Charles VI., emperor of Germany, and a pretender to the throne of Spain under the title of Charles III., the second son of the emperor Leopold I., and the last in the male line of the pure Hapsburg family, born Oct. 1, 1685, died Oct. 20, 1740. He was brought up in the expectation of succeeding to the Spanish throne, which he should by right have inherited from the childless Charles 11., the reigning Hapsburg king. But the latter becoming ill, the question of the succession began to occupy the attention of several of the European governments, and became a subject of intrigue especially for the reigning families of France and Bavaria, both of which claimed the right to the inheritance through their descent in the female line; Louis XIV. being, like Leopold I., the son of a daughter of Philip III., and the Bavarian prince Joseph Ferdinand being a grand-nephew of Charles II. through Maria Antonia, daughter of the Spanish king's sister. The complications resulting from these various claims were somewhat simplified by the sudden death of Joseph Ferdinand in February, 1699, which left the French king untrammelled in his efforts to secure recognition of his alleged rights over the throne of Spain. The marquis d'Harcourt, Louis XIV.'s ambassador at Madrid, outmanoeuvred Count Harrach, the German emissary, completely gained the ear of Charles II., and finally induced him to make a will declaring Philip of Anjou, the second grandson of Louis, to be heir to the Spanish throne, and confirming him and his heirs in the right of succession This will was dated Oct. 2, 1700. On Nov. 1 Charles II. died at the capital, and 12 days later Louis XIV. declared that on the part of his grandson he accepted the possession of the kingdom of Spain. Philip, under the title of Philip V., was crowned at once, and at first met with no opposition, being recognized by all the European rulers excepting the emperor Leopold. But in the autumn of the next year, seeing renewed cause to fear Louis's encroachments, England and Holland decided to sustain the claims of Charles. On Sept. 7, 1701, a triple alliance was signed at the Hague between these two powers and Austria; and in 1702-'3 Prussia, the German empire, and Portugal joined the coalition.
In 1703 Charles was proclaimed at Vienna king of the Spanish monarchy, under the title of Charles III. He went by way of Holland to England, whence he set sail with 12,000 men for Spain, nearly all parts of which were now held by the French. He landed at Lisbon, and with the assistance of the Portuguese attempted to invade Spain on its western frontier, but was repulsed by the duke of Berwick. In Catalonia and Valencia, on the opposite side of the peninsula, the population was supposed to be better inclined toward him; and in 1705, Peterborough having arrived at Lisbon with reenforcements from England, Charles embarked with his suite on the British fleet and sailed for the Mediterranean. Valencia received him with favor, and siege was laid to Barcelona, which was compelled by the genius and enterprise of Peterborough to surrender in October. Eight months later the English under the earl of Galway took Madrid, where Charles was again proclaimed king in June, 1700; but he remained at Barcelona and refused to go in person to receive the homage of his subjects at the capital, because he had not the equipage and retinue that he considered proper - an action very characteristic of the man.
The war had now assumed a doubtful aspect, each side winning victories and experiencing defeat, and the capital twice changing hands between the contending armies. Charles personally manifested, or was permitted, but little activity. He remained shut up in Barcelona until the death of his brother the emperor Joseph, who had in 1705 succeeded Leopold, recalled him in 1711 to Germany. Charles now came into possession of all the countries that had been ruled by his father, which changed at once the whole aspect of affairs. Those of the great powers who had entered the war to prevent the accumulation of too great possessions in the hands of the French king, now feared a similar massing of power under the government of Charles; and after the latter's coronation as emperor, which took place at Frankfort in December, 1711, they began, at first through secret negotiations and afterward openly, to withdraw from his support in the matter of the Spanish crown. Charles at first attempted with some success, with the assistance of Prince Eugene, to carry on the war in the Netherlands; but when in 1713 his former allies made peace with France by the treaty of Utrecht, and when the princes of the empire during the following year manifested the greatest reluctance to give him the aid he needed in his plans, he found himself compelled to yield, and concluded the peace of Rastadt in 1714, abandoning his chief claims, and securing only the Spanish possessions in the Netherlands and Italy. In this way terminated the war of the Spanish succession, which for more than 12 years had agitated all western Europe, and had employed the most famous military leaders of the time. - In 1715 Charles undertook the defence of the Venetian republic against the Turks, who had declared war against it, and Prince Eugene gained during the campaigns which followed the decisive victories of Peterwardein (Aug. 5, 1716) and Belgrade (Aug. 16, 1717), besides numerous minor successes.
In 1718 the war was ended by the peace of Passarowitz, by the terms of which Belgrade, northern Servia, and parts of Slavonia, Bosnia, and Wallachia were added to the imperial dominions. But Charles had only terminated one conflict because he found himself engaged in another. The Spaniards attacked Sicily, and sought to win back the Italian possessions they had conveyed to Charles at Rastadt. In repelling this attempt the emperor gained the alliance of England, France, and Holland; and the war made against these combined forces was of short duration. An English fleet drove the Spanish troops from Sicily, and after the fall of the Spanish minister Cardinal Alberoni, to whose schemes the conflict owed its origin, peace was made in 1720. By the death of his only son, Charles had been led to turn his attention to the question of the Austrian succession. Anxious to hand down his realms to his immediate descendants, he had in 1713 issued his pragmatic sanction, authorizing the transmission of the powers of his family through the female line, and appointing his daughter Maria Theresa as his successor.
The consent of the daughter of his brother Joseph and of the princes of the empire was easily obtained; but France refused to recognize the new law, as did also Bavaria and Saxony, to the heirs of whose thrones Joseph's two daughters were married. To obtain the support of the principal European states in this matter now became one of the chief aims of Charles. His persistent efforts for some years failed to produce any decisive result, but in 1725 he succeeded in gaining the alliance of Spain. A coalition for opposition to his plan was now formed by England, France, Denmark, and Holland; and when Charles had been successively joined by Russia and Prussia, whose support he purchased by immense sacrifices of territory and privileges, all the leading powers of Europe stood in two opposing parties. A great war seemed imminent, when through the intervention of the pope an arrangement was brought about, and signed at Vienna, March 16, 1731, by which, at the cost of still greater concessions on the part of the emperor, the pragmatic sanction was at last recognized by all.
Spain's consent was purchased by the cession of Tuscany, Parma, and Piacenza; France was conciliated by the promise of Lorraine; England and Holland by the abolition of the commercial society of Ostend; and Augustus II. of Poland and Saxony, by the assurance of the succession to the crown of Poland of his son Augustus III. In accordance. with this last promise, Charles, upon the death of Augustus in 1733, declared at once for his descendant; and in this he was joined by Russia; but France, Spain, and Sardinia supported the claims of Stanislas Leszczynski, the former king, who still had a strong party in the country of which he had once lost the crown. A new war now broke out; but Charles was not long able to cope with the great force brought against him. Russia aided him but little; the French overran and conquered Milan, nearly all Lombardy, and all Lorraine; the Spaniards possessed themselves of Naples and Sicily; and in order to secure his end, and give the succession in Poland to Augustus III., at the preliminary peace of Vienna, Oct. 3, 1735, he was obliged to permanently abandon all these portions of his territory.
Equal misfortune attended him in a war which in the next year he declared against the Turks. In the three years of its continuance he lost nearly all the conquests made in his last conflict with the sultan; and when, at the solicitation of Maria Theresa, peace was again restored by the treaty of Belgrade, Sept. 18, 1739, his power was at a lower ebb than ever before; his armies were entirely demoralized; the finances of the empire were in a state of the greatest possible confusion; and the influence of the Hapsburgs had almost disappeared in the affairs of Europe.