Quadruple Alliance War

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The War of the Quadruple Alliance was a military conflict (1717–1720) in which the Kingdom of Spain fought against a four-power coalition of Great Britain , France , Austria and the Netherlands for supremacy in the Mediterranean . The conflict is seen as an example of how diplomacy and war complemented each other in the 18th century.

Prehistory: Triple Alliance 1717

Cardinal Alberoni

As a result of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714) Philip V was recognized as King of Spain, but the kingdom lost its Italian possessions in the Peace of Utrecht . The Duchy of Milan , Naples and the island of Sardinia fell to the House of Habsburg , while Sicily had to be ceded to Viktor Amadeus II from the House of Savoy .

First, however, it was a matter of strengthening the country weakened by the Thirteen Years' War. Cardinal Giulio Alberoni (1664–1752) stood out in particular . He had already initiated Philip V's marriage to Elisabeth Farnese (1692–1766) in 1714 and rose to become the Queen's personal advisor in the following years. In 1715 he even became prime minister. Under his leadership, the Spanish economy stabilized and the financial system was reformed. Alberoni also created a new fleet (with about 50  ships of the line in 1718) and improved the military system.

Philip V already had three sons from his first marriage and so it was Elisabeth Farnese's declared goal to provide her children with duchies in Italy. Alberoni and Philip V support them in this because they too wanted to restore Spain's old greatness. Spain therefore made claims on Sicily and Sardinia .

In France, since the death of Louis XIV (1715), the Duke of Orleans ruled as Prince Regent for the child king Louis XV. Since Spanish inheritance claims to the French throne existed if the young Louis were to die prematurely, the regent needed the support of Great Britain, which was interested in preventing the Bourbon monarchies from merging. The Netherlands also saw itself threatened by the Spanish expansionist efforts. On January 4th, 1717, these powers formed the Triple Alliance diplomatically to oppose Spain.

Course of the war

Hostilities up to the formation of the London Quadruple Alliance in 1718

Philip V, King of Spain

When Austria joined Venice in the war against the Turks from 1716 , Spain saw the time to act had come. Without paying attention to the opposition of the Triple Alliance, around 8,000 Spanish troops landed on Sardinia in November 1717. The Austrian reaction was weak, as the army was tied up in the Balkans and the President of the Court War Council, Prince Eugene of Savoy (1683–1736), wanted to avoid the outbreak of a great war in Italy. He only ensured a reinforcement of the defensive forces in the Habsburg Naples, which was also seen as threatened.

The powers of the Triple Alliance tried to broker a peace between the Habsburgs and the Ottomans so that Austria was able to concentrate its armed forces against Spain. On July 21, 1718 the Peace of Passarowitz was concluded and on August 2, 1718 Austria joined the alliance, which thus became a quadruple alliance. This alliance was a state treaty that was supposed to guarantee the balance of European powers. Emperor Charles VI. renounced his claims to the Spanish throne, consented to the exchange of Sicily for Sardinia and declared himself ready to allow a Spanish-Bourbon dynasty in Italy. These decisions now had to be enforced against Spain. For this purpose, the conditions were sent to the court in Madrid and, in the event of refusal, threatened with a declaration of war.

Fighting in 1718

Battle of Capo Pássero, painting by Richard Paton , 1767

On July 3, 1718, a Spanish army landed in Sicily, which at that time still belonged to Savoy. The Spaniards had taken Palermo and then occupied the whole island. The only exception was Messina , which only surrendered to the besiegers on September 30, 1718. The dissatisfaction of the Sicilian population with the Savoyard government served as a pretext for this invasion. Negotiations with Savoy, even an anti-Habsburg alliance, were initiated. Alberoni suggested to Duke Viktor Amadeus II to take joint action against Austria and then to divide the conquered territories.

