Succession Wars I - Spanish and Austrian

War of the Spanish Succession 

The War of the Spanish Succession (1701–14) was a great European conflict fought over which claimant would assume the vacant throne of Spain.

Throughout the 16th century, Spain had been ruled by the Habsburg dynasty, which also controlled Austria and other parts of Europe. Charles II (1661– 1700), the last Habsburg king of Spain, had no legitimate heir. He named Philip, duc d’Anjou (1683–1746), as his successor.

The Bourbon dynasty, which ruled France, had been long-standing rivals of the Habsburgs; the closest claimant to the Spanish throne was Louis xiv’s eldest son with Maria-Theresa. However, the princess had been barred from her rights to the Spanish throne as part of her marriage contract. This condition was contingent upon receipt of the bride’s dowry, which was never paid. Since the promotion of Louis XIV’s son to the Spanish throne would unite the thrones of both France and Spain and certainly prompt a reaction from the European powers, Louis XIV advocated that his younger grandson, duc d’Anjou, rule Spain.

Leopold I (1640–1705), Holy Roman Emperor, king of Austria, and member of the Habsburg family, attempted to preserve his family’s control of Spain by forwarding himself as the rightful successor to Charles II. Such a situation would unite the thrones of Austria and Spain, a situation unacceptable to the European powers, and Leopold I advocated his son, Archduke Charles (1685–1740), as king of Spain.

Expanding French Influence
Louis XIV’s attempts to expand French influence on the European continent prompted England and the Netherlands to side with the Holy Roman Empire against France in order to preserve the balance of power. The son of Leopold I’s daughter, Prince Joseph Ferdinand of Bavaria (1692–99), was the preferred candidate as king of Spain by the European powers, who feared either family’s gaining too much dominance. Prince Joseph Ferdinand was agreed upon as heir in 1698, but he died of smallpox in 1699. England then ratified the Treaty of London (1700) recognizing Archduke Charles as heir to the Spanish throne.

Charles II died in 1700. He declared the duc d’Anjou his successor and Louis XIV quickly declared his grandson Philip V king of the Spanish empire. England could not afford war with France and recognized Philip V as king of Spain in 1701. Louis XIV attempted to solidify his newfound influence by severing both England and the Netherlands from Spanish trade. The blow to both countries’ commercial interests forced them into an alliance with Austria against France and Spain. The Treaty of the Hague (1701) of the Netherlands, England, and Austria recognized Philip V as king of Spain but transferred sections of Italy and the Netherlands under Spanish rule to Austria. It also confirmed England’s and the Netherlands’s commercial rights in Spain.

The war began in 1702, when Austrian forces invaded Spanish territories in Italy, forcing French intervention. England, the Netherlands, and several German states sided with Austria while Bavaria, Portugal, and Savoy supported France and Spain. Other opportunist states joined sides in the conflict, expanding fighting throughout Europe and North America, where the conflict became known as Queen Anne’s War.

The duke of Marlborough captured territories in the Netherlands in 1702–03 while Prince Eugene held French forces in Italy. The French, under the duc de Villars, scored a victory at Friedlingen in 1702. Success in Alsace, located between France and the Holy Roman Empire, presented the opportunity for an invasion of Austria in 1703, but dissention among French commanders ruined this opportunity. Marlborough moved his troops from the Netherlands to Bavaria, linking with Prince Eugene’s forces to defeat the French at the Battle of Blenheim (1704). Meanwhile, Portugal and Savoy switched sides, joining the coalition headed by England, Austria, and the Netherlands. In 1704, England captured the strategic island of Gibraltar.

French Invade Italy
In 1706, French forces evacuated Italy following Prince Eugene’s victory at Turin and the Netherlands following Marlborough’s victory at Ramillies. In 1708, following Prince Eugene’s disastrous expedition into Provence the previous year, Marlborough and Eugene won at Oudenarde and captured Lille. French forces retreated, losing an additional battle at Malplaquet (1709). Allied campaigns in Spain (1708–10) garnered little success in weakening Philip V’s position. Louis XIV opened peace negotiations, but his refusal to join against his grandson brought negotiations to a halt.
In 1711, the death of Holy Roman Emperor Joseph I (1678–1711) resulted in the ascension of Archduke Charles (Charles VI) to the thrones of Austria and the Holy Roman Empire. The English opened negotiations to end the war.

