Christopher Storrs. The Resilience of the Spanish Monarchy, 1665-1700. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2006. ISBN 978-0-19-924637-3. Maps. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xv, 271. $155.00.
Historians have traditionally seen Habsburg Spain as a declining Great Power in the late seventeenth century. Why? In 1659, Philip IV of Spain (1621-1665) concluded the Peace of the Pyrenees with France, ending four decades of conflict, including the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) and Franco-Spanish War (1635-1659). France had replaced Spain as the dominant power in Europe. Six years later, after the death of Philip IV, the four-year-old Carlos II and a regency government reigned over the Spanish Empire. Louis XIV of France launched the War of Devolution and invaded the Spanish Netherlands, Franche Comté, and Catalonia in 1667-1668. Spanish military weakness resulted in the Spanish monarchy having to accept Portuguese independence after a twenty-eight year war in 1668. France once again invaded the Spanish Netherlands and Franche Comté during the Dutch War (1672-1678), with Spain losing more territory in the Peace of Nijmegen. Spain then lost more land to France in the War of Reunions (1683-1684). Spain continued to lose territory in the Spanish Netherlands and Italy during the Nine Years War (1688-1697). Louis XIV of France and William III of the Maritime Powers were ready to carve up the perceived weak Spanish Empire in the Partition Treaties of 1698 and 1700. The Spanish monarchy under the Habsburg Carlos II was a shadow of its former self.
Dr Christopher Storrs, a Reader in History at the University of Dundee in Scotland, takes issue with past discussions of the decline of Spain in the late seventeenth century. Storrs is known for War, Diplomacy and the Rise of Savoy, 1690-1720 (1999) and numerous journal articles on Spanish foreign policy and military power during the reign of Carlos II, as well as the editor of The Fiscal-Military State in Eighteenth-Century Europe (2009). In the study under review the author argues that “the Monarchy inherited by Carlos II in 1665 remained largely intact on his death in 1700, was still the largest of the European overseas empires, and was even growing” (p.7). Spain had lost some territory in the late seventeenth century, but these losses were small chunks of land. Storrs professes that the major loss of territory, especially parts of the Spanish Empire in Europe (the Low Countries and Italy) was the consequence of Bourbon Spain’s participation in the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713/14). He stresses that these losses came under the leadership of the Bourbon King of Spain, Philip V, the grandson of Louis XIV.
Storrs examines Spain and its empire in the later seventeenth century. The author notes that revisionist historians have focused on Spanish politics, economics, and society during the last thirty years. He believes that they have failed to examine the larger picture of Spain and its security commitments to empire. Storrs, looking at the Spanish Empire, focusing mainly on Europe, explores the Spanish army, navy, finances, along with politics and government. He shows that Carlos II and his ministers concentrated on maintaining the security of the Spanish Empire. As a result, Spain joined anti-French coalitions to oppose the aggressive actions of Louis XIV. Storrs argues that historians have underestimated the important role played by Spain in the Wars of Louis XIV. He stresses that the Spanish Monarchy was the only power to simultaneously deploy forces to fight in Flanders, the Lower Rhine, Lombardy, and Catalonia. Sometimes these forces were not successful. But, with this military and naval commitment, Spain expected to play have a say in peace negotiations. Storrs does note that the strain of war shaped Spanish politics and society towards the end of the seventeenth century. Even so, the Spanish monarchy was successful in keeping the Spanish Empire in Europe and abroad largely intact.
This study is based on archival research in Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Storrs’ work is valuable for bringing to light the state of Spain’s army, navy, and finances during the reign of Carlos II. Historians have ignored the role that Spain played in international relations during this era for too long. This reviewer strongly recommends this work to students and scholars interested in early modern war and diplomacy, especially the Wars of Louis XIV.
Dr William Young
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota