Europe's "Game of Thrones"

Succession Crises and Disputed Claims

This timeline depicts various disputes over the question of succession to European monarchies in the Enlightenment and Romanticism periods. In the majority of these cases, a crisis forms after the death of the previous king or queen with no living children. At times, the situation is more complicated with no close relatives remaining, or even the extinction of an entire house. At other times, the succession is clear but challenged for political or religious reasons. The events included on the timeline portray a Europe whose governmental system is quickly sinking under its own weight. The question of absolute power is not decided lightly, nor is it safe to leave in the care of royals who topple the whole system through fathering illegitimate children or dying. Absolute monarchy is shown to be fundamentally flawed by its inherent instability of succession.

King Sebastian I dies with no heir.


Disputed succession by illegitimate nephew Antonio.

Philip II of Spain claims Portugal


Philip claims throne through distant blood relation to Portuguese royal family. He becomes king, forming the Iberian Union.

Henry III of France dies childless.


Newphew-in-law named King, but disputed due to Catholic faith.

Sigismund III Vasa inherits Swedish throne.


King John III's son Sigismund III Vasa inherits the throne. Sigismund, already King of Poland, is opposed in Sweden due to this Catholic faith. Main opposition led by Parliament and his uncle Charles.

Tsar Feodor Ivanovich of Russia dies.


Feodor's death causes extinction of his house. Succeeded by regent, but several imposters claim blood succession.

Matthias, Holy Roman Emperor, dies with no heir.


His cousin Ferdinand II, with the support of the Spanish Hapsburgs, reigns after him. Ferdinand’s Catholic faith causes his largely Protestant subjects to distrust him.

Philip III inherits Portuguese throne.


Succeeds his father Philip II. Uncontested at the time.

Death of Duke Vincenzo II of Mantua


Extinction of his house.

Charles II of England dies


Succeeded by younger brother James II, who is Catholic and rumored to have French sympathies.

Birth of James II's son


James's son by his Catholic wife becomes his heir apparent.

Charles II of Spain dies with no heir.


He wills the kingship to his grand-nephew Philip V, who is also a grandson of King Louis XIV of France. Philip V's succession threatened to unite France and Spain.

Queen Anne of Britain dies childless.


George I succeeds her, although he is not the next in line. Better claimants are passed over due to their Catholic faith.

Augustus II of Poland dies.


Produces heirs, but failed to stake a hereditary claim to the kingship of Poland.

Maria Theresa inherits Austrian throne.


Succeeds her father Charles VI. However, her claim is challenged legally due to an archaic law forbidding female inheritance.

Stanislaw crowned King of Poland


Over his reign, he is supported and influenced heavily by Russian interests.

Gustav III claims throne of Sweden


Gustav seizes power in a coup.

Maximilian Joseph of Bavaria dies childless.


Succession is contested by several different claimants, including Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II.

Joseph Bonaparte installed in Spain.


After conquering Spain, Napoleon of France installs his brother as monarch.

Isabella II inherits Spanish throne.


Faction called Carlists do not accept a female monarch.

Major European Wars

This timeline highlights some major wars that took place during the Enlightenment and Romanticism period. It will be shown that much of the fighting concerned personal political interests and did not concern or benefit the vast majority of the people. Many of the wars are started or made worse when one of the combatant’s kings claims the other’s throne. Others are caused by fighting between claimants to a vacant or contested kingship. These claims can be remembered generations later and used as a justification for fighting by their descendants. Religion also played a major role, but conflict of this nature almost always revolved around the religion of one man, the king (or heir apparent to the king) and had little to do with the larger populations of countries with different denominations.

War of the Three Henrys.

1587 - 1589

Fought between Royalist, Huguenot and Catholic Factions. Ends when Henry III's heir agrees to convert to Catholicism and is thus accepted as King of France.

Swedish Civil War

1598 - 1599

Series of conflicts between Sigismund and his uncle Charles for the throne of Sweden. Concludes with Sigismund's deposition.

Time of Troubles

1598 - 1613

Period of Russian history characterized by political instability and conflict. A man surfaces in Poland dubiously claiming to be Feodor’s (not so) dead brother, and thus his rightful heir. Poland strategically supports this and various other claims. Closes with the founding of a new dynasty.

Polish-Swedish War

1600 - 1611

Sigismund of Poland refuses to give up his claim to the Swedish throne. This and territorial disputes fuel war between him and his uncle.

Polish-Muscovite War

1605 - 1618

King Sigismund of Poland declares war on Russia and claims the throne for himself.

Thirty Years' War

1618 - 1648

Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor, tries to impose Catholicism on his subjects, who rebel. This sets off a chain reaction of religious and political conflict across Europe.

War of the Mantuan Succession

1628 - 1631

France and Hapsburg Royal Family proxy war to exert control over northern Italy by supporting different claimants to rule Mantua.

Portuguese Restoration War

1640 - 1668

Portuguese revolt against the dual monarchy of the Iberian Union, begun sixty years earlier with the personal union of the nations by Philip II. Results in the establishment of a new Portuguese dynasty replacing the Spanish monarchs.

Monmouth's Rebellion


James Scott, Duke of Monmouth and the illegitimate, but Protestant, older brother of King James II sees himself as rightful heir to the English throne. Monmouth is captured and executed for treason.

Glorious Revolution in England

1688 - 1689

James II is overthrown to prevent a Catholic dynasty becoming established in mostly Protestant England.

Williamite War in Ireland

1689 - 1691

Fought between Jacobites, who support James II of England, and Williamites, supporting the Protestant William of Orange instead.

The War of the Spanish Succession

1701 - 1714

Major powers of Europe align to prevent a French-Spanish union initiated by the claim to the Spanish throne of a French royal. Peace is achieved on the condition that France and Spain remain separate forever.

Jacobite Risings

1715 - 1745

Series of rebellions by Jacobites, who continue to support James II and his heirs as rightful claimants to the British throne, long after James's overthrow.

War of the Quadruple Alliance

1718 - 1720

King Philip V of Spain claims the French throne, defying conditions imposed on him after the War of the Spanish Succession.

War of the Polish Succession

1733 - 1738

Europe’s major powers interfere in Poland’s Civil War over succession to the throne.

War of the Austrian Succession

1740 - 1748

War fought by European powers to determine the control of Hapsburg territory, ostensibly to replace Maria Theresa’s "illegal" claim to the throne.

War of the Bar Confederation

1768 - 1772

Polish nobles unite to fight against Russian-backed Polish King Stanislaw.

War of the Bavarian Succession

1778 - 1779

A Saxon-Prussian alliance attempts to halt a Hapsburg acquisition of Bavaria through inheritance.

Russo-Swedish War

1788 - 1790

King Gustav III of Sweden starts a war with Russia in a political move designed to force his opponents to unite under his disputed rule.

Peninsular War

1807 - 1814

Fought between France, Spain, the United Kingdom and Portugal over control of the Iberian Peninsula.

Carlist Wars

1832 - 1876

The Spanish faction fights for the return of traditional values, supporting the pretender Carlos V against Isabella II.

Glorious Revolution in Spain


War to depose Isabella II.