Philip V, beginning the Spanish Bourbons, was “quietly and cheerfully received in Spain,” wrote Lord Chesterfield, “and was acknowledged as king of it by most of those powers who afterwards joined in an alliance to dethrone him.” 46 But the Emperor Leopold felt that this virtual union of France and Spain, if allowed to continue, would be a disaster for the house of Hapsburg, so long accustomed to rule both the “Holy Roman” and the Spanish empires. Reflecting his resentment, pamphleteers roused and expressed public sentiment in Austria by pointing out that Charles II had not been of sound mind when he bequeathed Spain to her ancient foe; indeed, they claimed, a post-mortem showed the King’s brain and heart grievously infected with disease; therefore his testament was null and void, and the Spanish dominions belonged to Leopold by the unrenounced rights of his mother and his wife. Leopold urged his former allies—Holland and England—to join him in denying or withdrawing recognition of Philip V, even if this meant war.
The leader of the United Provinces at this time was Antonius Heinsius, who had been chosen grand pensionary after William’s departure for England. In earlier days, as Dutch envoy to France, he had been threatened with arrest by Louvois in violation of diplomatic immunity, and he had never forgotten that indignity. Now aged fifty-nine, he lived in a modest house at The Hague, cherished books, walked daily to his office, worked ten hours a day, and served as a living challenge of bourgeois simplicity and republican government to luxurious aristocrats and absolute kings. In November, 1700, under instruction by the States-General, he sent to Louis XIV a memorial entreating him to reject the will of Charles II as vitally injurious to the Emperor, and to return to a policy of partition. Louis replied (December 4, 1700) that his acceptance of the will had been made necessary by the Emperor’s repeated rejection of a partition plan, and by the certainty that if France refused the Spanish offer the Emperor would accept it.
The actions of Louis heightened Europe’s fear of French power. On February 1, 1701, he caused the Paris Parlement to register a royal decree reserving the eventual rights of Philip and his line to the crown of France. This did not necessarily mean that Louis looked toward the union of France and Spain under one king; it was probably intended to ensure an orderly succession to the French throne in case all prior heirs to it should be deceased; in that emergency Philip could surrender the Spanish crown for that of his native land, and so continue the Bourbon line without interruption. But a further procedure of the King justified a hostile interpretation. A treaty with Spain had confirmed the right of the Dutch to guard against the invasion of Holland by maintaining armed garrisons in some “barrier towns” of the Spanish Netherlands. On February 5, by an understanding between Louis and the Elector of Bavaria, who was then governing the Spanish Netherlands, French troops entered these towns and ordered the Dutch garrisons to depart. The Spanish ambassador at The Hague informed the States-General that this had been done by the desire of the Spanish government. The States-General, protesting, submitted, but Heinsius agreed with William III that the Grand Alliance against France must be renewed.
William took the position that the Second Partition Treaty had been an agreement between himself and Louis; that it had remained valid whether Leopold signed it or not; and that French acceptance of the Spanish bequest had broken a solemn pact. Parliament, however, was loath to resume the expensive struggle with France. When the French government notified England of Philip V’s succession to the Spanish throne, William resigned himself to congratulating his “very dear brother the King of Spain” on his “happy accession” 47—thus giving formal recognition to the new Bourbon regime (April 17, 1701). 48 But as the immense consequences of the Franco-Spanish union came more clearly into view—as the occupation of Flanders by French troops brought Louis XIV closer to Holland, and his possession of Antwerp gave him control over English commerce using that port—the English began to realize that the issue was not merely between Bourbon and Hapsburg, nor only between Catholicism resurgent and Protestantism at bay, but between English and French domination of the seas, of Europe’s colonies, and of world trade. In June, 1701, without declaring war, Parliament engaged to sustain William in all alliances that he might contract for the purpose of limiting the exorbitant power of France. To implement this aim it sanctioned the recruiting of 30,000 seamen and voted £ 2,700,000. In response to an appeal from the States-General William ordered twenty ships and 10,000 men to Holland, and in July he himself crossed to The Hague.
