Useful Notes: War of the Spanish Succession

"With fire and sword the country round
Was wasted far and wide,
And many a childing mother then.
And newborn baby died.
But things like that, you know, must be
At every famous victory.
They say it was a shocking sight
After the field was won,
For many thousand bodies here
Lay rotting in the sun;
But things like that, you know, must be
After a famous victory.
Great praise the Duke of Marlbro' won,
And our good Prince Eugene."
"Why 'twas a very wicked thing!"
Said little Wilhelmine;
"Nay ... nay ... my little girl," quoth he,
"It was a famous victory.
And everybody praised the Duke
Who this great fight did win."
"But what good came of it at last?"
Quoth little Peterkin.
"Why that I cannot tell," said he,
"But 'twas a famous victory."
Robert Southey The Battle of Blenheim

The War of the Spanish Succession was the last great war (and the last war, period) fought by France under the reign of the Sun King, Louis XIV.

The war pitted Habsburg Austria, Great Britain, the Dutch Republic, Prussia, various German states and Portugal against France, Spain and Bavaria.

This conflict started over the line of succession that ended when the last Habsburg King of Spain, Charles II, died heirless in 1700. His will left Philip, younger son of Louis XIV's heir apparent Louis the Grand Dauphin, Charles' grandnephew and, at the time, Duc d'Anjou, as the heir to the Spanish throne. If Philip refused, the crown would be passed to Charles, Archduke of Austria (and the future Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI). This led to a Succession Crisis and eventually war, with Austria and its allies supporting Charles, and France and its allies supporting Philip.

This, of course, was about more than just the Spanish throne. The opponents of Philip's succession were afraid that, with a Bourbon Spain, France and Spain would form an integrated empire that could challenge Austria by land and Britain by sea. Especially when you consider that this is more or less precisely what the Sun King was thinking, they were probably right to go to war over it.

The majority of the fighting took part in Spain and the Low Countries, as well as in Germany and Northern Italy (the Duchy of Savoy was allied with France). For most of the war the commander of the allied forces was John Churchill, created Duke of Marlborough because of his brilliance (and his wife's friendship with the Queen).

In North America this conflict is known as Queen Anne's War, named for the ruling British monarch at the time. The biggest consequence of the conflict was Great Britain capturing Acadia (now in parts of Nova Scotia and Maine). The French settlers were forced out and migrated south to Louisiana where they became known as the Cajun people. About 15 years after the war ended Great Britain chose to settle the Georgia colony with debtors in order to protect Charleston from overland invasion from Spanish controlled Florida.

