The wars of Louis XIV (3)

Archduke Charles (1685-1740)

Philip V of Spain,
Duke of Anjou

The War of the Spanish Succession, 1702-13

The death of Charles II of Spain had long been anticipated in view of his poor health. Charles had no children and all Europe was concerned as to who would succeed him.

[Not all marriages and offspring are shown].

Louis XIV's wife, Maria Theresa (sister of Charles II and daughter of Philip IV) died in 1683, but left a son. She had formally renounced her claims to the throne on marriage. The rest of Europe was horrified at the idea of France (already too powerful) controlling Spain and its dominions.

Louis XIV did not think that France could afford to fight all Europe, so in October 1698 he agreed to the First Partition Treaty, which gave Spain and its colonies, along with the Spanish Netherlands, to Joseph Ferdinand (son of Maximilian Emmanuel, Elector of Bavaria, and Maria Antonia Hapsburg, who had died giving Joseph Ferdinand birth). In the event that the male line died out, Philip IV of Spain had left a will bequeathing the realm to his younger daughter, Margaret Theresa (who had renounced her claims to inheritance on marriage - just like Marie Theresa) mother of Maria Antonia, grandmother of Joseph Ferdinand. Unfortunately Joseph Ferdinand died in 1699.

A second Partition Treaty was then signed granting Spain, its colonies and the Spanish Netherlands to Leopold I's younger son, the Archduke Charles, but giving Naples and Sicily to France. The Spanish, however, did not want the Spanish Empire broken up in this way.

Louis XIV accepting Charles II's will

In 1700, Charles II bequeathed the entire inheritance to Philip, Duke of Anjou - younger grandson of Louis XIV; the will stated that if France did not accept this, the entire inheritance should go to Austria.
Louis XIV accepted this arrangement to prevent encirclement by Hapsburg powers, and (the extremely odd) Philip acceded to the throne.


Louis XIV had an army of almost a quarter of a million men, and he maneuvered it as though about to start a new offensive war. In June 1700, the normally fractious English House of Commons voted support for William II against the French. In December 1700, Leopold I began to raise an army on the Rhine.

In 1701, France allied with Bavaria, Cologne and Portugal, while Britain, Prussia, the United Provinces and the Holy Roman Empire formed a rival alliance.
September 1701 - on the death of James II, Louis recognized James Francis Edward Stuart (the "Old Pretender") as James III.

15 May 1702, Queen Anne and the Emperor Leopold declared war on France.

October 1702, the British seized the Spanish million-pound treasure fleet in the Battle of Vigo Bay.

1703 - Savoy and Portugal joined the Allies against France.


July 1704, Admiral Sir George Rooke captured Gibraltar. Of key strategic importance because of its commanding position on the Straits of Gibraltar where the Mediterranean joins the Atlantic, it remains under British control to this day.

August 1704 - Marlborough left the dull Dutch deputies who wanted to stand on the defensive, marched with his British troops to Bavaria to join Prince Eugene, and defeated the French under Marshal Tallard at Blenheim. This was the first significant defeat suffered by Louis XIV's armies.

John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough

Prince Eugene of Savoy

The Allies' two greatest commanders were John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene of Savoy.
Their victory at the Battle of Blenheim (1704) was crucial to stopping French expansion.


23 May 1706 - Marlborough defeated a French army under François de Neufville, Duke de Villeroi at Ramillies.

25 April 1707 Allied troops in Spain were defeated by the French at the Battle of Almanza, establishing Bourbon control of Spain.

July 11, 1708 - Allied victory at the Battle of Oudenaarde lost the French their control of Ghent and Bruges.

11 September 1709, Battle of Malplaquet. Marlborough and Eugene held the field against Claude-Louis-Hector, Duke of Villars, and Marshal Louis-François, Duke of Boufflers, but only at the cost of very heavy casualties (22,000 killed or wounded, against French casualties of about 12,000). Boufflers told Louis XIV - " Si Dieu nous fait la grâce de perdre encore une pareille bataille, Votre Majesté peut compter que ses ennemis sont détruits" ("If God grants us the grace to lose another such battle, Your Majesty can be assured that your enemies are ruined”).


From 1708, Louis XIV had been trying to negotiate peace, but the Allies insisted on the removal of Philip V from the throne of Spain and his replacement by the Archduke Charles. However, in April 1711, Joseph I (Holy Roman Emperor from 1705) died suddenly from smallpox. Charles succeeded his brother as Emperor, and Britain and the United Provinces did not want Spain and the Hapsburg territories combined any more than they wanted France and Spain amalgamated.

April 1713 - the Peace of Utrecht was agreed.

Philip V retained Spain and its American colonies, but the Spanish Netherlands, Milan and the Kingdom of Naples became Austrian Hapsburg possessions. The Dutch were allowed to retain fortresses in the Spanish Netherlands to discourage French aggression. France ceded Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, the Hudson Bay territory, and the island of St. Kitts (in the Caribbean) to Britain, recognized Queen Anne (i.e. stopped supporting James Edward), and made certain trading concessions. The Duke of Savoy became King of Sicily.

France did retain much of the territory it had seized in Flanders and along the Rhine (although Alsace and Lorraine remained a bone of contention between France and Germany long after).

The armies of these wars were not "national" in the modern sense. Over half of the 130,000 soldiers who served the Dutch Republic, and of the 70,000 who served Britain, were Danish and German auxiliaries. During his twenties, John Churchill had served as a colonel in the French army. Prince Eugene of Savoy - son of a niece of Cardinal Mazarin and rumored to be the bastard of Louis XIV - had been raised French. At the Battle of Almanza (1707) the British forces were commanded by the French Huguenot, Henri de Massue de Ruvigny, Earl of Galway, while James Fitz-James, Duke of Berwick, (illegitimate son of James II by John Churchill's elder sister) led the French.


Voltaire (1694-1778)

Louis XIV

Louis XIV was king for 72 years - the longest reigning monarch in European history - in an age of absolutism. Theorists such as Jacques Bossuet and Jean Domat argued that the king was God's agent on earth and to be obeyed faithfully.
The reign of Louis XIV has excited strong reactions amongst historians - some seeing it as disastrous, others as glorious.
Voltaire, one of the great figures of the Enlightenment, recognized the suffering caused by Louis' warmongering and religious persecution and admired him nonetheless.

"The superior ability of his early ministers and his early generals soon wearied him. He liked nobody to be in any way superior to him. Thus he chose his ministers, not for their knowledge, but for their ignorance; not for their capacity, but for their want of it. He liked to form them, as he said; liked to teach them even the most trifling things. It was the same with his generals. He took credit to himself for instructing them; wished it to be thought that from his cabinet he commanded and directed all his armies. Naturally fond of trifles, he unceasingly occupied himself with the most petty details of his troops, his household, his mansions. This vanity, this unmeasured and unreasonable love of admiration, was his ruin."

Duke de Saint-Simon on Louis XIV


Under Louis XIV, France was the cultural center of Europe.

Jean Racine

The plays of Racine (1639-99) and Molière (1622-73) took tragedy and comedy to new literary heights. The architecture and landscaping of Versailles was copied in palaces throughout Europe.

(Jean Baptiste Poquelin)

Colbert's economic reforms did bear fruit in making France a more prosperous and better administered country. The costs of war were immense, but France did gain territory.

"J'ai trop aimé la guerre …"

"J'ai souvent entrepris la guerre trop légèrement et l'ai soutenu par vanité"

Louis XIV
(I loved war too much.)

(I often undertook war too lightly and persisted in it from vanity.)



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