This Web book is based on public domain material provided by the US government and is available in several versions. See the editorial for more information.

The War of the Spanish Succession

In 1700 the death of Charles II of Spain ended the Spanish Habsburg line. Spain's steady decline throughout the seventeenth century had already led to minor armed conflicts aimed at a realignment of power among European countries, and these rivalries blossomed into the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-14). Both Leopold I and King Louis XIV of France, Charles's two nearest relatives, hoped to establish a junior branch of his own dynasty in Spain. But neither was willing to rule out the possibility that a single heir might someday inherit the lands of both the principal line and its Spanish offshoot. The strong central government and political institutions of France made the possible union of Spain and France a far greater threat to other European countries than the possible union of Spain and the Habsburg lands in Central Europe. Thus, when the dying Spanish king named as his heir Louis's son, Philip, Britain and a number of other European countries rallied to the Habsburg cause.

Despite early victories by the Austro-British alliance, the allies were unable to install the Austrian Archduke Charles on the Spanish throne. As the war dragged on, the alliance began to unravel, especially when, after the death of Leopold's elder son, Charles became Holy Roman Emperor in 1711. The actual unification of the Habsburg lines in Charles VI (r. 1711-40) posed a greater threat to other European powers than did the possible union of war-weakened France and Spain. Austria's allies made peace with France in 1713 and signed the Treaty of Utrecht. Because his former allies negotiated a treaty to protect their own interests, the settlement Charles received when he finally abandoned the war in 1714 was meager: the Spanish Netherlands (present-day Belgium) and various Italian territories.

Last Update: 2009-06-21