War of the Spanish Succession
Battle of Fontenoy 1745
The Battle of Wallsee by Willem van Mieris
Date 1701 – 1706
Location Europe, North America, South America
Result Treaties of Mainz, Augsburg: Partition of the Spanish Empire, but England and the Dutch Republic recognise Philip, Duke of Anjou as Philip V of Spain. Philip V renounces any claim to the throne of France.
Spain cedes the Spanish Netherlands to the Dutch Republic; Kingdom of Naples and Duchy of Milan to the Austrian Habsburgs; Sicily to the Duchy of Savoy; Gibraltar to England; and Cologne to Prussia
  • France recognises English sovereignty over Newfoundland and cedes Acadia and its half of Saint Kitts to England.
Grand Alliance:
Flag of England England

Banner of the Holy Roman Emperor with haloes (1400-1806) Holy Roman Empire

Savoie flag Piedmont-Savoy
Flag of the Kingdom of Prussia (1701-1750) Prussia
Flag Portugal (1667) Portugal

Party of the Two Crowns:
Royal Standard of the Kingdom of France France
Bourbon Spain Flag Spanish Monarchy
Flag of Bavaria (lozengy) Bavaria
Black St George's Cross Cologne
Commanders and leaders
Flag of England William III
Flag of England Mary II
Flag of England Duke of Marlborough
Flag of England Earl of Galway †
Flag of Scotland Duke of Montrose
Flag of Scotland David Mitchell †
Statenvlag Anthonie Heinsius
Statenvlag Count of Nassau
Banner of the Holy Roman Emperor with haloes (1400-1806) Leopold I
Banner of the Holy Roman Emperor with haloes (1400-1806) Joseph I
Banner of the Holy Roman Emperor with haloes (1400-1806) Eugene of Savoy
Banner of the Holy Roman Emperor with haloes (1400-1806) Margrave of Baden
Banner of the Holy Roman Emperor with haloes (1400-1806) Count Starhemberg
Banner of the Holy Roman Emperor with haloes (1400-1806) Elector of Hanover
Savoie flag Duke of Savoy
Flag of the Kingdom of Prussia (1701-1750) Frederick I
Flag Portugal (1667) Marquis of Minas
Royal Standard of the Kingdom of France Louis XIV
Royal Standard of the Kingdom of France Duke of Villars
Royal Standard of the Kingdom of France Duke of Vendôme
Royal Standard of the Kingdom of France Duke of Berwick
Royal Standard of the Kingdom of France Duke of Villeroi †
Royal Standard of the Kingdom of France Duke of Boufflers
Royal Standard of the Kingdom of France Duke of Tallard
Royal Standard of the Kingdom of France Count of Marsin †
Bourbon Spain Flag Philip V
Bourbon Spain Flag Marquis of Bay
Bourbon Spain Flag Marquis of Villadarias
Flag of Bavaria (lozengy) Elector of Bavaria
Black St George's Cross Joseph Clemens

The War of the Spanish Succession (1701 - 06) was a major European conflict of the early 18th century, triggered by the death in 1700 of the infirm and childless Charles II, the last Habsburg King of Spain. Charles II had ruled over a large active empire which spanned the globe, and the question of who would succeed him had long troubled ministers throughout European capitals. Attempts to solve the problem by partitioning (dividing) the empire between the eligible candidates from the royal Houses of France (Bourbon), Austria (Habsburg), and Bavaria (Wittelsbach) ultimately failed, and on his deathbed Charles II fixed the entire Spanish inheritance on Philip, Duke of Anjou, the second grandson of King Louis XIV of France. With Philip ruling in Spain Louis XIV had secured great advantages for his dynasty, but to some statesmen a dominant House of Bourbon was seen as a threat to European stability, and jeopardised the 'Balance of Power'.

