Treaty of Utrecht

The Treaty of Utrecht was a peace agreement between Great Britain and France, concluding Britain’s participation in the War of the Spanish Succession. It revised territorial boundaries in North America and Europe, settled dynastic issues, and introduced trade patterns that resulted in Britain’s rise to world-power status. The war itself would not end until Austria also negotiated peace in the Treaties of Rastatt and Baden (1714).

Summary of Event

The Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 marked the formal termination of the War of the Spanish Succession, Spanish Succession, War of the (1701-1714) an international struggle that had begun in 1701. In September of that year, the naval powers England and the Netherlands concluded the Grand Alliance Grand Alliance with the Austrian Habsburgs. All agreed to undertake a joint military effort against King Louis XIV of France, who had recently claimed the entire dynastic inheritance of the extinct Spanish Habsburg line for his grandson Philip of Anjou, in keeping with the will of the last Habsburg king of Spain, Charles II. The extensive claims of the French Bourbons clashed directly with the equally extensive claims of the Austrian Habsburgs, represented by the Archduke Charles III, the future Emperor Charles VI. [kw]Treaty of Utrecht (Apr. 11, 1713)
[kw]Utrecht, Treaty of (Apr. 11, 1713)
[g]Netherlands;Apr. 11, 1713: Treaty of Utrecht[0400]
[c]Diplomacy and international relations;Apr. 11, 1713: Treaty of Utrecht[0400]
[c]Expansion and land acquisition;Apr. 11, 1713: Treaty of Utrecht[0400]
[c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Apr. 11, 1713: Treaty of Utrecht[0400]
Oxford, first earl of (Robert Harley)
Louis XIV
Colbert, Jean-Baptiste
Marlborough, first duke of
Philip V
Charles VI
Joseph I (1678-1711)

A formal declaration of war came in May, 1702, although fighting between France and Austria had broken out in northern Italy in the previous year. Meanwhile, Louis had taken steps to secure the future accession to the French throne of Philip of Anjou, had dispatched French troops into the Spanish Netherlands, and in September had recognized James Edward, James Edward the “Old Pretender” (son of the deposed Catholic James II), as King James III of England. These attempts to increase both Bourbon and Catholic power in Europe ironically inspired the Protestant England and the Netherlands to enter into an alliance with the house of Habsburg, and through it with the Holy Roman Empire.

From September, 1701, until the negotiation of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, the British and the Dutch were motivated chiefly by their desire to preserve the balance of power against the establishment of a gigantic Bourbon union in both the Old World and the New. By the same token, the maritime powers refused to give unqualified support to Charles’s claims to all of the Spanish inheritance, instead supporting only those claims in the Spanish Netherlands, Milan, and Sicily. The Methuen Treaty (1703) Methuen Treaty (1703) between England and Portugal brought a new partner into the Grand Alliance and changed the war’s aim, which now became the enthronement of Archduke Charles in Spain. Consequently, in the first serious, though unsuccessful, peace negotiations of the war, held in 1708, the allies demanded that Philip vacate the Spanish monarchy in favor of Charles. At this point, a new Habsburg Dynasty Habsburg Empire in Spain was at least preferable to a Bourbon one, which would have meant the combination of the Spanish world empire with that of the French.

Throughout the spring and summer in 1710, Tories replaced Whigs in government positions in England. As early as July, 1710, Robert Harley, head of the ministry, began secret negotiations with France through low-level intermediaries. Tremendous war expenditures and military setbacks in Spain had convinced him that peace was paramount. The Tories’ determination to make peace was helped by the sudden death in April, 1711, of the Habsburg emperor, Joseph I, whose brother, the Archduke Charles, added the imperial title and those of the various Austrian lands to his claims to the Spanish inheritance. The Tory government did not wish to continue a fight which, if successful, would mean the re-creation of the empire of Charles V. By September, 1711, the English and French had concluded a set of preliminary articles which became the framework for the Treaty of Utrecht.

In December, 1711, John Churchill, first duke of Marlborough—commander of British and Dutch military forces on the Continent and a vociferous Whig opponent of peace negotiations—was relieved of his command. Hence, the peace conference finally opened at Utrecht on January 29, 1712. Robert Harley, now lord treasurer and earl of Oxford, and his French counterpart, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, marquis de Torcy, guided their diplomats through tortuous negotiations which survived a series of deaths in the French royal family that threatened to leave Philip V heir to the French throne. It was arranged for him to renounce his claims to the French throne. In May, 1712, the English government halted its military operations, and the Dutch and other allies eventually accepted the British-French arrangements that produced a settlement based upon the partition of the Spanish inheritance.

