War of the Spanish Succession: The end of French hegemony

The passing of Charles II, the last Spanish Habsburg, was the primary catalyst for the War of the Spanish Succession. This led to the installation of Philip V, the grandson of Louis XIV, as King of Spain.

A significant European war broke out for the first time in the modern period with the War of the Spanish Succession. When King Charles II of Spain passed away on November 1, 1700, leaving no heirs, a civil war broke out over his prized wealth. It gives us insight into the dominant mindset of the time, when Spain, France, England, and Austria were the world’s leading nations. Following the Treaty of The Hague (1898), there were thirteen years of intense fighting and several efforts at peacemaking. Tremendous geopolitical upheaval throughout Europe (and beyond the Atlantic) followed the treaties of Utrecht (April 11, 1713) and Rastatt (March 6, 1714), which brought an end to the War of the Spanish Succession (Jul 9, 1701 – Sep 7, 1714). Should France succeed in taking over Spain, the Iberian monarchy would fall to third place after England and Austria in the Western Hemisphere.


What were the causes of the War of the Spanish Succession?

The vast Spanish patrimony (including Spain, the Netherlands, Milan, Naples, Sicily, and America) was the root cause of the War of the Spanish Succession, which pitted Louis XIV of France against Leopold I of Austria and Joseph-Ferdinand of Bavaria for control of the Spanish throne. Charles II of Spain’s deteriorating health prompted the early signing of an agreement between Spain, France, England, and the United Provinces (seven provinces of the Spanish Netherlands) on October 11, 1698.

The Treaty of The Hague validated the division of Spanish possessions and awarded the Spanish throne to an heir of Louis XIV. However, the antagonism of England and Austria was sparked by the sudden death of the young Prince of Bavaria, Joseph Ferdinand, in February 1699 and by the death of Charles II in October 1700, a testament that favored France.

Who participated in the War of the Spanish Succession?

War of the Spanish Succession
Participants in the War of the Spanish Succession in 1703. (Image: PreußenistgrossCC BY-SA 4.0)

On September 7, 1701, Great Britain (under King William III), Austria (under Emperor Leopold I), and the States-General of the United Provinces signed the Grand Alliance (or Hague Alliance), thus marking the beginning of the War of the Spanish Succession.

Afterwards came the Kingdom of Prussia, the Kingdom of Portugal, the Crown of Aragon, the majority of the states of the Holy Roman Empire, and finally, the Kingdom of Denmark. The Kingdom of France under Louis XIV, the Duchy of Mantua in Italy, and the Spanish Crown all declared war on the Allies on May 15, 1702.

Rapidly, it became clear that even with Villars and Vendôme at the helm, Louis XIV’s army was woefully underequipped. At the outset of hostilities, two of France’s old allies—Savoy and Portugal—decided to side with the Grand Alliance. In the end, Louis XIV had no allies to rely on save Spain, the dukes of Bavaria, and the counts of Cologne.

They were joined in their opposition to the Grand Alliance by Louis-François de Boufflers, François de Neufville de Villeroy, Jacques Fitz-James, Philippe V (king of Spain), and Maximilien-Emmanuel of Bavaria. On the other side were seven formidable leaders including King Charles III of Habsburg, Queen Anne of England, George Rooke, and Prince Eugene of Savoy.

What were the major battles of the War of the Spanish Succession?

At Carpi in July 1701, Chiari in September 1701, and Cremona in February 1702, when Marshal de Villeroy was captured, France ran into its first serious problems. Louis XIV achieved several successes against the Imperials, most notably at Friedlingen (October 1702), but he then suffered further defeats in Gibraltar and particularly at Blenheim (August 1704), forcing him to evacuate Bavaria. The number of land and maritime battles increased as the fighting proceeded.

Despite the Franco-Spanish triumph at Calcinato (April 1706), Spain suffered a major setback when Catalonia’s capital, Barcelona, fell in October 1705. In addition to losing Turin in May 1706 and Ramillies in May 1706, France also saw Naples fall to the Allies. The surrender of Lille in July 1708 after a lengthy siege paved the way for an Allied assault of northern France. Louis XIV was shaken by this public disgrace and responded by launching a recruiting drive. Although the Allies had been winning since Malplaquet (September 1709), they decided not to attack France this time around.

The Franco-Spanish victory at Villaviciosa (December 1710) placed Philip V, grandson of Louis XIV, on the throne of Spain, causing Catalonia to shake with fear. The truth remains that Louis XIV initiated peace negotiations twice as a result of these Franco-Spanish failures, the first time in The Hague (May 1709) and the second time in Geertruidenberg (March-July 1710). For their part, the Allies insisted that Philip V be deposed as King of Spain as a condition of any alliance. The French monarch declined, and the battle raged on.