It ended with the treaty of Utrecht in 1713, which ended hostilities between the French-led alliance and Britain and most of its allies. Austria continued to fight practically on its own, but due to changing fortunes of war was forced to swallow the bitter pill in the treaty of Rastatt in 1714. Philip was recognized as king of Spain, but he was required to renounce all claims to succession to the French throne for himself and his descendants (thus handling the "union of Spain and France" problem, although obviously nobody who was not Spain or France liked that they would now be allies). In addition, Spain lost the Spanish Netherlands (modern Belgium), Naples, Milan and Sardinia (all in modern-day Italy) to Austria, Sicily to Savoynote , and Gibraltar and Minorca to Great Britain (Minorca was eventually regained by Spain in the War of American Independence, but Gibraltar is still a sore spot to this day).
Tropes Set in the Period:
  • The Alliance: The Grand Alliance, natch.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: The British government was scared that the Duke of Marlborough would use the popularity he obtained from his victories to come home and lead a coup, and they refused to let him come home for years afterwards.
    • This wasn't entirely baseless, as Marlborough was known for being hugely ambitious and years before, he had been The Starscream for James II. Then his wife fell out of favor with the Queen...
  • Balance of Power: This was another war where Britain attempts to keep France and Spain from uniting and becoming a threat to England.
  • Bash Brothers: The Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene of Savoy. When they teamed up, asses were most assuredly kicked.
  • Batman Gambit: Marlborough's favorite tactic was to attack the enemy's flanks, forcing them to focus excessively on defending them. He would then order his own reserves to punch through the enemy's weakened center, cutting their battle lines in half and routing them. This was used to devastating effect at Blenheim and Ramilles.
  • Beware the Quiet Ones: Eugene had tried to join the French army in the 17th century. Louis himself rejected his application, say he was too scrawny, and should become a priest. Yeah, that could have been a mistake...
  • Crowning Moment of Awesome: France and Spain hated each other before the war (and probably still did during the war for all we knew). When Charles II learned that people were fighting for the Spanish throne before he died, he secretly made a will giving his grandnephew the Spanish throne.
    • The will is considered by most historians to be either spurious or fake, since Charles was blind, insane, and senile at the time of his death. He's considered to be the most inbred human in recorded history - while most of us have 32 ancestors in the sixth generation back, he had seven. Worse, the one ancestor found most often on his family tree was Juana la Loca of Spain.
    • Subsequently during the war, Louis also managed to run the war despite being late in his life, yet still managed a stalemate, only after the first attempt of peace would have removed Philip in contention for the Spanish throne.
    • The Duke of Marlborough had one in Germany, not so much for winning the Battle of Blenheim (for which he is remembered) but for managing to keep his army's logistics together in an epic march across the Holy Roman Empire. It would be a couple of centuries later before his family had a scion to eclipse him: Winston Churchill.
  • Crowning Music of Awesome: The war led to several British patriotic tunes, including the sea shanty Spanish Ladies and the marching songs Over the Hills and Far Away (today made famous again by Sharpe), and 'The British Grenadiers'.
  • Curbstomp Battle: Blenheim, Elixheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde...Marlborough and Prince Eugene were good at dishing these out. On the Bourbon side, Denain for Marshal Villars.
  • Curbstomp Cushion: The Allied Pyrrhic Victory at Malplaquet and the French victory at Denain allowed France to regain her dignity when negotiating the terms of the Treaties of Utrecht and Rastatt.
  • Decisive Battle: Subverted at every turn, at least if you apply 19th and 20th century standards. Ramillies should have been this in favor of Marlborough (his Anglo-Dutch-German army inflicted a casualty ratio of roughly 4 : 1 on the French and Bavarians and also took 6000 prisoners), but seeing as maintaining the Balance of Power was basically Britain's reason for being in the war, Marlborough was soon recalled to England and negotiations began, lest Austria become too powerful. The French under Villars won decisively at Denain, but this simply meant that France was no longer under attack from the Austrian forces. The Battle of Villaviciosa was won by the Bourbon faction and drove the Habsburgs out, but the French and Spanish crowns were never united (leaving the Bourbons in on the Spanish throne to this day).
  • Field Promotion: Kinda.
    • The Electorate of Brandenburg having supported Austria in previous wars against the French and Turks, Frederick III was allowed to crown himself King in Prussia on the understanding that his army would support the Habsburg cause in this war as well. He thus became King Frederick I and the army was now called Royal Prussian.
    • During the war Duke George I of Hanover was made a Prince-Elector (Kurfürst) in reward for his services as an Imperial Field Marshal. His promotion was made possible by Elector Max Emanuel of Bavaria throwing in his lot with Louis XIV and being (temporarily) relieved of his dignities within the Holy Roman Empire in 1706. George would of course go on to even greater things after the end of the war.
  • Folk Hero: Marlborough for the British, Eugene of Savoy, Wilhelm Ludwig of Baden-Baden ("Türkenlouis") and the "Old Dessauer" for Germans loyal to the Habsburgs, the Smith of Kochel (mythical leader of the peasants' uprising against the Austrian occupation) for Bavarians.
