War of the Polish Succession

gigatos | December 29, 2021


The War of Polish Succession took place in the first half of the 18th century and was fought between the major European powers.

After the death of Augustus II of Poland, a civil war broke out in Poland over the succession to the throne, which soon turned into a conflict on a continental scale. The other European powers, in fact, took advantage of the dynastic crisis in the country to pursue their own national interests, rekindling previous hostilities.

In fact, the conflict was largely a new clash between the Bourbons and the Habsburgs, who had already fought each other in the previous War of the Spanish Succession, the great European conflict that had broken out thirty years earlier.

France and Spain, the two major Bourbon powers, acted with the intention of threatening the power of the Habsburgs in Western Europe, as well as the Kingdom of Prussia, while Saxony and Russia mobilized to support the candidate to the throne who was then the winner. The fighting in Poland led to the coronation of Augustus III, supported politically by the Habsburgs, as well as Russia and Saxony.

The main military campaigns and battles of the war took place outside of Poland. The Bourbons, supported by the King of Sardinia Charles Emmanuel III, moved against the isolated territories of the Habsburgs in Italy.

The conflict led to major territorial rearrangements, mainly in southern Italy and on France”s eastern borders. In the Rhineland, France captured the Duchy of Lorraine, in Italy Spain regained control of the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily, lost in the War of the Spanish Succession, while territorial gains in northern Italy were limited, despite bloody campaigns in this theater. Despite having signed a defensive treaty with Austria in 1731, Britain was reluctant to support Habsburg power, thus demonstrating the fragility of the Anglo-Austrian alliance.

Although a preliminary peace was reached in 1735, the war formally ended with the Treaty of Vienna (1738), in which Augustus III was confirmed king of Poland and his opponent Stanislaus I was awarded the Duchy of Lorraine by France. Francis Stephen, Duke of Lorraine, received the Grand Duchy of Tuscany as compensation for the loss of his possessions. The Duchy of Parma went to Austria, while Charles III of Spain obtained the crowns of Naples and Sicily, with consequent territorial gain for the Bourbons. Poland ceded also the rights on Livonia and the direct control on the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia, which, even if it remained a Polish fief, was not integrated in Poland proper, undergoing a strong Russian influence that ended only with the fall of the Russian Empire in 1917.

After the signing of the Treaties of Utrecht (1713) and Rastatt (1714), which had put an end to the war of succession to the kingdom of Spain, a twenty-year period opened characterized by great instability in relations between all European powers that had just emerged from the conflict.

The instability was essentially due to the fact that the agreements signed had left almost all the signatories unsatisfied, albeit for different reasons. In fact, some nations were interested in maintaining the peace based on the commitments of Utrecht and Rastatt, above all to restore the bleeding finances, as in the case of France, or consolidate the economic and commercial advantages achieved, as in the case of Great Britain and the Netherlands; others, however, such as Spain and Austria, albeit for different reasons, tended to call into question a good part of the commitments signed. Spain, through the new Prime Minister Cardinal Alberoni, had adopted an aggressive policy towards the other countries that had signed the treaties, and there were two main reasons for this. First of all, the dissatisfaction of the new king for the loss of all European possessions, even if in exchange for a throne. The second reason was the fact that the queen, Elisabetta Farnese, had had two sons, Carlo and Filippo, to whom was precluded any possibility of succession to the throne, a privilege granted only to the sons had by the sovereign in his previous marriage with Maria Luisa Gabriella di Savoia, third-born daughter of Vittorio Amedeo II. This preclusion pushed the new queen of Spain to try to obtain fiefs to assign to her legitimate children, possibly through the partial recovery of the territories given up at the end of the war of succession.