Who won the War of the Spanish Succession?

The recent French and Spanish wins inspired the Allies, who first heard calls for peace negotiations from the Tories in power in England. This solution was bolstered further by the election of Archduke Charles as Holy Roman Emperor on December 22, 1711.

He was also anointed ruler of Austria and king of Hungary and Bohemia on the same day. Charles VI, soon-to-be emperor, signed the preliminary documents in London on October 8, 1711, after he was pleased with his new holdings.

In August 1712, after France’s stunning victory at the Battle of Denain, an armistice was struck at Fontainebleau. The destiny of the Spanish Succession was settled by treaties signed at Utrecht on April 11, 1713, and at Rastatt, in Germany, on March 6, 1714. While it did not officially declare either side the winner, the peace did mark a significant turning point in Europe’s development.

What were the results of the War of the Spanish Succession?

The confirmation of Philippe V as king of Spain and his acquisition of Spanish America and the Philippines, as well as the maintenance of France’s original boundaries, were two of Louis XIV’s main goals in negotiating the treaties of Utrecht and Rastatt. In exchange, French and Spanish thrones would continue to function independently.

But most importantly, England gained significant trade advantages across the Atlantic and expanded its naval power when the French dominion in America was ceded to it. Italy’s portion (including Milan, Sardinia, and Tuscany) and the Spanish Netherlands were inherited by the Austrian Empire (which had been French from 1700 to 1707). By extension, Austria grew to enormous dimensions.

The financial and human toll of this conflict was high. After two centuries of close connections, Spain severed ties with Austria and fell to second place in the world. France under Louis XIV remained the most populous country and the most powerful political and military force in Europe, but it was no longer seen as unstoppable.

As time went on, England grew into a dominant maritime and colonial nation in Europe. The Austrian Empire established itself irrefutably as a major power and expanded its sphere of influence significantly. Somewhere between 400,000 and 700,000 soldiers perished in this conflict.


November 16, 1700 – Louis XIV appointed his grandson King of Spain

Proclamation of Philip of Anjou as Philip V of Spain Versailles 16 November 1700
Proclamation of Philip of Anjou as Philip V of Spain, Versailles, 16 November 1700, painter François Pascal Simon Gérard (1770-1837)

The Sun King informed his court and the Spanish envoy, Castel dos Rios, that he had given the Duke of Anjou permission to succeed to the throne of Spain. The testament of the late King Charles II of Spain named him as his heir. With a squeal of delight, Castel dos Rios addressed the king, “What a joy, Sire! Pyrenees no more!“.

In the new year of 1701, Philip of Anjou, now going by the name Philip V, would become the first ruler of Spain from the family of the Bourbons. But the Archduke of Austria believed he had the right to become ruler of Spain and the Americas, and his ascent to the throne set up a battle of succession in Spain.

July 9, 1701 – Battle of Carpi

The first major conflict of the War of the Spanish Succession occurred on July 9, 1701, when France and Austria clashed in the Battle of Carpi. It was Catinat’s job to stop Prince Eugene of Savoy-Austrians Carignan’s from crossing the Adige River in Italy.

But Eugene tricked Catinat by going via the neutral Republic of Venice. During the encounter, he had the upper hand, forcing the French to flee behind the Adda. 350 French soldiers were killed in action.

September 1, 1701 – Battle of Chiari

Following the French loss at Carpi during the War of the Spanish Succession, Villeroy succeeded Catinat as commander in chief. Villeroy assumed that there were only a limited number of Austrians in Chiari. On September 1, 1701, he launched an attack with 45,000 troops, but they were defeated by Prince Eugene’s 30,000-strong force. After suffering 3,000 casualties, the French retreated to a camp at Chiari.

February 1, 1702 – Battle of Cremona

French and Austrian interests diverged over who should succeed Philip V of Spain to the throne (the War of the Spanish Succession) in 1702. French forces under Villeroy relocated to Cremona, Italy, after setbacks at Carpi and Chiari. The Austrian forces led by Prince Eugene of Savoy-Carignan were able to enter the city through an underground aqueduct on February 1, 1702.

The French, aided by the Irish, were able to drive the invaders back from the aqueduct’s entrance. The prince had to make a retreat. About 1,200 men were killed or wounded on both sides of the conflict, making a decisive victory impossible to predict. While the French could still control the city, Marshal de Villeroy was captured by the Austrians.

