The War of Spanish Succession – Modern Warfare and Throwbacks to a Previous Era


Although warfare continued to advance and evolve through the 18th century, a lot of military conflict and engagements continued to harken back to practices, strategies and techniques of previous eras, even though allowances were made for the near-exclusive use of gunpowder for the infantry alongside cavalry.  While new strides were taken in troop makeup (pikemen were made virtually irrelevant with the prevalence of bayonets) and in the standards for siege warfare, fortifications and defensive positions, a lot remained the same.[1]  In addition, armies grew larger and were organized under state control, and administration of the armed forces grew stronger and more aligned throughout Europe as the aristocracy recognized a need for stricter control over their troops due to the high probability of desertion.[2]


Medical technology, for example, had not caught up to military technology, and thousands upon thousands of soldiers suffered from disease, wounds and injuries with little to no hope of treatment or recovery.[3]  The cost of campaigns in loss of lives was enormous for relatively small gains in territory or power, and pitched battles were hardly decisive victory conditions for powers at war with each other throughout Europe.  In addition, warfare became more global, as powers struggled in Europe, their holdings in the New World often continued the conflict far from their home countries.


The War of Spanish Succession was one of those conflicts that originated primarily in Europe, but spread far beyond the Continent to both North America and the Caribbean.  Fearful that Spain and France would ally under familial bonds, England, Austria and the Habsburg dynasty united to fight against French interests and expansions in Europe and abroad.  Contrary to the standards of the time, English commander John Churchill fought rapid and dynamic against the French, and made significant initial progress.  Typical for the 18th century, however, siege warfare gained far more prevalence than open confrontation and laying siege to row upon row of defensive fortifications built to withstand such tactics became physically, psychologically and emotionally draining in terms of morale and fortitude. [4]  In the end, despite initial victories, the English, Austrian and Habsburg forces became bogged down and could progress no further.[5]  France had maintained the status-quo of European power, but at enormous cost both financially and in terms of manpower that would have lasting impacts on the French aristocracy, its holdings in the Americas and ultimately contributing to the French revolution.[6]


[1] Christon I. Archer, John R. Ferris, Holger H. Herwig and Timothy H.E. Travers, World History of Warfare (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002), 328-329.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.


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