| Charles II
was the last Habsburg King of Spain. After his death, the War of the Spanish Succession broke out as France and Austria vied for the Spanish empire.
The War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714) was a major European armed conflict that arose in 1701 after the death of the last Spanish Habsburg king, Charles II. Charles had bequeathed all of his possessions to Philip, duc d'Anjou (Philip V), a grandson of the French King Louis XIV. The war began slowly, as the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I fought to protect his own dynasty's claim to the Spanish inheritance. As Louis XIV began to expand his territories more aggressively, however, other European nations (chiefly England and the United Provinces) 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. The war was fought not only in Europe, but also in North America, where the conflict became known as Queen Anne's War.
The war proceeded for over a decade, and was marked by the military leadership of notable generals such as the duc de Villars, the Duke of Marlborough, and Prince Eugene of Savoy. The war was concluded by the treaties of Utrecht (1713) and Rastatt (1714). As a result, Philip V remained King of Spain, but was removed from the French line of succession, thereby averting a union of France and Spain. More importantly, France's hegemony over continental Europe was ended, and a true balance of power established.
As King Charles II of Spain was both mentally and physically infirm from a very young age, it was clear that 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 North America—became quite contentious. The two primary dynasties claiming the Spanish throne were the French Bourbons and the Austrian Habsburgs; both royal families were closely related to the King of Spain.
King Louis XIV
of France was the most powerful monarch in Europe; it was feared that allowing his son to inherit Spain would seriously compromise the balance of power in Europe.
The most direct and legitimate successor would have been Louis, the Grand Dauphin, the only legitimate son of King Louis XIV of France. The Dauphin was the son of the Spanish princess Maria Theresa, King Charles II's elder sister. The Dauphin, being next in the French line of succession as well, was a problematic choice: had he inherited both the French and the Spanish crowns, he would have control of a vast empire that would have threatened the European balance of power.
The alternative candidate was the Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold I, of the Austrian Habsburg dynasty. He was a first cousin of the King of Spain; moreover, Charles II's father, Philip IV, had given the succession to the Austrian line in his will. This candidate, too, posed formidable problems, for Leopold's success would have reunited the powerful Spanish-Austrian Habsburg empire of the sixteenth century. In 1668, only three years after Charles II had ascended, the then-childless Leopold had agreed to the partition of the Spanish territories between the Bourbons and the Habsburgs, even though Philip IV's will entitled him to the entire inheritance. In 1689, however, when William III of England required the Emperor's aid in the War of the Grand Alliance against France, he promised to support the Emperor's claim to the undivided Spanish empire.
A new candidate for the Spanish throne, the Electoral Prince Joseph Ferdinand of Bavaria, had been born in 1692. Joseph Ferdinand was Leopold I's grandson, but in the female line, so he belonged not to the Habsburg but to the Wittelsbach dynasty. As he was neither a Bourbon nor a Habsburg, the likelihood of Spain merging with either France or Austria remained low. Although Leopold and Louis were both willing to defer their claims to a junior line of the family—Leopold to his younger son, the Archduke Charles, and Louis to the Dauphin's younger son, the duc d'Anjou—the Bavarian prince remained a far less threatening candidate. Accordingly, he soon became the preferred choice of England and the Netherlands. Joseph Ferdinand, moreover, would have been the lawful heir to the Spanish throne under Philip IV's will.
As 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, agreed to the Treaty of the Hague (the First Partition Treaty), which named Joseph Ferdinand heir to the Spanish throne, but divided Spanish territory in Italy and the Low Countries between France and Austria. This decision was taken without consulting the Spanish, who vehemently objected to the dismemberment of their empire. Thus, when the Partition Treaty became known in 1698, Charles II of Spain agreed to name the Bavarian Prince his heir, but assigned to him the whole Spanish Empire, not just the parts England and France had chosen.