August 15, 1702 – Battle of Luzzara

The French and Austrians were enemies throughout the War of the Spanish Succession. At the Battle of Luzzara, Vendôme’s French and Philippe V of Spain’s Spanish forces faced off against Prince Eugène’s Austrians. Initiated on August 15, 1702, the conflict continued until the sun went down the same day.

However, despite being outnumbered, the allies still managed to kill or injure 4,000 Austrians and leave another 2,500 with injuries. Both forces believed they had won and camped nearby for months, but on November 4 the allies pulled out.

October 14, 1702 – Battle of Friedlingen

On October 14, 1702, during the War of the Spanish Succession, an important combat took place in the town of Friedlingen. In order to fortify French territory in Swabia, Claude Louis Hector de Villars led a force of 20,000 troops. Louis-Guillaume I of Baden, Holy Roman Emperor king, sent in his forces to block the French army from reaching Bavaria. With their greater numbers, the French were able to inflict massive casualties on the imperial army, which totaled 3,000 deaths. But they were unable to inspire Bavaria to action.

October 23, 1702 – Battle of Vigo

October 23 1702 Battle of Vigo
An Anglo-Dutch squadron captures a Spanish treasure fleet, Vigo Bay, October 1702.

To help the Anglo-Dutch cause in the War of the Spanish Succession, George Rooke was tasked with taking the port of Cadiz. The next day, October 23, 1702, he resolved to assault the Spanish fleet after repeated attempts to do so had failed.

Under the watchful eye of the French ships of Châteaurenault, the latter were unloading American cargo in the port of Vigo. Rooke was successful in breaching the defenses protecting the harbor. He was responsible for the loss of 40 French and Spanish ships and the looting of 14,000 livres.

May 22, 1703 – Battle of Cap de la Roque

On May 22, 1703, a French squadron led by Alain Emmanuel de Coetlogon tried to intercept a Dutch convoy transporting salt and sugar during the War of the Spanish Succession. Five warships escorted the 110 commercial ships. The latter group rushed ahead of the French to provide cover for the escape convoy. Less powerful Dutch warships had to surrender, but commerce ships were able to get away.

12 September 1703 – Coronation of Charles III of Spain

Charles VI, son of Holy Roman Emperor’s Leopold I, was tipped to take over as King of Spain after the death of Charles II. However, at that time, Philip V, grandson of Louis XIV, had already been anointed King of Spain in 1700. However, on September 12, 1703, Charles was crowned King of Spain at Vienna as Charles III. Catalonia and Aragon were on his side, while the rest of Spain stayed with Philip V.

July 2, 1704 – Battle of Schellenberg

At the Battle of Schellenberg, French and Bavarian forces faced off against those of England, Austria, and the United Provinces during the War of the Spanish Succession. Bavarian King Maximilian-Emmanuel sought aid in defending the strategic Danube River stronghold of Schellenberg. The allies, led by John Churchill Marlborough and Louis-Guillaume de Bade, agreed to launch an assault on the fort on July 2, 1704 after learning of the arrival of these reinforcements.

Under Jean Baptist, Comte d’Arco’s leadership, 12,000 troops stood guard over the fort. The allies made it inside the city on their third try after two failed ones. The death toll from the fight was around 10,300.

August 13, 1704 – Battle of Blenheim

Louis XIV attempted to take Vienna with the help of his Bavarian allies during the War of the Spanish Succession in an effort to undermine Leopold I’s position. Near the hamlet of Blenheim on August 13, 1704, Franco-Bavarian forces led by Marlborough and Eugene of Savoy faced allies led by England, the Holy Roman Empire, Austria, the United Provinces, the Kingdom of Denmark, and Norway.

There were more than 4,500 fatalities on the side of the allies, while the Franco-Bavarian side lost 20,000 troops and more than 14,000 captives. In the wake of this devastating loss for France, Bavaria decided to get out of the war, and Louis XIV gave up on his plans to invade Austria. The allies took advantage of this vulnerability by making preparations to battle in the Moselle region, which is technically French territory.

August 24, 1704 – Battle of Vélez-Málaga

On August 24, 1704, during the War of the Spanish Succession, the Franco-Spanish fleet and the Anglo-Dutch fleet fought a massive naval battle at Vélez-Málaga. Since the English had control of Gibraltar, the French navy based at Toulon could no longer operate freely in the Mediterranean.

Using a force of 95 ships, Louis XIV tasked Louis Alexandre de Bourbon with recapturing Gibraltar. The Anglo-Dutch fleet of 74 ships was soundly beaten, suffering heavy casualties and damage to several of its vessels. But they maintained their grip on Gibraltar. The French fleet made it back to Toulon unscathed.

