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The Wars of the Spanish Succession 

Also known as Queen Anne's War (1702-13) and the Second French and Indian Wars (1689-1763) by American historians.

Main battles of the war:

    • 1701  Chiari
    • 1702  Cremona
    • 1702  Luzzara
    • 1702  Vigo Bay
    • 1703  Höchstädt
    • 1704  Donauwörth
    • 1704  Gibraltar
    • 1704  Blindheim
    • 1704  Málaga
    • 1705  Cassano d'Adda
    • 1705  Barcelona

    Battles in red text mark major events

    • 1706  Ramillies

    • 1706  Turin

    • 1707  Almansa

    • 1707  Stollhofen

    • 1707  Toulon

    • 1708  Oudenarde

    • 1708  Lille

    • 1709  Tournai

    • 1709  Malplaquet

    • 1710  Brihuega

    • 1712  Denain

Countries who fought in the wars:

The Confederation Franco-Bavarians
Great Britain

France:  Marshall Tallard [till capture at   Blenheim], Marshall Marsin [& M. Villars]
Bavaria: Maximilian Emanuel II von Wittelsbach, Elector of Bavaria 
Spain: Various leaders, though mainly on Spanish soil

Holland
Hessians
Prussia
Denmark-Norway
Switzerland
Austria
Hannover
Wirtemberg
Luneburg
Zell

A brief outline follows below, or, if you wish, visit this site to get a detailed year by year outline of all the events leading up to the war, and the war itself. 


The background to the origins of the Wars of the Spanish Succession was just as complicated as the war itself. King Charles II of Spain was childless and suffered ill health, and as a consequence neighbouring countries began to bicker about the right to succession.. England and Holland were opposed to the union of French and Spanish powers, as this would have diverted Spanish trade from England and the Dutch trade to France as well as making the French a dominating power in Europe. But to make matters worse, England, Holland and France were all opposed to Archduke Charles (later Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI) inheriting the title as that would reunite the Spanish and Austrian branches of the Hapsburg family.

 Louis XIV, weary of the War of the Grand Alliance, sought a peaceful solution to the entire succession controversy and in 1698 reached an agreement with King William III of England. By signing the First Partition Treaty, the designated heir Joseph Ferdinand was agreeable to both parties, and in compensation the French dauphin was to receive a selection of territory including Naples and Sicily, and Milan was to fall to Archduke Charles. Not surprisingly Spain opposed any partition of its Empire, and Charles II responded angrily by naming Joseph Ferdinand the sole heir to everything the Spanish held.

In 1699 Ferdinand suddenly and unexpectedly dies, rendering the Anglo-French treaty null and void. By 1700 a Second Partition Treaty was signed, this time by Holland, England and France, where it was agreed that France was to receive Naples, Sicily and Milan while the rest of the Spanish dominions were to go to Archduke Charles. The treaty was acceptable to Louis XIV but rejected by Archduke Charles's father Leopold, who insisted upon gaining the entire inheritance for his son. While the Anglo-Dutch diplomats were still seeking a peaceful solution Spanish diplomats, under order from their grandees, persuaded the dying Charles II to name as his sole heir the grandson of Louis XIV - Philip, Duke of Anjou, who was to become Philip V of Spain. Louis XIV, deciding to be agreeable to Charles will, broke the partition treaty, probably with little regret.

Surprisingly, England and Holland recognized Philip as the new King of Spain, but were antagonized by France's growing commercial competition. The French commercial threat, some reservation and speculation of Philip's right of succession to the French crown and the French occupation of border fortresses between the Dutch and the Spanish Netherlands (Feb 1701) led to an anti-French alliance among England, Holland and Emperor Leopold I.

