Caustic Congresses III: the Peace of Utrecht (1713)


Great men conferring /

Great men conferring /

Of all the peace conferences that turned caustic almost at the moment of signing, the Peace of Utrecht which ‘ended’ the War of the Spanish Succession (q.v.) wins a prize. The year was 1713; the comparatively peaceful eighteenth century was just beginning. The seventeenth had been full of blood and thunder.

The Congress met at Utrecht in the Low Countries without the presence of Austria. Philip V (Felipe Quinto) stayed as King of Spain but had to renounce his claim to the French throne, and to accept the loss of Spain’s European empire. Later, Austrian emperor Charles VI found he could not carry out his plans for expansion without allies, and accepted the terms of Utrecht at Rastadt and Baden in 1714, one year later.

Though Austria was not present, she was awarded the southern Netherlands, Milan, Naples and Sardinia. Britain kept Gibraltar and Minorca, causing much wailing and gnashing of teeth between Spain and Britain which has lasted to this day, in the case of Gibraltar. Minorca was won back again after 1756. Britain also obtained the dubious right to supply the American colonies with black slaves sold by their tribal chiefs. She also got Newfoundland, Hudson Bay, St. Kitts and, oh dear, recognition of the Hanoverian succession, which led to a series of poor Georges.

France was made to return some recent conquests, but managed to hold on to everything acquired up to the Peace of Nijmegen (Holland) in 1679. She also collared the valuable city of Strasbourg. The Duke of Savoy and head of the Italian royal family won Sicily, and set out to improve frontiers in northern Italy. The Dutch won Austrian recognition of their right to build and garrison ‘barrier’ fortresses in the south Netherlands, a clause which made Austria unhappy. The most important result was that French attempts at European domination had been, at least for the moment, checked. Great Britain did very well out of Utrecht, making significant naval, colonial and commercial gains, and forging ahead with a greater role in world affairs.

The Peace of Utrecht came about because a European war was fought to decide who should sit on the Spanish throne. The lucky chap was Louis XIV’s second grandson. The defeated Austrian candidate, Archduke Charles (q.v.) had to go somewhere else to gnash his teeth. The War of the Spanish Succession was fought via campaigns in the Netherlands, Italy, Germany and Spain. The Duke of Marlborough and Eugène of Savoy won a series of spectacular victories, including Blenheim (q.v.), but Marlborough (John Churchill) later fell from power. William III of England had started it by forming an alliance with the Dutch and the Austrians plus most of the German principalities in order to put the Archduke Charles on the Spanish throne. William died in 1702 and the conflict was thereafter called ‘Queen Anne’s War’ as well the War of the Spanish Succession. Do not allow yourself to become confused – they are both the same war.

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