August 16, 1705 – Battle of Cassano

France fought Austria and Prussia in the War of the Spanish Succession at the Battle of Cassano on August 16. Louis Joseph, Duke of Vendôme’s French troops attacked Victor-Amédée de Savoie’s domains. The latter were aided by Prince Eugene, who, with over 30,000 men, attempted to cross the Adda and oppose the French. Even though they initially prevailed, the Austrians were eventually defeated and prevented from recrossing the river. They suffered a loss of about 12,000 troops, a triumph for the French.

October 9, 1705 – Capture of Barcelona

The French and Spanish were surrounded in Barcelona by Allied forces from the War of the Spanish Succession: the British, the Austrians, the Portuguese, and the Dutch. The latter invaded on September 13, 1705, with an army of 9,000 soldiers, and besieged the fort of Barcelona in an effort to install Charles III as King of Spain. The city’s defenders, in large numbers, defected to the attacking army. On October 9, 1705, Peterborough’s men invaded the city and were victorious.

April 19, 1706 – Franco-Spanish victory at the Battle of Calcinato

During the War of the Spanish Succession, on April 19, 1706, the Battle of Calcinato took place. It sided with the Archduchy of Austria against France and Spain, whose armies were led by the Duke of Vendome and Christian Detlev Reventlow, respectively. The Franco-Spanish army in numerical superiority (41,000 men against 19,000) won against the Austrian army and deplored only 500 dead or wounded against 6,000 for the other side.

May 14, 1706 – Beginning of the siege of Turin

On May 14, 1706, the French began laying siege to the city of Turin during the War of the Spanish Succession. Until the Battle of Turin on September 7 of that year, the 40 attackers and 48 engineers kept up the siege. The invasion campaigns from Piedmont and Savoy were slowed due to the Austro-Piedmontese victory.

May 23, 1706 – Battle of Ramillies

The War of the Spanish Succession (1701–714) was fought for control of the Spanish monarchy and, by extension, all of Europe. The Battle of Ramillies took place on May 23, 1706. It pitted the United Provinces against the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdoms of England, Denmark, and Norway against the Electorate of Bavaria and the Kingdom of France. It took the soldiers of John Churchill (commonly known as Marlborough) just four hours to defeat the Franco-Bavarian army headed by Villeroy, who lost 30,000 of his 60,000 men in the process.

Losses of land and resources at the hands of the allies made the Battle of Ramillies and the Battle of Turin two of Louis XIV’s most significant military setbacks. It seemed that Marlborough was successful in his mission to expel the French from the Spanish Netherlands. The year 1706 was then called “annus mirabilis” by the allies.

April 25, 1707 – Battle of Almanza

Berwick led Franco-Spanish forces against English, Dutch, and Portuguese forces in the Battle of Almanza during the War of the Spanish Succession. Despite being surrounded by English forces, the Allies were able to fight back and ultimately prevail thanks to the inspiration of the Knight of Asfeld.

Over 5,000 allied soldiers and 12,000 detainees were killed or captured. With their confidence bolstered by this victory, the Franco-Spanish army could now move with impunity on the towns of Valencia, a kingdom that had been opposed to the rule of Philip V of Spain.

July 29, 1707 – Siege of Toulon

From July 29 to August 21, 1707, the coalition troops of Great Britain, Austria, the United Provinces, and the Duchy of Savoy besieged the city of Toulon during the War of Spanish Succession. René de Froulay de Tessé, aided by a garrison of 15,000 troops, ensured the safety of the city.

Despite the presence of the English fleet, Prince Eugene and Victor Amadeus I, Duke of Savoy were able to capture the heights of Sainte-Catherine with their army of 35,000. Tessé has reclaimed the mountaintops. In 1707, on August 22nd, the siege was broken by Victor Amadeus I.

July 11, 1708 – Battle of Oudenaarde

At Oudenaarde, France fought against Great Britain, the United Provinces, and the Holy Roman Empire during the War of the Spanish Succession. Eventually, Louis XIV, aided by the Duke of Burgundy and the Duke of Vendome, mustered an army of 100,000 troops and prepared to invade Flanders. At the time, the French controlled the area around the Scheldt valley and posed a danger to the citadel at Oudenaarde, which the Allies needed to protect at all costs or risk losing touch with England.

Disagreements between the two French commanders led to their forces’ loss on July 11, 1708. The Allies only lost 3,000 troops, while the French lost 15,000.

July 28, 1708 – Beginning of the siege of Lille

After the French army was decisively beaten in the Battle of Oudenaarde on July 28, 1708, the allies (Great Britain, the United Provinces, and the Holy Roman Empire) were free to invade France and lay siege to Lille. Vendôme and Boufflers mustered 15,000 troops to protect the city.

