Sunday, March 12, 2006

Queen Anne: 4 The War of the Spanish Succession

In his will Carlos II he had left his empire (half the Italian peninsula, Mexico, most of Central and South America, the Philippines, the Canaries, much of the West Indies, the whole of the Spanish Netherlands) to his great-nephew, Louis’ grandson the duke of Anjou. Louis decided to uphold the will even though this violated the Second Partition Treaty (signed in March 1700). Furthermore, he insisted (against Carlos’s will) that his grandson should also inherit the French throne and in February 1701 he moved French troops into fortresses in the Spanish Netherlands. This brought Europe to the edge of war. In August 1701 William concluded a further Grand Alliance with the Emperor and the Dutch Republic which committed the three powers to obtaining the Spanish succession for the Emperor. In September Louis added a further provocation when he recognized ‘James III and VIII’. In May 1702 Anne declared war on France.

The War of the Spanish Succession was even more costly than the Nine Years’ War because the theatre of war encompassed the Iberian peninsula as well as the Spanish Netherlands and the Empire. In 1704 Allied forces captured Gibraltar. The most stunning victories were under Marlborough. In the spring of 1704 the French general Tallard marched towards Vienna. Marlborough led 19,000 troops (of whom three quarters were British) on an epic six-week 400 mile march from the Netherlands to Bavaria. This was a breathtaking achievement. Here he linked up with 30,000 the imperial forces under Prince Eugene of Savoy and together they defeated the French at Blenheim on 2 August (13 August NS).

Marlborough’s further victories were in the Low Countries: Ramillies (1706) and Oudenarde (1708). Oudenarde confirmed Marlborough’s reputation as one of the greatest generals of the age. But these victories failed to be decisive and the weak underbelly proved to be Spain, where the duke of Berwick won some spectacular victories. Marlborough and his Whig allies, especially Lord Treasurer Godolphin, held to the principle of ‘no peace without Spain’, but this was an increasingly unrealistic demand.

If you have Real Player you can play two songs from the war, one French, the other British. Even if you can't play the tunes, you can read the words!