The young Bavarian prince abruptly died of smallpox in 1699, reopening the issue of the Spanish succession. England and France soon ratified the Treaty of London (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 they openly vied for the whole of Spain. 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. The 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 younger son, the duc d'Anjou. Charles took steps to prevent the union of France and Spain; should Anjou have inherited the French throne, Spain would have gone to his younger brother. After Anjou and his brother, the Archduke Charles was to have been next in the line of succession.
Beginning of the war
When the French royal court first learnt of the will, it convinced Louis XIV that it was safer to accept the terms of the Partition Treaty than to risk war by claiming the whole Spanish inheritance. However, the minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert, marquis de Torcy soon changed his monarch's mind, arguing that whether France accepted the whole or a part of the Spanish Empire, it would still have to fight Austria, which did not accept the nature of the partition stipulated by the Treaty of London. Charles II died on 1 November 1700, and on 24 November Louis XIV proclaimed Anjou King of Spain. The new King, Philip V, was declared ruler of the entire Spanish empire, contrary to the provisions of the Second Partition Treaty. William III, however, could not declare war against France, since he did not have the full support of the English people. He reluctantly recognised 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. William III secured the support of his subjects, and negotiated the Treaty of the Hague with the Netherlands and Austria. The agreement, reached in September 1701, recognised Philip V as King of Spain, but allotted Austria that which it desired most: the Spanish territories in Italy. England and the Netherlands, meanwhile, were to retain their commercial rights in Spain.
A few days after the signing of the treaty, the former King of England, James II (who had been deposed by William III in 1688) died in France. Although Louis had treated William as King of England since the Treaty of Ryswick, he now declared that James II's son, James Francis Edward Stuart (the "Old Pretender"), was the rightful monarch. Louis's action alienated the English public even further, and gave William grounds for war. England and the Netherlands had already begun raising armies, but had not actually declared war. Armed conflict began slowly, as Austrian forces under Prince Eugene of Savoy invaded Milan, one of the Spanish territories in Italy, prompting French internvention. England, the Netherlands, and most German states sided with Austria, but the minor powers Bavaria, Portugal, and Savoy supported France and Spain. In Spain, Aragon, Valencia, and Catalonia declared themselves in favour of the Austrian Archduke. Even after William III died in 1702, his successor in England, Anne, continued the vigorous prosecution of the war.
There were two main theatres of the war in Europe: Spain and West-Central Europe (especially the Low Countries). The latter theatre proved the more important, as Prince Eugene and the English commander, the Duke of Marlborough, distinguished themselves as military commanders. There was also important fighting in Germany and Italy.
In 1702, Eugene fought in Italy, where the French were led by the duc de Villeroi and, afterwards, by the duc de Vend˘me. In the meantime, Marlborough led combined English, Dutch, and German forces in the Low Countries, where he won a number of important battles against the French. The English admiral Sir George Rooke also won an important naval battle, the Battle of Vigo Bay, which resulted in the complete destruction of the Spanish treasure fleet and in the capture of tons of silver.
Next year, the French were successful in Alsace, and began to threaten the Austrian capital, Vienna. French leaders entertained grand designs, intending to use a combined French and Bavarian army to capture the capital. Thus, Germany was the most important theatre during the first years of the war. 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.
Blenheim to Malplaquet
The Duke of Marlborough was the commander of the English, Dutch and German forces. He inflicted a crushing defeat on the French and Bavarians at the Battle of Blenheim
In 1704, 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 the duc de Tallard at the Battle of Blenheim. 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 Gibraltar in Spain.
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. The stalemate was broken in 1706, as Marlborough drove France out of the Low Countries, decisively defeating troops under Villeroi in the Battle of Ramillies in May. Prince Eugene also met with success; in September, he inflicted a heavy loss on the French at the Battle of Turin, and driving them out of Italy by the end of the year.
