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The War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) was fought among several European powers, principally the Holy Roman Empire, Great Britainmarker, the Dutch Republic, Portugalmarker, and the Duchy of Savoy, against the Kingdoms of Francemarker and Spainmarker and the Electorate of Bavaria, over a possible unification of the Kingdoms of Spain and France under a single Bourbon monarch. Such a unification would have drastically changed the European balance of power. The war was fought mostly in Europe but included Queen Anne's War in North America, and it was marked by the military leadership of notable generals including the duc de Villars, the Jacobite Duke of Berwick, the Duke of Marlborough, and Prince Eugene of Savoy. It resulted in the recognition of the Bourbon Philip V as King of Spain while requiring him both to renounce any claim to the French throne and to cede much of the Spanish Crown's possessions to the Holy Roman Empire, the Dutch Republic, Savoy, and Great Britain, effectively partitioning the Spanish Empire in Europe.

In 1700, the last Spanish Habsburg King, Charles II of Spain, died without issue, bequeathing his possessions to Philip, duc d'Anjou, grandson of his half-sister and King Louis XIV of France. Philip thereby became Philip V of Spain, and since he was also the younger son of the Dauphin of France, Philip was therefore indirectly in the line of succession of the French throne. The specter of the multi-continental empire of Spainmarker passing under the effective control of Louis XIV provoked a massive coalition of powers to oppose the Duc d'Anjou's succession.

The war began slowly, as Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor, fought to protect the Austrian Habsburg claim to the Spanish inheritance. As Louis XIV began to expand his territories more aggressively, however, other European nations (chiefly England, Portugal, and the Dutch Republic) entered on the Holy Roman Empire's side to check French expansion. Other states joined the coalition opposing France and Spain in an attempt to acquire new territories, or to protect existing dominions. Spain itself was divided over the issue of succession, and fell into a civil war.

The war was centered in Spain and West-Central Europe (especially the Low Countries), with other important fighting in Germany and Italy. Prince Eugene and the Duke of Marlborough distinguished themselves as military commanders in the Low Countries. The war was fought not only in Europe, but also in colonial North America, where the conflict became known to the English colonists as Queen Anne's War, and by corsairs and privateers along the Spanish Main. Over the course of the fighting, some 400,000 people were killed.

The war was concluded by the treaties of Utrecht and Rastatt . As a result, Philip V remained King of Spain but was removed from the French line of succession, thereby averting a union of the two kingdoms. The Austrians gained most of the Spanish territories in Italy and the Netherlands. As a consequence, France's hegemony over continental Europe was ended, and the idea of a balance of power became a part of the international order. However, Philip quickly revived Spanish ambition; taking advantage of the power vacuum caused by Louis XIV's death in 1715, Philip announced he would claim the French crown if the infant Louis XV died, and attempted to reclaim Spanish territory in Italy, precipitating the War of the Quadruple Alliance in 1717.


Charles II of Spain had been mentally and physically infirm from a very young age, it was clear he could not produce an heir. Thus, the issue of the inheritance of the Spanish kingdoms — which included not only Spain, but also dominions in Italy, the Low Countries, and the Americas — became contentious. Two dynasties claimed the Spanish throne: the French Bourbons and the Austrian Habsburgs; both royal families were closely related to Charles and to his father, Philip IV.

The most direct and legitimate successor to Charles II would have been Charles' nephew through his elder half-sister, Maria Theresa of Spain: Louis, le Grand Dauphin. The Dauphin, son of Louis XIV of France, was thus a grandson of Philip IV in the maternal line and was also a first cousin of Charles in the paternal line, as Louis XIV himself was a nephew of Philip IV, through Louis' mother, Spanish princess Anne of Austria. However, the Dauphin, as heir apparent to the French throne, was a problematic choice: he would have unified the French and the Spanish crowns and controlled a vast empire that would have threatened the European balance of power. Furthermore, both Anne and Maria Theresa had renounced their rights to the Spanish succession upon their marriages, although in the latter case the renunciation was widely seen as invalid, since it had been predicated upon Spain's payment of the Infanta's dowry, which was never paid.
An alternative candidate was the Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold I, of the Austrian Habsburg dynasty. Like Louis XIV, Leopold was a first cousin of the King of Spain and a nephew of Philip IV in the maternal line, his mother having been a younger sister of Philip IV (Maria Anna of Spain); moreover, Philip IV had stipulated the succession should pass to the Austrian Habsburg line in his will. However, Leopold also posed formidable problems as a candidate, for his succession would have reunited the elements of the powerful Spanish-Austrian Habsburg empire of the sixteenth century. It was in part to pre-empt French objections to this outcome that in 1668, only three years after Charles II had ascended, the then-childless Leopold had agreed to partition Spanish territories between the Bourbons and the Habsburgs, even though Philip IV's will would have entitled him to the entire inheritance. This position changed in 1689 when Leopold secured William III of England's support to claim the undivided Spanish empire in return for Leopold's aid against France in the War of the Grand Alliance (1688-1697).