  • Golden Age of Piracy: The final part of the era, centered in Nassau (the one on the Bahamas, not the one in Germany) was a direct consequence of the Treaty of Utrecht. Several privateers and sailors, many of them press-ganged into service, were without work, pension and ranking. They gathered at Nassau and became full time pirates.
  • Irony: During the Battle of Almanza, the French/Bourbon forces were commanded by an Englishman whilst the Anglo-Portuguese forces were commanded by a Frenchman. One reason for this was because both men belonged to religious minorities persecuted in their "home" nations: the Englishman was a Catholic and the Frenchman was a Huguenot. The fact that the Englishman (an illegitimate son of James II) also happened to be related to the Stuart claimant to the English throne also had a little to do with it.
  • La Résistance: Two examples:
    • In 1702 Max Emanuel of Bavaria attempted to push through Tyrol to unite with the Duke of Vendôme's forces in Northern Italy but had to retreat due to the resistance of the Tyrolean population.
    • After Austria occupied Bavaria, popular risings were snuffed out in the "Sendlinger Mordweihnacht" (Sendling Murder-Christmas, 1705, here an attempt by armed peasants to storm Munich was mercilessly smashed by Austrian regulars) and the battle of Aidenbach (January 1706).
  • Les Collaborateurs: From the point of view of the Habsburgs and most Germans: Louis XIV's German allies - Prince-Elector Max Emanuel of Bavaria and his brother Johann Clemens, Archbishop-Elector of Cologne, as well as Duke Anton Ulrich of Brunswick.
  • Modern Major General: France was plagued by generals like Villeroi and Tallard, whose appointments were based more on their loyalty than their talent. Marlborough didn't have much trouble with them.
  • Name's the Same: The Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill) was the son of Winston Churchill. No, not that one, but the English Civil War veteran he would be named for.
    • Marlborough's army contained a Captain Blackadder. Given John Lloyd's education he may well have been aware.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: By 1708, France and Spain were on the verge of collapse. Louis initiated peace talks and offered major concessions, including taking Phillip off the Spanish throne. In a brilliant display of foresight, the Allies decided not to accept the offer and demanded that Louis use his own army to depose Phillip. Louis was outraged at this demand and resumed the battle, stating that if he was going to have to fight someone it might as well be his enemies, rather than his own family. The Spaniards also rallied behind Phillip, and the war ended with the Allies being kicked out of Spain and Phillip keeping his throne and his empire. In the end, the Allies gained major territorial and commercial concessions, but if they'd accepted Louis's initial offer they potentially could have had the vast Spanish empire, which encompassed all of Latin America. Bummer.
  • Royally Screwed Up: Charles II of Spain, the Trope Codifier.
  • Series Finale: For the Habsburgs in Spain.
  • Side Show: From the German point of view: The Great Northern War. It was partly fought in territories belonging to the Holy Roman Empire (Holstein, Saxony and Sweden's territories in Western Pomerania and Bremen-Verden), and after the treaty of Rastatt the war also drew in Prussia and Hanover.
  • The Starscream: Prince-Elector Max Emanuel of Bavaria had served the Habsburgs well in previous wars against the French and Turks and indeed had been appointed Governor-General of the Spanish Netherlands. At the beginning of the War of Spanish Succession his ambitions for territorial gains and a royal crown led him to throw in his lot with Louis XIV. It did not end well, and in the end he was lucky to retain his old titles and territories.
  • Succession Crisis: Obviously in Spain, but in Britain another evolved as the wounds of the Glorious Revolution were still festering (1715 would see an attempt by the supporters of the Catholic Stuarts to regain the throne) and Queen Anne had no living children when she died.
  • Took a Level in Badass: England united with Scotland and became Great Britain during the course of this war and started to become a great power. Also the British Army, whose standard of arms was raised to a level not seen since The Middle Ages.
  • War Is Hell: Especially the Allies' Pyrrhic Victory in the battle of Malplaquet (here the Allies roughly doubled the French losses of 11,000 dead and wounded).
    • Villars, the French commander of the battle, put it best in a letter to Louis XIV: Si Dieu nous fait la grâce de perdre encore une pareille bataille, Votre Majesté peut compter que tous ses ennemis seront détruits. (Translation: If by God's favor we lose another such battle, Your Majesty's enemies are ruined.)
  • We ARE Struggling Together: In Britain the Whig and Tory parties were constantly trying to use the course of the war to jockey for political power. In the end the Whigs won, but that was over the question of British succession: the Tories made the mistake of opposing the accession of George I to the throne.


Depictions in fiction

  • The Baroque Cycle
  • In the comedy Le Verre d'eau ("The Glass of Water") by Eugène Scribe the war was ended by Lord Bolingbroke exploiting the rivalry between the Duchess of Marlborough and Queen Anne for the favours of an attractive young guards officer. The play became very popular in Germany in the 20th century and was filmed as Ein Glas Wasser in 1960 with Gustaf Gründgens as Lord Bolingbroke and Lilo Pulver as the Queen.
  • The main campaign in Empire: Total War starts during this time period. The British start with the Duke of Marlborough and the Earl of Galway as generals.

Alternative Title(s):

War Of The Spanish Succession