In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section War of the Spanish Succession, 1701–1714

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Reference Works
  • Essay Collections
  • Diplomacy
  • Grand Strategy
  • War Finance and Economics
  • The Art of War and Logistics
  • Campaigns and Operations/ Theaters
  • Military Establishments

Military History War of the Spanish Succession, 1701–1714
Caleb Karges
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 July 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 November 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0199


The War of the Spanish Succession was a large military conflict that encompassed most of western and central Europe spawning additional fighting in the Americas and the world’s oceans. Hostilities began with the invasion of Lombardy by imperial forces in 1701 and were concluded be the treaties of Utrecht (1713), Rastatt, and Baden (1714). The trigger for the war was the long-anticipated death of the childless King Charles II of Spain in 1700 and his will, which ignored several partition treaties signed by other powers and passed the entirety of the Spanish monarchy to Louis XIV of France’s grandson, Philip, Duke of Anjou (Philip V of Spain). The Austrian Habsburgs under Emperor Leopold I contested the will on the behalf of his second son the Archduke Charles (Charles VI of the Holy Roman Empire). With the European balance of power jeopardized by the prospect of a Bourbon succession in Spain, the Kingdom of England (Great Britain after 1707) and the United Provinces joined the Holy Roman Emperor in forming the Grand Alliance in 1702. The Grand Alliance, heretofore referred to as the Allies, expanded to consist ultimately of the emperor of and the states of the Holy Roman Empire (with a few notable exceptions), Great Britain, the United Provinces, Portugal, and the Duchy of Savoy-Piedmont. The pro-Bourbon alliance opposing the Grand Alliance consisted of France, Spain, the Electorate of Bavaria, and the Archbishopric of Cologne. The main military operations largely occurred along the frontiers of France and in the Spanish possessions in Europe such as the Spanish Netherlands, Italy, and the Iberian Peninsula. Of notable exception were the Bavarian campaigns in 1703 and 1704. Throughout the war, each side tried to exploit real and potential revolts/insurgencies in the other’s territory. The Allies maintained a large military presence in Catalonia and set up a rival court in Barcelona under the Archduke Charles as “Charles III of Spain.” The land war in Europe was characterized by the military victories of the Allied commanders, the Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene of Savoy in Flanders, Germany, and Italy. However, the Bourbons maintained their supremacy in Spain itself. As the war protracted, financial and political exhaustion beset all sides. Despite sustained losses bringing France to the brink of collapse, Louis XIV continued to resist until Allied resolve softened with the events of 1710 and 1711 (the Tory victory in the British elections, the battle of Brihuega, and the death of Emperor Joseph I). The war ended with the signing of the treaties of Utrecht, Rastatt, and Baden (collectively known as the Peace of Utrecht) in 1713 and 1714. The British gained significant colonial possessions and concessions from the Bourbon powers as well as the territories of Gibraltar and Minorca. The Dutch received a reinforced barrier in the Low Countries. The Austrians received Spain’s possessions in Italy and the Low Countries. Philip V retained Spain and its colonial possessions.

General Overviews and Reference Works

There is no single-volume, scholarly work on the War of the Spanish Succession in English. Biography and national history have long dominated scholarship on the war. There are concise presentations of the war in textbooks on the era, but a thorough, book-length examination of the conflict in its entirety in English is lacking. English language scholarship has traditionally focused heavily on the Duke of Marlborough, campaigning, English politics, or all three. Although dated and typical of the latter approach, Churchill 2002 still contains the closest approximation to an in-depth analysis and narrative of the entire war. Roosen 1987 provides a reliable chapter-length explanation of the origins of the war. Lynn 2013 and Wilson 1998 give chapter-length overviews from the French and German perspectives. Frey and Frey 1995 is a helpful encyclopedic reference for researchers.

  • Churchill, Winston. Marlborough: His Life and Times. 2 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.

    Originally published in 1933, this still contains the most comprehensive account of the war in English. Although the work is Anglo- and Marlborough-centric, Churchill makes extensive use of French, German, and Dutch sources. Gives detailed and vivid accounts of Marlborough’s battles and campaigns. Does devote time to other campaigns in Germany, Italy, Iberia, America, and the sea, albeit selectively.

  • Frey, Linda, and Marsha Frey, eds. The Treaties of the War of the Spanish Succession: An Historical and Critical Dictionary. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995.

    A comprehensive scholarly reference guide to the issues, regions, actors, and events surrounding the war.

  • Lynn, John A. The Wars of Louis XIV, 1667–1714. Modern Wars in Perspective. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2013.

    Contains an excellent scholarly overview of the war from the French perspective and an analysis of strategy under Louis XIV. On the War of the Spanish Succession, pp. 266–360.

  • Roosen, William James. “The Origins of the War of the Spanish Succession.” In The Origins of War in Early Modern Europe. Edited by Jeremy Black, 151–175. Edinburgh: J. Donald, 1987.

    The best scholarly overview of the causes of the war.

  • Wilson, Peter H. German Armies: War and German Politics, 1648–1806. Warfare and History. London: Routledge, 1998.

    A valuable overview of the political dimensions of the war from the perspective of the Holy Roman Empire and the Habsburg monarchy. On the War of the Spanish Succession, pp. 101–149

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