War of the Spanish Succession

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The War of the Spanish Succession (1701—1714) was fought among several European powers, principally the Holy Roman Empire, Great Britain, the Dutch Republic, Portugal and the Duchy of Savoy, against the Kingdoms of France and Spain and the Electorate of Bavaria over a possible unification of the Kingdoms of Spain and France under one Bourbon monarch. Such a unification would have drastically changed the European balance of power. The war was fought mostly in Europe but included Queen Anne's War in North America and it was marked by the military leadership of notable generals including the duc de Villars, the Jacobite Duke of Berwick, the Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene of Savoy. It resulted in the recognition of the Bourbon Philip V as King of Spain while requiring him to renounce any claim to the French throne and to cede much of the Spanish Crown's possessions to the Holy Roman Empire, the Dutch Republic, Savoy and Great Britain, partitioning the Spanish Empire in Europe.

In 1700, the last Spanish Habsburg King, Charles II of Spain died without issue, bequeathing his possessions to Philip, duc d'Anjou, grandson of his half-sister and King Louis XIV of France. Philip thereby became Philip V of Spain and since he was also the younger son of the Dauphin of France, Philip was indirectly in the line of succession of the French throne. The specter of the multi-continental empire of Spain passing under the control of Louis XIV provoked a massive coalition of powers to oppose the Duc d'Anjou's succession.

The war began slowly as Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor fought to protect the Austrian Habsburg claim to the Spanish inheritance. As Louis XIV began to expand his territories, other European nations (chiefly England, Portugal and the Dutch Republic) entered on the Holy Roman Empire's side to check French expansion.[1] Other states joined the coalition opposing France and Spain in an attempt to acquire new territories or to protect existing dominions. Spain was divided over the succession and fell into a civil war.

The war was centered in Spain and West-Central Europe (especially the Low Countries), with other important fighting in Germany and Italy. Prince Eugene and the Duke of Marlborough distinguished themselves as military commanders in the Low Countries. The war was fought not only in Europe but also the West Indies and colonial North and South America where the conflict became known to the English colonists as Queen Anne's War. Over the course of the fighting, some 400,000 people were killed.[2]

The war was concluded by the treaties of Utrecht (1713) and Rastatt (1714). As a result Philip V remained King of Spain but was removed from the French line of succession, averting a union of the two kingdoms. The Austrians gained most of the Spanish territories in Italy and the Netherlands. France's hegemony over continental Europe was ended and the idea of a balance of power became a part of the international order.[3] Philip quickly revived Spanish ambition; taking advantage of the power vacuum caused by Louis XIV's death in 1715, Philip announced he would claim the French crown if the infant Louis XV died and attempted to reclaim Spanish territory in Italy, precipitating the War of the Quadruple Alliance in 1717.

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  1. In the case of England, the country also wished to safeguard its own Protestant line of succession. Second Hundred Years' War Tombs, That Sweet Enemy, p.24.
  2. Statistics of Wars, Oppressions and Atrocities of the Eighteenth Century, Matthew White
  3. Wolf, The Emergence of the Great Powers: 1685–1715. p.92