Meanwhile, a new candidate for the Spanish throne had been born in 1692. The Electoral Prince Joseph Ferdinand of Bavaria was Leopold I's grandson in the female line, and therefore belonged to the Wittelsbach dynasty rather than the Habsburgs. His mother, Maria Antonia, had been Leopold's daughter by his first marriage, to Philip IV of Spain's younger daughter Margaret Theresa. As Joseph Ferdinand was neither a Bourbon nor a Habsburg, the likelihood of Spain merging with either France or Austria remained low. The Bavarian prince would have been the lawful heir to the Spanish throne under Philip IV's will, and remained a far less threatening candidate than those directly in the Bourbon or Habsburg lines, despite the willingness of both Leopold I and Louis XIV to defer their claims onto a junior branch of their Houses: Leopold to his younger son, the Archduke Charles, and Louis to the Dauphin's younger son, Philip, the Duke of Anjou. Accordingly, Joseph Ferdinand became the preferred choice of England and the Netherlands to prevent the domination of Europe by either the Bourbons or Habsburgs.

A family tree showing the relationships of the various claimants to Charles II
the War of the Grand Alliance came to a close in 1697, the issue of the Spanish succession was becoming critical. England and France, exhausted by the conflict, signed the Treaty of The Hague , also known as the First Partition Treaty, in which they agreed to recognize Joseph Ferdinand as heir to the Spanish throne but divided the Spanish territories in Italy and the Low Countries between the French and Austrian dynasties. However, they did not consult the Spanish. When the Partition Treaty became known in 1698, the Spanish vehemently objected to the planned dismemberment of their empire; although Charles II agreed to name the Bavarian Prince his heir, he assigned to him the whole Spanish Empire rather than merely the parts England and France had chosen.

The issue was further confused following the death of Joseph Ferdinand of smallpox in 1699 at the age of six, reopening the issue of the Spanish succession. England and France soon ratified the Second Partition Treaty, assigning the Spanish throne to the Archduke Charles. The Italian territories would go to France, while the Archduke would receive the remainder of the Spanish empire. The Austrians, who were not party to the treaty, were displeased, for in the first case they openly vied for the whole of Spain and its possessions, and in the second it was the Italian territories that interested them most, being richer, closer to Austria, and more governable. In Spain, distaste for the treaty was even greater; the courtiers were unified in opposing partition, but were divided on whether the throne should go to a Habsburg or a Bourbon. Pro-French statesmen, however, were in the majority, and in October 1700, Charles II agreed to bequeath all of his territory to the Dauphin's second son, the duc d'Anjou. Charles took steps to prevent the potential union of France and Spain; should Anjou have by chance inherited the French throne, Spain would have gone to his younger brother, the duc de Berri, and thereafter Archduke Charles was to have been next in the line of succession.


All the participants of the War of the Spanish Succession.
Blue: Great Britain, Dutch Republic, Portugal with allies.
Green: Spain, France with allies.
When the French court first learned of the will, despite the paper victory for the Bourbons, Louis XIV's advisors argued that it was safer to accept the terms of the Second Partition Treaty than to risk war by claiming the whole Spanish inheritance. However, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the French foreign minister, successfully argued that whether France accepted all or a part of the Spanish Empire, it would still have to fight Austria, which did not accept the nature of the partition described by the Treaty of London. Furthermore, the terms of Charles' will stipulated that Anjou was to be offered the choice of the whole Spanish Empire or nothing; if he refused, the entire inheritance was to go to Anjou's younger brother Charles, duke of Berry or to Archduke Charles of Austria if the Duke of Berry refused. Knowing that the Maritime Powers (England and the United Provinces) would not side with France in a fight to impose the partition treaty on the unwilling Austrians and Spanish, Louis determined to accept his grandson's inheritance.

