War of succession

After Charles II's death, Louis XIV of France proclaims his grandson Philip of Anjou the new Spanish king (November 1700), triggering the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714).

A war of succession or succession war is a war prompted by a succession crisis in which two or more individuals claim the right of successor to a deceased or deposed monarch. The rivals are typically supported by factions within the royal court. Foreign powers sometimes intervene, allying themselves with a faction. This may widen the war into one between those powers.



In historiography and literature, a war of succession may also be referred to as a succession dispute, dynastic struggle, internecine conflict, fratricidal war, or any combination of these terms. Not all of these are necessarily describing armed conflict, however, and the dispute may be resolved without escalating into open warfare. Wars of succession are also often referred to as a civil war, when in fact it was a conflict within the royalty, or broader aristocracy, that civilians were dragged into,[1] and may therefore be a misnomer, or at least a misleading characterisation.[according to whom?]


To inherit Holland, Ada quickly married Louis before her father was buried, triggering the Loon War.[2]

A war of succession is a type of intrastate war concerning struggle for the throne: a conflict about supreme power in a monarchy. It may become an interstate war if foreign powers intervene. A succession war may arise after (or sometimes even before) a universally recognised ruler over a certain territory passes away (sometimes without leaving behind any (legal) offspring), or is declared insane or otherwise incapable to govern, and is deposed. Next, several pretenders step forward, who are either related to the previous ruler and therefore claim to have a right to their possessions based on the hereditary principle, or have concluded a treaty to that effect. They will seek allies within the nobility and/or abroad to support their claims to the throne. After all options for a diplomatic solution –such as a sharing of power, or a financial deal– or a quick elimination –e.g. by assassination or arrest– have been exhausted, a military confrontation will follow.[3] Quite often such succession disputes can lead to long-lasting wars.

Some wars of succession are about women's right to inherit. This does not exist in some countries (a "sword fief", where the Salic law applies, for example), but it does in others (a "spindle fief").[4] Often a ruler who has no sons, but does have one or more daughters, will try to change the succession laws so that a daughter can succeed him. Such amendments will then be declared invalid by opponents, invoking the local tradition.

In some cases, wars of succession could also be centred around the reign in prince-bishoprics. Although these were formally elective monarchies without hereditary succession, the election of the prince-bishop could be strongly intertwined with the dynastic interests of the noble families involved, each of whom would put forward their own candidates. In case of disagreement over the election result, waging war was a possible way of settling the conflict. In the Holy Roman Empire, such wars were known as diocesan feuds.

It can sometimes be difficult to determine whether a war was purely or primarily a war of succession, or that other interests were at play as well that shaped the conflict in an equally or more important manner, such ideologies (religions, secularism, nationalism, liberalism, conservatism), economy, territory and so on. Many wars are not called 'war of succession' because hereditary succession was not the most important element, or despite the fact that it was. Similarly, wars can also be unjustly branded a 'war of succession' whilst the succession was actually not the most important issue hanging in the balance.


The origins of succession wars lie in feudal or absolutist systems of government, in which the decisions on war and peace could be made by a single sovereign without the population's consent. The politics of the respective rulers was mainly driven by dynastic interests. German historian Johannes Kunisch (1937–2015) ascertained: "The all-driving power was the dynasties' law of the prestige of power, the expansion of power, and the desire to maintain themselves."[1] Moreover, the legal and political coherence of the various provinces of a 'state territory' often consisted merely in nothing more than having a common ruler. Early government systems were therefore based on dynasties, the extinction of which immediately brought on a state crisis. The composition of the governmental institutions of the various provinces and territories also eased their partitioning in case of a conflict, just like the status of claims on individual parts of the country by foreign monarchs.[5]

To wage a war, a justification is needed (Jus ad bellum). These arguments may be put forward in a declaration of war, to indicate that one is justly taking up arms. As the Dutch lawyer Hugo Grotius (1583–1645) noted, these must make clear that one is unable to pursue their rightful claims in any other way.[6] The claims to legal titles from the dynastic sphere were a strong reason for war, because international relations primarily consisted of inheritance and marriage policies until the end of the Ancien Régime. These were often so intertwined that it had to lead to conflict. Treaties that led to hereditary linkages, pawning and transfers, made various relations more complicated, and could be utilised for claims as well. That claims were made at all is due to the permanent struggle for competition and prestige between the respective ruling houses. On top of that came the urge of contemporary princes to achieve "glory" for themselves.[5]

