The precarious health of the childless King Charles II of Spain left the succession open to the claims of three principal pretenders—Louis XIV, in behalf of his eldest son, a grandson of King Philip IV of Spain through Philip's daughter, Marie Thérèse, to whom Louis XIV had been married; the electoral prince of Bavaria, Joseph Ferdinand, a great-grandson of Philip IV; and Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I, who had married a younger daughter of Philip IV, but claimed the succession in behalf of his son by a second marriage, Archduke Charles (later Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI). England and Holland were opposed to the union of French and Spanish dominions, which would have made France the leading world power and diverted Spanish trade from England and Holland to France. On the other hand, England, Holland, and France were all opposed to Archduke Charles, because his accession would reunite the Spanish and Austrian branches of the Hapsburg family.
Louis XIV, exhausted by the War of the Grand Alliance, sought a peaceful solution to the succession controversy and reached an agreement (1698) with King William III of England. This First Partition Treaty designated Joseph Ferdinand as the principal heir; in compensation, the French dauphin was to receive territory including Naples and Sicily, and Milan was to fall to Archduke Charles. Spain opposed the partition of its empire, and Charles II responded by naming Joseph Ferdinand sole heir to the entire Spanish Empire.
The unexpected death (1699) of Joseph Ferdinand rendered the Anglo-French treaty inoperative and led to the Second Partition Treaty (1700), agreed upon by France, England, and the Netherlands; under its terms, France was to receive Naples, Sicily, and Milan, while the rest of the Spanish dominions were to go to Archduke Charles. The treaty was acceptable to Louis XIV but was rejected by Leopold, who insisted upon gaining the entire inheritance for his son. While the diplomats were still seeking a peaceful solution, Spanish grandees, desiring to preserve territorial unity, persuaded the dying Charles II to name as his sole heir the grandson of Louis XIV—Philip, duke of Anjou, who became Philip V of Spain. Louis XIV, deciding to abide by Charles's will, broke the partition treaty.
England and Holland, although willing to recognize Philip as king of Spain, were antagonized by France's growing commercial competition. The French commercial threat, the reservation of Philip's right of succession to the French crown (Dec., 1700), and the French occupation of border fortresses between the Dutch and the Spanish Netherlands (Feb., 1701) led to an anti-French alliance among England, Leopold, and the Dutch.
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