What had bowed the pride of Lewis to the humiliating terms of the Peace of Ryswick was not so much the exhaustion of France as the need of preparing for a new and greater struggle. The death of the King of Spain, Charles the Second, was known to be at hand; and with him ended the male line, of the Austrian princes, who for two hundred years had occupied the Spanish throne. How strangely Spain had fallen from its high estate in Europe the wars of Lewis had abundantly shown, but so vast was the extent of its empire, so enormous the resources which still remained to it, that under a vigorous ruler men believed its old power would at once return. Its sovereign was still master of some of the noblest provinces of the Old World and the New, of Spain itself, of the Milanese, of Naples and Sicily, of the Netherlands, of Southern America, of the noble islands of the Spanish Main. To add such a dominion as this to the dominion either of Lewis or of the Emperor would be to undo at a blow the work of European independence which William had wrought; and it was with a view to prevent either of these results that William freed his hands by the Peace of Ryswick. At this moment the claimants of the Spanish succession were three: the French Dauphin, a son of the Spanish King's elder sister; the Electoral Prince of Bavaria, a grandson of his younger sister; and the Emperor, who was a son of Charles's aunt.
In strict law - if there had been any law really applicable to the matter - the claim of the last was the strongest of the three; for the claim of the Dauphin was barred by an express renunciation of all right to the succession at his mother's marriage with Lewis the Fourteenth, a renunciation which had been ratified at the Treaty of the Pyrenees; and a similar renunciation barred the claim of the Bavarian candidate. The claim of the Emperor was more remote in blood, but it was barred by no renunciation at all. William, however, was as resolute in the interests of Europe to repulse the claim of the Emperor as to repulse that of Lewis; and it was the consciousness that the Austrian succession was inevitable if the war continued and Spain remained a member of the Grand Alliance, in arms against France and leagued with the Emperor, which made him suddenly conclude the Peace of Ryswick. Had England and Holland shared William's temper he would have insisted on the succession of the Electoral Prince to the whole Spanish dominions. But both were weary of war. In England the peace was at once followed by the reduction of the army at the demand of the House of Commons to fourteen thousand men; and a clamour had already begun for the disbanding even of these.
[Authorities. - Lord Macaulay's great work, which practically ends at the Peace of Ryswick, has been continued by Lord Stanhope ("History of England under Queen Anne") during this period. For Marlborough himself the main authority must be the Duke's biography by Archdeacon Coxe, with his "Despatches." The French side of the war and negotiations has been carefully given by M. Martin ("Histoire de France") in what is the most accurate and judicious portion of his work. Swift's Journal to Stella, and his political tracts and Bolingbroke's correspondence shew the character of the Tory opposition].
It was necessary to bribe the two rival claimants to a waiver of their claims; and by the First Partition Treaty, concluded in 1698, between England, Holland, and France, the succession of the Electoral Prince was recognized on condition of the cession by Spain of its Italian possessions to his two rivals. The Milanese was to pass to the Emperor; the Two Sicilies, with the border province of Guipuzcoa, to France. But the arrangement was hardly concluded when the death of the Bavarian prince made the Treaty waste paper. Austria and France were left face to face, and a terrible struggle, in which the success of either would be equally fatal to the independence of Europe, seemed unavoidable. The peril was greater that the temper of England left William without the means of backing his policy by arms. The suffering which the war had caused to the merchant class, and the pressure of the debt and taxation it entailed, were waking every day a more bitter resentment in the people, and the general discontent avenged itself on William and the party who had backed his policy. The King's natural partiality to his Dutch favourites, the confidence he gave to Sunderland, his cold and sullen demeanour, his endeavours to maintain the standing army, robbed him of popularity.
In the elections held at the close of 1698 a Tory majority pledged to peace was returned to the House of Commons. The Junto lost all hold on the new Parliament. The resignation of Montague and Russell was followed by the dismissal of the Whig ministry, and Somers and his friends were replaced by an administration composed of moderate Tories, with lords Rochester and Godolphin as its leading members. The fourteen thousand men who still remained in the army were cut down to seven. William's earnest entreaty could not turn the Parliament from its resolve to send his Dutch guards out of the country. The navy, which had numbered forty thousand sailors during the war, was cut down to eight. How much William's hands were weakened by this peace-temper of England was shown by the Second Partition Treaty which was concluded between the two maritime powers and France. The demand of Lewis that the Netherlands should be given to the Elector of Bavaria, whose political position left him a puppet in the French King's hands, was resisted.
Spain, the Netherlands, and the Indies were assigned to the second son of the Emperor, the Archduke Charles of Austria. But the whole of the Spanish territories in Italy were now granted to France; and it was provided that Milan should be exchanged for Lorraine, whose Duke was to be summarily transferred to the new Duchy. If the Emperor persisted in his refusal to come into the Treaty, the share of his son was to pass to another unnamed prince, who was probably the Duke of Savoy.