Indeed, the Treaty of Utrecht, signed on April 11, 1713, by Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, Savoy, and Prussia, was almost entirely the product of British-French diplomacy, which dealt primarily with issues relative to the Spanish succession and other matters as well. The underlying principle common to most of the major provisions of the treaty was the reaffirmation of the balance of power in Europe. According to the provisions of the treaty, France promised to recognize the Hanoverian succession Hanoverian succession in Great Britain, which in turn agreed to recognize the Bourbon Bourbon Dynasty accession in Spain on condition that the French and Spanish thrones never be united under the rule of one sovereign. As far as the New World was concerned, France ceded Newfoundland, Nova Scotia (Acadia), and the Hudson Bay region to Great Britain, but retained New France (Quebec).

Spain, in a separate treaty concluded on July 13, 1713, ceded to Great Britain the bastion of Gibraltar and the island of Minorca; Great Britain agreed to furnish the Spanish colonies in America with forty-eight hundred African slaves African slaves
Slavery;and Treaty of Utrecht[Utrecht] each year for thirty years. The British were permitted to send each year one vessel of five hundred tons to trade with the colonies in New Spain. Austria was assigned the Spanish territories of Milan, Sardinia, and Naples, in addition to the Spanish Netherlands Spanish Netherlands
Netherlands;Spanish (a settlement reconfirmed in the French-Austrian Treaty of Rastatt in 1714); Rastatt and Baden, Treaties of (1714) the Habsburgs were to permit the Dutch to garrison certain fortresses along the French frontier (the so-called Barrier agreements). Savoy received the island of Sicily as a kingdom, subsequently ceded to Austria in 1720 in exchange for Sardinia, to which a royal title also applied. Finally, Prussia received international recognition for its claim to a royal title for the House of Hohenzollern. Emperor Charles VI of Austria, refusing to accept the treaty, continued the war with France until 1714, when he concluded the Treaty of Rastatt. Not until 1720, in the Treaty of the Hague, Treaty of the Hague (1720) did Charles recognize the Bourbon claims to the Spanish crown.


The conclusion of the Treaty of Utrecht and related treaties produced several important consequences. In general, the balance of power was restored; neither a French nor an Austrian prince succeeded in uniting his lands with those of Spain. Great Britain benefited from the war more than any other power. Receiving assurances from France concerning the impending Hanoverian succession, Great Britain emerged as the world’s leading colonial and commercial power. Finally, the Treaty of Utrecht accelerated the rise of Prussia and Savoy as leading states in Germany and Italy, respectively.

Further Reading

  • Black, Jeremy. The Rise of the European Powers, 1679-1793. New York: Edward Arnold, 1990. This expert on international relations provides the seventeenth and eighteenth century context for the Utrecht settlement.
  • _______. A System of Ambition? British Foreign Policy, 1660-1793. New York: Longman, 1991. The conduct of British foreign policy which produced the treaty is analyzed, and the treaty’s impact on Great Britain’s development as a world power is fully examined.
  • Davenport, Frances Gardiner, ed. 1698-1715. Vol. 3 in European Treaties Bearing on the United States and Its Dependencies. Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Institution, 1934. Reprint. Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1967. The texts of the various treaties are reproduced in the original languages and English translation with extensive notes and commentary.
  • Hattendorf, John B. England in the War of the Spanish Succession: A Study of the English View and Conduct of Grand Strategy, 1702-1712. New York: Garland, 1987. The relationship between English military undertakings and the negotiations and peace settlement are examined in this very detailed study.
  • Hill, Brian W. Robert Harley: Speaker, Secretary of State, and Premier Minister. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988. The role of the chief architect of the Treaty of Utrecht is examined through a perceptive analysis of Harley’s domestic and foreign policy.
  • Trevelyan, George Macaulay. England Under Queen Anne. 3 vols. London: Longmans, Green, 1930-1934. Although an older publication, Trevelyan’s three-volume work remains a valuable source for understanding domestic politics, military matters, and the conduct of peace negotiations. Volume 3 is particularly useful for understanding the Treaty of Utrecht.
  • Wolf, John B. Louis XIV. New York: W. W. Norton, 1968. The French perspective on the War of the Spanish Succession and the negotiations producing the Treaty of Utrecht is given in this excellent biography.

War of the Spanish Succession

Queen Anne’s War

Battle of Blenheim

Defeat of the “Old Pretender”

Battle of Malplaquet

Treaties of Rastatt and Baden

Jacobite Rising in Scotland

Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Eighteenth Century</i><br />

Queen Anne; First Viscount Bolingbroke; Charles VI; First Duke of Marlborough; Philip V. Treaties;European