambiguous situation into one in which France was again faced by a hostile alliance of major powers. By moving French troops into the Spanish Netherlands and occupying the "barrier fortresses" garrisoned by Dutch troops since 1697, Louis undermined the key Dutch gain from the treaty of Ryswick (1697). Granting French merchants exclusive trading advantages in the Spanish New World antagonized both the Dutch and the English, while Louis's refusal to explicitly repudiate Philip's position in the French order of succession caused widespread consternation. By the time Louis formally recognized James II's son as James III of England and Scotland, the process of alienation had already led to renewal of the military alliance between the Austrian emperor, the English, and the Dutch (September 1701), and there was no turning back.


Louis was initially optimistic that France's situation was better than it had been in the previous conflict: France would fight beside Spain and the Spanish empire, whose subjects had acclaimed Louis's grandson as Philip V and accepted French support to preserve the integrity of the kingdoms; Portugal, Savoy, and Bavaria were initially also allies of Louis XIV. But defeating the coalition would depend on rapid French military success, and despite some striking achievements in the first two years of war, this proved elusive. In 1703 the opportunity to launch a Franco-Bavarian campaign against the Austrian lands was lost. Meanwhile, English naval success at Vigo Bay (1702) was instrumental in persuading Portugal to abandon the French alliance, while Victor Amadeus II of Savoy (16661732) saw the north Italian operations of the imperial general, Prince Eugène (16631736) of Savoy, as an opportunity to slip out of his own commitment to France. The critical reversal came in August 1704 when allied armies under the Duke of Marlborough and Eugène annihilated the Franco-Bavarian forces at Blenheim and removed any prospect of knocking the Austrians out of the war. The subsequent four years of conflict saw a few successful French initiatives and some capacity to recover ground lost after the hammer-blows of subsequent allied victories at Ramillies (1706), Turin (1706), and Oudenarde (1708), but the balance had tipped toward the assertive, battle-seeking strategies of Marlborough and Eugène. The situation in Spain appeared even worse as allied forces acting in the name of Archduke Charles, now proclaimed Charles III of Spain, had by 1706 occupied Madrid, Barcelona, and other major cities.

The situation stabilized to some extent when French forces imposed huge casualties on the allies as the price of their victory at Malplaquet (1709); military affairs had been improving in Spain since 1707, above all because the population remained fiercely loyal to Philip V. But apparent revival was offset by domestic crisis in France, where a miserable harvest followed by the bitter winter of 17081709 led to catastrophic mortality, mass starvation, and tax failure. As in the 1690s, France lacked the resources to continue the war; faced with collapse at home not counterbalanced by overwhelming success in the field, Louis's diplomats began to negotiate for a settlement on allied terms.


Allied demands in the spring of 1710 were as harsh as France's worst expectations: Philip V would be ejected from the Spanish throne; France would relinquish most of her territorial gains since 1648. Yet Louis was desperate to extricate France from a war that threatened invasion and disintegration at home. Only the imputation that France should act alone in removing his grandson from Spanish territory finally led Louis to break off negotiations. The allies continued to take fortresses and breached the French frontiers in 1710, and once again managed briefly to expel Philip from Madrid. But beneath this success the allied coalition was cracking; the English, and to some extent the Dutch, recognized that they could now get everything they demanded in terms of security and economic advantage while the French military humiliation rendered France less prepared to sanction a Habsburg-dominated Europe. The fall of the Whig government in Britain signaled the end of Marlborough's political and military ascendancy. Soon after, the sudden death of Joseph I (ruled 17051711), ruler of the Habsburg lands and Holy Roman emperor since the death of his father Leopold in 1705, left Archduke Charles in 1711 as successor to his eldest brother in central Europe and allied claimant to the Spanish inheritance. During 1711 the English effectively withdrew from the war effort and drew up a bilateral peace with France. This winding-down of the war was abruptly halted by the sudden deaths of three of Louis XIV's direct heirs in the winter of 17111712, leaving the French succession to the two-year-old duke of Anjou and, after Anjou, to Philip V. But the dangerous issue of the separation of the Bourbon crowns was finally resolved through a further and explicit renunciation of the French throne by Philip. English forces once again withdrew from the conflict, and in July 1712 a French victory at Denain permitted the recapture of crucial frontier fortresses, blocking further allied incursions into France. The main settlement between France and the Maritime Powers was made at Utrecht in the first months of 1713. France escaped lightly, the peace being bought by Spanish concessions in Europe and the Americas. Britain in particular gained substantial colonial and commercial benefits from Spain's transatlantic empire. Archduke Charles, now Emperor Charles VI, held out to the end of 1713, but French successes in the empire persuaded him to settle at Rastatt in November, gaining Milan, Naples, and the Spanish Netherlands in return for accepting Philip V and the Bourbon succession to Spain. The settlements were finally ratified in 1714.