Charles II died on 1 November 1700, and on 24 November, Louis XIV proclaimed Anjou as Philip V, King of Spain. The new King was declared ruler of the entire Spanish empire, contrary to the provisions of the Second Partition Treaty. Despite the violation of the agreement with England, William III lacked the support of the ruling elites in England or the United Provinces to declare war against France, and reluctantly recognized Philip as king in April 1701.

Louis, however, took too aggressive a path in his attempt to secure French hegemony in Europe. He cut off England and the Netherlands from Spanish trade, thereby seriously threatening the commercial interests of those two countries. This enabled William III to secure the support of his subjects and to negotiate the Treaty of Den Haag with the United Provinces and Austria. The agreement, reached on 7 September 1701, recognized Philip V as King of Spain, but allotted Austria that which it desired most: the Spanish territories in Italy. As a condition, Austria also accepted the Spanish Netherlands, thus protecting that crucial region from French control. England and the United Provinces, meanwhile, were to retain their commercial rights in Spain.

A few days after the signing of the treaty, William III's predecessor as King of England, James II, who had been deposed by William in 1688, died in France. England and the United Provinces had already begun raising armies, and now, although Louis had treated William as King of England since the Treaty of Ryswick, he now recognized James II's son, the Catholic James Francis Edward Stuart (the "Old Pretender"), as the rightful monarch. Louis's action alienated the English public even further and gave William grounds for war.

Armed conflict began slowly, as Austrian forces under Prince Eugene of Savoy invaded the Duchy of Milanmarker, one of the Spanish territories in Italy, prompting French intervention. England, the United Provinces, and most of the German states (notably Prussia and Hanover), sided with Austria. The Wittelsbach Electors of Bavaria and Cologne supported France and Spain. Portugalmarker, while initially allied with the French, switched sides very early on with the Methuen Treaty. In Spain, the cortes of Aragonmarker, Valencia, and Cataloniamarker (regions of the Crown of Aragon) declared themselves in favor of the Austrian Archduke. Although William III died in 1702, his successor in England, Anne of Great Britain, continued the vigorous prosecution of the war, under the guidance of her ministers Godolphin and Marlborough.

Early fighting: 1701–1703

In 1702, Eugene fought in Italy, where the French were led by the duc de Villeroi, whom Eugene defeated and captured at the Battle of Cremona on 1 February. Villeroi was now replaced by the duc de Vendôme, who, despite the drawn Battle of Luzzara in August and a considerable numerical superiority, proved unable to drive Eugene from Italy.

In the meantime, Marlborough led combined English, Dutch, and German forces in the Low Countries, where he captured several important fortresses, most notably Liègemarker. On the Rhine, an Imperial army under Louis of Baden captured Landaumarker in September, but the threat to Alsace was relieved by the entrance of the Elector of Bavaria into the war on the French side. Prince Louis was forced to withdraw across the Rhine, where he was defeated by a French army under Claude-Louis-Hector de Villars at Friedlingen. The English admiral Sir George Rooke also won an important naval battle, the Battle of Vigo Baymarker, which resulted in the complete destruction of the Spanish treasure fleet and in the capture of tons of silver.

Next year, although Marlborough captured Bonnmarker and drove the Elector of Cologne into exile, he failed in his efforts to capture Antwerpmarker, and the French were successful in Germany. A combined Franco-Bavarian army under Villars and Max Emanuel of Bavaria defeated Imperial armies under Louis of Baden and Hermann Styrum, but the Elector's timidity prevented a march on Vienna, which led to Villars's resignation. French victories in south Germany continued after Villars' resignation, however, with a new army under Camille de Tallard victorious in the Palatinate. French leaders entertained grand designs, intending to use a combined French and Bavarian army to capture the Austrian capital the next year. By the end of the year 1703, however, France had suffered setbacks for Portugal and Savoy had defected to the other side. Meanwhile, the English, who had previously held the view that Philip could remain on the throne of Spain, now decided that their commercial interests would be more secure under the Archduke Charles.

Middle phase: 1704–1709

1704, the French plan was to use Villeroi's army in the Netherlands to contain Marlborough, while Tallard and the Franco-Bavarian army under Max Emanuel and Ferdinand de Marsin, Villars's replacement, would march on Vienna.

Marlborough — ignoring the wishes of the Dutch, who preferred to keep their troops in the Low Countries — led the English and Dutch forces southward to Germany; Eugene, meanwhile, moved northward from Italy with the Austrian army. The objective of these manœuvres was to prevent the Franco-Bavarian army from advancing on Vienna. Having met, the forces under Marlborough and Eugene faced the French under Tallard at the Battle of Blenheimmarker. The battle was a resounding success for Marlborough and Eugene, and had the effect of knocking Bavaria out of the war. In that year, England achieved another important success as it captured Gibraltarmarker in Spain, with the help of Dutch forces under the command of Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt, on behalf of the Archduke Charles.

