Photo Source:Wikimedia Commons
Sometimes we don’t know what the direct consequences to our actions are. Cause and effect are not always absolutely clear from the get-go, especially in giant international events. Sometimes we also underestimate the effects of a world event and how it manifests. The War of Spanish Succession, a 13 year war in the 1700s, served to kick off and influence the world as we know it today.
The War of Spanish Succession started with King Charles II of Spain. He was never able to father a child, and by the time he died, he had no surviving successors. The most logical successors left would either be French or Austrian (New World Encyclopedia). In Charles’ last will, he left his kingdom to Phillip of France, who was the grandson of the King of France who would become Phillip V of Spain. However, Leopold I, the King of Austria, also laid claim to the throne and was willing to fight for it. England and Denmark entered the ring on the side of Austria because everyone was afraid that if France were to have kings in both France and Spain, the French kingdom would have way too much power. After a whole decade of fighting, the conflict was resolved in two treaties, the Treaty of Utrecht and the Treaty of Rastatt. In these treaties, Phillip V was still allowed to be king of Spain, but he had to disavow any ties to the French line of succession (to make sure that France and Spain couldn’t become some kind of monster-sized kingdom). While France does get to put one of their own on the throne, they did have to give up territory to both Britain and Austria. While at the time the war seemed just like an attempt to make sure France didn’t become too big, the effects can still be felt in our modern era.
So, how did a fight over who got to sit on a throne create aftershocks in our history that we still feel today? One such way is how the distribution of extra territories were done. The British empire captured Gibraltar, a very small peninsula off the coast of Spain, in 1704 and was allowed to keep it in the Treaty of Utrecht (History UK). Spain tried to take it back in 1779 but failed (The Sun). Since then, between two referendums in Gibraltar in 1968 and 2016 and despite being surrounded by Spain, the overwhelming majority of citizens of Gibraltar wished to remain British. However, during the Brexit vote this past year, 96% of citizens voted to stay in the European Union (even though in total Britain voted to leave the European Union). King Felipe in Spain said at first in July of this year that Spain and the United Kingdom would “be able to work towards arrangements that are acceptable to all involved” (The Guardian). This was interpreted as him trying to lay claim to the rock (The Sun). King Felipe would soon clarify and note that Spain would not try to claim Gibraltar through Brexit; however, tensions remain a bit tight in that regard. Even after 300 years, two countries still fight over who is allowed to rule over it.
The current hot topic of Catalan independence can also be traced back to the War of Spanish Succession. Catalan is a region in Spain in the Northeast that also borders France. They also have a separate culture and language from Spain. The Catalan independence movement actually traces itself back to the War of Spanish Succession. During the War of Spanish Succession, the state of Catalonia actually allied with the British and Austrians and against the French and Spanish (Barcelonas). After the War of Spanish Succession , the brand new king of Spain, King Philip V, captured Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia. Catalans would pursue independence and would be granted it in 1932, when Catalan leaders declared a Catalan republic, and Spain granted it autonomy (Washington Post). This would be shut down by Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War in the later 1930s. During this period of dictatorship, the government actively suppressed the Catalan language and culture, including executing thousands of Catalans. In 2006, Catalonia was allowed by Spain to be its own land in Catalonia with a semi-autonomous government. Then, in 2010, Spain retracted their separate state status and declared while Catalan was a nationality, Catalonia was not a separate nation. Then, as of October 1st, 2017, there was an unauthorized vote for independence. While 40% turned up for the vote, 90% of those who voted wanted Catalonia to be independent (BBC News). During this time, Spain sent Spanish police to try to stop the vote, injuring numerous people. Spain declared that the vote itself was illegal and that Catalonia was not allowed as a regional government to declare independence. However, the regional head of Catalan signed a declaration of independence anyway. Spain has already moved to arrest two leaders of the independence movement for inciting rebellion (BBC News). Catalonia is also facing an ultimatum: revoke the declaration or face direct control under Madrid. The conflicts of the War of Spanish Succession still echo today. Pro-independence Catalans would call Spanish loyalists “botiflers,” which was a name for supporters of King Phillip V of Spain. Even centuries later, the War of Spanish Succession is a massive influence on the world stage today.
When one learns about the War of Spanish Succession in school, one normally learns about why these European countries went to war and who got what territory in the end. It sometimes is used as an example of the idea of Europe’s way of balancing power amongst kingdoms. However, what is the most fascinating about the war is how the results of the war still affect today’s issues. Spain and Britain still have complicated feelings about who gets to have Gibraltar, even though it was allegedly settled three centuries ago. The current fight for independence in Catalonia was directly influenced by the war within Spain during the 1700s, even to the point of using old turns of phrase. History may repeat itself, but it also has a vast reach into the future, often in ways that we can’t necessarily predict easily. Perhaps there are even issues now that seem relatively small that will send aftershocks through the future. Only time will tell.