See also Bourbon Dynasty (France) ; Bourbon Dynasty (Spain) ; Charles II (Spain) ; Habsburg Dynasty ; League of Augsburg, War of the (16881697) ; Leopold I (Holy Roman Empire) ; Louis XIV (France) ; Philip IV (Spain) ; Philip V (Spain) ; Spain ; Utrecht, Peace of (1713) ; William and Mary .


Primary Sources

Callières, François de. The Art of Diplomacy. Reprint. Edited by H. M. A. Keens-Soper and Karl W. Schweizer. New York, 1983.

Frey, Linda, and Marshal Frey, eds. The Treaties of the War of the Spanish Succession. Westport, Conn., 1995.

Symcox, Geoffrey, ed. War, Diplomacy and Imperialism, 16181763. New York, 1974. See pp. 6274 for a translation of the final will of Carlos II.

Secondary Sources

Bély, Lucien. Espions et ambassadeurs au temps de Louis XIV. Paris, 1990.

Chandler, David G. Marlborough as Military Commander. London, 1973.

Ingrao, Charles W. In Quest and Crisis: Emperor Joseph I and the Habsburg Monarchy. West Lafayette, Ind., 1979.

Jones, J. R. Marlborough. Cambridge U.K., 1993.

Kamen, Henry. The War of Succession in Spain, 17001715. Bloomington, Ind., 1969.

Lossky, Andrew. Louis XIV and the French Monarchy. New Brunswick, N.J., 1994.

Lynn, John A. The Wars of Louis XIV. London, 1999.

McKay, Derek. Prince Eugene of Savoy. London, 1977.

Roosen, William J. "The Origins of the War of the Spanish Succession." In The Origins of War in Early Modern Europe, edited by Jeremy Black, pp. 151171. Edinburgh, 1987.

Rule, John C. "Colbert de Torcy, an Emergent Bureaucracy and the Formulation of French Foreign Policy, 16981715." In Louis XIV and Europe, edited by Ragnhild M. Hatton, pp. 261288. London, 1976.

Storrs, Christopher. War, Diplomacy and the Rise of Savoy, 16901720, Cambridge, U.K., 1999.

Thompson, Mark A. "Louis XIV and the Origins of the War of the Spanish Succession." In William III and Louis XIV: Essays 16801720 by and for Mark A. Thompson, edited by Ragnhild M. Hatton and John S. Bromley, pp. 140161. Liverpool and Toronto, 1968.

Wolf, John B. Louis XIV. New York, 1968.

David Parrott

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War of the Spanish Succession, 1701–14, last of the general European wars caused by the efforts of King Louis XIV to extend French power. The conflict in America corresponding to the period of the War of the Spanish Succession was known as Queen Anne's War (see French and Indian Wars).


The precarious health of the childless King Charles II of Spain left the succession open to the claims of three principal pretenders—Louis XIV, in behalf of his eldest son, a grandson of King Philip IV of Spain through Philip's daughter, Marie Thérèse, to whom Louis XIV had been married; the electoral prince of Bavaria, Joseph Ferdinand, a great-grandson of Philip IV; and Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I, who had married a younger daughter of Philip IV, but claimed the succession in behalf of his son by a second marriage, Archduke Charles (later Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI). England and Holland were opposed to the union of French and Spanish dominions, which would have made France the leading world power and diverted Spanish trade from England and Holland to France. On the other hand, England, Holland, and France were all opposed to Archduke Charles, because his accession would reunite the Spanish and Austrian branches of the Hapsburg family.

Louis XIV, exhausted by the War of the Grand Alliance, sought a peaceful solution to the succession controversy and reached an agreement (1698) with King William III of England. This First Partition Treaty designated Joseph Ferdinand as the principal heir; in compensation, the French dauphin was to receive territory including Naples and Sicily, and Milan was to fall to Archduke Charles. Spain opposed the partition of its empire, and Charles II responded by naming Joseph Ferdinand sole heir to the entire Spanish Empire.