After numerous familial conflicts, the principle of primogeniture originated in Western Europe the 11th century, spreading to the rest of Europe (with the exception of Russia) in the 12th and 13th century; it has never evolved outside Europe.[7] However, it has not prevented the outbreak of wars of succession. A true deluge of succession wars occurred in Europe between the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648) and the Coalition Wars (1792–1815).[8] According to German historian Heinz Duchhardt (1943) the outbreak of wars of succession in the early modern period was stimulated on the one hand by the uncertainty about the degree to which regulations and agreements on hereditary succession were to be considered a respectable part of emerging international law. On the other hand, there was also a lack of effective means to provide them recognition and validation.[9]

According to British statesman Henry Brougham (Lord Chancellor 1830–34), there were more and longer wars of succession in Europe between 1066 and the French Revolution (1789–99) than all other wars put together. "A war of succession is the most lasting of wars. The hereditary principle keeps it in perpetual life – [whereas] a war of election is always short, and never revives", he opined, arguing for elective monarchy to solve the problem.[10]

In the Mughal Empire, there was no tradition of primogeniture.[11] Instead it was customary for sons to overthrow their father, and for brothers to war to the death among themselves.[12]

In Andean civilizations such as the Inca Empire (1438–1533), it was customary for a lord to pass on his reign to the son he perceived to be the most able, not necessarily his oldest son; sometimes he chose a brother instead. After the Spanish colonization of the Americas began in 1492, some Andean lords began to assert their eldest-born sons were the only 'legitimate' heirs (as was common to European primogeniture customs), while others maintained Andean succession customs involving the co-regency of a younger son of a sitting ruler during the latter's lifetime, each whenever the circumstances favoured either approach.[13]

In various African cultures, the order of succession has changed over the course of centuries from one type to another, and especially during a switch there were several wars of succession before the new system was consolidated. For example, the death of mai Idris I Nigalemi (c. 1370) of the Kanem–Bornu Empire triggered a war of succession because it was unclear whether collateral (brother to brother) or filial/patrilineal (father to son) succession was to be preferred; patrilineal had been dominant until early 14th-century Kanem–Bornu, but was replaced by collateral by 1400.[14]: 247, 263  The Kano Chronicle records father–son succession in the Kingdom of Kano, but always mentions the name of the ruler's mother, which may point to vestiges of a preceding matrilineal system.[14]: 294  The Kingdom of Yatenga switched from collateral to filial succession in the late 18th century.[15]: 186–187  Several Bunyoro wars of succession took place in the Empire of Kitara in the 17th and 18th century; they almost always coincided with rebellions in its tributary states, indicating that vassals regularly sought to exploit their suzerain's weakness during succession disputes in order to reclaim independence.[15]: 474 

List of wars of succession

Note: Wars of succession in transcontinental states are mentioned under the continents where their capital city was located. Names of wars that have been given names by historians are capitalised; the others, whose existence has been proven but not yet given a specific name, are provisionally written in lowercase letters (except for the first word, geographical and personal names).


LobengulaShaka#Death and successionPedro I of KongoGugsa Wale's rebellionEthiopian coup d'état of 1928Ptolemy VIII Physcon#Civil war (132-126 BC)Naaba KangoSaadi dynasty#1603–27: Succession warBattle of TadlaYear of the Five EmperorsYear of the Four EmperorsWars of the DiadochiSeti II#Contest for the throneRevolutions of TunisAbu Marwan Abd al-Malik I SaadiAbdallah al-Adil#BackgroundJugurthine WarAdherbal (king of Numidia)
Alexander's diadochi battled about his political legacy for 46 years.


Pahang Civil WarJavanese Wars of SuccessionForty Years' WarAnarchy of the 12 WarlordsBanjarmasin WarSecond Bone WarMing treasure voyages#Fourth voyageBerke–Hulagu warToluid Civil WarGöktürk civil warNauruan Civil WarCarnatic WarsRegreg WarIlkhanate#DisintegrationKaidu–Kublai warSkandaguptaAshokaYear of the Five EmperorsYear of the Four EmperorsWars of the DiadochiAnglo-Maratha WarsMughal war of succession (1707)Pandyan Civil War (1169–1177Twenty Years' AnarchyRoman civil war of 350–353Hasmonean Civil WarMarava War of SuccessionByzantine civil war of 1341–1347War of the LombardsFourth FitnaFirst FitnaCivil wars of the TetrarchySeleucid Dynastic WarsAfghan Wars of SuccessionOttoman Civil War (1509–13)Ottoman InterregnumByzantine civil war of 1321–1328War of the Antiochene SuccessionAnarchy at SamarraSecond FitnaCrisis of the Third CenturyWar of the Armenian SuccessionThird Mithridatic WarFirst Anglo-Afghan WarTrapezuntine Civil WarMansur I#Rise to powerThird FitnaSasanian civil war of 589-591Parthian war of CaracallaBattle of CarrhaeBattle of CunaxaTimurid wars of successionGenpei WarBattle of Ghazni (998)Sasanian civil war of 628–632Peroz I#Rise to powerTrajan's Parthian campaignGaoxu rebellionJingnan campaignEra of FragmentationEra of FragmentationGoguryeo–Tang WarWar of the Uncles and NephewsChu–Han ContentionWar of Qi's successionRussian interregnum of 1825Time of TroublesNanboku-chō periodHeiji RebellionLater Three Kingdoms of KoreaTransition from Sui to TangYang Liang#Rebellion against Emperor YangNorthern Wei#The Two GeneralsWar of the Eight PrincesHan dynasty#Wang Mang's reign and civil warQin's wars of unificationPartition of JinLi Ji UnrestŌnin WarSengoku periodHistory of the Joseon dynasty#Early strifeWar of the Two CapitalsHōgen RebellionJinshin WarPrince Hoshikawa RebellionThree Kingdoms PeriodLulinRed EyebrowsLü Clan DisturbanceWarring States periodRebellion of the Three Guards

