War of the Quadruple Alliance

Annie Lee | Jan 9, 2024

Table of Content


The War of the Quadruple Alliance, in German: Krieg der Quadrupelallianz, in Spanish: Guerra de la Cuádruple Alianza, in English: War of the Quadruple Alliance, took place between 1718 and 1720.

The ruler of the Spanish Kingdom of Bourbon launched a war to regain his possessions in Italy lost in the War of the Spanish Succession, to restore Spanish hegemony in the Mediterranean and to revise the Treaty of Utrecht. Great Britain, the Kingdom of France, the Dutch Republic and the Duchy of Savoy formed the Quadruple Alliance to oppose the Spanish invasion.

Fighting had already begun in 1717, but formal war declarations were not sent until December 1718. The alliance's superior strength forced Spain to retreat, and the war ended with the 1720 Treaty of The Hague, under which Spain renounced its wartime conquests and essentially restored the pre-war situation. The House of Savoy was given Sardinia instead of Sicily, and the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont was created.

The system of the Treaty of Utrecht

In the Treaties of Utrecht and Rastatt, which ended the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), the European powers recognised the French Royal Prince Philip of Bourbon, Duke of Anjou, grandson of King Louis XIV of France, as King of Spain. Under the treaty, however, the Kingdom of Spain lost all its possessions in Italy. The Duchy of Milan, the Kingdom of Naples and the island of Sardinia were acquired by the House of Habsburg of Austria. The Kingdom of Sicily was awarded to the House of Savoy, i.e. to Prince Victor Amade II of Savoy, who took the title of King of Sicily.

Spain's revision plans

Spain, weakened by 13 years of war, is united under the new King V. In early 1714, Philip was widowed. His second marriage (late 1714) to the ambitious Princess Elisabeth Farnese of Parma (1692-1766) was arranged by the equally ambitious Cardinal Giulio Alberoni (1664-1752). Alberoni became a personal adviser to the Queen, and in 1715 the King appointed him Chief Minister. Alberoni, who ruled with a strong hand, successfully reformed the state's finances and stabilised the Spanish economy, also drawing on French advisers. The Cardinal strengthened the army and by 1718 he had raised a new Spanish navy of some 50 ships of the line.

Philip V already had 3 sons from his first marriage. The children by his second wife had little chance of succeeding to the Spanish throne. The new queen from Parma therefore insisted that the king should obtain duchies in Italy for his own children. The queen's demand met the plans of the king and Cardinal Alberoni, who wanted to restore Spain's lost power. Spain therefore announced its claim to Sicily and Sardinia, which had been the possessions of Habsburg Austria since the Treaty of Utrecht.

The formation of the triple alliance

Since the death of King Louis XIV of France (1715), France had been ruled by the five-year-old King Louis XV of France, in whose name Prince Philip (II) of Orléans ruled as regent. The child-king, who was in poor health, was the great-grandson of Louis XIV, King Louis V. He was the nephew of King Philip of Spain. In the event of his death, the French throne could have been claimed by the Spanish Bourbons. The regent therefore enjoyed the support of Britain, which was determined to prevent the unification of the two Bourbon monarchies at all costs. Spanish expansionist plans were also seen as threatening by the Dutch Republic. On 4 January 1717, these three powers concluded a triple alliance to take joint diplomatic action against Spain.

The outbreak of fighting

In 1714, war broke out between the Republic of Venice and the Ottoman Empire. In 1716, the Habsburg Empire entered the war on the side of Venice. The new Habsburg-Turkish War (1716-1718) began.

Spain has seized the opportunity. Ignoring the protests of the Triple Alliance, in November 1717, 8,000 Spanish troops landed on the island of Sardinia, part of the Habsburg Empire. Austria responded little, as the bulk of the Habsburg forces were engaged in the Balkans, and Prince Jenő Savoy (1683-1736), President of the War Council of Vienna, wanted to avoid a more serious war with Italy. He only reinforced the forces of the Kingdom of Naples under Habsburg control, because he considered that a Spanish offensive could threaten Naples.

The formation of the Quad Alliance

The Spanish invasion of Sardinia has put Austria in a situation of emergency. The members of the triple alliance tried to persuade the Ottoman Empire and the opposing states to make peace, so that the Habsburg Empire could deploy its forces against Spain as soon as possible. Jenő Savoy's victories had also led to a desire for a settlement at the Turkish Gate. With British and Dutch mediation, the Treaty of Posenevac was finally concluded on 21 July 1718, allowing Austria to retain all its conquests. The Timisoara, Banat, the western half of the Wallachian Plain and the northern part of Serbia, together with Belgrade, fell to the Habsburgs, and the Venetian Republic finally acquired the Morea peninsula.

Cardinal Guillaume Dubois, French Minister General, worked hard to expand the military alliance. On 2 August 1718, the Treaty of London created the Quadruple Alliance. Emperor Charles VI joined the Triple Alliance on behalf of the German-Roman Empire. The treaty also provided for the participation of the Dutch Republic, but it only joined later, on 16 February 1719. The member states of the alliance declared that their main objective was to ensure a balance of power in Europe. The Emperor was willing to renounce his claim to the Spanish throne in exchange for the retention of the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily, agreed to exchange Sardinia for Sicily and indicated his willingness to accept the presence of the Spanish House of Bourbon in Italy. The terms of the alliance were sent to Madrid, with the warning that if Spain did not accept them, she would face a declaration of war from the alliance.