The unexpected death (1699) of Joseph Ferdinand rendered the Anglo-French treaty inoperative and led to the Second Partition Treaty (1700), agreed upon by France, England, and the Netherlands; under its terms, France was to receive Naples, Sicily, and Milan, while the rest of the Spanish dominions were to go to Archduke Charles. The treaty was acceptable to Louis XIV but was rejected by Leopold, who insisted upon gaining the entire inheritance for his son. While the diplomats were still seeking a peaceful solution, Spanish grandees, desiring to preserve territorial unity, persuaded the dying Charles II to name as his sole heir the grandson of Louis XIV—Philip, duke of Anjou, who became Philip V of Spain. Louis XIV, deciding to abide by Charles's will, broke the partition treaty.

England and Holland, although willing to recognize Philip as king of Spain, were antagonized by France's growing commercial competition. The French commercial threat, the reservation of Philip's right of succession to the French crown (Dec., 1700), and the French occupation of border fortresses between the Dutch and the Spanish Netherlands (Feb., 1701) led to an anti-French alliance among England, Leopold, and the Dutch.

The Course of the War

Hostilities between the French and the imperial forces began in Italy, where the imperial general, Prince Eugene of Savoy, defeated Nicolas Catinat and the duke of Villeroi. The general war began in 1702, with England, Holland, and most of the German states opposing France, Spain, Bavaria, Portugal, and Savoy. The duke of Marlborough, though ill-supported by the Dutch, captured a number of places in the Low Countries (1702–3), while Eugene held his own against Villeroi and his successor, Louis Joseph, duc de Vendôme. The duke of Villars, however, defeated Louis of Baden at Friedlingen (1702).

The successes of the French in Alsace enabled them to menace Vienna (1703), but the opportunity was lost by dissension among their chiefs. In 1704, Marlborough succeeded in moving his troops from the Netherlands into Bavaria, where he joined Eugene and won the great victory of Blenheim over the French under the count of Tallard (see Blenheim, battle of), and the French lost Bavaria. Meanwhile, Portugal and Savoy had changed sides (1703), and in 1704 the English captured Gibraltar.

In 1705, Marlborough in the Netherlands and Eugene in Italy had modest successes, although Vendôme defeated Eugene at Cassano. The year 1706 was marked by Eugene's victory at Turin, which resulted in French evacuation of N Italy, and by Marlborough's triumph at Ramillies (see Ramillies, battle of), which compelled the French to retreat in the Low Countries. In the same year, Louis XIV proposed peace to the Dutch, but English interference forced the continuance of the war.

In 1707, Marlborough made little progress in the north and Eugene's expedition into Provence resulted in the loss of 10,000 men; but in the following year Marlborough and Eugene won another great victory at Oudenarde, took Lille, and drove the French within their borders. Peace negotiations failed, and the allies won (1709) another success, though a costly one, at Malplaquet (see Malplaquet, battle of).

Meanwhile the indecisive allied campaigns in Spain (1708–10) did little to weaken Philip V. The death (1711) of Holy Roman Emperor Joseph I, who had succeeded Leopold, and the accession of Charles VI led to the withdrawal of the English, who were as much opposed to the union of Spain and Austria as to that of Spain and France.

Negotiations for Peace

Preliminary negotiations between England and France were pressed forward and a peace conference was opened (1712), followed shortly afterward by an Anglo-French armistice. In 1713, France, England, and Holland signed the Peace of Utrecht. Charles VI continued the war, although Eugene had been defeated (1712) at Denain and had been forced to retreat in the Spanish Netherlands. Seriously weakened by the defection of his allies, the emperor finally consented in 1714 to the treaties of Rastatt and of Baden, which complemented the general settlement (see Utrecht, Peace of). With this settlement, the principle of a balance of power took precedence over dynastic or national rights in the negotiation of European affairs.


See F. Taylor, The Wars of Marlborough, 1702–1709 (1921); J. B. Wolf, The Emergence of the Great Powers, 1685–1715 (1951).

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Spanish Succession, War of the, 1702–13. Britain's involvement in a new war with France so soon after the conclusion of the Nine Years War in 1697 arose from William III's anxiety to prevent Louis XIV incorporating the Spanish kingdom and its possessions in the Netherlands and Italy into a French ‘universal monarchy’. When the imbecile Carlos II of Spain died childless in November 1700 Louis disregarded his own agreement with William III in the partition treaty of 1699, whereby the Spanish possessions were to be divided between Bourbon and Austrian Habsburg claimants, preferring Carlos's will which bequeathed everything to Louis's grandson, Philip of Anjou. British politicians and public opinion were cautious about renewing war with the French, but there was little option when in 1701 Louis provocatively declared Philip king of Spain, invaded the Spanish Netherlands, and recognized James II's son as ‘King James III’. At The Hague in September William III brought Britain, the United Provinces, and Austria together in a Grand Alliance which was later joined by Prussia, Hanover, and other German states.