Following the Battle of Blenheim, Marlborough and Eugene separated again, with the former going to the Low Countries, and the latter to Italy. In 1705, little progress was made by either France or the Allies in any theatre. While Marlborough's attempted invasion of France down the Moselle came to nought, and although he managed to wrong-foot Villeroi and break through the Lines of Brabant, he was unable to bring the French commander to battle. Villars and Louis of Baden manoeuvred indecisively on the Rhine, and the story was much the same for Vendôme and Eugene in Italy. The stalemate was broken in 1706, as Marlborough drove the French out of most of the Spanish Netherlands, decisively defeating troops under Villeroi in the Battle of Ramilliesmarker in May and following up with the conquest of Antwerpmarker and Dunkirkmarker. Prince Eugene also met with success; in September, following the departure of Vendôme to shore up the shattered army in the Netherlands, he and the Duke of Savoy inflicted a heavy loss on the French under Orleans and Marsin at the Battle of Turin, driving them out of Italy by the end of the year.

Now that France had been expelled from Germany, the Low Countries and Italy, Spain became the centre of activity in the next few years. In 1706, the Portuguese general Marquês das Minas led an invasion of Spain from Portugal, managing to capture Madridmarker. By the end of the year, however, Madrid was recovered by an army led by King Philip V and the Duke of Berwick (the illegitimate son of James II of England, serving in the French army). The Earl of Galway led another attempt on Madrid in 1707, but Berwick roundly defeated him at the Battle of Almansamarker on 25 April. Thereafter, the war in Spain settled into indecisive skirmishing from which it would not subsequently emerge.

In 1707, the War briefly intersected with the Great Northern War, which was being fought simultaneously in Northern Europe. A Swedish army under Charles XII arrived in Saxonymarker, where he had just finished chastising the Elector Augustus II and forced him to renounce his claims to the Polish throne. Both the French and the Allies sent envoys to Charles's camp, and the French hoped to encourage him to turn his troops against the Emperor Joseph I, who Charles felt had slighted him by his support for Augustus. However, Charles, who liked to see himself as a champion of Protestant Europe, greatly disliked Louis XIV for his treatment of the Huguenots, and was generally uninterested in the western war. He turned his attention instead to Russia, ending the possibility of Swedish intervention.

Later in 1707, Prince Eugene led an allied invasion of southern France from Italy, but was stalled by the French army. Marlborough, in the meantime, remained in the Low Countries, where he was caught up in capturing an endless succession of fortresses. In 1708, Marlborough's army clashed with the French, who were beset by leadership problems: their commanders, the Duke of Burgundy (Louis XIV's grandson) and the duc de Vendôme were frequently at variance, the former often making unwise military decisions. Burgundy's insistence that the French army not attack led Marlborough once again to unite his army with Eugene's, allowing the allied army to crush the French at the Battle of Oudenarde, and then proceeded to capture Lillemarker. In Italy, Austria sacked cities such as Forlìmarker (1708).

The disasters of Oudenarde and Lille led France to the brink of ruin. Louis XIV was forced to negotiate; he sent his foreign minister, the Marquis de Torcy, to meet the allied commanders at The Haguemarker. Louis agreed to surrender Spain and all its territories to the Allies, requesting only that he be allowed to keep Naplesmarker (in Italy). He was, moreover, prepared to furnish money to help expel Philip V from Spain. The Allies, however, imposed more humiliating conditions; they demanded that Louis use the French army to dethrone his own grandson. Rejecting the offer, Louis chose to continue fighting until the bitter end. He appealed to the people of France, bringing thousands of new recruits into his army.

In 1709, the Allies attempted three invasions of France, but two were so minor as to be merely diversionary. A more serious attempt was launched when Marlborough and Eugene advanced toward Paris. They clashed with the French under the duc de Villars at the Battle of Malplaquet, the bloodiest battle of the war. Although the Allies defeated the French, they lost over twenty thousand men, compared with only ten thousand for their opponents. The Allies captured Monsmarker but were unable to follow up their victory. The battle marked a turning point in the war; despite winning, the Allies were unable to proceed with the invasion, having suffered such tremendous casualties.

