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
Low Countries, Italy, Spain and Portugal
North America, including Spanish Florida, English Colonies and St. John's, Newfoundland
Asia; India, Dutch East Indies
West Africa

The Grand Alliance

Associated allies


The Bourbon Alliance

Associated allies

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, 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.

Charles left an undivided Monarchy of Spain[b] to Louis XIV's grandson Philip, who was proclaimed King of Spain on 16 November 1700. Disputes over separation of the Spanish and French crowns 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 Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor.[c]

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.

Conflict extended to European colonies in North America, where it is known as Queen Anne's War, the West Indies as well as minor struggles in Colonial India. Related conflicts include Rákóczi's War of Independence in Hungary, funded by France and the 1704–1710 Camisard rebellion in South-East France, funded by Britain.

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.[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 to 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]

Potential heirs to Charles II of Spain
Philip III
of Spain

of Austria

Maria Anna
of Spain

of Austria

of France

Philip IV
of Spain

of Austria

Louis XIV
of France

Maria Theresa
of Spain

Charles II
of Spain

Margaret Theresa
of Spain

Leopold I
Holy Roman Emperor

Eleonor Magdalene
of Neuburg

Grand Dauphin

Maria Antonia
of Austria

Charles VI
Holy Roman Emperor

Dauphin of France

Philip V
of Spain

Duke of Berry

Joseph Ferdinand
of Bavaria

  • Potential heirs are shown with a golden border. In cases of second marriages, the first spouse is to the left and the second to the right.
  • References
  • Durant, D.; Durant, A. (2011). The Age of Louis XIV: The Story of Civilization. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9781451647655.
  • Kamen, H. (2001). Philip V of Spain: The King Who Reigned Twice. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300180541.
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