The Treaty of Utrecht (1713) ended hostilities among France, Spain, England, and the Netherlands. Charles VI continued the war, finally ending hostilities by signing the Treaties of Rastatt and Baden (1714), which complemented the general settlement of the Treaty of Utrecht. Philip V retained the Spanish throne under the condition that he and his descendants were barred from the throne of France. Austria gained territory in Italy and the Netherlands previously belonging to Spain while England gained Gibraltar, Minorca, and exclusive rights to slave trading in Spanish America for 30 years. France recognized Anne as queen of England and surrendered some of its American territories. France’s dominance over the European continent was checked and the notion of the preservation of the balance of power emerged as the cornerstone of European politics for centuries to come.

Further reading: Dickinson, W. Calvin, and Eloise R. Hitchcock, eds. The War of the Spanish Succession, 1702–1713: A Selected Bibliography. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996; Frey, Linda, and Marsha Frey, eds. The Treaties of the War of the Spanish Succession: An Historical and Critical Dictionary. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995; Lynn, John. The Wars of Louis XIV, 1667–1714. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Longman, 1999; Sturgill, Claude. Marshal Villars and the War of the Spanish Succession. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1965.

 War of the Austrian Succession


George II at the Battle of Dettingen. Painted by John Wootton. Circa 1743.

The War of the Austrian Succession was primarily between the Austrian Empire and Prussia, although several other European countries were eventually brought into the conflict. There were underlying causes that led to this renewal of European hostilities aside from the question of the Austrian succession. The Treaty of Utrecht, which was signed in 1713 to end the War of the Spanish Succession (1702–13), did not settle the underlying problems between ambitious powers seeking to extend their influence in Europe and the world.

Before the War of the Austrian Succession began, British and Spanish antagonism was prominent in European society. The British were furious with the Spanish over the limited amount of trade the Asiento Privilege, which was signed in 1713, granted the British with Spanish colonies in the Americas. British captains attempted to get around this agreement by resorting to smuggling, which resulted in the Captain Jenkins Incident. Captain Jenkins claimed he was captured by the Spanish, who cut off one of his ears, which he kept to show to the British parliament. The British government declared war on Spain in October 1739 and commenced hostilities against the Spanish fleet in the Caribbean, but they were defeated.

Despite hostilities between Spain and England, the immediate cause of the War of the Austrian Succession was the death of Charles VI of Austria in 1740, which gave his daughter, Maria Theresa, control over Austria. When Maria came to the throne, the Austrian military and bureaucracy were in a weakened state. With regard to trade, Austria was a very weak country because its mercantile system was centered predominately on a rural base, which failed to generate a significant degree of revenue.

Austria had fought a bitter war against the Ottoman Empire that drained the treasury, leaving only 90,000 gulden for government spending. This war also angered many Hungarians since they were responsible for quartering the Empire’s soldiers. This financial burden and discontent were domestic issues with which Maria Theresa was forced to deal when she assumed the throne in 1740. These problems created a great deal of instability in Austria, and many countries hoped to divide up Austrian territory for their own benefit.

An anti-Austrian coalition was formed, as neighboring countries were interested in seizing Austrian lands. This is evidenced by the fact that Prussia was interested in acquiring Silesia, France was interested in the Austrian Netherlands, Spain wanted to acquire more territory in Italy, and Piedmont-Sardinia wanted Milan. Frederick the Great, the ambitious King of Prussia, struck quickly against the Austrians by sending troops into Silesia in December 1740. Frederick the Great attempted to turn Prussia into a powerful country through the creation of a strong military and a centralized government that could effectively generate revenue through taxation.