Austria, on the other hand, was troubled by another problem, that of succession to the throne, due to the fact that Charles VI intended to ensure not only the right of succession to his direct descendants, but also possibly according to a female line, contrary to what had always happened in the past. This problem was solved by Charles VI in the year 1713 by issuing a “Pragmatic Sanction” by means of which, upsetting all the established internal agreements of the House of Habsburg, he transferred the line of succession to his own descendants, also through female lineage. This required, however, an internal and international recognition, to obtain which Charles VI was forced to make many concessions during the numerous diplomatic negotiations that characterized his reign.

This political instability and diplomatic manifested itself through a series of conflicts of rather limited scope, such as not to involve all the states of Europe at the same time, as had happened for the great previous conflict. Spain was the first to move militarily, first occupying Sardinia, in the hands of the Hapsburgs, then Sicily, the recently acquired territory of the House of Savoy. This initiative caused the formation of a triple alliance (1717), completely atypical, between France, England and Holland, which was later added Austria. The alliance a year later gave its first results, through the achievement of an important victory at Capo Passero, where the Spanish fleet was heavily defeated (1718).

In the same year the war ended with the peace of London and, subsequently, with the treaty of the Hague there was a change of Italian islands between the Habsburgs and Savoy: to the former went Sicily (then richer than the Sardinian island) and the royal title of Vittorio Amedeo II changed from King of Sicily (the Savoy will bear this title until the unification of Italy. For the rest there were no other substantial changes of the Treaty of Rastatt (1714).

This new situation provoked the rapprochement between Philip V and Louis XV that should have been sealed by the marriage of Louis with one of the daughters of the king of Spain and, at the same time, with the official support of France to the claims of don Carlo on the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza and on the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.

Even this agreement did not produce concrete effects, because of the failure of the planned wedding: when the King of France reached adolescence it was decided that it was urgent to make him quickly get married (with the Polish princess Maria Leszczyńska) to generate a legitimate heir, while the Spanish princess was still a child. The consequence was a rapprochement of Spain with Austria, which was also sterile. Spanish interests in Italy, in fact, could not be reconciled with the will of the Habsburgs to maintain their dominance on the peninsula.

To this further failure of alliance, others followed, until, in 1731, with the extinction of the Farnese dynasty, the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza passed into the hands of don Carlo by virtue of the Treaty of Seville of 1729, signed between France, Spain and England. This caused the Austrian military intervention and the Duchy had to undergo the Habsburg occupation.

This occupation did not produce, however, any significant consequence on the military level, for the refusal of England to intervene in the affair and the consequent disengagement of France, dictated by the intuition of French diplomacy that there was a tacit agreement between Great Britain and Austria. The simultaneous disengagement of France and Great Britain allowed the agreement between Spain and Austria under which Austria ceded Parma, Piacenza and Tuscany to Don Carlo, in exchange for the recognition of the Pragmatic Sanction by Spain.

Two first goals had been achieved: Elisabeth Farnese had finally obtained a throne for her eldest son, and Charles VI had secured Spain”s recognition of his daughter Maria Theresa”s succession, although, formally, this agreement had not yet been signed.

While these events were taking place, another serious dispute between all the major powers of Europe opened up, this time also involving Russia and Prussia. The affair, known as the “War of Polish Succession”, began in 1733 with the death of King Augustus II of the Wettin dynasty.

However, before delving into the events connected with the new war of succession, it is necessary to give some details about the type of monarchy operating in Poland. Otherwise the War of the Polish Succession remains difficult to understand.

Briefly and taking a small step backwards, with the death without legitimate heirs of Sigismund II Augustus of Poland in 1572, the Jagellonian dynasty, which had ruled the Polish throne for about two centuries, was extinguished and the so-called period of the elected kings began, as dynastic inheritance had been abolished. This period lasted until the French Revolution. In this period of time, sovereigns belonging to the Valois, Vasa, Sobieski, Wettin, Poniatowski dynasties alternated, and they were elected by a Diet at every succession opening, coinciding with the death of the sovereign.