The Warring States, each claiming kingship and seeking to unite China under their banner.
The Seleucid Dynastic Wars ravaged the once great Seleucid Empire, and contributed to its fall.
Originally a political conflict on the Succession to Muhammad, the First Fitna became the basis of the religious split between Sunni Islam and Shia Islam.
War of 1657–61. Mughal emperors were often overthrown by their sons, who then warred each other to the death.[12]
Mir Jafar defected to the British during the Battle of Plassey, being made the new nawab of Bengal as a reward.
Dutch cavalry charge during the 1859 Bone Expedition on Sulawesi.
  • Kurnool war of succession (1792–?), after the death of nawab Ranmust Khan of Kurnool between his sons Azim Khan (supported by the Nizam of Hyderabad) and Alif Khan (supported by the Sultan of Mysore)[63]


Ottoman Civil War (1509–13)Ottoman InterregnumByzantine civil war of 1373–1379Byzantine civil war of 1352–1357Byzantine civil war of 1341–1347Byzantine civil war of 1321–1328War of the Euboeote SuccessionBattle of PantinaRomanos IV Diogenes#BetrayalPetar of Serbia#Civil warsTwenty Years' AnarchyWars of the DiadochiLiberal WarsWar of the Portuguese SuccessionWar of the Castilian Succession1383–1385 Portuguese interregnumFernandine WarsFourth CrusadeWar of the Three SanchosPyrrhus of EpirusCarlist WarsWar of the Spanish SuccessionFranco-Spanish War (1595–98)Catalan Civil WarNavarrese Civil War (1451–1455)War of the Two PetersCastilian Civil WarFitna of al-AndalusWar of the Mantuan SuccessionMilanese War of SuccessionTancred, King of Sicily#KingshipWar of the Montferrat SuccessionRoman civil war of 350–353Piedmontese Civil WarStrasbourg Bishops' WarMad WarWar of the Burgundian SuccessionWar of the Breton SuccessionMaine (province)#Norman conquest and rule (1062–1070)Civil wars of the TetrarchyWar of the Quadruple AllianceSuccession of Henry IV of FranceWar of the Three Henrys

Hundred Years' WarWar of the Succession of ChampagneBaussenque WarsWilliam the Conqueror#Duke of NormandySiege of Laon (741)Battle of LucofaoYear of the Six EmperorsCrisis of the Third Century Civil war in Poland (1704–1706)War of the Jülich SuccessionHabsburg–Ottoman wars in Hungary (1526–1568)War of the Hungarian SuccessionOld Zürich WarGalicia–Volhynia WarsBattle of TinchebrayFrankish Civil War (715–718)EbroinBrunhilda of AustrasiaFredegundBattle of the FrigidusYear of the Five EmperorsYear of the Four EmperorsWar of the Bavarian SuccessionNine Years' WarHildesheim Diocesan FeudMainz Diocesan Feud Civil war in Greater Poland (1382–1385)Civil war in Greater Poland (1382–1385)Bremen Diocesan FeudGerman throne disputeWar of the Austrian SuccessionDanzig rebellionWar of the Succession of StettinSaxon Fratricidal WarWars of the Rügen Succession War of the Polish SuccessionDüsseldorf Cow WarWar of the Polish Succession (1587–88)War of the Succession of LandshutCologne Diocesan FeudWars of the Lüneburg SuccessionThuringian Counts' WarWar of the Thuringian SuccessionEmeric, King of Hungary#Struggles with his brother (1196–1200)War of DevolutionGuelders WarsGuelders WarsFirst War of the Guelderian SuccessionWar of the Flemish SuccessionBattle of SteppesGodfrey III, Duke of Lower LorraineUtrecht war of 1481–83Utrecht war (1456–1458)Utrecht SchismWars of the Loon SuccessionWar of the Limburg SuccessionLoon WarWilliam Clito#Count of Flanders Count's FeudCount's FeudHook and Cod warsBattle of Cassel (1071) Polish–Swedish War (1600–29)War against SigismundUtrecht war (1456–1458)#Aftermath (1470–1474)Lithuanian Civil War (1432–1438)War of the Brabantian SuccessionDanish Civil War#The Civil War of 1146–1157Danish Civil War#The Civil War of 1146–1157Eric and EricOlga of KievRussian interregnum of 1825Moscow uprising of 1682Time of TroublesWar of the Priests (Poland)Muscovite Civil WarGolden Horde#Great troubles (1359–1381) Rebellion of 1088Æthelwold's RevoltRoman–Bosporan WarBosporan Civil WarJacobite risingsMonmouth Rebellion