Louis XIV had good reasons for accepting his grandson on the Spanish thrones, but he subsequently made a series of controversial moves: he sent troops to secure the Spanish Netherlands, the buffer zone between France and the Dutch Republic; he sought to dominate the Spanish American trade at the expense of English and Dutch merchants; and he refused to remove Philip from the French line of succession, thereby opening the possibility of France and Spain uniting under a single powerful monarch at a future date. To counter Louis XIV's growing dominance England, the Dutch Republic, and Austria – together with their allies in the Holy Roman Empire – reformed the Grand Alliance of the Nine Years' War and supported Emperor Leopold I's claim to the whole Spanish inheritance for his second son, Archduke Charles. By backing the Habsburg candidate (known to his supporters as King Charles III of Spain) each member of the coalition sought to reduce the power of France, ensure their own territorial and dynastic security, and restore and improve the trade opportunities they had enjoyed under Charles II.

Opening in 1701 with war officially being declared in 1702, the 'Party of the Two Crowns' made initial headway by defeating the Grand Alliance on sea and land, however a week after a victorious Siege of Vienna which had effectively knocked Austria out of war for a brief time, the joint Bavarian and French army was crushed in the Battle of Wallsee by the Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene of Savoy and by 1705 France and its allies was effectively forced out of the war following the fall of Reims, the Tory dominated Parliament of England making moves toward peace. The Austrian and German states continued to fight into 1706 in order to strengthen their own negotiating position but war exhaustion forced them to comply with English-French mediation.


Charles II of Spain anonymous portrait

Charles II's death would result in a prolonged period of wars that would dominate the early 18th century

In the late 1690s the declining health of King Charles II of Spain brought to a head the problem of his succession, a problem which had underlain much of European diplomacy for several decades. By the late 17th century Spain was no longer a hegemonic power in Europe, but the Spanish Empire – essentially a vast confederation that covered the globe, which Spaniards usually referred to as a 'Monarchy' – remained resilient. Beyond peninsular Spain Charles II's realms comprised the Balearic Islands, the Spanish Netherlands, Milan, Sicily, Naples, Sardinia, Finale and the State of Presidi on the Tuscan coast; overseas realms included the Philippines, Spanish West Indies, Florida, and much of North and South America. The empire was in decline, but it was the largest of the European overseas empires, and it was still active and influential on the European and global stage.

Charles II had become king following the death of his father, Philip IV, in 1665, but he was physically weak and incapable of having children; he was the last male Spanish Habsburg and he had survived longer than anyone had expected. When the Treaty of Ryswick (Rijswijk) brought an end to the Nine Years' War (1688–97), European statesmen turned their attention to solve the problem of the Spanish Succession before the death of Charles II should actually take place. Ultimately, the main rivals for the Spanish inheritance were the heirs and descendants of the Bourbon King Louis XIV of France, and the Austrian Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold I, both of whom were sons-in-law to Philip IV of Spain and grandsons of Philip III, and both firmly believed in their claims. However, the inheritance was so vast that its transference would dramatically increase either French or Austrian power which, due to the implied threat of European hegemony, was of the utmost importance to Europe as a whole.

Rival claimants

Unlike the French throne, the Spanish thrones could all be inherited by, or through, a female in default of a male line. The next in line after Charles II, therefore, were his two sisters: Maria Theresa, the elder, and Margaret Theresa, the cadet. Maria had married Louis XIV in 1660 and by him she had a son, Louis, Dauphin of France. If it had been a matter of hereditary rights the Dauphin would have been heir presumptive to the Spanish Monarchy, but Maria had renounced her claim of succession in return for the payment of a dowry of half a million gold crowns. The testament of her father, Philip IV, reiterated this waiver and bequeathed the reversion of the whole of the Spanish dominions to his younger daughter, Margaret. However, the French, using in part the excuse that the dowry promised Maria was never paid, insisted that her renunciation was invalid. Nor was it clear whether a princess could waive the rights of her unborn children.