Under Marlborough's command Anglo-Dutch forces concentrated on driving back the French from their advanced positions in the Spanish Netherlands. The duke's superlative generalship relied upon rapid manœuvre in the field, where infantry musket-fire could be deployed with devastating effect, in contrast to the slow-paced siege warfare that had dragged out William III's campaigns in the 1690s. His close accord with Lord Treasurer Godolphin ensured that the British war effort remained well resourced. By 1706 the British nation was shouldering an army budget of £2.75 million, half of which was spent on the war in Flanders. From 1704 the allies won a series of spectacular victories over the French. In that year, as the Franco-Bavarian forces were coming close to winning the war in Germany, Marlborough swiftly marched his 40,000-strong Flanders army up the Rhine and into Bavaria where, joining the imperial regiments under Prince Eugene, he defeated the French and their allies at Blenheim on 14 August, thereby enfeebling French action in Germany for the rest of the war. Marlborough pressed on in Flanders and following his victory at Ramillies in May 1706 reconquered most of the southern Netherlands. In August 1708 he repulsed a major French counter-attack at Oudenarde.

In Spain, Britain's war to replace Louis XIV's grandson Philip V with the allied candidate, the Archduke Charles of Austria, was less successful. Portugal joined the coalition in 1703 and committed British ministers to a policy of ‘no peace without Spain’. But while important strategic benefits were obtained, such as the capture of Gibraltar (1704) and Minorca (1708), facilitating naval control of the western Mediterranean, advances on the Spanish mainland were short-lived and provoked much dissatisfaction in Parliament. In 1709 the carnage and near-defeat for Marlborough at Malplaquet demonstrated that the war on France's northern frontier had reached stalemate, while in Spain in December 1710 the allied army under General Stanhope was pushed into retreat and humiliatingly beaten at Brihuega.

In Britain the Tories, long convinced that Whig ministers were deliberately prolonging the war in the interests of wealthy city financiers, had come to power in 1710 determined to end the enormous cost and stabilize the soaring national debt. Though Marlborough continued to extend his hold over the French north-eastern border, the government denied him resources to finish the war, and in December 1711 he was removed from his command. As British troops were withdrawn from the Netherlands, the Dutch and Austrians found themselves exposed to defeat. Meanwhile, Archduke Charles's succession in April 1711 as emperor rendered the war for him in Spain unfeasible, as no one was prepared to countenance a massive Austro-Spanish monarchy. Peace negotiations commenced in January 1712, and in March 1713 the treaty of Utrecht was signed between the allies and France.

Andrew Hanham

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Spanish Succession, War of the (1701–14) Last of the series of wars fought by European coalitions to contain the expansion of France under Louis XIV. It was precipitated by the death of the Spanish king, Charles II, without an heir. He willed his kingdom to Philip of Anjou, Louis' grandson. England and the Netherlands supported the Austrian claimant to the Spanish throne, the Archduke (later Emperor) Charles. The ensuing war marked the emergence of Britain as a maritime and colonial power. The compromise deal in the Peace of Utrecht settled the Spanish succession, with Philip attaining the Spanish throne on condition that he renounced any claim to France, and Britain and Austria receiving substantial territorial gains. Exhaustion of the participants, especially France, ensured general peace in Europe until the outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession in 1740.

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Spanish Succession, War of the

SPANISH SUCCESSION, WAR OF THE. 1701–1714. After Carlos II, the last Habsburg king of Spain, died without issue in 1700, Louis XIV of France accepted the Spanish throne on behalf of his Bourbon nephew. A coalition of Protestant powers led by England's William III had already fought one war to curb Louis's ambitions, and now William's successor, his sister-in-law, Queen Anne, led another coalition with the same objective. The fighting in North America that pitted British colonists against the French in New France and the Spanish in Florida was called Queen Anne's War (1702–1713), and is covered under Colonial Wars.

SEE ALSO Colonial Wars; League of Augsburg, War of the; Queen Anne's War.

                      revised by Harold E. Selesky