The Chevalier de Luxembourg came to the aid of the besieged by bringing ammunition, but troops dispatched by Louis XIV from Paris were unable to break through the barrage set up by the Duke of Marlborough. On October 28, 1708, the city surrendered.

September 11, 1709 – Battle of Malplaquet


On September 11, 1709, France engaged Great Britain, Austria, and the United Provinces in the Battle of Malplaquet during the War of the Spanish Succession. France was weakened after a series of losses, and the Grand Alliance threatened to invade. Since the conditions of peace provided by the coalitionists were unacceptable, Louis XIV called on the populace to aid in defending the kingdom.

Last ditch attempt saw 76,000 troops led by Villars and Boufflers stave off attacks from the allied army under Marlborough. Although the Allies outnumbered the French, they decided against invading France in the face of such ferocious opposition.

July 27, 1710 – Battle of Almenar

In 1710, on July 27th, the Battle of Almenar occurred during the War of the Spanish Succession. A few months before, Philip V of Spain’s army, led by the Marquis of Villadarias, invaded Catalonia. During this epic fight, Archduke Charles’s troops—which included warriors from Austria and England—decided to reclaim this region. The mission was accomplished, and the Spaniards were driven out of Catalonia.

August 20, 1710 – Battle of Zaragoza

On August 20, 1710, after the Spanish had failed in their first attempt to take Catalonia in the Battle of Almenar on July 27, 1710, they made another attempt to do so via Zaragoza. However, the Imperial forces also prevailed in the Battle of Saragossa, putting an end to the Catalan conquest for good.

December 8, 1710 – Battle of Brihuega

The Battle of Brihuega occurred on December 8 and 9, 1710, during the War of the Spanish Succession. When British forces under James Stanhope were leaving Madrid for Catalonia, they were ambushed by Franco-Spanish forces headed by the Duke of Vendome. This was after the British had been defeated in the battles of Almenar (July 27) and Zaragoza (August 20).

The majority of the British force was within a day’s march of General Guido Starhemberg, so Vendôme capitulated to save more casualties. The fight of Villaviciosa began on December 10; nevertheless, Starhemberg’s arrival was not delayed.

January 29, 1712 – The fate of the Spanish crown was decided in Utrecht

Europe had been split since 1700 over whether to support Philip of Anjou, grandson of Louis XIV, or Charles of Austria in the War of Spanish Succession. European negotiations were launched in Utrecht, Holland, to try to bring an end to the conflict. France, England, Spain, Holland, Prussia, the Savoy, and Portugal all signed a pact to end hostilities in April 1713.

Philip of Anjou got to the Spanish throne (as Philip V), but he had to abdicate in favor of Charles, Archduke of Austria, King of Naples, Duke of Tuscany, Duke of Milan, Duke of Sardinia, and Duke of Holland. France, meanwhile, compelled to cede English control over Acadia in Canada.

July 24, 1712 – Franco-Dutch truce

At the Battle of Denain (North), led by the Marshal-Duke of Villars, the French defeated the Austro-Dutch under Prince Eugene. During the War of the Spanish Succession, Louis XIV’s grandson Philip V and Emperor Charles VI fought for control of Spain. This victory was a major turning point in the conflict.

April 11, 1713 – End of the negotiations in Utrecht

Several treaties were signed during the Congress of Utrecht, which began on January 29 and concluded the War of Succession in Spain. The grandson of Louis XIV, Philippe of Anjou, was recognized as king of Spain by France, England, Spain, Holland, Prussia, Savoy, and Portugal.

Minorca and Gibraltar were ceded to the English, while Naples, Sardinia, and Milan were given to the German emperor Charles VI. Acadia and Newfoundland were two of the French colonies that England conquered.

April 11, 1713 – The Spanish Netherlands passed to Austria

Most of the country was given back to the Habsburgs of Austria after the treaties of Utrecht. The major European kingdoms were united thanks to the treaties of Utrecht, which ended the War of the Spanish Succession. The territories of Brabant, Limburg, Luxembourg, and Gelderland, as well as those of Hainaut and Flanders, the marquisate of Namur, and the towns of Tournai and Mechelen, joined Belgium at that time.

March 3, 1714 – Treaty of Rastatt

Treaty of Rastatt was signed on March 3, 1714. The War of the Spanish Succession ended with this document, which was written completely in French. The Archduchy of Austria and the Kingdom of France had their respective representatives, the Duke of Villars and Prince Eugene, signed this contract. Since November 1713, the two sides had been in intense negotiations.


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By Hrothsige Frithowulf

Hrothsige works at Malevus as a history writer. His areas of historical interest include the ancient world and early Europe, as well as the history of modern culture.