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The Peace of Utrecht: Definition & Impact

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  • 0:07 Peace of Utrecht
  • 0:42 War of Spanish Succession
  • 2:07 French Treaties and…
  • 3:51 Spanish Treaties and…
  • 4:36 Balance of Power
  • 5:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the Peace of Utrecht that ended the War of the Spanish Succession and the widespread ramifications it had for the emerging and declining powers of Western Europe.

Peace of Utrecht

History is a very event-oriented discipline. Historians and enthusiasts like to be able to point to singular days or actions which mark major changes or shifts in historical trends. This practice can often hurt the study of the important periods in between these events, as well as spark vigorous debates over whether an event is truly important. Regardless of this astute and very true critique, events that changed the world with a single action do still exist. For example, while the Peace of Utrecht that ended the War of the Spanish Succession may not have changed the entire world, its conditions irrevocably shifted the balance of power in Western Europe.

War of Spanish Succession

The Peace of Utrecht, which was actually made up of several different treaties, resolved a more than decade-long, pan-continental conflict called the War of the Spanish Succession. This conflict was caused when the Spanish king, the mentally challenged Charles II, died without an heir in 1700. His will, likely engineered by his pro-French advisors, gave the vacant Spanish throne to Louis XIV's grandson. However, having a Frenchman on the Spanish throne and giving Louis XIV control of the vast Spanish resources and territory alarmed the rest of Europe. Needless to say, they resolved to do something about it. Ignoring the will, Austria procured their own claimant to the Spanish throne, one with slightly closer familial connections to Charles II.

As a result, war between the two factions broke out in 1701, pitting France, Spain, and the German state of Bavaria on one side, and Austria, Great Britain, the Dutch Republic, and several other German states on the other (Bavaria, it should be noted, was conquered by Austria in the course of the war and its troops fought for Austria later in the conflict). Fighting was fierce, with Austria invading Spanish-held territory in Italy and Great Britain doing the same in the Spanish Netherlands. After a few years, the allies were invading France, but making little headway, and both sides were taking heavy casualties. With little chance of forcing an unconditional French surrender and appetite for war dissipating, particularly in Great Britain, peace seemed the most viable option.

French Treaties and Implications

Although France had not been thoroughly routed, it had been defeated, and the allies aimed to gain territory and other advantages at French expense. The first treaty of the Peace of Utrecht, the Treaty of Utrecht, was signed in 1713 between France, Great Britain, the Dutch Republic, Portugal, and the German states of Prussia and Savoy. As part of agreeing to end hostilities, France was forced to cede many of its American territories to Britain, including Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, territory around the Hudson Bay, and islands in the Caribbean. Additionally, France was forced to recognize Queen Anne as the rightful monarch of Great Britain; prior to the Treaty, France had been quietly recognizing the Catholic James Edward, son of James II, who abdicated the English throne during the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The treaty also included provisions whereby France agreed to stop interfering in Dutch seagoing trade and defined a territorial border with Portugal in South America.

Despite this initial peace between France and many of the allies, Austria resolved to fight on and continued attempts at defeating the French until the Treaty of Rastatt and the Treaty of Baden were signed in March and September of 1714, respectively. In these treaties, both sides traded territory. Austria gained the Spanish Netherlands and most French holdings in Italy, including Milan, Naples, and Sardinia. Likewise, France was granted the adjacent territories of Alsace and Lorraine.

All of this France was forced to give up in exchange for the other countries recognizing Louis XIV's grandson as King of Spain, but Louis XIV did not get all he wanted in this regard either. While his grandson was proclaimed and recognized as King of Spain, the grandson was removed from the French line of succession. This made the joining of the French and Spanish thrones - Louis XIV's original aim - impossible.

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