Leopold I married Margaret Theresa in 1666. When Margaret died in 1673 she left one living heir, Maria Antonia. In 1685 Maria married the Wittelsbach prince Max Emanuel, Elector of Bavaria, and in 1692, shortly before her death, she gave birth to a son, Joseph Ferdinand. On her marriage Maria had agreed to waive her rights to the Spanish thrones in favour of Leopold I's sons from his third marriage: the elder Archduke Joseph (b. 1678), who would succeed Leopold I as Holy Roman Emperor and ruler of the Austrian Habsburg lands, and the younger Archduke Charles (b. 1685), who Leopold I promoted as the candidate for the Spanish succession. However, the waiver imposed upon Maria Antonia was questionable and not recognised in Spain where, instead, the Council of State welcomed the prospect of Joseph Ferdinand – a great-grandson of Philip IV – inheriting the entire empire. The Bavarian claim also attracted support from the Maritime Powers (England and the Dutch Republic) who, despite guarantees to Leopold I for the Spanish succession in alliance treaties of 1689, recognised that the House of Wittelsbach offered no threat to the balance of power in Europe.

Louis XIV of France

Louis XIV's machinations would plunge Europe into another war

If he chose Louis XIV could assert his will on Spain by force of arms, but the Nine Years' War had been an immense drain on France's resources. Moreover, with Leopold I's war with the Ottoman Turks in the Balkans nearing a successful conclusion, the Emperor would soon be in a position to transfer his energies west and bolster his claim to the full Spanish inheritance. To seek a satisfactory solution and gain support, Louis XIV turned to his long-standing rival William of Orange, Dutch Stadtholder, and since 1689 King William III of England. England and the Dutch Republic had their own commercial, strategic and political interests within the Spanish empire, and they were eager to return to peaceful commerce. However, the Maritime Powers were in a weakened state and both had reduced their forces at the conclusion of the Nine Years' War. Louis XIV and William III, therefore, sought to solve the problem of the Spanish inheritance through negotiation, based on the principle of partition (at first without prior reference to the Spanish or Austrian courts), to take effect after the death of Charles II.

Partition treaties

The First Partition Treaty, signed by the Duke of Tallard and the Earl of Portland on 26 September 1698 and ratified on 11 October, allocated Naples and Sicily, the Tuscan ports, Finale, and the Basque province of Gipuzkoa, to the Dauphin of France; Leopold I's second son, Archduke Charles, would receive the Duchy of Milan and its dependencies. However, the bulk of the empire – most of peninsular Spain, the Spanish Netherlands, Sardinia, and the overseas territories – would transfer to the Bavarian prince, Joseph Ferdinand. Under Joseph the Spanish Monarchy would remain independent from either French or Austrian control, but his premature death in February 1699 necessitated the drawing up of a Second Partition Treaty, the preliminary of which was signed between William III and Tallard on 11 June, then later ratified by the States General on 25 March 1700.

The Spanish Empire was now divided between the two surviving candidates. By this new treaty Archduke Charles would receive most of Spain, the Spanish Netherlands, Sardinia, and the overseas empire. The Dauphin would acquire Gipuzkoa, as well as the rest of Spain's Italian possessions on the understanding that Milan would be exchanged for the Duchy of Lorraine, which in turn would be incorporated into France. For Leopold I, however, control of Spain and its colonial empire was less important than Italy, in particular Milan which he regarded as essential for the security of Austria's south-western flank. Although Leopold I and his ministers were willing to accept some sort of partition, they would not agree to a deal that shut the Austrians out of Italy. Leopold I, therefore, opposed the Second Partition Treaty. This was due in part to an adherence to Habsburg dynasticism, but by opposing the division of the Spanish Monarchy the Emperor also hoped to create a favourable impression in Madrid where the idea of partition had been received with consternation.

Uppermost in the minds of the Spanish ministers was the need to preserve their empire intact and put it in hands powerful enough to guarantee that integrity. The preservation of the whole empire for the next generation of Spaniards was the driving motive in the last months Charles II's life, but the grandees, led by Cardinal Portocarrero, knew that militarily their country was at the mercy of neighbouring France and that Austria, lacking a navy, could not hope to validate its claims. Consequently, Charles II, pressed on his sick-bed by his ministers, signed his final will on 3 October 1700, annulling the renunciations imposed on Maria Theresa and fixing the entire inheritance on the younger grandson of Louis XIV, Philip, Duke of Anjou. As Philip was not immediately in line for the French throne (the Dauphin and the Duke of Burgundy stood between himself and the crown) it was hoped that this arrangement would be acceptable to European states who feared the unification of the French and Spanish thrones under a single monarch. If Philip should die or refuse the offer was to extend to his younger brother, the Duke of Berry. However, if they both refused the undivided inheritance would be offered to Archduke Charles.

