Posts Tagged ‘War of the Spanish Succession’

But ‘Twas a Famous Victory

Posted in General on April 11th, 2011 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

King Juan Carlos has probably exhausted himself opening all those anniversary cards, congratulating him on the  Treaty of Utrecht.  On this day in 1713, Great Britain and some of her allies acknowledged that the Spanish Bourbons were on the throne in Madrid, and there was not a thing they could do about it. Of course, they certainly had tried–as you might gather from the name “The War of the Spanish Succession.”

In 1700, King Charles II of Spain died. The man had been a genetic experiment: how many generations of first-cousins’ marrying will it take to produce a hopeless mess. The answer is five: and Charles II was deformed, crippled and–even by royal standards–mentally retarded. Mercifully, he also was impotent. When he died (lasting somehow until he was 38), he had no living siblings to succeed him: the Spanish Hapsburgs were extinct. However, his older half-sister had married Louis XIV–and impotence was never Louis’ problem. So Charles’ nearest relatives were French, and you can imagine how thrilled Britain was with the idea of Bourbon Spain.

Of course, the Austrian Hapsburgs wanted to keep Spain and her Empire within the family, and they could offer a second cousin to succeed Charles. That was good enough for Britain. France, however, had somehow coaxed Charles into acknowledging his great-nephew (and Louis’ grandson) as his heir. (Can you draw a horsie? Just use this piece of paper with these funny words on it.) The French had the succession in writing and, with the advantages of proximity, the French prince could be enthroned in Madrid long before Charles’ obituary had reach Vienna.

Britain and Austria did not recognize this fait accompli (which unfortunately is a French term) and the result was The War of Spanish Succession. The war lasted from 1701 to 1714 (the Austrians pouting for an extra year after the Treaty of Utrecht) but the outcome is rather bewildering. The Allies won the major battles–Ramilles, Oudenarde, Turin and Blenheim (the only one still remembered), and sea divers today are having a wonderful time finding the wrecks of French and Spanish fleets; yet, judging from the map, the French won the war.

The grandson of Louis XIV became Philip V of Spain and that vast empire encompassing most of the western hemisphere. For consolation, the Austrian Hapsburgs received Belgium and Northern Italy. (The latter might be regarded as a musical triumph, providing Viennese opera with castrati.) Britain was ceded its first territory in Canada–complete with thousands of disposable Acadians–and a Spanish outpost called Gibralter. The fruits of victory were prunes. In fact, the war could have ended in 1706; France offered the same trivial concessions then.

In 1706, however, the Whigs controlled Parliament and–more importantly–Queen Anne’s liquor cabinet. Their policy was perpetual war with France, at least until Notre Dame was an Anglican church. But Britain faced a succession crisis, too. Anne had no surviving children (an indictment of the era’s pediatrics) and she personally hoped that her her half-brother James would succeed her. He was her nearest relative, but James was a Catholic and a pensioner of France; so he wasn’t a favorite of the Whigs. The Tories were more sympathetic to exiled James, at least that is what they told Queen Anne. In 1710, an unusually conscious Anne ousted the Whigs from her cabinet and replaced them with those ingratiating Tories.

By 1711, Britain and France had an understanding. The two countries had a truce and France was to take a lethargic approach to fighting Austria. No marching to Vienna! (This way the Britain did not feel guilty about abandoning its ally.) Even with this shameless collaboration, it still took two years to agree on a treaty. The Tories could not look too eager for peace; they certainly could not surrender the territories–Belgium and Northern Italy–that the allies had won. No, those would be Austria’s pittances. Furthermore, France had to promise not to merge with Spain. (And the 77 year-old Louis might have personally pledged to refrain from doing the flamenco.) Yes, the Treaty of Utrecht only lacked a few syphilis jokes to be a Restoration Comedy. Queen Anne had to grant titles to a dozen Tory hacks to ensure that the Treaty would pass the House of Lords.

Anne died in 1714. Despite her wishes, Tory sympathies and French support, she was not succeeded by her Catholic half-brother. The Stuart prince had no sense of timing or initiative; he did not even show up in Britain to claim his throne until 1715. George I had been coronated the previous year. So much for the War of the English Succession.

Since 1713, the British probably have gotten over the shame of the Treaty of Utrecht. (The outcome of The Seven Years War would have pleased the Whigs.) Nevertheless, Juan Carlos cannot have Gibralter back.