War of the Spanish Succession, 1701-1714

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War caused by the disputed succession to the Spanish throne. Charles II of Spain was the last of the Spanish Hapsburgs. His clossest heirs, both by marriage, were Louis XIV of France and the Emperor Leopold I. The two 'maritime powers', England and Holland, made it clear that they would not tolerate the unification of Spain with either France or Austria, and thus the two actual candidates for the Spanish throne were Philip of Anjou, second grandson of Louis, and the Archduke Charles, second son of Leopold. The French claim was the stronger, and in his will (13 March 1700), Charles II made Philip of Anjou his heir. When Charles died (1 November 1700), Philip was proclaimed Philip V, and took control in Spain. While the Archduke Charles did not abandon his claim, the main fighting in the war was not in Spain itself, but was fought over the Spanish territories to the east of France, in particular the Spanish Netherlands (modern Belgium).

1701 The first military action of the war was the French occupation of the Spanish Netherlands (March 1701). This triggered preparation for war in England, Holland and Austria. The French marched a large army under Marshal Nicholas de Catinat to Rivoli, where he hoped to stop the Austrian army under Prince Eugene of Savoy from entering Italy. However, Eugene was able to slip past the French, and entered Italy on 28 May 1701 forcing the French into retreat, and eventually out maneuvering them. The French responded by replacing Catinat with Marshal duke Francois de Villeroi, who then launched an unsuccessful attack on Prince Eugene's fortified position (Battle of Chiari, 1 September 1701). On 7 September 1701, the anti-French nations formed the Grand Alliance, formalising their alliance. The initial members of the Alliance were England, Holland, Austria, Prussia and most of Germany, later joined by Portugal, and by Savoy. French allies were Savoy (briefly), Mantua, Cologne and eventually Bavaria.

1702 Campaigning in 1702 started with a raid by Eugene which resulted in victory at the battle of Cremona (1 February), capturing Villeroi, who was replaced by Marshal Louis Joseph, duke of Vendome. They fought one battle (Luzzara, 15 August 1702), a draw, but otherwise the focus was elsewhere. On 15 May 1702, England declared war, and sent John Churchill, earl of Marlborough to Holland, where he commanded a 50,000 strong allied English and Dutch army, but despite much campaigning in June and July was frequently frustrated in his attempts to force battle by the Dutch government. In September and October he moved on to the Rhone and Meuse, where he was finally allowed to take action, and captured a series of fortresses, becoming Duke of Marlborough as a result. The third area of campaigning in 1702 saw an Imperial threat to Alsace, led by Prince Louis of Baden, who crossed the Rhine and from 29 July 12 September besieged Landau, before preparing to move into Alsace. However, in September Bavaria joined the war on the French side, and Prince Louis was forced back into Germany, chased by a French army which defeated him at the Battle of Friedlingen (14 October 1702). The year also saw the first allied action in Spain, a failed allied attack on Cadiz (August-September) by 50 ships and 15,000 men, commanded by Admiral Sir George Rooke. The attack was crippled by mismanagement, but Rooke partly made up for this in the Action at Vigo Bay (12 October 1702), where he captured the Spanish treasure fleet, capturing £2 million.

1703 Both sides entered 1703 with clear plans. Marlborough planned to gain control of the Rhine to allow communication with Austrian, and then to capture the French forts guarding the Spanish Netherlands and capture Antwerp. In May 1703 he succeeded in his first objective, capturing Bonn, but from June-October he suffered frustration in the Spanish Netherlands, where he faced superior French armies and a lack of cooperation from the Dutch. The French intended to send an army to join the Elector of Bavaria, and then march down the Danube to Vienna. Their plan was initially moresuccessfull. The French force under Marshal Villarsmarchedd through the Black Forest and joined with the Elector on 8 May, who refused to march on Vienna until an army marching from Italy reached the Tyrol. The Elector occupied the Tyrol (June-August), but the local population, with Austrian help, were able to drive him out, forcing the French reinforcements to stay in Italy. This left Villars on the Danube, and despite victories over Louis of Baden (battle of Munderkingen, 13 July 1703) and over an Austrian army under Count Styrum at the battle of Hochstadt, was still stopped from attacking Vienna by the elector of Bavaria, and resigned. The balance of the war was changed on 25 October, when Duke Victor Amadeus of Savoy changed sides. This allowed Leopold to recall Prince Eugene to Austria with Savoy guarding Austria's southern flank. The only significant event in Iberia was the Methuen Treaty (May 1703), in which Portugal joined the Grand Alliance and agreed to allow their bases to be used against Spain.

