The War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714) was a European conflict of the early 18th century, triggered by the death of the childless Charles II of Spain in November 1700, eventually evolving into a global conflict due to overseas colonies and allies. His closest heirs were members of the Austrian Habsburg and French Bourbon families; acquisition of an undivided Spanish Empire by either threatened the European balance of power.
By the end of 1706, Allied victories in Italy and the Low Countries forced the French back within their borders but they were unable to make a decisive breakthrough. Control of the sea allowed the Allies to conduct successful offensives in Spain, but lack of popular support for Archduke Charles meant they could not hold territory outside the coastal areas.
When the Emperor Joseph I died in 1711, the Archduke (his younger half brother) succeeded him as Charles VI, undermining the primary driver behind the war, which was to prevent Spain being united with either France or Austria. The 1710 British election returned a new government committed to ending it and with the Allied war effort now dependent on British financing, this eventually forced the others to make peace. The war ended with the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, followed in 1714 by the treaties of Rastatt and Baden.
In return for confirmation as King of Spain, Philip V renounced his place in the line of succession to the French throne, both for himself and his descendants; Spain retained the bulk of its possessions outside Europe, while its territories in Italy and the Netherlands were divided between Austria, Britain and Savoy. The Dutch Republic was granted its Barrier Fortresses, while France acknowledged the Protestant succession in Britain and agreed to end support for the Stuart exiles.
In the longer term, the commercial provisions of Utrecht confirmed Britain's status as the leading European maritime and commercial power, while the Dutch lost their position as the pre-eminent economic power in Asia and the war marked their decline as a first-rank power. Other long-term impacts include the creation of a centralised Spanish state and the acceleration of the break-up of the Holy Roman Empire into larger and more powerful German principalities.
Charles II, 1665–1700; last Habsburg King of Spain; his Habsburg chin is clearly visible
In 1665 Charles II became the last male Habsburg King of Spain; suffering from ill-health all his life, his death was anticipated almost from birth and his successor debated for decades. In 1670, England agreed to support the rights of Louis XIV to the Spanish throne in the Treaty of Dover, while the terms of the 1688 Grand Alliance committed England and the Dutch Republic to back Leopold.
During the 1688–1697 Nine Years' War, armies had increased in size from an average of 25,000 in 1648 to over 100,000 by 1697, a level unsustainable for pre-industrial economies. The 1690s also marked the lowest point of the Little Ice Age, a period of colder and wetter weather that drastically reduced crop yields. The Great Famine of 1695–1697 killed between 15–25% of the population in present-day Scotland, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Norway and Sweden, with an estimated two million deaths in France and Northern Italy.
The 1697 Treaty of Ryswick was therefore the result of mutual exhaustion and Louis XIV's acceptance that France could not achieve its objectives without allies. Leopold initially refused to sign and did so with extreme reluctance in October 1697; by now, Charles' health was clearly failing and with the Succession unresolved, the signatories viewed Ryswick as a pause in hostilities.