First Barons' WarThe AnarchyBattle of Stamford BridgeNorman conquest of EnglandBoudica

Stockholm - Antikengalerie 4 - Büste Kaiser Galba.jpg Oth001.jpg Aulus Vitellius (MRABASF Matritum) 01.jpg Vespasianus03 pushkin.jpg
Year of the Four Emperors: a war of succession
between Galba, Otho, Vitellius and Vespasian.
Fontenoy confirmed the partition of Francia between emperor Louis the Pious's three sons.
In 1066, William of Normandy managed to enforce his claim to the English throne.
The Hundred Years' War arose when the English king claimed the French throne.
The 1388 Battle of Strietfield secured Lüneburg for the House of Welf.
The Catholic Monarchs united 'Spain' after the War of the Castilian Succession.
The Jülich Succession became a European war, because the future religious balance of power depended on it.
During the War of the Spanish Succession, a large European coalition tried to keep Spain out of French hands.
The War of the Austrian Succession grew out to an almost pan-European land war, spreading to colonies in the Americas and India.[109]
The death of Frederick VII of Denmark was a cause of the Second Schleswig War.

North and South America

War of Jenkins' EarInca Civil WarKing George's WarQueen Anne's War

King William's War

In fiction

  • In J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy world of Middle-earth (developed 1937–1973), several wars of succession take place, such as:
    • The Wars with Angmar (T.A. 861–1975), after King Eärendur of Arnor died in T.A. 861 and the kingdom was split between his three quarreling sons, founding the rival realms of Arthedain, Cardolan and Rhudaur. When the lines of Eärendur died out in Cardolan and Rhudaur, King Argeleb I of Arthedain intended to reunite Arnor in T.A. 1349 and was recognised by Cardolan, but then the Witch-king of Angmar intervened, annexed Rhudaur, ravaged Cardolan and besieged Arthedain's capital city of Fornost. In T.A. 1973–1975, Arthedain was finally destroyed; even though allied Men from Gondor and Elves from Lindon subsequently succeeded in defeating Angmar in the Battle of Fornost and driving out the Witch-king, the Kingdom of Arnor would never be restored until the dawn of the Fourth Age.
  • The Succession Wars (1980), a wargame set in the BattleTech universe
  • The Successions, civil wars over the monarchy of Andor in The Wheel of Time (1990–2013)
  • The books in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series (1996–) and its TV adaptation, Game of Thrones feature the War of the Five Kings, based around five individuals' competing claims to the throne after the death of King Robert Baratheon. Another is the Targaryen war of succession, better known as the Dance of the Dragons.
  • The Elder Scrolls, a high fantasy video game series, features many succession disputes and wars. For example, in The Elder Scrolls Online (launched in 2014), a war of succession that happened almost a decade earlier over the kingdom of Eastern Skyrim is reignited. After their sister Queen Nurnhilde died in battle 10 years ago, the twin brothers Jorunn and Fildgor together drove out the invading Akaviri, but then fought over the throne afterwards. According to Jorunn, they 'disagreed on who should succeed our sister. I believed in diplomacy and wisdom. Fildgor believed in rule by force. I couldn't let him take the throne. (...) I was forced to exile Fildgor. He never forgave me for that.' Jorunn requests the player to militarily support his legitimacy as the discontent Fildgor returns in another attempt to seize the kingship.[117]
  • Wars of Succession, a 2018 strategy video game developed by AGEod about the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1713) and the Great Northern War (1700–1721), 'most of which focused around the succession of Poland'.[118]

See also


  • Kohn, George Childs (2013). Dictionary of Wars. Revised Edition. Londen/New York: Routledge. ISBN 9781135954949.
  • Mikaberidze, Alexander (ed.) (2011). Conflict and Conquest in the Islamic World: A Historical Encyclopedia, Volume 1. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781598843361. Retrieved 16 December 2016.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  • Jaques, Tony (2007). Dictionary of Battles and Sieges: F-O. Santa Barbara: Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 9780313335389. Retrieved 18 December 2016.