War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) 

Jamel Ostwald

in International Relations

Published online June 2012 | | DOI:

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Of Louis XIV’s many wars, his last, the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714), remains the most studied. Not only do the war’s results appeal to those seeking to humble the self-declared Sun King, but the war’s conduct also raised several military commanders to the status of great captains as well as resulting in a series of congresses to resolve the many thorny issues engendered by the conflict. Stuart Britain, the Dutch republic, and Habsburg Austria formed a Grand Alliance against Bourbon France and Spain, while a constellation of minor allies aligned themselves with one of these two poles, over the fundamental question of whether the French or Austrian candidate would succeed to the vacated Spanish throne. The traditional historical approach to the war, narrative biographies focused on elite politicians, diplomats, and generals, continues unabated. The collection and publication of primary sources in the 18th and 19th centuries led to the dissemination of national narratives of foreign affairs, military operations, and diplomatic negotiations. Authors supported their own country’s justifications for war, generally replicating the divisions seen in the war itself. By the mid-20th century a new generation had begun to assemble these narrow and often-partisan narratives into a wider synthesis; the heyday of traditional diplomatic history, with its interest in state-directed policy, lay in the 1960s and 1970s. Over the latter half of the 20th century, new questions began to slowly permeate the international history of the War of the Spanish Succession, while still remaining relevant to earlier questions about the development of diplomacy. Three trends are particularly important and mirror advances in international history more broadly. First, there has been a growing recognition of the influence of a wide variety of nonstate actors on foreign policy as well as a more general interrogation of the very idea of a state-centered history of the prenational early modern period. Second, the resurgence of interest in religion has led more recent historians to question the traditional notion that the Peace of Westphalia (1648) ended the “wars of religion.” Finally, questions of diplomatic culture have encouraged some historians to explore the internal workings of the negotiators themselves and to reassess the professionalization of these state servants. A grand synthesis of the War of the Spanish Succession remains to be written, and the expansion of questions about the war will require a broad brush indeed.

Article.  8157 words. 

Subjects: International Relations

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