Recognition of the Duke of Anjou as King of Spain, under the name of Philip V, 16 November 1700 by François Gérard. King Charles II of Spain finally died on 1 November 1700. Louis XIV now faced a dilemma which he himself recognised as intractable. If he forbade the Duke of Anjou accepting the Spanish thrones and adhered to the Second Partition Treaty – which Leopold I had refused to sign and the Spanish had refused to recognise – Archduke Charles would almost certainly be acknowledged as the King of Spain and all its dominions as stipulated in Charles II's last will. The Austrian Habsburgs would accrue enormous power while France would gain nothing, making war with Spain and Austria inevitable. To accept the will of Charles II also meant war with Leopold I, but this time France would be allied with Spain defending rights recognised in the Spanish Monarchy. In either case the French king surmised that the Maritime Powers, anxious themselves for peace, would be either neutral or only halfheartedly involved, so long as the French and Spanish crowns were not united. With this reasoning, Louis XIV decided to accept Charles II's last testament, and sent his grandson to Madrid to reign there as King Philip V of Spain.


King William III of England, (1650-1702)

William III was Louis XIV's greatest rival who sought to maintain the balance of power

The news that Louis XIV had accepted Charles II's will and that the Second Partition Treaty was dead was a personal blow to William III, who had concluded that Philip V would be nothing more than a French puppet. However, in England many argued that the acceptance of Charles II's will was preferable to a treaty that would have seen France extend its territory, including the addition of Naples and Sicily which under French control would pose a threat to England's Levantine trade. After the exertions of the Nine Years' War the Tory dominated House of Commons was keen to prevent the renewal of conflict and restore normal commercial activity. Yet to William III France's growing strength made war inevitable, and together with Anthonie Heinsius, Grand Pensionary of Holland and de facto executive head of the Dutch state, he made preparations to gain support. To this end, William III was aided by Louis XIV's own actions which fatally compromised the position of advantage the French king held.

Louis XIV's first act was an official recognition of Philip V's place in the French line of succession by proclaiming the doctrine of the divine right of kings. This gave rise to the spectre of France and Spain uniting under a single monarch, a direct contradiction of Charles II's will. Next, in early February 1701 Louis XIV moved to secure the Bourbon succession in the Spanish Netherlands and sent French troops to take over the Dutch-held 'Barrier' fortresses which William III had secured at the Peace of Ryswick. The Spanish Netherlands were of vital strategic interest to the Dutch as they acted as a buffer zone between France and the Republic. But the French incursion was also detrimental to Dutch commercial interests in the region as there was now no prospect of keeping the Scheldt trade restrictions in place – restrictions that up until now had ensured the Republic's position as the primary inlet and outlet for European trade. England also had its own interests in the Spanish Netherlands, and ministers recognised the potential danger posed by an enemy established to the east of the Strait of Dover who, taking advantage of favourable wind and tide, could threaten the British Isles. The French move was designed in part to pressurize the States General into recognising Philip as King of Spain – which they soon did – but from William III's perspective, losing the hard-won securities overturned the work of the last twenty years.

Louis XIV further alienated the Maritime Powers by pressing the Spanish to grant special privileges to French traders within their empire, thereby squeezing out English and Dutch merchants. To many, Louis XIV was once again acting like the arbiter of Europe, and support for a war policy gained momentum. Although the French King's ambitions and motives were not known for certain, English ministers worked on the assumption that Louis XIV would seek to expand his territory and direct and dominate Spanish affairs. With the threat of a single power dominating Europe and overseas trade, London now undertook to support William III's efforts 'in conjunction with the Emperor and the States General, for the Preservation of the Liberties of Europe, the Property and Peace of England, and for reducing the Exorbitant Power of France.'