The Austrian government faced larger problems as the Bohemian nobles were unhappy with Habsburg rule and revolted since they wanted to be placed under the control of the elector of Bavaria. At this point, war enveloped the European continent as British and Austrian governments sided together to counter the ambitious design of the French, Prussian, Bavarian, and Spanish governments. Many of the European countries became concerned about the balance of power since they did not want one country to become too powerful in Europe.

Prussian Invasion of Silesia
With the Prussian invasion of Silesia and the revolt in Bohemia, Maria was forced to ask the Hungarian diet for assistance in 1741. The inability of the Austrians to repel the Prussian invasion forced Maria to assemble the Hungarian diet to acquire further assistance in the war effort. The diet attempted to assert Hungarian interests over Austrian interests as it demanded the institution of better economic policies, an alteration in the coronation oath, and greater Hungarian control over the region. Maria agreed to negotiate these terms, with the exception of the demand concerning the coronation oath, in order to acquire further Hungarian assistance in the war, but she refused to honor this agreement in its entirety.

As the war continued to deteriorate for the Austrians, Maria was forced to approach the diet again. She promised to give Hungarians greater control over the administration of Hungary, more Hungarian influence in regard to allocation of tax money, the selection of Hungarians to ecclesiastical offices in Hungary, and the promise to give more territory to Hungarian domains.

The members of the diet accepted this proposal and promised to provide the Austrian empress with at least 4 million gulden and a minimum of 60,000 troops. Despite the fact that Maria considered Hungarian opinion when creating government policies, she failed to implement most of the demands to which the Hungarians agreed.

The Hungarians also fell short on their promises regarding the number of troops they could offer to the service of the Crown, which helps to explain the poor performance of the Austrian war effort. The Peace of Dresden, which was signed in 1745 between the Prussian and Austrian governments, confirmed Prussia’s control over Silesia. Despite the fact that Prussia and Austria negotiated a peace settlement the conflict still continued among the other European powers.

The British became involved in the war with the fear that the expansion of French influence on the European continent would affect Hanover. George II, who was king of England and elector of Hanover, led an army that defeated the French forces at Dettingen in June 1743, but the threat of an army led by Charles Edward Stuart, who was attempting to restore the Stuart dynasty to the throne of England, forced the British to recall a significant portion of their army back to England in 1745. The invasion failed as Charles could not acquire enough support from the English population, forcing him to give up his march on the English capital. The remains of the Stuart army were smashed by the duke of Cumberland at Culloden Moor in April 1746. Despite this success by the English at home, the recall of a major portion of the English army allowed the French to capture the Austrian Netherlands.

The war was also fought outside the European continent as the French and British combated with each other for a stronger position on the Indian subcontinent and in North America. The French were able to launch a successful offensive against the British in India by capturing Madras from the British. The British were able to gain some ground on the French in North America as a coordinated attack by colonists from New England and the Royal Navy captured the French fortress of Louisburg.
The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which was signed in 1748, forced England to relinquish control of the fortress of Louisburg in Nova Scotia to the French and in exchange, the French returned the Austrian Netherlands to Austria and Madras to the English. Spain and Piedmont-Sardinia each gained territory as the Spanish acquired Parma, and Piedmont-Sardinia acquired some territory in Milan. The War of the Austrian Succession was an important step in turning Prussia into a strong European power for the acquisition of Silesia increased the population of Prussia, provided Prussia with an abundant amount of coal and iron, and gave the Prussians a thriving textile industry. Maria Theresa lost territory, but her husband was acknowledged by the German princes as the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Maria spent the rest of her reign attempting to reacquire Silesia from Frederick the Great as she centralized the Austrian administration and undertook reforms in the Austrian army and economic base to accomplish this goal.

Further reading: Merriman, John. A History of Modern Europe, Volume 1: From the Renaissance to the Age of Napoleon. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1996; Willcox, William, and Walter Arnstein. The Age of Aristocracy: 1688 to 1830. Boston, MA: D. C. Heath and Company, 1996; Winks, Robin, and Thomas Kaiser. Europe, 1648–1815: From the Old Regime to the Age of Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

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