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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, [ according to whom? ]and may therefore be a misnomer, or at least a misleading characterisation.
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.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").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."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.
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.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.
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.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). 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.
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.
In the Mughal Empire, there was no tradition of primogeniture.Instead it was customary for sons to overthrow their father, and for brothers to war to the death among themselves.
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.
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. : 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. : 294 The Kingdom of Yatenga switched from collateral to filial succession in the late 18th century. : 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. : 474
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).
| Year of the Four Emperors: a war of succession|
between Galba, Otho, Vitellius and Vespasian.
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