On the eve of war


Dutch FlagEnglish FlagScotland Flag

A note about 'the seapowers'

William III held The United Provinces, England, Scotland and Ireland in a personal union, but it would be silly to say it formed one state. This would only have been the case if William had been an absolute monarch. On the other hand we see that in the era of William III the armies and some leaders of it had become intertwined. Though William's death in 1702 would severe all formal ties, their common interests created a lot of goodwill and by it a very intense co-operation.

In this war we see them jointly hiring troops and bringing allies into the war and supporting them through subsidy treaties. To foreign politicians they appeared as a confederacy nicknamed the 'seapowers'. This close co-operation rested primarily on the co-operation between Heinsius and Marlborough that had already started before William's death. In their correspondence we can see them jointly directing foreign policy and coordinating the war effort of the two nations. John Churchill, later made Duke of Marlborough would also become the military leader of the joint armies (see 1702 for particulars). This is why 'the seapowers' continued to exist as an entity in international politics.

English Flag


Since the peace treaty of Rijswijk in 1697 the position of William's Junto ministers had considerably weakened. From that time William and his government had been attacked on issues such as the size of the army, the influence of foreigners (Dutchmen and Huguenots) at his court, and his grants to his favorites. By the 1699-1700 session of Parliament it was clear that it would no longer be possible to govern with the Junto ministers.

The hostility of this parliament as long as the Junto was in power showed itself in many ways. From the start it had busied itself with an investigation into William's land grants in Ireland, and tacking it to a tax-bill. To the modern observer this might seem to have been a noble cause, but it was not. The Whig defense of the king was that if parliament was in anyway sincere it should also investigate the grants made in the reign (James's) that had been declared illegal. It did not and the Commons soon showed to be after the booty for itself. Anyway, a law annulling the grants of William was soon in the making. The insistence on the irresponsible reduction of the army was another affair that given its theoretic foundation (a standing army was seen as a tool of absolutism) can be explained as directed against the king. To top it of the Commons petitioned on 10 April 1700 that William should evict all foreigners from his councils. William did however get something useful out of 1699-1700 session, and that was the Common's ratification of the second partition treaty in March 1700. However sharply Portland and others were attacked for signing it without their knowledge. William was probably quite sick and tired of the Commons when he prorogued parliament on 11 April.

Perceiving the fact that his government would sink to impotence if he did not appoint Tories to take responsibility in government, William was prepared to change his course signaled by Somers dismissal. This became even more necessary when Queen Anne's only child died in July, overthrowing all plans for his and Anne's succession, and opening up perspectives for the pretender. After his return from the United Provinces in October 1700, William then held talks with Godolphin, Harley and Rochester. In these it was probably decided to appoint bring the Tories into the ministry, to make a new settlement for the succession, and to make some constitutional changes. When Philip of Anjou was proclaimed as king Felipe V of Spain on 16 November 1700 parliament was not willing to go to war. This probably had a lot to do with the financial troubles that had originated from the previous war. Parliament was thus all to willing to be reassured by Louis XIV's reassurances of not uniting the two empires, and Louis' envoys reported that the England would recognize Felipe V. Parliament was then dissolved on 19 December 1700

Dutch Flag

The United Provinces

William had much more influence in the United Provinces than in England. Its diplomats were pressing hard to have the partition treaty they had ratified executed. Its army and fleet were quite ready for war, but proved not to be a sufficient deterrent to keep Louis from accepting the will of Charles II. Upon the proclamation of Felipe they seriously considered war, but were very afraid of a repetition of 1672.

Imperial Flag

The Habsburgs

The Habsburg Empire had just recently become a big power by the taking of Buda in 1686 and the 1699 peace treaty with the Turks. In terms of land mass and population Austria was also a great power. Being able to wage an independent foreign policy is however the standard against which great power status is measured. Austria lacked severely in this ability, primarily because of her lack of money.

Emperor Leopold was not the man to solve the financial problems, but refused to join the partition-treaty. Churchill states he did this because he would rather have Italy than see his brother Charles on the Spanish throne. This refusal however strengthened the French position, at least as regards propaganda. It is however also quite possible that Leopold thought that he would be named successor in the testament.

Prussian Flag


By the peace of Oliva the elector of Brandenburg had gained the full sovereignty over Prussia. In 1700 it was definitely not a great power, but as the strongest state in northern Germany it had a good army that everyone wanted to have on their side. Though not a great power it is useful to describe Prussia's affairs, because it did follow its own policy in this conflict. Elector Friedrich thought about how to profit most from the impending war, and would succeed in it.

Danish Flag


Denmark had allied itself with Poland (and Saxony) and Russia in 1699 in order to wrest territories from Sweden that then had lots of possessions on the other side of the Baltic. On 12 March 1700 Denmark invaded Holstein, but with ships sent by William III the Swedes could react quickly. On 4 August 1700 the Swedish king Charles XII landed on Seeland near Copenhagen. Frederick IV then sued for peace and got it by the treaty of Travendahl on 18 August 1700. By it he left the Anti-Swedish alliance and indemnified the Duke of Holstein Gottorp. It was now possible to bring Denmark into the anti-French alliance and many Danish troops would fight in Flanders, Germany and Hungary.

French Flag


Though France ratified the treaty of 1699 in March 1700, Louis gambled on another horse at the same time. He sent Harcourt to Madrid with lots of gold in order to bribe the Spanish Grandees and clergy to promote Philip of Anjou. The aid of the pope certainly helped in this respect.

When the news of the testament and death of Charles had come in Louis held a meeting in the apartments of Madame de Maintenon in order to decide what to do. The decision surely was difficult, historians often describe it as involving a choice between two options, but there were in fact three:

Louis decided to follow the will, and not to offer anything to his opponents except some vague guarantees about not uniting the two crowns. In the last months of 1700, when, especially the English parliament, seemed not ready to fight, Louis seemed to have gambled right.

Spanish Flag


According to Saint Simon the Austrian party seemed at first very powerful at the Spanish court. It was lead by the queen who favored the succession of Archduke Charles, which had been laid down in Charles II's will. The party that favored a French prince consisted of the nobles Villafranca, Medina-Sidonia, Villagarcias, Villena, San Estevan, and Cardinal Porto Carrero. They succeeded in dismissing a German regiment commanded by Hessen-Darmstadt, dismissing a favorite of the Queen, and dismissing the Austrian confessor of Charles II.

The cardinal and the confessor then started to press the very religious king on the subject of the will, and isolated him from his wife. Finally they let him consult the pope, who was clearly allied with Louis. When the pope advised a French prince Charles II gave in and signed a will on 2 October 1700, of which only the 8-member council of State was informed. This done Charles II died 1 November 1700.

Still according to Saint Simon the contents of the new will only became public at the death of Charles II. Churchill says the will was of doubtful legality and was probably right in this. The French gold he mentions probably played a big role in the preceding conspiracy.

By the will of Charles II a regency council officially presided by his widow had been established. In fact this council was dominated by cardinal Porto Carrero. It dispatched the marquis de Velasco the connétable of Castillia as (the council's) ambassador extraordinaire to Paris to offer his hommage to Philip d'Anjou as king Felipe V of Spain. It was 1701 when they met.