The War of the Spanish Succession dragged on from 1702 to 1713, as the states of Europe scrambled to prevent France acquiring control not only over Spain but over territories and trade from Italy to the Netherlands. Indeed, the ‘Sun King’ Louis XIV tried to add England to his bag, which proved to be a serious mistake.
SHORTLY before his death in 1700, King Charles II of Spain left his wide dominions to his nearest blood-relative, sixteen-year-old Philip of Anjou, a grandson of King Louis XIV of France – bitterly disappointing another family relative, Charles, younger son of the Holy Roman Emperor.*
To keep the peace, it was stipulated that Philip must never become King of France; but after he came into his Spanish inheritance on November 1st, 1700, King Louis restored Philip to the French succession, and sent French troops to Spanish territories in Italy and the Netherlands in Philip’s name.
Anxiety across Europe deepened when William III of England died on March 19th, 1702,* and Louis refused to recognise his successor Anne; Louis declared instead for Anne’s half-brother James Stuart, a French resident since the abdication of their father James II in 1688. The threat to sovereignty could not be ignored, and England joined the Netherlands, the Holy Roman Empire and Portugal in a bid to clip Louis’s wings.
* The Holy Roman Empire was an alliance of Roman Catholic states in much of modern-day Austria and Germany, which traced its beginnings to Emperor Otto I in 962. It was dissolved in 1806, as Napoleon spread his armies across Europe. The Emperors during the War of the Spanish Succession were Leopold I (r. 1657-1705) followed by his sons Joseph I (r. 1705-1711) and Charles VI (1711-1740).
* William had taken a great interest in the political ambitions of Spain and France in Europe, as he was also the Dutch Republic’s ‘Stadtholder’, the Head of State. He became King of England in 1689 by right of his wife Mary, a daughter of James II.