Hostilities began in earnest in Italy between the French and the Imperial forces, where the imperial general Prince Eugene of Savoy defeated Nicolas Catinat and the Duke of Villeroi. By 1702 England, Holland and most of the German states opposed France, Spain, Bavaria, Portugal and Savoy. Marlborough came into his own at this time, and though suffering from lack of support from the Dutch he still managed to capture a number of places in the low countries between 1702 - 1703. Eugene also managed to hold his own against Villeroi and his successor Louis Joseph, Duc de Vedome. The imperial forces did suffer one loss, with the Duke of Villars defeating Louis of Baden at Friedlingen. 

In 1703 the French gained a few successes including Alsace, which enabled them to menace Vienna, but nothing was forthcoming as the French leaders began to bicker amongst themselves. Consequently all advantages the French had were quickly lost. In 1704 Marlborough succeeded in moving his troops quickly from Holland to Bavaria, where he joined Eugene and achieved the great victory over Duc de Tallard at Blenheim (read Marlborough's original account of Blenheim here). Tallard was captured by Marlborough himself and packed off to England to live as a prisoner of war by Nottingham Castle, resulting in the French loss of Bavaria. Late in 1703 Portugal and Savoy had changed sides to the imperial one, enabling the English to capture Gibraltar in 1704.

By 1705 Marlborough in Holland and Eugene in Italy had a few modest victories by capturing towns and forts, although Eugene did have a defeat at the hands of Vendome at the Siege of Cassano. Eugene quickly turned this around, and in 1706 his victory at Turin resulted in the total evacuation of the French from Northern Italy. Marlborough had similar successes and victories, with his triumph at the Battle of Ramillies forcing the French to retreat from the Low Countries. One account has this on Ramillies:

"During the two years that followed Blenheim, Marlborough was the soul of the Alliance. His great persuasive power and personal charm were as much in requisition to soothe the apprehensions and susceptibilities of his comrades in the Netherlands, Vienna and Berlin, as were his military gifts to teach Louis XVI that at length he had met his match. In April, 1706, events were in train for a second staggering blow at French power. Marlborough was at the Hague contemplating a transfer of the theatre of war to Italy, partly from disgust of the timidity of the Dutch policy, and partly because he wished to join hands with Prince Eugene, the one colleague who had proved himself worthy of confidence. Circumstance, however, compelled him to remain in the Netherlands, where the French, under Villeroi, were entrenched in their camp behind the Dyle, and the campaign offered but slight prospect of decisive result. By a bold stroke, Marlborough forced an issue.  A threat to besiege Namur brought Villeroi into the open in its defence. At the head of the renowned household troops of France he took up his position on 23rd May on Mont St Andre, a part of the highest ground in Brabant. He adopted a crescent formation, the tips of the half-moon advancing towards the Allies. This gave Marlborough, who lay facing the centre, the supreme advantage of being able to strike where he chose before the enemy could reinforce against him. Part of the ground on the French right was and eminence called the "Tomb of Ottomond", which commanded the whole field. This was the key of the position. The opposing forces each numbered about 60,000 men. The issue lay with superior generalship and valour. Marlborough, whose objective was the "Tomb of Ottomond", made a feigned attack on the enemy's left, which Villeroi took seriously, only to realise, too late, the true intentions of the Allies. Nevertheless a sturdy fight was made for the retention of the Tomb. It was held by the French household cavalry, in whose ranks fought scores of young French nobles, who set fame before life. These beat off the attack of the Dutch horse, and Marlborough had to hasten up with fresh squadrons. In the turmoil he was surrounded , thrown from his charger, and nearly captured, but, taking taking the horse of his aide-de-camp, he renewed the charge with such vigour that the enemy gave way and the height was captured. The success was rapidly followed up in other parts of the field, and three and a half hours after the first encounter the French were in full flight, abandoning their baggage and most of their guns. In killed, wounded and prisoners, they lost 15,000 men, whilst the Allies had over 3,000 casualties. 

Louis XIV threw a spanner in the works when, realizing that the allies were stronger, proposed peace to the Dutch. England allegedly wrecks the talks, forcing the continuance of the war.

