In the year of Our Lord, sixteen hundred and ninety-eight, King William of England died suddenly of smallpox. The crown immediately transferred to William's sister-in-law (and daughter of James II), Anne, but as her own poor health was failing, Parliament established a regency for her only living child, William, Duke of Gloucester. This was to secure the line of succession to the Protestant line of House Stuart, overriding any possibility of the return of James II, a Catholic. Queen Anne asked for, and received, John Churchill, Earl of Marlborough, as Regent and tutor to her son.
The Churchill Regency had an auspicious beginning; Prince William learning everything he would need to know in order to rule and reign over the island kingdom. As both Queen Anne and Parliament were so pleased with the exemplary regency of Churchill, who was also instrumental in saving the life of Prince William from smallpox, the queen raised Churchill to a Duke early in the year seventeen hundred. Yet, Anne overstepped herself shortly after, when she magnanimously granted Churchill some of the lands once held by William III in the United Provinces. In time, this would prove to be a grievous error.
It was during this same year that Charles II of Spain died, childless, but the monarchy went to Joseph Ferdinand of Austria, thus averting a crisis that everyone wished to avoid. As a gesture of goodwill over the unopposed succession, Louis XIV of France, who had successfully negotiated the Spanish Succession, entered into a treaty of friendship with England at the end of 1700.
However, Louis' gesture was an underhanded attempt to meddle in the affairs of England. While claiming friendship with Anne, his agents were stirring up trouble for England in the United Provinces and also giving significant support to the Young Pretender, James III, son of James II, who lived in exile in France.
In March 1702, the Dutch began a piracy campaign against English commerce in the Channel, in retaliation for Anne's violation of their sovereignty in granting Churchill lands in a Dutch stadt. The piracy dealt a serious blow to England's economy, and the Royal Navy was tasked to eradicate the pirates. The bulk of the English Army, led by (now) Captain-General Churchill was transported across the Channel to Dunkirk, leaving militia and a few county levies to secure London and the southern counties.
This was precisely the moment that Louis and James II were waiting for; in May 1702, James III, invaded Ireland, using loyalists, Catholic Irish, and French "adventurers" as his army. With the Royal Navy's attention focused on the Channel, James II landed his force on the southern Irish coast in the second week of May.
James's army quickly subdued the English garrisons and by the first week of July, Ireland was entirely under James' control. In the meantime, having been caught unprepared for a land war in their own backyard, Queen Anne and Parliament furiously sought to build a new army with which to defeat James III in Ireland.
It was at this time that a civil war broke out in Scotland, with the highlanders proclaiming James III as the rightful King of England and Scotland (as James VIII). Their lowlander opponents, on the other hand, feared a return to a Catholic monarchy, and thus maintained their support for a Protestant succession. This civil war continues, and many Scots have fled their homeland due to the ravages of constant warfare, with destruction on the scale not seen since the Thirty Years War.
On the continent, Churchill waged a fairly successful war against the Franco-Dutch pirates and he pushed his army inland, laying siege to numerous Dutch cities. Yet, this war was one that he recognized that could not last long, especially as he was continuously pressured by Parliament to ship troops home to face the Irish. Fortunately for Churchill, the Dutch suffered from severe political divisions between the Republicans and the Orangists. While neither party wanted to accept "English aggression," they vehemently disagreed over the conduct of the war, members of each faction actively, if surreptitiously, sabotaging the efforts of their political opponents, ultimately with significant repercussions to be suffered by each side.
By 1706, the Scottish Civil War was in full swing, Ireland was securely held by James III, with many Irish wanting James to decide for them or for the Scots. James dithered, but eventually chose to remain James III of Ireland, keeping his claim to Scotland, but withholding his active support from the highlanders, much to their great dismay. Churchill opened the siege of The Hague in early 1705, with great losses suffered on either side. On December 31st, 1705, three of the Dutch provinces sued for peace, while the remaining four vowed to continue the war, albeit at an even greater disadvantage than before.
However, Queen Anne died of smallpox on February 3rd, her son became William IV, King of England, who immediately recalled Churchill to London, to aid him against the Whig faction of Parliament, which sought to name a new Regency until William reached his 21st birthday (1710). It was at this time that the aging Louis XIV became the Peacemaker as he called for a peace conference to be held in Paris on May 1st. It is only a supreme irony, then, that Louis XIV died of a brain hemorrhage on April 17th, leaving his legacy and crown in the hands of his woefully unprepared and incapable son, Louis (XV).
As the new King of France had no head for politics or diplomacy, varying factions of French nobles and politicians sought to represent France's interests at the upcoming peace conference. As the hosts, the French were expected to lay the groundwork for the eventual solution to the crisis throughout Western Europe. At it was, a France in mourning was not the same France that successfully meddled in the affairs of European houses for over half a century. Instead, the new monarch established his own legacy, one of timidity and appeasement.
The details of the peace conference are as yet unknown, with numerous sources hard at work to establish the "true and honest dealings" of all the attendees. However, the specific provisions of the treaty are well-known and if anything, they have insured that no one was happy with the outcome. These include:
1) Ireland is an independent Kingdom with a line of succession separate from that of Scotland and England.
2) Scotland, a nation in civil war, is also an independent Kingdom, but the ruling house of that nation will be established by the victor of the current civil war, without interference by any other nation or house of Europe.
3) The United Provinces, as previously established as the Dutch Republic are dissolved. The provinces of Friesland, Gronigen, Drenthe, and the Overlordship of Overijssel are independent Dutch provinces and may make such treaties and arrangements as they individually or collectively decide upon. The provinces of Holland and Zeeland, and the Bishopric of Utrecht are null and void, with the lands therein to be subdivided into new provinces, along with the lands of the region formerly known as the Spanish Netherlands, from the channel coast to the Meuse and Moselle.
4) In return for giving up claim to German lands west of the Rhine, Austria receives the Italian lands that it has long laid claim to.
5) England receives supreme and uncontested claim to the islands in the Channel, as remnants of the Duchy of Normandy. England also receives various lands and holdings in the former Spanish Netherlands as agreed to in the appendices attached to this treaty, by way of referendum of the inhabitants therein, but the monarchy's claim is for the life of King William IV only, with a line of succession of a House, not Stuart, to be determined by Parliament.
6) France gives up claim to many of the lands gained by treaty in 1680, except those which are vital to the security of her borders. In return, France is granted dominion over the new lands on the Western continent north of the Isthmus of Panama.
It is now the year 1708, and while the major nations of Europe lick their many wounds and recover strength for some future conflict, the small, embryonic countries founded by the Treaty of Paris are unhappy with their own lot and seek to grow and expand at the expense of their neighbors...