In 1700, Spain’s king Charles II died. Having no children, he had stated that the French king Louis XIV’s grandson should inherit the throne, as long as Spain remained sovereign. Britain and the Dutch Republic opposed the idea of a Franco-Spanish power block. And they went to war to prevent it.

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Hesitant start

Battle of Vigo Bay, 23 October 1702. Netherlands, c. 1705

When war broke out, the Republic’s stadholder, William III, was also king of England. Naturally, the two countries would be expected to pursue a joint political and military policy. They concluded a Grand Alliance with the Habsburg empire, Prussia and various German principalities. Gradually, a military force was assembled and in 1702 the army was ready to fight its first battle. In that same year, William III suddenly died following a riding accident. He left no children. The States of Holland took the opportunity to leave the position of stadholder vacant, and it remained vacant for many years.

In the first year of the war the Grand Alliance won a significant victory. An Anglo-Dutch fleet cornered the Franco-Spanish fleet in the bay of Vigo and captured a huge amount of gold, silver and treasure.

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War of attrition

Fireworks celebrating the Treaty of Utrecht, 1713. Daniël Stopendael after Daniël Marot I, 1713

Although only a small country, the Republic found itself in a major war. At its height, the Republic had 120,000 troops in the field. An unprecedented number. The Grand Alliance proved successful, but the battles were hard fought and bloody. When it became clear that the union of France and Spain would be averted, the British began to look for ways to end the war. They had achieved their aim. At the negotiations for the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 and later the Treaty of Rastatt, the British got what they wanted. For the Republic, the results were meagre. The Dutch gained the fortress town of Venlo. The exhausting war had left the country bankrupt. It was the last time that the Dutch Republic played a leading role in a Europe conflict.