Charles II, childless, was nearing death; who would inherit his possessions, ranging from the Philippines through Italy and Sicily to North and South America? Louis claimed them, not only as the son of the eldest daughter of Philip III of Spain, but through the rights of his dead wife, Marie Thérèse, eldest daughter of Philip IV. True enough, Marie Thérèse at her marriage had renounced all claim to the Spanish throne; but that renunciation had been made on condition that the Spanish government pay 500,000 gold crowns to France as her dowry. Those crowns had never been paid, for Spain was bankrupt.
The Emperor Leopold I had counterclaims. He was the son of María Anna, younger daughter of Philip III; in 1666 he had married Margaret Theresa, younger daughter of Philip IV; and neither of these ladies had renounced her rights of possible succession to the Spanish crown. Always harassed by the Turks, Leopold, for the sake of peace with France, compromised his claims by signing with Louis XIV (January 19, 1668) a secret treaty for the eventual partition of the Spanish Empire. By this pact, says a British historian, “he virtually admitted the force of Louis XIV’s contention that the French Queen’s renunciation of her claims was invalid.” 37
When, by a second marriage, Leopold had a second son, he renewed his claims, but offered to resign them in favor of this new Archduke Karl.
England, the United Provinces, and the German principalities saw with dread the possibility that the vast realm of Spain would fall to France or to Austria, in either case toppling the balance of power: if Louis won, he would dominate Europe and imperil Protestantism; if Leopold won, the Emperor, holding the Spanish Netherlands, would threaten the Dutch Republic, and would soon reduce the autonomy of the German states. Commercial as well as dynastic interests were involved: English and Dutch exporters supplied most of the market for industrial goods in Spain and her colonies, and received considerable gold and silver in exchange; they were loath to let that trade become a French monopoly. “The preservation of the commerce between the kingdom of Great Britain and Spain,” the British government stated in 1716, “was one of the chief motives that induced our two royal predecessors to enter the late, long, expensive war.” 38
Anxious to satisfy the merchants of both his native and his adopted lands, and to preserve the balance of power on the Continent, William III proposed to Louis that France waive her claim and agree with England that Spain, the Indies, Sardinia, and the Spanish Netherlands should be resigned to Joseph Ferdinand, Electoral Prince of Bavaria, grandson of Leopold; that the Dauphin of France should receive the Tuscan ports and the “Two Sicilies” (Italy south of the Papal States); while the Archduke Karl should be appeased with the duchy of Milan. Louis accepted the proposal, and signed with William (October 11, 1698) the First Treaty for the Partition of Spain. Leopold angrily rejected the plan. Hoping to keep the Spanish empire from such fragmentation, Charles II drew up a will (November 14, 1698) making the Electoral Prince of Bavaria his universal heir. The Prince confused the situation by dying (February 5).
Louis offered William a new division: the Dauphin to receive the Tuscan ports, the “Two Sicilies,” and the duchy of Lorraine; the Duke of Lorraine to be compensated with Milan; all the rest of the Spanish empire, including America and the Spanish Netherlands, to go to the Archduke Karl. William and Louis signed this Second Partition Treaty on June 11, 1699. The United Provinces agreed to it, but Charles II protested against any dismemberment of his possessions, and the Emperor, hoping to win all for his son, supported the Spanish position and refused to accept the partition. Charles, as a Hapsburg, was inclined to leave all to the Archduke; as a Spaniard, however, he hated the Austrians, and as a Latin he preferred the French. As a fervent Catholic he asked the advice of the Pope; Innocent XII replied (September 27, 1700) that the best plan would be to bequeath the Spanish empire to a Bourbon prince, who should renounce any right to the throne of France; so Spain would retain its integrity. Apparently the French diplomats outwitted the Austrians in Madrid as well as in Rome. Public opinion in Spain, alienated by the arrogant manners of its German Queen, agreed with the Pope. “The general inclination,” reported the English ambassador at Madrid, “is altogether French.” 39 On October 1 Charles signed the fateful will that bequeathed all Spain and its territories to the seventeen-year-old Philip, Duke of Anjou, second son of the Dauphin, with the proviso that the crowns of France and Spain should never be united under one head. On November 1 Charles died.
When news of the will reached Paris Louis was pleased but hesitant. He knew that the passage of Spain from the Hapsburgs to the Bourbons would be violently opposed by the Emperor, and that England and Holland would join in resistance. A German historian gives Louis credit, at this juncture, for pacific aims:
It would be unjust to say of Louis XIV that his intention had been from the beginning to throw over the Partition Treaty so soon as a will favorable to his House should be in his hands. Even when he was sure of such a will, while King Charles was still alive, he ordered his ambassador in Holland to assure the Pensionary that it was his intention to adhere to his engagements, rather than accept any offers that might be made to him. In addition to this, he still continued his efforts to obtain the accession of the Court of Vienna to the Treaty of Partition. 40
On October 6 Louis sent an urgent appeal to the Emperor to accept that Second Treaty of Partition. 41 Leopold refused. Louis henceforth considered the treaty void.
Immediately after the death of Charles, the Spanish Junta, or Regency, dispatched a courier to Paris to notify Louis that his grandson would be accepted as King of Spain as soon as he came and took the oath to observe the laws of the realm. The Spanish ambassador at Paris was instructed, in case of a French refusal, to bid the courier hasten to Vienna and submit the same offer to the Archduke; 42 in any case the Spanish empire must not be partitioned. On November 9 Louis called the Dauphin, his Chancellor Pontchartrain, the Duc de Beauvilliers, and the Marquis de Torcy, foreign minister, to a council in the apartment of Mme. de Maintenon, and asked their advice. Beauvilliers pleaded for a rejection of the Spanish offer as sure to lead to war with the Empire, England, and the United Provinces, and he reminded the King that France was in no condition to face such a coalition. Torcy argued for acceptance; war, he held, was inevitable in any event; Leopold would fight both the Partition Treaty and the will; besides, if the offer should be rejected by the King it would certainly be welcomed by the Emperor, and France would again be surrounded by that same cordon—Spain, north Italy, Austria, and the Spanish Netherlands—which during the last two hundred years it had cost France so much blood to break. Better go to war for a just cause—the will—than in an attempt to enforce the partition of Spain against the desire of its government and its people. 43
After three days of further deliberation, Louis announced to the Spanish envoys his acceptance of the will. On November 16, 1700, he presented the Duke of Anjou to the court assembled at Versailles. “Gentlemen,” he said, “you see here the King of Spain. His descent called him to that crown; the deceased King so ordered it in his testament; the whole [Spanish] nation desired it, and earnestly entreated me to give my assent. Such was the will of Heaven; I have fulfilled it with joy.” And to the young monarch he added, “Be a good Spaniard—that is now your first duty; but remember that you were born a Frenchman, and maintain unity between the two nations; this is the way to make them happy, and to preserve the peace of Europe.” 44 The Spanish Regency proclaimed Philip at Madrid, and all sections of Spain and her dominions soon declared their consent. One government after another recognized the new King: Savoy, Denmark, Portugal, the United Provinces, England, several Italian and German states; even the Elector of Bavaria—who thought his son had been poisoned by the Emperor—was among the first princes to offer recognition. The crisis seemed surmounted, and the century-long enmity between Spain and France seemed peacefully healed. The Spanish ambassador at Versailles knelt in homage to his new sovereign, and uttered famous words that Voltaire mistakenly attributed to Louis XIV: “Il n’y a plus de Pyrénées” (There are no more Pyrenees). 45