War of the Spanish Succession

The death of Spain’s King Charles II sparked the first of several eighteenth century wars of succession. The Spanish throne was the nominal source of the conflict, but more at stake was the international balance of power, as every major power in Europe struggled for advantage.

Summary of Event

Upon the death of the last Spanish Habsburg ruler, Charles II (r. 1665-1700), France’s Louis XIV rejected the Second Partition Treaty (1700), Second Partition Treaty (1700) which had divided the Spanish Empire between the Austrian Habsburg Habsburg Spain archduke Charles III and the French Bourbon Bourbon Spain dauphin Louis (Louis XIV’s son). Instead, Louis accepted the last will and testament of Charles II, which designated Philip, duke of Anjou, as heir to the entire Spanish Empire. Philip became Philip V and initiated Bourbon rule of Spain. The Austrian Habsburgs denounced Philip’s coronation, because the treaty Louis XIV had rejected designated Charles III as king of Spain. [kw]War of the Spanish Succession (May 26, 1701-Sept. 7, 1714)
[kw]Succession, War of the Spanish (May 26, 1701-Sept. 7, 1714)
[kw]Spanish Succession, War of the (May 26, 1701-Sept. 7, 1714)
Intra-European conflicts[IntraEuropean conflicts]
Spanish succession
Spanish Succession, War of the (1701-1714)
[g]Spain;May 26, 1701-Sept. 7, 1714: War of the Spanish Succession[0080]
[c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;May 26, 1701-Sept. 7, 1714: War of the Spanish Succession[0080]
[c]Diplomacy and international relations;May 26, 1701-Sept. 7, 1714: War of the Spanish Succession[0080]
[c]Expansion and land acquisition;May 26, 1701-Sept. 7, 1714: War of the Spanish Succession[0080]
Philip V
Louis XIV
William III
Leopold I
Charles III (1685-1740)
Marlborough, first duke of
Eugene of Savoy
Anne, Queen

Louis XIV had conducted an aggressive foreign policy since 1667, including several wars of imperial expansion. With Louis’s grandson on the Spanish throne and controlling the Spanish military, the other European powers became worried about increasing French and Bourbon hegemony. It was even conceivable that Philip V could accede to the French throne, resulting in a joint French and Spanish Bourbon empire. In the face of this threat, England and the Netherlands banded together with the Holy Roman Empire to form the Grand Alliance. Grand Alliance Bavaria sided with the Bourbons. As the war progressed, Portugal, Savoy, and other German and Italian states joined in the conflict as well. The War of the Spanish Succession thus involved most of the nations of Europe.

Europe’s great nations were colonial empires in the early eighteenth century, and the war resulted in battles throughout the world, in areas as widespread as coastal Africa and India, North America (where the conflict was known as Queen Anne’s War), Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713)[Queen Annes War] and the Caribbean Sea. Continental Europe and its surrounding waters were the major theaters, however. The War of the Spanish Succession produced nine major battles, twenty-seven smaller engagements, twenty-five sieges, and several naval actions.

When the war began, the anti-French alliance had not yet formed, and the Austrians acted alone. Emperor Leopold I ordered Eugene of Savoy to attack Milan, in northern Italy, which he did on May 26, 1701. In July, Eugene again defeated the French at Capri. It was several months later, on September 7, 1701, that the Grand Alliance was formulated by the Austrian Habsburgs, the English, and the Dutch. The alliance treaty stipulated that France and Spain were not to be ruled by a single monarch, that the Habsburgs would support William III and the Protestant succession in England, that the Dutch and English could retain French and Spanish possessions seized in the Caribbean, and that territorial compensation would be made in Italy for the Habsburgs’ losses.

The Grand Alliance did not officially declare war on France until May 15, 1702. As new members joined the alliance, they were granted concessions and promised advantages in return for their allegiance. As a result, the aims of the alliance escalated: It had to conquer more territory in order to dole out more territory, for example. The Methuen Treaty (1703) Methuen Treaty (1703) between Portugal and England created a drastic change in the focus of the war when it stipulated that Charles III was to become king of Spain. The death of William III in 1702 made Anne queen and removed Louis XIV’s lifelong enemy. William’s role as Louis’s nemesis, however, was taken on by John Churchill, earl and soon-to-be duke of Marlborough, who had been designated commander in chief of all English and Dutch forces in July, 1701. Marlborough had tremendous success in the Spanish Netherlands against the French in 1703. Marlborough and Prince Eugene, moreover, formed a remarkable partnership and cooperated in several battles. Their most glorious victory was at the Battle of Blenheim (1704), Blenheim, Battle of (1704) in which they protected Vienna from attack and removed French-Bavarian troops from German territory.

A combined British-Dutch fleet captured a portion of the Spanish silver fleet at Vigo Bay in northwestern Spain in 1702. English naval actions in the Mediterranean produced notable gains in Gibraltar (1704) Gibraltar, Siege of (1704) and Barcelona (1705), which enabled the English to land and support Archduke Charles III in his bid for the Spanish crown. Additionally, the English captured Minorca (1708), but allied losses in Spain at Almanza (1707), Brihuega (1710), and Villaviciosa (1710) allowed Philip V to retain his throne. Tremendous victories by Marlborough at Ramillies (1706) and Oudenarde (1708) in the Spanish Netherlands Spanish Netherlands
Netherlands;Spanish prevented France from conquering the Netherlands and caused Louis XIV to propose peace negotiations; however, when the Grand Alliance demanded that Louis XIV use French troops to dislodge Philip V from the Spanish throne, the negotiations collapsed and the war continued.