War events in 1718

However, on 3 July 1718, the fleet of King Philip V of Spain landed in Sicily, which was then in the possession of the House of Savoy under the Treaty of Utrecht. Spanish troops took Palermo on 7 July and soon occupied the whole island. Messina was besieged and the fortress held out for a long time, only to be captured in September 1718. The Spanish invasion was officially justified on the grounds that the Sicilian population was dissatisfied with the Savoy government. Cardinal Alberoni started negotiations with the Duchy of Savoy, trying to persuade Prince Victor Amade II to join in a joint anti-Hapsburg action, offering him a share of the conquered territories. The cautious Victor Amadé negotiated with the Spanish throughout, but postponed the alliance until the war was over.

Britain, under the command of Admiral George Byng, then sent a strong naval force (22 ships of the line and 6 smaller units with 1,444 guns) to the western Mediterranean, "to protect British commercial interests." From the Austrian Viceroy of Naples, General Wirich Philipp von Daun, Byng learned that a Habsburg force was about to be launched to retake Sicily. The crossing had to be secured. On 11 August 1718, near Cape Passero, at the south-eastern tip of Sicily, he came across the Spanish fleet (23 ships, 7 smaller units, 1,096 guns) under the command of the Basque Admiral Antonio de Gaztañeta (Castaneta). As no declaration of war had yet been made, Byng cleverly provoked Castaneta. The Spanish fired first, and in the ensuing naval battle the British fleet (Byng's official report was 'in self-defence') smashed the Spanish force (10 ships and 4 frigates captured, 4 ships sunk), breaking the Spanish navy's strength and making it difficult to resupply Spanish troops in Sardinia and Sicily.

The small Hapsburg army concentrated in Naples was transferred by British ships to Sicily in the autumn of 1718 to recapture it for the Emperor, as decided by the Quadruple Alliance. The troops were landed on 13 October near Milazzo (45 km west of Messina). On 15 October 1718, Wirich von Daun's troops launched an attack against the Spanish troops of the Marquis of Lede, but were repulsed at the first battle of Milazzo. The Austrians, supported by the British fleet from the sea, held the fortress of Milazzo, but were unable to break out of the bridgehead held by the Spanish siege.

On 17 December 1718, Spain finally rejected the terms of the Quadruple Alliance, and Britain sent a formal declaration of war. The war extended to the Spanish colonies in South America, where the British were trying to gain a foothold. By the end of 1718, Britain and the Habsburg Empire were at war with Spain (the Netherlands did not join the war until August 1719).

War events in 1719

In December 1718, the men of Cardinal Dubois, the French foreign minister, uncovered a noble conspiracy led from Spain to depose Philip Regent of Orléans. In his place, as guardian of the child Louis XV, was to be King Philip V of Spain. The "Cellamare plot" was organised by the Spanish ambassador, Antonio del Giudice, Duke of Cellamare, and supported by influential members of the French court, mainly the legitimate descendants of Louis XIV of the Balcéz, enemies of the House of Orléans. The Regent put an end to the conspiracy and the French participants were imprisoned in the Bastille. Prince Cellamare was arrested and expelled from the country.

On 27 December 1718, the regent declared war on Spain. A show of force followed: in April 1719, a French army of 20,000 men, led by the Duke of Berwick, Marshal, invaded the Basque Country through the Pyrenees. On 18 June, they captured Fuenterrabía, and on 17 August, Pasajes and San Sebastián. Another column pushed into Catalonia, capturing Seo de Urgell (Catalan: La Seu d'Urgell) Philip V's troops were concentrated in Pamplona. His commander, the Duke Francisco Pío de Saboya y Moura, Marquis of Castel-Rodrigo and military governor of Barcelona, launched a successful counter-attack, during which he succeeded in recapturing Fuenterrabía. Legend has it that Queen Elizabeth of Farnese herself rode into the fray and personally led a Spanish division into battle. In fact, the French advance was halted by supply problems.

The French fleet launched an attack on the port town of Santoña in Cantabria, destroying the port installations and the fort's artillery.

In 1719, the Austrians launched a new counter-offensive in Sicily. As Jenő Savoyai refused to take command, the Habsburg army in Italy was led by Count Claudius Florimund Mercy, a general-general (Claude Florimond de Mercy in French, 1666-1734) from Lorraine. On 20 June, the Count of Mercy launched an attack against the main Spanish force camped near Francavilla di Sicilia, but was defeated at the Battle of Francavilla. However, the Marquis de Lede was unable to capitalise on his victory. Cut off from the mainland by the British fleet, his supplies were running low. Mercy's troops were victorious in the second battle of Milazzo, retook Messina in October and laid siege to Palermo.