Great Britain then sent a strong squadron under Admiral George Byng to the Mediterranean to protect British trade. In Naples, Byng came to an understanding with the Austrian viceroy Wirich Philipp Count Daun , who informed him that an Austrian army should soon take action against Sicily. In order to make this possible, naval rule first had to be achieved. Byng searched the waters for the Spanish fleet and finally found them on August 11, 1718 off Cape Passaro on the southern tip of Sicily. In the subsequent naval battle off Cape Passaro, he provoked the Spanish under Admiral Antonio Castaneta to attack and finally destroyed their fleet. Spain lost a substantial part of its power, as it could no longer supply its troops in Sardinia and Sicily unhindered.

In the meantime a small Austrian army had gathered in Naples. In autumn 1718 it crossed to Sicily, which the emperor had been assured of as property under the provisions of the Quadruple Alliance. But even with these troops, only a small bridgehead could be held around Milazzo .

On December 17, 1718, Spain finally rejected the terms of the alliance, whereupon Britain officially declared war on Spain. The struggle spread to the Spanish colonies in South America , where Britain was trying to gain an advantage.

Fighted in 1719 until the peace was made

Florimund Claudius, Count Mercy (1666–1734)

Around the turn of the year France officially entered the war after a plot by the Spanish ambassador in Paris against the Duke of Orleans was uncovered. In order to assert itself against Spain, a French army under Marshal Berwick marched across the Pyrenees into the Basque Country in the spring of 1719 , but had to withdraw again in November because of the poor supply situation. Another advance to Catalonia , in which Fuenterrabia , La Seu d'Urgell and San Sebastián could initially be conquered, was finally repulsed by the Spaniards; Elisabeth Farnese is said to have put herself at the head of a Spanish division. In the American colonies, the French troops were able to take Pensacola (Florida) in Spain .

In the course of 1719 the Austrians succeeded in recapturing Sicily. Since Prince Eugene of Savoy refused to take over the supreme command, Count Mercy (1666-1734) commanded the troops. He initially attacked the Spanish camp at Francavilla on June 21 without result and later won a battle at Milazzo . He then retook Messina and finally stood before Palermo.

The pressure exerted by the British fleet on Spanish trade was felt there. In order to weaken Great Britain, Spain supported the Scottish Jacobites in their independence movement. On March 6, 1719, a Spanish fleet of around 5000 men (including the later Prussian Field Marshal James Keith ) left Cadiz to land on the west coast of Scotland. However, adverse weather conditions and the vigilance of the British fleet prevented the expedition from being successful. In the following month another fleet was dispatched from A Coruña , which included 300 Spanish soldiers. This landed under George Keith , the Scottish Earl Marischal , at Eilean Donan Castle on the Scottish west coast. In June of that year the small force (reinforced by 1,000 Scots) was defeated in the battle of Glenshiel . In a counter-action, the British landed a small force of 4,000 men in Galicia in September and October .

After the Netherlands also entered the war in August 1719, it became apparent that Spain could not face the overwhelming odds of the Quadruple Alliance. The government in Madrid tried to negotiate. However, the allies previously stipulated that Cardinal Alberoni must be dismissed before a peace treaty was signed. On December 5, 1719, Alberoni was relieved of all his offices and asked to leave the country within three weeks. As a result, the Treaty of The Hague was concluded on February 20, 1720, which ended the war. In Sicily, the fighting ceased shortly afterwards through the Palermo Convention .


Elisabetta Farnese

Philip V of Spain had to evacuate all conquered territories. The son of Elisabeth Farneses, Karl (1716–1788), however, was awarded the duchies of Parma , Piacenza and Tuscany , which should fall to him after the male Farnese line soon died out (at this point a new war against Great Britain should ignite in 1727 .) The colony of Pensacola was also returned to Spain from France.

The Habsburgs renounced Sardinia and were awarded Sicily in return. In return, Charles VI. but have to renounce his claims to the Spanish throne. Viktor Amadeus of Savoy, however, was recognized as King of Sardinia. This was the hour of birth of the Kingdom of Sardinia .

In a sense, the Quadruple Alliance War was just a continuation of the War of the Spanish Succession, in which many questions about the power situation in the Mediterranean remained unanswered. It was not until the Palermo Convention that the situation became clear. Spain was able to free itself from political isolation in the following years and even bring Naples and Sicily under its rule in the War of the Polish Succession (1733–1738).