Claim to the Spanish Throne
In 1700, when the ruler of Spain, Charles II, died childless, Charles staked claim to the Spanish throne, as both the monarchies belonged to the House of Habsburg/Austria, the most influential royal family of Europe. However, before his death, Charles II had named Philip of Anjou-Bourbon, grandson of King Louis XIV of France, as his successor.
In November 1700, Philip was declared ruler of Spain, which led to the 14-year-long ‘War of Spanish Succession.’ Charles had the support of rulers of Portugal, England, Scotland, Ireland, and also the ‘Holy Roman Empire.’ With military support from the British, Charles attacked Spain in 1704, and unsuccessfully announced himself as the King. He received support only in Catalonia and had his capital at Barcelona, where he continued for next 6 years.
Reign as Holy Roman Emperor
In 1711, when Charles’s elder brother Holy Roman Emperor, Joseph I, died, Charles returned to Vienna as the new Holy Roman Emperor. As the British Kingdom was not in favor of the unification of two states (Spain & Austria), they withdrew from the ‘War of Spanish Succession.’ The war ended with the ‘Treaty of Utrecht’ (1713), which was signed between France and allied countries, England, and Holland. According to the treaty, Philip V was recognized as King of Spain, while Charles received territories in Italy (Kingdom of Naples, Duchy of Milan, Kingdoms of Sardinia, and Austrian Netherlands) in place of Spain.
Charles continued the war, which finally ended in 1714 with the ‘Treaty of Rastatt’ between France and Austria. A third treaty, the ‘Treaty of Baden,’ was later signed in Switzerland to end the hostilities between France and the Holy Roman Empire.
On August 1, 1708, Charles married Elisabeth Christine, the eldest daughter of Louis Rudolph, the Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. The marriage took place at Barcelona, but he wasn’t present at the ceremony (married by proxy). The couple had 4 children: 1st born Leopold Johann (Born 1716), who died in infancy; Maria Theresa (born 1717)- the Archduchess of Austria and heiress of Habsburg Family rule; second daughter Maria Anna (born 1718), and the last, Maria Amalia (born 1724), who died in childhood at 6.
According to the Habsburg family (ruled by Salic law), female offspring were not considered as heir. Charles was the last male heir in the family line of descent. As there was no male heir, Charles issued a proclamation, ‘The Pragmatic Sanction,’ on April 19, 1713. With this sanction, he declared his lands indivisible. This sanction eliminated ‘male-only succession rule’ and ensured that all the Habsburg possessions (Archduchy of Austria, Kingdoms of Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, Duchy of Milan, Kingdoms of Naples, Sardinia and Austrian Netherlands) could be inherited by a female heir or a daughter.
Charles had no children of his own when he issued the ‘Pragmatic Sanction of 1713.’ His elder brother, Joseph I, had also died without a male heir, so Joseph’s daughter Maria Josepha was the heir presumptive. In 1716, a son was born to Charles, but he died in infancy. When his daughter Maria Theresa was born, Charles disinherited his brother’s daughter (though he had signed a pact of succession during the reign of his father, Leopold I). This created difficulties in smooth succession.
Thus, for most part of his tenure, Charles sought approval for the ‘Sanction’ from other European rulers. England put up a tough condition of closing the ‘Ostend Company,’ (in Austrian Netherlands), which was a competition to the British trade. Though Charles himself had founded it (1722), to obtain approval he agreed to close its operations. He managed to get approval from most of the other states and the ‘Imperial Diet’ of the ‘Holy Roman Empire.’ Later, the rulers of Saxony and Bavaria, however, refused to be bound by the decision of the ‘Imperial Diet.’ Though France did agree to the ‘Sanction,’ it later made a secret pact with Bavaria to support their ‘just claim.’
During the reign of Charles, the Habsburg Monarchy achieved greatest territorial expansion, and the 1720s was considered the best period for the Austrian royalty. During the initial years of his tenure, Charles led a successful campaign under his able Commander Prince Eugene of Savoy, against the Ottoman Empire (1716-1718), which came to be known as the ‘Austro-Turkish War.’ He gained Banat in Hungary and also, direct rule over Serbia (including Belgrade), and Oltenia.
In 1718, Philip V (of Spain) tried to recapture the Spanish territory lost to Austria by the ‘Peace of Utrecht’ but the ‘Quadruple Alliance’ was formed against Philip, and Austria won the war, which ended with the ‘Treaty of the Hague’ (1720). It was similar to the 1713-1714 treaties, but Charles received Sicily (the largest island in the Mediterranean), in place of Sardinia.
Charles initiated construction of trade routes, expanded the port of Trieste. In 1722, he founded the ‘Ostend Company,’ but with the ‘Treaty of Vienna’ (1731) he agreed to close it to obtain British recognition for the ‘Pragmatic Sanction.’
The Empire began declining during the later years of his reign. During the ‘War of the Polish Succession’ (1733-1735), Charles again clashed with France and Spain, and was defeated. After signing the ‘Treaty of Vienna’ (1738), he lost the territories of Naples and Sicily, and received the ‘Duchy of Parma’ and ‘Grand Duchy of Tuscany’ for his son-in-law, Franz/Francis Stephen.
During 1737-1739, Charles embarked on another Turkish War and lost most of the territories (except Banat), he had acquired in 1718, to the Ottoman Empire.
Charles VI died on 2) October 20, 1740, in Hofburg, Vienna, and was interred in the imperial crypt of the Church of the Capuchin Friars in Vienna. Despite the ‘Pragmatic Sanction’ Maria Theresa had to face battles to establish herself as Habsburg heiress.