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The War of the Spanish Succession
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The War of the Spanish Succession, also known as Marlborough's Wars (1702-13), fought in Europe and on the Mediterranean, were the last and the bloodiest of the Wars between England and France under Louis XIV, and the first in which Britain played a major military role in European military affairs.

Queen AnneCharles II, the Hapsburg king of Spain, was childless, and negotiations over his eventual successor began long before his death. The chief claimants were Philip, son of Louis XIV of France; Archduke Charles (later Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI), son of Emperor Leopold I; and Joseph Ferdinand, electoral prince of Bavaria. England and Holland, opposed to the extension of either French Bourbon or Austrian Hapsburg power into Spain, favoured Joseph Ferdinand. In 1698 all the powers agreed to the complicated First Partition Treaty. By its terms, Joseph Ferdinand was to get the crown; in return, Spanish territories were to go to Austria and France. Joseph Ferdinand died before Charles, however, and the treaty went into jeopardy. In 1700 the duke of Anjou, grandson of Louis, named by the dying Charles as his successor, ascended the throne as Philip V. England, Holland, Austria, and most of the German states then went to war against France. Bavaria sided with France, as did Portugal and Savoy until 1703, when they switched sides. In 1700 Louis had further antagonised the English by the prohibition of English imports and recognition of the claim to the English throne put forward by James, the "Old Pretender," who was the son of the deposed James II and the leader of the Jacobites. England's Grand Alliance with Holland, the Hapsburg Empire, Hanover, and Prussia, intended to prevent French dominance over all of Europe, was opposed by France, Spain, Bavaria, and Savoy.   After the death of William III in 1702, Queen Anne, James's daughter, appointed John Churchill, the Earl of Marlborough, as commander of the English and Dutch armies. A brilliant soldier--brave, handsome, skilful--Marlborough was also opportunistic, crafty, deceptive, and tight-fisted. Military operations began in the Low Countries and became general in 1703.

Blenheim During the War Marlborough waged ten successful campaigns, besieged over thirty towns, and never lost a battle or a skirmish. After his successes in the Netherlands, the Bavarians and the French threatened Vienna and the Austrians, and Marlborough, a master of tactics and strategy, marched 250 miles across Germany and confronted the French army at Blenheim in 1704, destroying two thirds of it and capturing Marshall Tallard, its commander. Thereafter, however, the war dragged on on different fronts--in the Netherlands, Italy, and Spain--but by 1710 the situation was largely stalemated, though the war as a whole had brought Britain into much greater prominence as a European power. The great allied commanders, the English Duke of Marlborough and the imperial general Prince Eugene of Savoy, won such major victories as Blenheim and Gibraltar (1704), Ramillies (1706), Oudenarde (1708), and Malplaquet (1709). The campaigns in Spain were indecisive, however, and in 1711 England quit the war. Charles VI had become emperor, and he represented as great a threat to the English as did the Bourbons.

Meanwhile, the cost of the war, a dominant theme in English politics and society during the reign of Queen Anne, had generated considerable political opposition at home, particularly amongst the Tory gentry who were taxed to pay for it: though a common soldier in the British Army earned only sixpence a day, it cost £1,000,000 a year to maintain the army in Europe, and total cost of the war for Britain was close to £9,000,000 per year. The conduct of the war became a political football between the Whigs and the Tories, with the queen in the middle. Marlborough's wife Sarah, long one of Anne's favourites, eventually fell out of favour, and after the Tories came back into power in 1710 Marlborough himself, accused of corruption, was stripped of his offices and went abroad. 

Britain had withdrawn from the war for all practical purposes by 1712, and England, Holland, and France signed the Peace of Utrecht, negotiated by the Tory government, which was approved by parliament in 1713--though the Whigs (who represented the mercantile interests which had profited by the war, and who made larger profits by financing it, though in doing so they had created a National Debt which had to be financed by further taxation) regarded it as a betrayal of Britain's allies. By the terms of the treaty France agreed never to unite the crowns of France and Spain, while Britain acquired Hudson's Bay, Arcadia, and Newfoundland from the French, Gibraltar and Minorca from Spain, new trading privileges with Spain, and a monopoly of the slave trade with the Spanish Empire. 

In 1713 England, Holland, and France signed the Peace of Utrecht. Charles continued the war until 1714. Although Philip remained on the Spanish throne, the principle of balance of power had been established in European dynastic affairs.

Marlborough returned to England after Anne's death in 1714 and was restored to some of his former influence under George I.

John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, 1650-1722
MarlboroughEnglish general and statesman, one of the greatest military commanders in history. Under James II he crushed the rebellion (1685) of the duke of Monmouth. During the Glorious Revolution he supported William III against James II but later (1692-98) fell into William's disfavour. Marlborough's power peaked in the reign of Queen Anne. Created duke (1702), he was involved in many victories in the War of the Spanish Succession, including Blenheim (1704), Ramillies (1706), Oudenarde (1708), and Malplaquet (1709). Politically he favoured the Whigs during the war; when they fell he was dismissed (1711). On the accession of George I in 1714, Marlborough resumed chief command of the army. His wife, Sarah Churchill, duchess of Marlborough, 1660-1744, was a favourite of Queen Anne. Born Sarah Jennings, she married John Churchill in 1677. She wielded great influence at Anne's court until they quarrelled in 1705. After her husband's death she supervised the building of Blenheim Palace.

Eugène of Savoy 1663-1736
Prince François Eugène of the house of Savoy was a general in the service of the Holy Roman Empire. He is regarded as one of the great military commanders of the modern age. He was a leading participant in the War of the Spanish Succession, and he and the Duke of Marlborough won the great battle of Blenheim (1704). He also fought the Turks and for Austria in the War of the Polish Succession.

He had been born in Paris in 1663 and brought up at the French Court; his mother was the niece of the famous Cardinal Mazarin.  As a child and youth, he suffered from a poor physique and it was for this reason that Louis XIV had forced him to enter the Church rather than become a soldier in the French army as he wished.  His father was twice exiled from France because of court intrigues.  It was his mother's grief at such injustice that had inspired in Eugene his bitter hatred of Louis XIV and the French Monarchy.  When his father died young, Eugène left France swearing that he would never return except sword in hand.   He and his brother settled in Vienna, and Eugène joined the Imperial Army.  He first saw war at the age of twenty, when the Turks were besieging Vienna; and the bare record of his career bespoke his military talent: colonel at twenty, major-general at twenty-one, general of cavalry at twenty-six.  A crushing victory over the Turks at the Battle of Zenta in 1697 first established his European reputation.

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Graphics Copyright © N. Kipar 2003.
Contents Copyright © Ben Levick 1998. With permission by the author.