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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, and may therefore be a misnomer, or at least a misleading characterisation.[according to whom?]
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.
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).
(historicity contested) War of David against Ish-bosheth (c. 1007-1005 BCE), after the death of king Saul of the united Kingdom of Israel. It is disputed whether this event actually occurred as narrated in the Hebrew Bible. It allegedly began as a war of secession, namely of Judah (David) from Israel (Ish-bosheth), but eventually the conflict was about the succession of Saul in both Israel and Judah
War of the Zhou succession (635 BCE), where Jin assisted King Xiang of Zhou against his brother, Prince Dai, who claimed the Zhou throne
Partition of Jin (c. 481-403 BCE), a series of wars between rival noble families of Jin, who eventually sought to divide the state's territory amongst themselves at the expense of Jin's ruling house. The state was definitively carved up between the successor states of Zhao, Wei and Han in 376 BCE.
(historicity contested) A war of succession in the Gupta Empire after the death of emperor Kumaragupta I (c. 455), out of which Skandagupta emerged victorious. Historical sources do not make clear whether the events described constituted a war of succession, and whether it even took place as narrated.
Transition from Sui to Tang (613-628): with several rebellions against his rule going on, Emperor Yang of Sui was assassinated in 618 by rebel leader Yuwen Huaji, who put Emperor Yang's nephew Yang Hao on the throne as puppet emperor, while rebel leader Li Yuan, who had previously made Emperor Yang's grandson Yang You his puppet emperor, forced the latter to abdicate and proclaimed himself emperor, as several other rebel leaders had also done.
Second Timurid war of succession (1447-1459), after the death of sultan Shah Rukh of the Timurid Empire
Third Timurid war of succession (1469-1507), after the death of sultan Abu Sa'id Mirza of the Timurid Empire
Sekandar-Zain al-'Abidin war (1412-1415): according to the Ming Shilu, Sekandar was the younger brother of the former king, rebelled and plotted to kill the current king Zain al-'Abidin to claim the throne; however, the Ming dynasty had recognised the latter as the legitimate ruler, and during the fourth treasure voyage of admiral Zheng He, the Chinese intervened and defeated Sekandar.
Second Anglo-Maratha War (1803-1805), pretender Baji Rao II, son van Raghunath Rao, triumphed with British help and became peshwa, but had to surrender much power and territory to the British
Third Anglo-Maratha War, also Pindari War (1816-1819), peshwa Baji Rao II revolted against the British in vain; the Maratha Empire was annexed
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)
War of the Northumbrian succession (865-867), between king Osberht and king Ælla of Northumbria; their infighting was interrupted when the Great Heathen Army invaded, against which they vainly joined forces
War of the Namurois-Luxemburgish succession (1186-1263/5), after the decades-long childless count Henry the Blind of Namur and Luxemburg, having designated Baldwin V of Hainaut his heir in 1165, after all fathered Ermesinde in 1186 and tried to change his succession in her favour. Although the struggle over Luxemburg was resolved in 1199 in favour of Ermesinde, she and Baldwin and their successors would continue to fight over Namur until it was sold to Guy of Dampierre in 1263 or 1265.
First War of Scottish Independence (1296-1328), after Scottish opposition to Edward's interference reached the point of rebellion, Edward marched against Scotland, defeating and imprisoning John Balliol, stripping him off the kingship, and effectively annexing Scotland. However, William Wallace and Andrew Moray rose up against Edward and assumed the title of "guardians of Scotland" on behalf of John Balliol, passing this title on to Robert the Bruce (one of the claimants during the Great Cause) and John III Comyn in 1298. The former killed the latter in 1306, and was crowned king of Scots shortly after, in opposition to both Edward and the still imprisoned John Balliol.
Russian interregnum of 1825 (1825-1826), after the death of tsar Alexander I of Russia, who had secretly changed the order of succession from his brother Constantine in favour of his younger brother Nicholas, neither of whom wanted to rule. Two related but different rebel movements arose to offer their solution to the succession crisis: the aristocratic Petersburg-based group favoured a constitutional monarchy under Constantine, the democratic Kiev-based group of Pavel Pestel called for the establishment of a republic.
Decembrist revolt (December 1825), by the aristocratic Decembrists in Saint Petersburg
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.
^In the strict sense, the Three Kingdoms Period didn't begin until 220, when the last Han emperor Xian was forced to abdicate by Cao Pi, who proclaimed himself emperor of the Wei dynasty. This claim was soon challenged by Liu Bei, who pretended to be the rightful successor to Xian, and crowned himself emperor of "Shu-Han" (221), and Sun Quan, who first received the title of "king of Wu" by Cao Pi before becoming the third claimant to the imperial title in 229. However, the dismemberment of the Chinese Empire by infighting warlords had already begun in 184, when the Yellow Turban Rebellion and the Liang Province Rebellion broke out. Although the former was put down, the latter was maintained, and the rebels continued to form a de facto autonomous state in Liang for two more decades. The emperorship itself was already in danger in 189 when, after the death of emperor Ling first the eunuchs and later Dong Zhuo seized control at the imperial court, against which the governors and nobility rose fruitlessly, before getting into combat with each other and setting up rival warlord states.
^Initially, William of Normandy was called William "the Bastard" by his opponents because he was an illegitimate son (bastard) of Robert I, and therefore some Norman noblemen rejected him as successor. Later, he became known as William "the Conqueror" when he also managed to enforce his claim to the English throne with the 1066 Norman invasion of England. William's reign in Normandy itself was not unopposed until 1060, despite being largely secured since 1047.
^ ab(in German)Johannes Kunisch, Staatsverfassung und Mächtepolitik - Zur Genese von Staatenkonflikten im Zeitalter des Absolutismus (Berlin 1979), p. 16.
^ ab(in German)Johannes Kunisch, La guerre - c'est moi! - Zum Problem der Staatenkonflikte im Zeitalter des Absolutismus, in: ders.: Fürst, Gesellschaft, Krieg - Studien zur bellizistischen Disposition des absoluten Fürstenstaates (Cologne/Weimar/Vienna 1992), p. 21-27.
^(in German)Heinz Duchhardt, Krieg und Frieden im Zeitalter Ludwigs XIV. (Düsseldorf 1987), p. 20.
^Robert I. Moore, The First European Revolution: 970-1215 (2000), p. 66. Wiley-Blackwell.
^(in German)Gerhard Papke, Von der Miliz zum Stehenden Heer - Wehrwesen im Absolutismus, in: Militärgeschichtliches Forschungsamt (publisher) Deutsche Militärgeschichte 1648-1939, Vol.1 (Munich 1983), p. 186f.
^(in German)Heinz Duchhardt, Krieg und Frieden im Zeitalter Ludwigs XIV. (Düsseldorf 1987), p. 17.
^James Macnabb Campbell, ed. (1896). "II. ÁHMEDÁBÁD KINGS. (A. D. 1403-1573.)". History of Gujarát. Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency. Volume I. Part II. The Government Central Press. pp. 253-254.This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.