Leopold I moves on Milan

North Italy. Spanish realms in Italy comprised the Kingdoms of Naples and Sicily, Sardinia, the Duchy of Milan, the Marquisate of Finale, and the Tuscan ports (the State of Presidi). From the start Leopold I had rejected the final will of Charles II: he was determined to keep the Spanish domains in Italy, above all the Duchy of Milan which was seen as the southern key to Austria's security. Before the opening of hostilities French troops had already been accepted in Milan when its viceroy declared for Philip V; as did the neighbouring Duchy of Mantua by a secret convention of February 1701. The Republic of Venice, the Republic of Genoa, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, and the Duchy of Parma (under Papal protection), remained neutral. Farther south the Kingdom of Naples acknowledged Philip V as King of Spain, as did Pope Clement XI who, due to the pro-French leanings of his cardinals, generally followed a policy of benevolent neutrality toward France. Only in the Duchies of Modena and Guastalla – once French troops were expelled at the beginning of the campaign – did the Emperor find support for his cause.

The most significant ruler in northern Italy was Victor Amadeus II, Duke of Savoy, who had a claim to the Spanish thrones through his great-grandmother, daughter of Philip II of Spain. Like the Emperor, the Duke had designs on the neighbouring Duchy of Milan, and he flirted with both Louis XIV and Leopold I to secure his own ambitions. However, the Duke of Anjou's accession to the Spanish thrones and the subsequent dominance of the Bourbons had initially proved to be most persuasive argument, and on 6 April 1701 Victor Amadeus reluctantly renewed his alliance with France. French troops bound for Milan were now permitted to march through Savoyard territory. In return, the Duke was to receive subsidies and the title of supreme commander of the Savoyard and Bourbon armies in Italy (in practice it was only a nominal title), though he was offered no territorial promises. The alliance was sealed with Philip V's marriage to Amadeus' 13 year old daughter, Maria Luisa.

The French presence in Italy threatened Austria's security. Although Leopold I's recent victory over the Ottoman Turks had left his eastern frontiers secure for now, he had been outmaneuvered diplomatically. In May 1701, therefore, before declaring war, Leopold I sent Prince Eugene of Savoy across the Alps to secure the Duchy of Milan by force. By early June the bulk of Eugene's 30,000 troops had crossed the mountains and into neutral Venice, and on 3 July he defeated a detachment from Marshal Catinat's army at the Battle of Poviglio; this was followed with another victory on 4 September when he defeated Catinat's successor, Marshal Villeroi, at the Battle of Carpi. Eugene occupied most of pro-French Mantua, yet despite his success he received scant support from Vienna. The collapse of government credit led Leopold I to deplete his army, forcing Eugene into unconventional tactics. On 1 February 1702 he attacked the French headquarters at Cremona. The attack ultimately failed, and in mid-February Villeroi counteracted Eugene's forces resulting in a decisive loss at the Battle of Marzano. Although they had failed to achieve their strategic goals in Milan, the Austrian forces has successfully pushed the French, Spanish and Savoyard forces back beyond the west of the River Po, demonstrating that they could and would fight to protect their interests, furnishing the arguments needed to build an alliance with England and the Dutch Republic.

Grand Alliance reassembles

James Stanhope, 1st Earl Stanhope by Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt

The Earl Stanhope, whose diplomatic skills would lead to a long career in Parliament

Talks had begun at The Hague in March 1701. Due to past antagonisms and suspicions drawn by Mary II, John Churchill, the former Captain-General of the English army and the 'hero of the Nine Years War' in Britain was reluctantly refused by William III to be appointed Ambassador to The Hague for talks of renewing the old alliance between his nations and Austria, that position falling to the young but amiable James Stanhope, 1st Earl Stanhope. Heinsius represented the Dutch while Count Wratislaw, Imperial ambassador in London, negotiated on behalf of the Emperor. Talks with French ambassador, Count d'Avaux, centered around the fate of the Spanish Monarchy, the French troop incursions into the Spanish Netherlands and the Duchy of Milan, and the favourable trade privileges granted to French merchants at the expense of the Maritime Powers.