1704 Once again both sides had clear plans for 1704. The French intended to reinforce their armies on the Danube for an attack on Vienna while keeping Marlborough tied up in the Netherlands. The allies planned to concentrate their forces under Marlborough and Eugene on the Danube, with the intention of forcing the French out of Germany, and remove Bavaria from the war. The crux of the years campaigning was on the Danube. The allies managed to get 100,000 men into the field, although were still outnumbered by the French with 150,000 men. However, the French troops were split between three separate armies. Marlborough now started to have success. On 2 July he won the battle of the Schellenberg, allowing him to take Donauworth. On 12 August, Marlborough and Eugene joined forces to form an army of 56,000. The French, with 60,000 men were camped near the village of Blenheim. On 13 August, the allies won the battle of Blenheim by following a clear, predetermined plan, eliminating over half of the French army. The allied plan had succeeded, and the French were driven out of Germany, while the Elector of Bavaria was forced to flee from Bavaria which was occupied by Austria. 1704 saw in increase in the tempo of the war in Iberia and the Mediterranean. In February, the Archduke Charles with 2,000 troops landed at Lisbon, but the most important action happened at sea. From March-July the two fleets swapped dominance, with first the French and then the Anglo-Dutch fleets gaining numerical superiority. On 13 August 1704, the two fleets came to blows (Battle of Malaga), and the Anglo-Dutch fleet was victorious, securing control of the Mediterranean. In the meantime, another fleet under Vice-Admiral Viscount George Byng of Torrington, and 1,800 marines commanded by Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt captured Gibraltar (23-24 July 1704). The Spanish responded in August, beginning the siege of Gibraltar, defended by Prince George and 900 marines.

1705 After all the activity of 1704, the following year saw stalemates in the Low Countries, on the Rhine and in Italy. Only in Spain was there activity. 1705 saw the conquest of Gibraltar secured by the naval Battle of Marbella (10 March 1705), where a French fleet near Marbella was destroyed, after which the siege of Gibraltar was abandoned (March 1705). In June, the allies landed in Catalonia, capturing Barcelona (3 October). The Spanish marched to recapture Barcelona, beginning a siege of the city in November.

1706 The gridlock in the Netherlands was finally broken. Marlborough and Villeroi met with equal forces at the battle of Ramillies (23 May 1706), and the French army was forced from the field. Marlborough was able to occupy the Spanish Netherlands (June-October), capturing most of the fortifications in the area. The French also suffered setbacks in Italy. On 19 April 1706, Vendome launched an attack with 100,000 men against a smaller Savoyard and Austrian force. An initial Austrian retreat was stopped by Prince Eugene, who then outmaneuvered the French, until he was able to force the French to battle at Turin (7 September 1706), where he inflicted a heavy defeat on the French after which he was able to expel the French from Italy before the end of the year. In Spain, the Spanish siege of Barcelona was abandoned (30 April) after the French Toulon fleet was forced back into harbour. The French army was then marched west to oppose an expected invasion of Spain from Portugal under Lord Henry Galway. Galway's army successfully captured Madrid on 26 June 1706, proclaiming the Archduke Charles king, before being chased out of the city by a French army under the Duke of Berwick in October. Meanwhile, the English fleet was having success on the Spanish coast, capturing Cartagena (1 June), Alicante (24 August) and Mollorca and Iviza (September).

1707 This year saw little significant fighting outside Spain. April 1707 saw another allied advance on Madrid led by Lord Galway, with 33,000 men. He was intercepted at Almanza by the duke of Berwick (25 April 1707), and heavily defeated, forcing Galway with only 16,000 men left to retreat back towards Barcelona. July-August 1707 saw an allied invasion of France from Italy, along with a naval blockade of Toulon. However, the allied army was not well coordinated, and the French were able to repel the invasion, but not before scuttling their Toulon fleet, expecting the loss of the port, giving control of the Mediterranean to the allies.