In 1707 things had started to slow down. Marlborough made little progress in the North, with Eugene's trip to Provencé proving a costly one when he lost 10,000 men in a few encounters with the French. By 1708 the tables were turned yet again, with Marlborough and Eugene winning a great victory at Oudenarde, took Lille and finally drove the French back to within their borders. Further attempts at peace negotiations failed, and the imperial forces in 1709 won a very costly victory at the Battle of Malplaquet, with the loss of many lives. Lord Orkney himself had nearly his entire regiment massacred at a French entrenchment, while Marlborough and Eugene were still reeling from their losses. Another account has this to say about events at Malplaquet:

Battle_Malp.jpg (132189 bytes)..."it was under very changed conditions from Blenheim when Marlborough met the troops of Louis at Malplaquet. France was well-nigh worn out by the prolonged war. Famine within her borders, military disaster without, had caused her imperious ruler to look anxiously for peace. To this end his craftiest Ministers sought by offers of individual advantage to detach the Allies from the pact. Their efforts failed. The Alliance held fast, and demanded such humiliating conditions that Louis was obliged to renew the struggle. On the other hand, the political situation in England was such that Marlborough felt the necessity of achieving some victory that would justify the continuance of the war. Had he consulted only himself, he would have welcomed a cessation of hostilities, but he knew that France must be further stricken if the peace was to be enduring. In September, 1709, the capitulation of Douai to the Allies, and the approaching investment of Mons, brought the hostile armies closer together. The French, to the number of 110,000 were under the courageous and capable Villars, with whom was Marshal Boufflers, the brave defender of Lille. Marlborough commanded much the same strength of various nationalities with his tried comrade and friend Prince Eugene. Villars encamped in a strong position between two woods near the little village of Malplaquet. The Allies were drawn up opposite to him. For two nights and a day, the French general was allowed to strengthen his position by digging trenches and clearing his front, till early on the morning of the 11th September the Allied troops were led against him, the soldiers expressing their contempt at being "obliged to fight against moles". Villars believed in his trenches and filled them with infantry, posting his cavalry in the rear. The disposition of the Allies was a frontal attack, with a threat to enfilade the enemy's left. Led by Prince Eugene and Marlborough the line advanced against the French left and centre. Several times it was beaten back, but the attack was fiercely renewed. Half an hour after the battle had opened the young Prince of Orange, acting without orders, flung himself against the right of the trenches, only to be repulsed with a loss of 2,000 men. Although the Allies had not made much headway their onslaught on the flanks had withdrawn all the infantry from the centre, leaving the French cavalry exposed. Instantly Marlborough turned his cannon on the horsemen, following up the fire with a cavalry charge headed by the Prince of Auvergne. The charge had to be driven home no less than four times before the French gave way, but in the end the line was pierced. The French retreat was orderly, the Allies being too exhausted for pursuit. The cost to the victors was 18,000 killed and wounded; to the vanquished 14,000. Writing of the battle many years afterwards, Bolingbroke said: " A deluge of blood was spilt to dislodge them, for we did no more at Malplaquet."

Between 1708 - 1710 the indecisive imperial campaigns in Spain did little to weaken and dispose of Philip V. The death in 1711 of Holy Roman Emperor Joseph I, who had succeeded Leopold, and the accession of Charles VI led to a major withdrawal of Marlborough and the English forces, as England was as much opposed to the union of Spain and Austria as to that of Spain and France.

Finally, all the war-weary sides pressed forward peace negotiations between England and France, and a peace conference was opened in 1712 for diplomatic negotiations, followed shortly by an Anglo-French armistice. In 1713 France, England and Holland signed the Peace of Utrecht. This was by no means the end of the affair, as a power hungry Charles VI continued the war, even though he had finally managed to defeat Eugene at the Battle of Denain and forced him to retreat to the Spanish Netherlands. Seriously weakened by the defection of his allies, the Emperor finally consented in 1714 to the treaty of Rastatt and Baden, which complemented the general settlement in the Peace of Utrecht. With this settlement the principle of a balance of power took precedence over dynastic or national rights in the negotiation of future European affairs.

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