State Papers Online: Eighteenth Century, 1714-1782, Part III: Western Europe is the newest addition to the extensive State Papers Online archive. Part III provides primary source material from the Catholic courts of Spain, Portugal and France, as well as from smaller states of Italy and the Mediterranean, bringing together a huge variety of people, places and events. Great powers and small Republics, border skirmishes and arguably – in the Seven Years’ War – the first global conflict, monarchs, spies and merchants; all are part of the network of information and politics centring on the British Secretaries of State in Whitehall, and through them, the King.
When reading through some documents contained within the State Papers’ SP94 (Spain) series recently, I was struck by some parallels between early-eighteenth century diplomatic relations and those of our current post-‘Brexit’ times. There is palpable tension in Anglo-Spanish relations from the letters exchanged between British Ambassador to Spain Paul Methuen and James Stanhope, Secretary of State for the Southern Department.
More broadly, this was a time of flux for European relations, with 1713 marking the end of what has been termed the first ‘global’ war: the War of Spanish Succession. Lasting for thirteen years, the war placed greater strain on European ties. Developing from a dispute over the succession of the Spanish throne when King Carlos II died childless in 1700 (leaving the Bourbon, Philippe Duc d’Anjou as his heir), England, Austria, and the Dutch Republic could not countenance a Franco-Spanish alliance dominating Europe. They therefore rejected the proposed succession by declaring war. After a thirteen-year campaign, the 1713 treaty concluding the war confirmed the succession of Philippe as Felipe V of Spain. As those letters show though, this succession prompted a re-evaluation of Anglo-Spanish trade arrangement.
On Wednesday night the BBC premiered Canal+’s lavish new period drama, Versailles. Always a sucker for period dramas, I looked forward to this one especially as I had no idea of the plot beforehand so the drama was a complete surprise, and I had very fond memories of a trip to the real Versailles as a student. Home of Louis XIV, the Sun King, Versailles was the seat of French government for most of the 18th Century, and if the TV show is to be believed, was the centre of much political intrigue.