The War of the Spanish Succession
The War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714) has been described as ‘the first world war of modern times’ with major campaigns fought in Spain, Italy, and Germany, as well as at sea.
It was triggered by the death of the childless Habsburg King Charles II of Spain in 1700. In his will Charles gave the crown to Philip, Duke of Anjou, grandson of King Louis XIV of France. When Louis proclaimed Philip King of Spain and announced that France and Spain would be united, it provoked a backlash from England, Holland, Prussia and Austria who saw the move as jeopardising the balance of power in Europe. They formed a Grand Alliance which aimed to put the Habsburg Archduke Charles of Austria on the Spanish throne instead of Philip. War broke out and the Grand Alliance forces, under John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, and the imperial general, Prince Eugene of Savoy, defeated the French in several major battles, including Blenheim (1704), Ramillies (1706) and Oudenarde (1708). In 1709, Marlborough and Eugene led the Alliance to victory again at Malplaquet, but at such a cost that powerful political forces in England began to press for a negotiated end to the war.
In 1711, the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph I of Austria died and was succeeded by Archduke Charles. Alliance statesmen, however, quickly recognised that the European balance of power would be even more seriously threatened if Charles got Spain as well as Austria than it would be if Philip became king of Spain. The renewed threat of Habsburg domination in Europe enabled Louis XIV of France to obtain favourable peace terms in the Treaty of Utrecht (1713).
Philip became King of Spain on the condition that Spain and France would never be united. Britain received Gibraltar, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and other North American territories as well as the monopoly of the slave trade with Latin America. After initially refusing to sign, Charles eventually recognised the new order in the Peace of Rastatt (1714).