War of the Spanish Succession

War of the Spanish Succession
Philip of Anjou is proclaimed Philip V of Spain
Philip of Anjou is proclaimed Philip V of Spain on 16 November 1700 at Versailles.
DateJuly 1701 – August 1714
LocationLow Countries, Italy, Spain and Portugal

The Grand Alliance

Associated allies

The Bourbon Alliance

Briefly involved states

Commanders and leaders
Casualties and losses
  • Kingdom of France 500,000–600,000[1]
  • Spain Bavaria 100,000+[1]
235,000–400,000 killed in action[1]

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. 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.

Charles left an undivided Spanish monarchy[d] to Louis XIV's grandson Philip who was proclaimed King of Spain on 16 November 1700. Disputes over the separation of the Spanish and French crowns, division of territories and commercial rights led to war in 1701 between the Bourbons of France and Spain and the Grand Alliance, whose candidate was Archduke Charles, younger son of Emperor Leopold.[e]

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 the lack of popular support for Archduke Charles meant they could not hold territory outside the coastal areas.

When the Habsburg Emperor Joseph died in 1711, Charles succeeded him as Emperor; since a key objective for all parties was preventing the union of Spain with either France or Austria, this rendered fighting in this theatre largely irrelevant. Increasing discontent at the war's cost resulted in the election in 1710 of a new British government committed to ending it. As Britain was now the major source of funding for the Allied war effort, the others were also forced to make peace, resulting in 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. Others included the decline of the Dutch Republic as a first-rank power, 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.[2]


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.[3]

In 1700, the Spanish Empire included possessions in Italy, the Spanish Netherlands, the Philippines and the Americas and though no longer the dominant great power, it remained largely intact.[4] Since acquisition of the Empire by either the Austrian Habsburgs or French Bourbons would change the balance of power in Europe, its inheritance led in a war that involved most of the European powers. The 1700-1721 Great Northern War is considered a connected conflict, since it impacted the involvement of states such as Sweden, Saxony, Denmark–Norway and Russia.[5]

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.[6] The 1690s also marked the lowest point of the Little Ice Age, a period of colder and wetter weather that drastically reduced crop yields.[7] 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. [8]

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.[9]

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