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).

Appears in the following works:

  • 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