Marlborough and Eugene beat the French in the bloodiest battle of the eighteenth century, the Battle of Malplaquet (1709) Malplaquet, Battle of (1709) in France. Eugene’s desire to press on toward Paris was overruled, however. Ironically, by this point the original aims of the Grand Alliance had been accomplished, but the global conflict had taken on such momentum that it was now difficult to stop. In the Caribbean and North American theaters, the English took from the French St. Christopher (St. Kitts; 1702) and Port Royal, Nova Scotia (1710), but they were unsuccessful in attacks on St. Augustine, Florida (1702) and Quebec (1711). In addition to these naval actions, privateers from many nations roamed the Caribbean, and both the French and English involved Native Americans in the struggle in North America, which produced an atrocity that would shock English colonial settlers—the 1704 massacre and abduction of the inhabitants of Deerfield, Massachusetts, Deerfield, Massachusetts, attack (1704) by the French allies, the Abenakis.

War exhaustion eventually set in, and a major domestic shift in policy in England led to a series of secret British-French negotiations in 1710, as the English government attempted to secure commercial and territorial advantages while allowing Philip V to retain the throne of Spain. These negotiations received an added impetus in February, 1711, when Holy Roman Emperor Joseph I (r. 1705-1711) suddenly died. Charles III became Emperor Charles VI, but his new title undercut the alliance’s efforts to install him as Spain’s king, since to do so would re-create the empire of Charles V (r. 1519-1556), uniting Spanish and Austrian territories and again unsettling the European balance of power.

France and England put forward the preliminary articles of a peace settlement by October, 1711. Marlborough, a major obstacle to peace since he favored continuing the war, was disgraced and dismissed from office. The Congress of Utrecht Utrecht, Treaty of (1713) (January, 1712-April, 1713) met to hammer out the formal framework of the British-French peace and to coerce England’s allies into accepting it. When the allies balked at peace, the English government halted its military actions against the French. Eugene attempted to continue the allied resistance against Louis XIV without British assistance, but he suffered a crushing defeat at Denain, Denain, Battle of (1712) in the Spanish Netherlands, on July 24, 1712.

The Battle of Denain strengthened France’s negotiating position at Utrecht, and finally, on April 11, 1713, France, England, the Dutch, and several allies signed a series of bilateral arrangements collectively known as the Treaty of Utrecht. Utrecht, Treaty of (1713) Emperor Charles VI and Eugene continued the struggle against France and Spain, confident that Eugene could win a decisive battle to ensure Charles VI’s recognition as king of Spain. Eventually, however, Eugene’s lack of success against French arms led him to negotiate the Treaty of Rastatt Rastatt and Baden, Treaties of (1714) with the French on March 7, 1714. The final agreement, the Treaty of Baden between the estates of the Holy Roman Empire and France, was signed September 7, 1714, bringing the longest, costliest, and bloodiest of Louis XIV’s wars to an end.


The War of the Spanish Succession exhausted the resources of several European powers, which therefore declined in its aftermath. It led directly to major shifts in the status quo of European power. The substantial commercial, political, and territorial advantages that Great Britain British Empire;power of acquired at Utrecht made it the strongest European power and strengthened its colonial empire. Control of the strategically important territories of Gibraltar and Minorca enhanced the British naval presence in the Mediterranean. Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Hudson’s Bay, and the Caribbean island of St. Christopher were all added to Britain’s colonial holdings in North America. St. Christopher in particular improved Britain’s commercial standing. The asiento de negros
Asiento de negros (slave trade license)
Slave trade;licensing of —the contract to provide African slaves to Spain’s American colonies—was transferred to Britain as well. This contract drew the British into heavy involvement in the Atlantic slave trade. It also offered opportunities for illicit trade with Spanish colonies.

Although the Austrians had continued to fight after the Treaty of Utrecht, dissatisfied with their spoils from the war, they had in fact made major gains: Austria acquired the Spanish Netherlands, Naples, Milan, Tuscan ports, and Sardinia. Prussia also gained territory in western Europe. Its ruler, moreover, gained international recognition of his title. While his predecessor, Frederick I, had been merely king in Prussia, Frederick William I became king of Prussia.

Although the Dutch were awarded a barrier, or buffer zone, of fortresses in the Spanish Netherlands as a defense against possible French aggression, their tremendous expenditures in the war greatly weakened them. Philip V retained the throne of Spain but had to renounce any claim to the French throne; fortunately for the peace of Europe, this renunciation was never put to the test. Loss of substantial territories weakened the Spanish Empire. Loss of colonial possessions coupled with the tremendous financial burden of the war left France near bankruptcy when Louis XIV died in 1715. France would struggle with this burden for most of the eighteenth century, and it would lead eventually to the French Revolution.

Further Reading

  • Chandler, David. The Art of Warfare in the Age of Marlborough. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1976. A noted military historian’s treatment of European wars in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries; contains extensive treatment of the War of the Spanish Succession.
  • Francis, David. The First Peninsular War, 1703-1713. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1975. A detailed examination of the battles in the Spanish theater of the war.
  • Frey, Linda, and Marsha Frey, eds. The Treaties of the War of the Spanish Succession. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995. This reference work contains entries on the battles, generals, and rulers involved in the war, as well as the agreements that ended it.
  • Hattendorf, John B. England in the War of the Spanish Succession. New York: Garland, 1987. This work analyzes the conduct of England’s war effort and concludes that it amounted to pursuit of a “grand strategy.”
  • Kamen, Henry. Empire: How Spain Became a World Power, 1492-1763. New York: HarperCollins, 2003. The importance of the war as a crucial turning point in Spanish history is a strong feature of this survey.

Queen Anne’s War

Battle of Blenheim

Defeat of the “Old Pretender”

Battle of Malplaquet

Treaty of Utrecht

Treaties of Rastatt and Baden

Financial Collapse of the John Law System

War of the Polish Succession

War of the Austrian Succession

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Spanish succession
Spanish Succession, War of the (1701-1714)