France having been expelled from Germany, the Low Countries, and Italy, Spain became the centre of activity in the next few years. In 1706, the Earl of Galway led an invasion of Spain from Portugal, managing to capture Madrid. 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 exiled English King James II, serving in the French army). Galway led another attempt on Madrid in 1707, but Berwick roundly defeated him at the Battle of Almansa on 25 April. Thereafter, the war in Spain settled into indecisive skirmishing from which it would not subsequently emerge.
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 duc de Burogogne (Louis XIV's grandson) and the duc de Vend˘me were frequently at variance, the former often making unwise military decisions. The allied army crushed the French at the Battle of Oudenarde, and then proceeded to capture Lille.
The disasters of Oudenarde and Lille led France to the brink of ruin. Louis XIV was forced to negotiate; he sent his minister, the marquis de Torcy, to meet the allied commanders at the Hague. Louis agreed to surrender Spain and all its territories to the allies, requesting only that he be allowed to keep Naples (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, 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 battle marked a turning point in the war; despite winning, the allies were unable to proceed with the invasion, having suffered such tremendous casualties.
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 when a relief army came from France. The alliance, in the meantime, began to weaken. In Great Britain, Marlborough's powerful political influence was lost, as the source of much of his clout—the friendship between his wife and the Queen—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 which had lent its support to the war fell, and the new Tory government that took its place sought peace. Marlborough was recalled to Great Britain, and was replaced by the Duke of Ormonde.
In 1711, the Archduke Charles became Holy Roman Emperor as Charles VI following the sudden death of his elder brother; now, a decisive victory for Austria would upset the balance of power just as much as a victory for France. The British began to secretly correspond with the marquis de Torcy, excluding the Dutch from their negotiations. The Duke of Ormonde refused to commit British troops to battle, so the French under the duc de Villars were able to recover much lost ground in 1712.
Peace negotiations bore fruit in 1713, when the Treaty of Utrecht was concluded, and Great Britain and the Netherlands ceased fighting France. Barcelona, which had been captured by the allies in 1705, finally surrendered to the Bourbon army in 1714 following a long siege, ending the presence of the allies in Spain. Hostilities between France and Austria lumbered on 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.
Under the Peace of Utrecht, Philip V was recognised as King of Spain, but renounced his place in the French line of succession, thereby precluding the union of the French and Spanish crowns. He retained much of the Spanish empire, but ceded the Spanish Netherlands, Naples, Milan, and Sardinia to Austria; Sicily to Savoy; and Gibraltar and Minorca to Great Britain. Moreover, he granted the British the exclusive right to slave trading in Spanish America for thirty years. Philip also issued the Decretos de Nueva Planta, ending the autonomy of Aragon, Valencia, and Catalonia—territories in Spain that had supported the Archduke Charles.
No important changes were made to French territory in Europe. France agreed to stop supporting the Stuart pretenders to the British throne, instead recognising Anne as the legitimate queen. France gave up North American various colonial possessions, recognising British sovereignty over Rupert's Land and Newfoundland, and ceding Acadia and Saint Kitts. The Dutch were permitted to retain various forts in the Spanish Netherlands, and were permitted to annex a part of Gelderland.
With the Peace of Utrecht, the wars to prevent French hegemony that had dominated the seventeenth century were over for the time being. France and Spain, both under Bourbon monarchs, remained allies during the following years. Spain, stripped of its territories in Italy and the Low Countries, lost much of its power, and began to decline in influence and importance.
- Acton, J. E. E., 1st Baron. (1906). Lectures on Modern History. London: Macmillan and Co. (http://oll.libertyfund.org/ToC/0028.php)
- Sainty, Guy Stair. (2004). "The French Succession: The Renunciations of 1712, the Treaties of Utrecht and Their Aftermath in International Affairs." (http://www.chivalricorders.org/royalty/bourbon/france/success/sucprt1.htm)
- "Spanish Succession, War of the." (1911). EncyclopŠdia Britannica, 11th ed. London: Cambridge University Press.
- Wolf, John B. (1951). The Emergence of the Great Powers, 1685-1715. New York: HarperCollins.