Spanish War of Succession: Iberia


Batalla de Almansa. Landscape by Filippo Pallotta, figures by Buonaventura Ligli


Although the war revolved around the question of who would become the next king of Spain, the Iberian Peninsula was not an obvious theater of operations. Philippe had established himself in Spain in 1701, while Louis’ diplomats signed a treaty of friendship with Portugal’s King Pedro II. With no base from which to operate, William had found it expedient to recognize Philippe’s claim to the throne. Even the Grand Alliance treaty made no reference to Charles ascending the Spanish throne; in fact, Article Five only identified Imperial pretensions to Spain’s Italian and Netherlands possessions. The Habsburg court focused on the Italian holdings, and although the Dutch were interested in Mediterranean trade, they were more concerned about other theaters diverting attention from the defense of their southern border.

The allied decision to commit to a ‘No Peace without Spain’ policy was, therefore, made by the English, a decision encouraged by naval strength. England’s goals in the Mediterranean and Iberia were numerous: to protect its Levant trade, threaten Spain’s incoming trade from the Americas, neutralize France’s fleet based at Toulon, buttress Austria in Italy, encourage the defection of France’s allies (Portugal and Savoy), and support uprisings in Bourbon-held territories (Naples, Catalonia, the Balearics and the Cevennes in particular). The Whig Lords had already concluded in 1701 that the only acceptable peace was one that saw Charles sitting on the throne in Madrid.

This maximalist goal would be implicitly accepted for much of the war by both parties. The first attempt to open the theater was a repeat of previous English strategy: an Anglo-Dutch fleet landed forces to capture the Andalusian port of Cadiz in September 1702, hoping to establish a naval base and threaten the colonial trade off-loaded at Seville. Repulsed, they attacked a Spanish bullion fleet that had anchored at Vigo on the Galician coast. The capture of several French men-of-war excited the public back home and illustrated the Royal Navy’s strategic flexibility. The victory, nonetheless, had less effect on the Bourbon war effort, at least in direct attritional terms. More important was the encouragement it gave Pedro to join the Grand Alliance. The resulting Methuen Treaty of 1703 inaugurated an Iberian war, committing the English and Dutch, as well as their Austrian ally, to a land campaign to capture Spain. The English diplomatic team negotiated with Portugal in secret and intentionally excluded the Dutch envoy until the details had already been decided, terms which obligated the English and Dutch to a far larger Iberian commitment than the Dutch had envisioned. A few months after the treaty of alliance was completed, an Anglo-Portuguese commercial treaty was signed which promised the English preferential trade with Portugal.

The Portuguese were, however, an unreliable ally. Most towns along the Hispano-Portuguese border were difficult to besiege, while foreign witnesses expressed their amazement at the heat and barrenness of the region. The Spanish nevertheless captured several Portuguese fortresses in 1704, while command disputes and undermanned regiments hindered the allied response. The allies would take several fortresses back in 1705 and even march to Madrid in 1706, but for the rest of the war, the Portuguese front degenerated into inconclusive operations. These early setbacks encouraged the English to look for other fronts from which to attack Philippe, a strategy perfectly suited against a Spanish enemy who in 1703 boasted a negligible navy and a mere 20,000 troops to defend a territory 16 times the size of the Spanish Netherlands with 3,000 miles of coastline. As a result, an August 1704 attack on the poorly prepared town of Gibraltar captured the port within three days. The newly installed garrison, with the support of the Anglo-Dutch fleet, then resisted a subsequent eight-month siege and blockade. The English pillaging of both Port St. Mary (near Cadiz) and Gibraltar, however, poisoned relations with the Andalusians and made it impossible for the allies to support an offensive from Gibraltar.

The year 1704 thus saw a further allied naval attempt to open yet another front by landing 1,600 marines at Barcelona, an area once governed by the allied commander (Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt) and conveniently situated close to both hard-pressed Savoy and rebellious Camisards in south- eastern France. That first effort miscarried, but the next year 10,000 troops captured the Catalonian capital after a siege. Now Charles controlled an independent Spanish base supported by Catalans, and this reinvigorated English hopes for an alternative to operations in the Low Countries. By the end of 1705, the uprising against Philippe had spread to Aragon and Valencia, allowing the allies to garrison fortresses along Spain’s eastern coast. In April 1706 the Bourbons returned to the offensive, besieging Barcelona and drawing supplies from their fleet. After Admiral Leake’s flotilla chased off the French, Philippe withdrew with Charles slowly pursuing him to Madrid. The lack of fortresses and logistical difficulties in Aragon and Castile meant that possession of Madrid was left to those who could gain the support of the Castilian people. Madrid was briefly held by an allied army, but the popular resistance to the presence of heretical northerners, Portuguese foes, Catalan separatists, and plundering troops soon forced the allied army from Castile. In the aftermath, the Duke of Berwick’s army began the slow reconquest of Valencia and Murcia. In early 1707 the battlefield victory at Almansa magnified the Bourbon advantage. This forced the allied field army back to Catalonia, and inaugurated the reconquest of Valencia and Aragon, successes facilitated by the absence of allied fleets which were transporting troops or making new conquests.

By the beginning of 1710, Charles and his polyglot forces found themselves holed up in Catalonia. But two allied victories, precipitated by Louis’ withdrawal of French troops from the peninsula, allowed the allies to march again on Madrid and occupy it. Once again, however, the Castilian populace resisted the foreign claimant, and on the retreat back to Catalonia, the entire English contingent was captured at Brihuega. Suffering from whiplash, the new Tory ministry would gradually abandon its commitment to the theater, seeking to secure its bases at Gibraltar and Port Mahon. The Iberian theater, expected to deliver a quick victory in contrast with the Low Countries, turned into almost as deep a quagmire as Flanders, with worse results.


This page is dedicated to an overview of a book written by one of club members about the Spanish Campaign of 1710. The book contains details of all the battles and actions in the campaign. It also contain many OOB’s, maps and other material on the armies involved in the campaign.

Gamers, historians and all with an interest in this campaign should find something of interest.

Readers of the book should find the companion work on the whole 1st Peninsula War (1702-1712) also of interest.

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