1708 Fighting was now concentrated on Flanders and the Spanish Netherlands. The French had 100,000 men theoretically commanded by the Duke of Burgundy but with Vendome in actual charge, which was to cause great problems during the year, and another 50,000 men at Strasbourg, while the allies had 70,000 men under Marlborough at Brussels, 35,000 under Eugene at Coblenz and 50,000 men under the duke of Hanover (Soon to be George I of England) at Strasbourg. The French had the best of the initial maneuvers, and by July 1708 battle was close. At this point the French command structure reared up. Burgundy insisted that Vendome avoid the battle he had been working towards, and on 10 July, while the allies prepared for battle, the French army remained scattered. Battle was joined on 11 July 1708 at Oudenarde, a battle with very little plan won by the greater determination of the allied armies. Despite his defeat, Vendome was still able to hold on to Ghent and western Flanders until the arrive of Prince Eugene on 15 July gave the allies superiority of numbers. The allies laid siege to Lille (14 August-11 December), and after the capture of Lille, Marlborough remained in the field over the winter until the French had been forced back behind their own borders. 1708 saw the allies use their control of Mediterranean to capture Sardinia and Minorca.

1709 For once the two sides had similar sized armies. The French, under Villars, had 112,000 men, while Marlborough and Eugene had 110,000 men and occupied the Spanish Netherlands. The French refused battle for most of the year, while the allies attempted to force battle. Eventually, the allies laid siege to Mons (4 September-26 October), and Villars was finally ordered to fight to save the city. He entrenched at Malplaquet, with 90,000 men, forcing Marlborough and Eugene attack him in position. On 11 September 1709 battle was joined at Malplaquet. The allies won the battle, but took much heavier casualties than the French, and were unable to give chase, but were able to take Mons.

1710 1710 saw the final allied campaign of significance in Spain. One 26,000 strong army commanded by 26,000 under Lord James Stanhope, and another Portuguese army of 33,000 were opposed by a French army commanded by Philip of 35,000 men. While the Portuguese army soon withdrew, Stanhope reached Madrid, but the Archduke Charles lacked any support in Spain, and when a relief army from France approached Madrid, Stanhope started to withdraw towards Barcelona, but he was captured at the battle of Brihuega (10 December 1710), leaving a remnant of his army to reach Barcelona.

1711 The Grand Alliance started to weaken in 1711. Archduke Charles became Emperor Charles VI, and none of his allies would accept him as both Emperor and king of Spain. At the end of the year, the duke of Marlborough was recalled by the new Tory cabinet in London.

1712 Eugene soon found that the English were no longer interested in the war, and his campaigning in early 1712 was sabotaged by the sudden withdrawal of his English troops, and for the rest of the year the French under Villars were on the offensive, recapturing much lost ground.

1713 Finally, peace negotiations bore fruit. On 11 April 1713 the Treaty of Utrecht ended the war everywhere but between France and Charles VI. Philip V was recognised as king of Spain, but the Spanish Netherlands and most Spanish lands in Italy went to the Empire, while the French gave assurances that France and Spain would never be united under a single crown. Charles attempted to continue fighting on the Rhine, but without the resources for victory and over the winter of 1713-14 peace negotiations were successful, and the following year peace was made.

1714 The final major action of the war was the capture of Barcelona by the French, ending the allied presence in Spain. Early in the following year, the Treaty of Madrid made peace between Spain and Portugal, ending the war. The war massively altered the balance of power in Europe. Formerly, Spain and the Empire fought together, as they had done during the Thirty Years War. Now, Bourbon Spain became an ally of France. Fortunately for the rest of Europe, Spain was already on the decline, and her importance as a European power was much reduced by the losses of her eastern territories.

Spencer, Charles, Blenheim: Battle for Europe, Cassel, 2005, 368 pages. An account of one of the most famous battles of the period, instrumental in stopping Louis XIV's attempts to dominate Europe. This volume goes beyond the battle itself to include portraits of the main characters of the period as well as the life of the common soldier. cover cover cover
How to cite this article: Rickard, J. (27 December 2000), War of the Spanish Succession, 1701-1714, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/wars_spanishsuccession.html

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