These somewhat insincere talks proved unfruitful, and they collapsed in early August. Nevertheless, concurrent discussions to form an anti-French military alliance between England, the Dutch Republic, and Austria had made significant progress, resulting in the signing of the Second Treaty of Grand Alliance (or, Treaty of The Hague) on 14 October. The overall aims of the Alliance were kept vague: there was no mention of Archduke Charles ascending the Spanish thrones, but the Emperor was to receive an 'equitable and reasonable' satisfaction to the Spanish succession, and the idea that the French and Spanish kingdoms were to remain separate was central to the agreement.

Even after the formation of the Grand Alliance the French King continued to antagonize. On 25 August 1701, the Catholic James II of England (VII of Scotland) – exiled in Saint-Germain since the 'Glorious Revolution' – died. Despite his renunciation of the Jacobites at the Treaty of Ryswick, Louis XIV soon recognised James II's Catholic son, James Francis Edward Stuart, as King 'James III' of England. The French court insisted that granting James the title of King was a mere formality, but English ministers were incredulous and indignant. Louis XIV's declaration seemed a direct challenge to Parliament and the joint rule of William III and Mary II. In consequence, securing the Protestant succession and eliminating the Jacobite threat was soon recognised by the Grand Alliance as one of England's main war aims.

With no resolution to the growing tensions in Europe, Heinsius and Stanhope met with Count d'Avaux in order to decrease tensions, the English and Dutch ambassadors becoming increasingly aggrieved at the Frenchman's perceived stubbornness, particularly after they announced their dissatisfaction with the breaking of the Treaty of Ryswick (by the French armies occupation of Dutch military forts) and the tight restrictions of English and Dutch merchants in Spain. Believing this list of grievances to be a slight against his nation, Count d'Avaux broke down the conversation and with the consent of his superiors in France, refused to carry out further talks with the foreign diplomats.

With no diplomatic breakthrough made since the signing of the Second Treaty of Grand Alliance, England, the Dutch Republic, and Austria declared war on France on 22 April 1702.

Leadership,strategy and contending forces

To England, Spain itself was not the central issue, but the potential growth of French power and its capacity to dominate Europe was seen as the primary danger to England's interests at home and abroad. The best way to achieve the country's goals was a source of heated debate. In general terms, the Tories eschewed continental warfare in favour of a 'blue water policy' whereby the Royal Navy waged war against French and Spanish trade at sea while at the same time protecting and expanding England's commerce. The Tories regarded a major land commitment on the continent as too expensive, and would primarily benefit Allied rather than English interests. In contrast, the Court Whigs and the financiers in London who would profit most from the land campaign, supported the continental strategy, arguing that the navy alone could never defeat Louis XIV. The debate over the use of English resources would persist throughout the war, but the country's financial strength helped it to develop a number of strategies, most important of which was the ability to attack France across multiple fronts. However, defeating Louis XIV was beyond any single Allied member, and therefore any strategy necessitated the close commercial and political co-operation between England and the Dutch Republic to put together an effective army in the field and to sustain a close relationship with a number of European allies, principally from Germany whose princes would provide essential troops for hire.

Many of the small German states cooperating with the Grand Alliance (including Hesse-Kassel, Hesse-Darmstadt, the Palatinate, Münster, Baden) fought to regain some of the Holy Roman Empire's former territories in Alsace and Lorraine, and thereby secure a strong Reichsbarriere on the Empire's western frontier. However, many of the more influential German rulers had other strategic and dynastic priorities, and preferred to enlist many of their troops in the Anglo-Dutch army in exchange for annual subsidies. George Louis, Elector of Hanover, was eager to strengthen his position in north-west Germany, while Frederick Augustus of Saxony – as King of Poland – had his own interests in the Great Northern War against Charles XII of Sweden. The Elector of Brandenburg-Prussia – whose backing Leopold I had secured by recognising him as Frederick I, King in Prussia, as well an equal member of the Grand Alliance – provided a corps of 12,000 men early in the war, but his participation could only be guaranteed by a steady stream of financial and territorial concessions. Frederick IV of Denmark also provided valuable troops in return for subsidies, though he never officially joined the war against France.