Final phase: 1710–1714

In 1710, the allies launched a final campaign in Spain, but failed to make any progress. An army under James Stanhope reached Madrid together with the Archduke Charles, but it was forced to capitulate at Brihuegamarker when a relief army came from France. The alliance, in the meantime, began to weaken. In Great Britainmarker Marlborough's powerful political influence was lost: the source of much of his influence, the friendship between his wife and Queen Anne, came to an end, with Queen Anne dismissing the Duchess of Marlborough from her offices and banishing her from the court. Moreover, the Whig ministry that had lent its support to the war fell, and the new Tory government that replaced it sought peace.

In 1711, the Archduke Charles became Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI following the sudden death of Joseph, his elder brother. At that point, a decisive victory for Austria, uniting the Holy Roman Empire with the Spanish crown, would have upset the balance of power just as much as a victory for France.

Marlborough achieved a strategic victory over Villars, breaking the French Lines of Ne Plus Ultra and capturing Bouchain, but was recalled to Great Britain at the end of the year, and was replaced by the Duke of Ormonde. The British, led by Secretary of State Henry St John, began to correspond secretly with the Marquis de Torcy, excluding the Dutch and Austrians from their negotiations. The Duke of Ormonde refused to commit British troops to battle, so the French under Villars were able to recover much lost ground in 1712, such as at the Battle of Denain. Villars then continued his offensive with success. At the same time, the French troops were winning in Spain, and took Barcelonamarker.

Great Britain and the Netherlands ceased fighting France when the Treaty of Utrecht was concluded in 1713. Barcelonamarker, which had supported the Archduke's claim to the throne of Spain and the allies in 1705, finally surrendered to the Bourbon army on 11 September 1714 following a long siege, ending the presence of the allies in Spain. This is remembered in that region as the National Day of Catalonia.

Hostilities between France and Austria continued until 1714, when the Treaties of Rastatt and Baden were ratified, marking the end of the War of the Spanish Succession. Spain was slower in ratifying treaties of peace; it did not formally end its conflict with Austria until 1720, after it had been defeated by all the powers in the War of the Quadruple Alliance.


Under the Peace of Utrecht, Philip was recognized as King Philip V of Spain, but renounced his place in the French line of succession, thereby precluding the union of the French and Spanish crowns (although there was some sense in France that this renunciation was illegal). He retained the Spanish overseas empire, but ceded the Spanish Netherlands, Naplesmarker, Milanmarker, and Sardinia to Austria; Sicily and parts of the Milanese to Savoy; and Gibraltarmarker and Minorcamarker to Great Britain. Moreover, he granted the British the exclusive right to non-Spanish slave trading in Spanish America for thirty years, the so-called asiento.

With regard to the political organization of their kingdoms, Philip issued the Nueva Planta decrees, following the centralizing approach of the Bourbons in France, ending the political autonomy of the kingdoms which had made up the Crown of Aragon; territories in Spain that had supported the Archduke Charles and up to then had kept their institutions in a framework of loose dynastic union, separate from the rest of the Spanish realm. On the other hand, the Kingdom of Navarre and the Basque Provincesmarker, having supported the king against the Habsburg pretender, did not lose their autonomy and retained their traditional differentiated institutions and laws (fueros).

No important changes were made to French territory in Europe. Grandiose imperial desires to turn back the French expansion to the Rhine which had occurred since the middle decades of the seventeenth century were not realized, nor was the French border pushed back in the Low Countries. France agreed to stop supporting the Stuart pretenders to the British throne, instead recognizing Anne as the legitimate queen. France gave up various North American colonial possessions, recognizing British sovereignty over Rupert's Land and Newfoundlandmarker, and ceding Acadia and its half of Saint Kittsmarker. The Dutch were permitted to retain various forts in the Spanish Netherlands, and were permitted to annex a part of Spanish Guelders.

With the Peace of Utrecht, the wars to prevent French hegemony that had dominated the latter part of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth century were over for the time being. France and Spain, both under Bourbon monarchs, remained allies during the following years.



  • Jongste, Jan A.F. de, and Augustuus J. Veenendaal, Jr. Anthonie Heinsius and The Dutch Republic 1688–1720: Politics, War, and Finance. Institute of Netherlands History (2002).
  • Veenendaal, A. J., Briefwisselling van Anthonie Heinsius, 1702–1720. 19 volumes. Instituut voor Nederlandse Geschiedenis (1976–2001).
  • Wolf, John B. The Emergence of the Great Powers: 1685–1715. Harper & Row, (1962). ISBN 0061397509

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