In Spain, under blockade by the British navy, Cardinal Alberoni wanted to use the Scottish Jacobite independence movement to weaken Britain. The Duke of Ormonde, exiled from Ireland, sailed from Cadiz on 6 March 1719 with a fleet of 5,000 Spanish soldiers. Among them was James Keith, son of the 9th Earl of Marishal. The expeditionary force was to launch and support a major Scottish uprising to overthrow King George I. In his place would have been James Stuart, son of the deposed English King James II, the Jacobite pretender to the throne, 'Old Pretender'. They had intended to land on the west coast of Scotland, but a storm scattered them off the coast of Galicia and they never reached the British Isles.

A month later, a small expedition set out from La Coruña with 300 Spanish soldiers, led by James Keith's brother George Keith, 10th Earl of Marischal. They landed successfully at the castle of Eilean Donan, where they were joined by 1,000 Scottish warriors. In June, however, they were defeated by English troops at the Battle of Glenshill.

In September 1719, 4,000 British soldiers landed in Galicia in retaliation for the attack on the British Isles. They captured the port of Vigo and then Pontevedra inland. The attack, far from the French border, caused great alarm and the Spanish government realised the vulnerability of the mainland.

In May 1719, French troops captured the Spanish city of Pensacola, West Florida, to prevent a Spanish attack on South Carolina. In August, the Spanish retook the city, but the French retook it at the end of the year.

In February 1720, a Spanish flotilla of 1200 soldiers, led by Captain José Cornejo, set sail from Cuba for the Bahamas. British warships were ordered to the port of Nassau (fearing a Spanish invasion). However, the Spanish detachment landed on the other side of the island and raided the area around Nassau. The militia of Woodes Rogers, the pirate-turned-governor, drove them off at the Battle of Nassau, and the Spanish returned home with their booty.

The end of the war

In August 1719, the Netherlands also entered the war on the side of the alliance. The Madrid government realised that it could not succeed against the superior strength of the four-power alliance and proposed negotiations. The first demand of the allies was that Philip V remove Cardinal Alberoni, the main man responsible for the war. On 5 December 1719, Alberoni was stripped of all his offices and ordered to leave Spain within three weeks. Peace negotiations then began, resulting in the signing of the Peace Treaty of The Hague on 20 February 1720, which ended the war in Western Europe. The fighting in Sicily only ended later, after a separate agreement (known as the Convention of Palermo). In May 1720, the Marquis of Lede's troops evacuated Sicily and Sardinia.

King Philip V of Spain had to evacuate all the territory he had occupied. At the same time, Elizabeth of Farnese's son, Infante Charles (1716-1788), was promised the Duchies of Parma and Piacenza and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany if the House of Farnese died out in the male line. (The Duke Antonio Farnese (1679-1731), who ruled Parma, was childless and in the event of his death his niece, Princess Elisabeth Farnese, Queen of Spain, would inherit the dukedom.) This happened in 1731, and Prince Charles became Duke of Parma and Piacenza for a short period from 1731 to 1735. Before that, however, there was the Anglo-Spanish War (1727-1729).

The city of Pensacola in West Florida, which changed hands several times during the war, was destroyed by French troops and returned to Spain.

The Habsburgs gave up Sardinia in exchange for the much richer and strategically more important Sicily. In return, Charles VI had to renounce his claim to the Spanish throne. However, the cleverly manoeuvring Prince Victor II Amadeus of Savoy was granted Sardinia by the Emperor and recognised as King of Sardinia. Thus was born the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont, which in the next century brought the whole of Italy under its rule.

To some extent, the War of the Quadruple Alliance can be seen as a continuation of the War of the Spanish Succession, since the relations of power in the Mediterranean were not clarified by the Treaty of Utrecht, but only by the 1720 Convention of Palermo. In the following years, Spain broke out of its diplomatic isolation. Taking advantage of the War of the Polish Succession (1733-1738), in 1735 Philip V even acquired the Kingdom of Naples and the Kingdom of Sicily for Elizabeth Farnese's eldest son, the Infante Charles (in return, Spain had to relinquish the Duchy of Parma, which was only regained in 1748, in the War of the Austrian Succession, when Philip V was forced to give up the Duchy of Parma to the Austrian Crown in 1748). Philip and Elizabeth of Farnese's younger son, Infante Philip).


  1. War of the Quadruple Alliance
  2. A négyes szövetség háborúja
  3. Leopold Joseph von Daun császári tábornagy apja.
  4. James Francis Edward Keith, németesen Jakob von Keith (1696–1758), skót főnemes, Marischal earl-jének második fia, később porosz tábornagy, Nagy Frigyes hadvezére a hétéves háborúban.
  5. ^ Fra questi era presente anche il futuro feldmaresciallo prussiano James Keith
  6. Parmi ceux-ci est présent le futur feld-maréchal prussien James Keith.
  7. Rudolf Lill: Geschichte Italiens vom 16. Jahrhundert bis zu den Anfängen des Faschismus. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1980, ISBN 3-534-06746-0. S. 33.
  8. Die Stellungen der verfeindeten Truppen und ihrer Artillerie sind auf der Kupferstichkarte "Milazzo Olim Mylae, Munitissimum Siciliae Castellum adversus Hispanos ..." von Matthäus Seutter detailliert dargestellt.

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