By the beginning of the 18th century the major powers of Europe--primarily
Spain, France, Habsburg Austria [the Holy Roman Empire], and England--had
established a delicate balance of power. No one nation possessed sufficient
strength to overwhelm an alliance of the others. Suddenly in 1700
that balance was upset by the ambition of King Louis XIV of France.
Encouraged by Louis XIV, King Charles II of Spain, as he was dying
without children, designated Louis' grandson Duke Philip of Anjou
as his heir and successor to the throne of Spain. Louis XIV's vision
was to bring about a union of France and Spain.
prospect of a unification of the might of France and Spain was unacceptable
to the other major powers of Europe, and to most of the smaller powers
as well. They determined that, in the interest of European stability,
the Spanish throne should go to a different claimant: Archduke Charles
of Austria. Archduke Charles was a cousin of the deceased King Charles
II and a brother of the powerful Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire,
King Joseph I of Austria.
failed to resolve the dispute amicably, and a long general war erupted
across Europe in 1701. The conflict is known in history as the War
of Spanish Succession, or sometimes as Queen Anne's War. Battles raged
across Italy, the Low Countries, the German States, France and Spain
for eleven years. The tide of war was moving inexorably against the
French and their allies when a sudden expected event caused a suspension
of hostilities: Emperor Joseph I died and Archduke Charles of Austria
succeeded to his throne. The powers allied against France quickly
realized that the goal they had been fighting, namely, to place Archduke
Charles on the throne of Spain, was no longer acceptable; a unification
of Austria and Spain was every bit as dangerous as a unification of
France and Spain.
A peace conference
was assembled the following year at Utrecht, and a complex resolution
of the dispute was hammered out. A key element of treaty that emerged
was an agreement that Duke Philip of Anjou would retain the Spanish
crown that he held as King Philip V, but subject to the condition
that Spain and France would never be united. The treaty also included
a variety of other territorial realignments among the European states,
including a transfer of Sicilian sovereignty.
not immediately join into the peace agreement, but signed a substantially
similar one the following year at Rastatt.