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War of the Spanish Succession
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The War of the Spanish Succession in a few words
John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough in 1704 – Source: Wikimedia Commons

In 1701, soon after the death of King Charles II of Spain, the major European powers became entangled in a conflict known as the War of the Spanish Succession that was to last until 1713. It involved all the major powers of Europe, with the alliance of Austria, the Dutch Republic, Great Britain and Prussia (and later Savoy and Portugal) siding against France and Bavaria to determine which dynasty would rule Spain.

In March 1701, the fortresses in the Spanish Netherlands (present-day Belgium) were handed to France. In the late spring Emperor Leopold I assembled an Austrian army under Prince Eugène in Tyrol to overrun the Spanish possessions in Italy while the opposing army (French, Spaniards and Savoyards), commanded by the Maréchal de Catinat, was slowly concentrating between the Chiese and the Adige. On May 27, Eugène entered in Italy by the mountain passes between Rovereto and the Vicenza district. On September 1, Eugène defeated Villeroy, the new commander of the Franco-Spanish army, in the Battle of Chiari.

In 1702, Marlborough captured several of the Meuse fortresses and Liège in October. On the Rhine, the Allies initially proceeded to the siege and capture of Landau but had to retire when Bavaria sided with France. On October 14, Villars defeated the Allies in the Battle of Friedlingen but could not exploit his victory. The same year, an Allied army undertook the siege of Cádiz in Spain but did not obtain any tangible result.

In the first half of 1703, Marlborough captured Rheinberg and Bonn but on 30 June his Dutch allies were defeated in the Battle of Ekeren in front of Antwerp. On the Rhine, Villars captured Kehl in March. At the end of April, he crossed the Black Forest and effected a junction with the Elector Maximilian II Emanuel of Bavaria at Ebingen in May. The latter had to face a revolt in Tyrol and the advance on Vienna was delayed. On September 30, Villars and the elector won the Battle of Höchstädt and recaptured Landau. In Italy, the Duchy of Savoy defected to the Austrians and the campaign produced no significant result. The same year, Portugal joined the Grand Alliance.

The campaign of 1704 was marked by Marlborough's march to the Danube and his resounding victory at Blenheim. In the Iberian Peninsula, an Allied army assembled in Lisbon in March, a Franco-Spanish army tried to invade Portugal and the Allies captured Gibraltar.

The year 1705 saw no major change to the general situation. In the Iberian Peninsula, the Allies captured Barcelona.

1706 was a bad year for the French. Villeroy was defeated at Ramillies in May. The whole of Flanders and Brabant, except a few minor fortresses, fell into Marlborough's hands within two weeks. In September, another French army was defeated at Turin. This battle practically ended the war in Italy. In the Iberian Peninsula, the French vainly tried to recapture Barcelona. The Allies then launched an offensive in Castile, temporarily occupying Madrid in June.

1707 was a year of respite for France. In Spain the campaign opened with the brilliant success of Berwick at Almansa; in Germany Villars raided into Bavaria; and an Austro-Savoyard army was repulsed in front of Toulon.

In July 1708, the Grand Alliance won another victory at Oudenarde in Flanders. The French retreated in disorder on Ghent. Shortly after this battle, the army of Prince Eugène joined Marlborough's army in Flanders. The Allies then lay siege to Lille, which surrendered in December. Ghent and Bruges were then retaken by the Allies. A terrible winter almost completed the ruin of France.

In June 1709, the Allies attacked the Douai lines and invested Tournai which capitulated on 3 September. A few days later, on 11 September, the Allies won a Pyrrhic victory at Malplaquet. In the Iberian peninsula, the Spaniards defeated an Allied army at La Gudiña in May.

In 1710, in Flanders, Villars lay entrenched behind a new series of lines, which extended from Valenciennes to the sea. During the summer, the Allies captured Douai and Béthune. In Dauphiné, Berwick again repulsed an Austro-Savoyard army. In the Iberian peninsula, the Allies won the battles of Almenar in July and Saragossa in August and temporarily occupied Madrid once more. However, a French counter-attack forced the British to surrender at Brihuega in December and defeated an Imperial army at Villaviciosa the following day.

In 1711, Marlborough passed the French lines and captured Bouchain. In December, Marlborough was recalled to Great Britain.

In 1712, the British contingent withdrew from the Low Countries. The coalition practically dissolved but the Dutch Republic and Austria determined to make one last effort to impose their own terms on Louis XIV. Eugène's army was brought back to the Low Countries. Villars, still suffering from his Malplaquet wound, took command of a French army in April. Eugène proceeded to the siege and capture of Le Quesnoy in July and invested Landrecies. At the end of June the French forced Eugène's lines of defences and decisively defeated the Allies at Denain. Eugène retreated to Mons.

Before the opening of the campaign of 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht was signed, putting an end to the war. (more...)


This text is essentially an abstact of the article "SPANISH SUCCESSION, WAR OF THE" in Encyclopaedia Britannica, (c1910-1922), Vol. 25, pp. 599-608

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