The Emperor, claiming the entire Spanish dominion, was already at war. In May, 1701, he sent an army of 6,000 horse and 16,000 foot to seize the possessions of Spain in north Italy. He placed in command a young prince who was destined to rival Marlborough himself as a general—Eugene of Savoy. Eugene’s grandfather was Charles Emmanuel, Duke of Savoy; his father, Prince Eugène Maurice, settled in France as Count of Soissons; his mother was Olympe Mancini, one of the alluring nieces of Mazarin. Eugene himself, aged twenty (1683), asked Louis XIV to give him command of a regiment; refused as too young, he renounced France and entered the Imperial service. He joined with Sobieski in the relief of Vienna and the pursuit of the Turks; he was wounded in the capture of Buda, and again in the siege of Belgrade; he led the Imperial army to its decisive victory over the Turks at Senta (1697). He had every charm except those of features and physique. An unsympathetic Gaul described him as “this ugly little man with a turned-up nose over an upper lip too short to conceal his teeth”; 49 but Voltaire recognized in him “the qualities of a hero in war and a great man in peace, a mind imbued with a high sense of justice and pride, and a courage unshaken in the command of armies.”50Now, aged thirty-eight, he guided his forces over the Alps, outmaneuvered the French detachments there, and, with successive victories over Catinat and Villeroi, won for the Emperor nearly the whole duchy of Mantua (September, 1701), long before the War of the Spanish Succession had been declared.
Meanwhile diplomacy had prepared a decade of massacre. In August Spain granted to France the lucrative asiento—the “contract” to supply slaves to the Spanish colonists in America; evidently France intended to use her overriding influence in Spain to capture the commerce of its possessions on three continents. On September 7 the representatives of England, the United Provinces, and the Empire signed the Treaty of The Hague, forming a second Grand Alliance. Article Two declared it essential to the peace of Europe that the Emperor obtain satisfaction for his rights to the Spanish succession, and that England and the United Provinces be made secure in their dominions, navigation, and trade. The treaty promised to the Emperor the Spanish possessions in Italy and the Low Countries, but it left open the possibility that Philip V might be recognized as King of Spain. The contracting states pledged themselves to undertake no separate negotiations, to sign no separate peace, to prevent the union of the French and Spanish crowns, to bar French trade from the Spanish colonies, and to defend and maintain any conquests that England or the United Provinces should make in the Spanish Indies. 51 Two months were granted France to accept these terms; failing this, the signatories would declare war.
Louis met the challenge with characteristic pride. He proclaimed himself in honor bound to defend the will of Charles II, and the resolve of the Spanish people that their Empire should not be dismembered. Too confident in the power and righteousness of his cause, he appeared at the bedside of the dying James II, and comforted him with the promise that he would recognize and uphold James III as King of England. When the father died Louis kept the promise; we do not know whether this was a “magnanimous action” (as a magnanimous English historian called it 52), or a surrender to the tearful pleas of the widow, 53 or a military measure designed to divide England into supporters of William and Jacobite supporters of a second Stuart restoration. In any case the War of the Spanish Succession was also a war for the English succession, even for the English soul; for a restored Stuart might resume the attempt to make England Catholic. Though France felt that the action of the allies violated the recognition that nearly all of them had given to Philip V as King of Spain, most of England felt that Louis had violated the Treaty of Ryswick, in which he had recognized William III as King of England; and the recognition of James III was resented as a presumptuous interference in English affairs. A clause was added to the terms of the Grand Alliance binding its signatories to make no peace with France till William should have received satisfaction for the insult offered him by Louis’ action. In January, 1702, Parliament attainted James III—i.e., declared him a traitor and an outlaw. At the same time, by a majority of one, it passed an Abjuration Act requiring all Englishmen to repudiate the “Pretender,” and to swear fealty to William III and his heirs. On March 8, 1702, William died, aged fifty-two, too soon to know that he had welded an alliance that for half a century would determine the map of Europe. On May 15 the Emperor, the States-General of the United Provinces, and the Parliament of England simultaneously declared war upon France.