decorated initial A lso known as the War of the Spanish Succession, Marlborough's Wars (1702-13), fought in Europe and on the Mediterranean, were the last and the bloodiest of the Wars between England and France under Louis XIV, and the first in which Britain played a major military role in European military affairs. In 1700 Louis had antagonized the English by accepting (in defiance of treaties) the bequest of the Spanish empire to his grandson Philip of Anjou, and by his subsequent prohibition of English imports and recognition of the claim to the English throne put forward by James, the "Old Pretender," who was the son of the deposed James II and the leader of the Jacobites. England's Grand Alliance with Holland, the Hapsburg Empire, Hanover, and Prussia, intended to prevent French dominance over all of Europe, was opposed by France, Spain, Bavaria, and Savoy. After the death of William III in 1702, Queen Anne, James's daughter, appointed John Churchill, the earl of Marlborough, as commander of the English and Dutch armies. A brilliant soldier — brave, handsome, skilfull — Marlborough was also opportunistic, crafty, deceptive, and tight-fisted.

During the War Marlborough waged ten successful campaigns, beseiged over thirty towns, and never lost a battle or a skirmish. After his successes in the Netherlands, the Bavarians and the French threatened Vienna and the Austrians, and Marlborough, a master of tactics and strategy, marched 250 miles across Germany and confronted the French army at Blenheim in 1704, destroying two thirds of it and capturing Marshall Tallard, its commander. Thereafter, however, the war dragged on on different fronts — in the Netherlands, Italy, and Spain — but by 1710 the situation was largely stalemated, though the war as a whole had brought Britain into much greater prominence as a European power.

Meanwhile, the cost of the war, a dominant theme in English politics and society during the reign of Queen Anne, had generated considerable political opposition at home, particularly amongst the Tory gentry who were taxed to pay for it: though a common soldier in the British Army earned only sixpence a day, it cost 1,000,000 a year to maintain the army in Europe, and total cost of the war for Britain was close to 9,000,000 per year. The conduct of the war became a political football between the Whigs and the Tories, with the queen in the middle. Marlborough's wife Sarah, long one of Anne's favorites, eventually fell out of favor, and after the Tories came back into power in 1710 Marlborough himself, accused of corruption, was stripped of his offices and went abroad.

Britain had withdrawn from the war for all practical purposes by 1712, and the Treaty of Utrecht, negotiated by the Tory government, was approved by parliament in 1713 — though the Whigs (who represented the mercantile interests which had profited by the war, and who made larger profits by financing it, though in doing so they had created a National Debt which had to be financed by further taxation) regarded it as a betrayal of Britain's allies. By the terms of the treaty France agreed never to unite the crowns of France and Spain, while Britain acquired Hudson's Bay, Arcadia, and Newfoundland from the French, Gibraltar and Minorca from Spain, new trading privileges with Spain, and a monopoly of the slave trade with the Spanish Empire. Marlborough returned to England after Anne's death in 1714 and was restored to some of his former influence under George I.


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Last modified 1988.