Monday, 5 January 2015

The Spanish Wars of Succession

Dear readers,

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and New Years!

I have spent the last few days planning/ researching for my History coursework, which is on Louis XIV and specifically the Spanish Wars of Succession. I have decided to do a short blog on the wars as I find writing things down really helps me get to grips with complex historical events/ processes/ wars.

In the late 1600s it was clear that Carlos II of Spain was going to die without an heir to his empire. France had only just finished the Nine Years War, at a huge cost, and was keen to avoid war over the Spanish succession. William III of England was just as keen to avoid war. Therefore in 1698 Louis XIV and William III signed the First Partition Treaty, giving the main part of the Spanish  inheritance to Joseph Ferdinand, the Elector of Bavaria and diving the Italian possessions between France (the Dauphin) and Austria (Emperor Leopold's second son). Whilst both the Spanish and Austrian courts were outraged at this proposal, Joseph Ferdinand was an ideal candidate as he was neither a Bourbon or Austrian Habsburg and therefore was a good compromise. Unfortunately, Joseph Ferdinand died in early 1699, making the 1698 treaty null.

A Second Partition Treaty was negotiated by William III and Louis XIV in March 1700. It was agreed that the Habsburg Archduke Charles would be given all of Spain apart from Milanais, and the French Dauphin would get the same share of Italy as in the first treaty, plus Milanais. This treaty was unlikely to work as it tried to reconcile too many conflicting interests. No one wanted France to gain Spain as this would create a Bourbon power bloc in Europe. Likewise the Maritime Powers would not let France acquire the Spanish Netherlands. Therefore France could only really acquire Italy, and Spain had to go to a Habsburg. Crucially however, Carlos II refused to accept this treaty as he did not want to divide up the Spanish Empire.

Instead, Carlos II left a will leaving all of the Spanish Empire to Philippe, the great-grandson of Louis XIV, (not the Dauphin), as Carlos II believed Philippe would best be able to preserve his Empire. The will stipulated however that Philippe must give up his claim to the French throne in order that the Spanish and French empires never be united.

When Carlos II died in late 1700 Louis was presented with a problem; accept the Second Partition Treaty which would inevitably lead to war, or accept Carlos's will, which would also likely lead to war. As war seemed almost inevitable, Louis decided to improve his defensive position and accepted the will. He then made three provocative moves that led to a Grand Alliance forming by September 1701 and war in 1702:

1. He occupied fortresses in the Spanish Netherlands
2. He announced that Philippe, as new King of Spain, would not and could not give up his claim to the French throne
3. Louis XIV secured a monopoly on the provision of slaves to the Spanish American colonies (the Asiento), for a French company

This led to a 12 year long bloody and costly war, where France and Spain faced a coalition of more or less the rest of Europe. The most important battle in this war was at Blenheim, 1704 , where the French lost 30,000 troops, an almost unheard of defeat. In 1709 Louis tried to negotiate peace with the Grand Alliance, realising he could not win the war, however the unreasonable demands of the Alliance forced the war to continue until 1713-14, when the treaties of Utretcht and Rastadt were signed. The British and Austrians benefited the most from these treaties, but it could have been a lot worse for France. Louis recognised William III as rightful King of England and ceded overseas territory and the French monopoly on slaves to Britain, however the British and Dutch conceded and allowed for Louis's great-grandson Philippe to inherit the Spanish throne, although he was forced to give up all claim to the French throne. The French 'linear' frontier in the north and east was upheld and France retained Alsace including Strasbourg and the highly profitable fishing rights at the mouth of the St Lawrence. French neither lost nor gained much territory during the war, but it did cost over 2 million French lives and left 2.5 million livres of French debt, leading to almost bankruptcy, which in the long term helped contribute to the French Revolution, 1789.

My essay focuses on the impact of the Spanish Wars of Succession on the power of the French monarchy and the power of France within Europe and I would love to hear your opinions on what you think the impact of the Spanish Wars of Succession had on French power, please feel free to email me.