Having said that, it is easy to understand how the problem linked to the succession of Augustus II of Saxony in Poland was quite different from the problem linked to the succession of Charles II in Spain. That is, while in the case of Spain the dispute was born for the appetites of the dynasties, interested in the direct acquisition of the Spanish possessions possibly through the dismemberment of the kingdom, in the case of Poland the interest of the ruling dynasties in Europe was, instead, to install on the throne a monarch who would make his kingdom gravitate in a certain area of influence rather than in another and that, at the appropriate time, in case of conflict or diplomatic negotiations would increase the weight of an alliance rather than another. In other words, it was a matter of installing on the Polish throne a monarch, we would say today, with limited sovereignty, that is, under tutelage.

The European political situation of the year 1733 saw on one side the triple alliance formed in the previous year between the Tsarina of Russia Anna Ivanovna, the King of Prussia Frederick William I and the House of Austria represented by Charles VI of Habsburg. This alliance was also known as the “Treaty of the Three Black Eagles”. On the other hand, the alliance between Louis XV King of France and Philip V King of Spain, both Bourbons and linked by the old pact that had already seen their respective thrones united during the previous “war of Spanish succession”.

War preparation

Throughout the spring and summer of 1733, France amassed forces along its northern and eastern borders, while the emperor deployed troops on the Polish borders, reducing garrisons in the Duchy of Milan to that end. Although the elderly Prince Eugene of Savoy, then 71 years old, had recommended to the emperor a more bellicose attitude against potential French actions in the Rhine valley and northern Italy, only minimal steps were taken to improve the imperial defenses on the Rhine.

Marquis de Monti, the French ambassador to Warsaw, persuaded the rival Potocki and Czartoryski families to unite behind Stanislaus. Teodor Potocki, primate of Poland and interrex after Augustus” death, convened the sejm in March 1733. Delegates from this of the parliament passed a resolution prohibiting the candidacy of foreigners; this would have explicitly excluded both Emmanuel of Portugal and Augustus II”s son, Frederick Augustus the Elector of Saxony.

Frederick Augustus negotiated agreements with Austria and Russia in July 1733. In return for Russian support, he agreed to renounce any remaining Polish claims in Livonia, and promised Anna of Russia her choice to succeed to the Duchy of Courland, a Polish fiefdom (of which she had been duchess prior to her ascension to the Russian throne) that would otherwise come under direct Polish rule upon the death of the current duke, Ferdinand Kettler, who had no heirs. To the Austrian emperor, she promised recognition of the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713, a document designed to guarantee the inheritance of the Austrian throne to Maria Theresa, Charles” eldest daughter.

In August, Polish nobles gathered for the electoral sejm. On August 11, 30,000 Russian troops under Field Marshal Peter Lacy entered Poland in an attempt to influence the decision of the sejm. On September 4, France openly declared its support for Leszczyński, who on September 12 was elected king by a sejm composed of 12,000 delegates. A group of nobles, led by Lithuanian magnates including Duke Michael Wiśniowiecki (the former Lithuanian grand chancellor appointed by Augustus II), crossed the Vistula to reach Prague and for the protection offered by Russian troops. The group, consisting of about 3,000 people, elected Frederick Augustus II king of Poland as Augustus III on October 5. Although this group was a minority, Russia and Austria, intent on maintaining their influence within Poland, recognized Augustus as king.

On October 10, France declared war on Austria and Saxony. Louis XV was then joined by his uncle, King Philip V of Spain, who hoped to secure territories in Italy for his children through his second marriage to Elisabeth Farnese. In particular, he hoped to secure Mantua for his eldest son, Don Carlo, who was already Duke of Parma and had the expectation of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, and the Kingdoms of Naples and Sicily for his youngest son, Don Filippo. The two Bourbon monarchs were also joined by Charles Emmanuel of Savoy, who hoped to gain advantages from the Austrian duchies of Milan and Mantua.

Austrian isolation

When hostilities broke out, the Austrians had hoped for aid from the maritime powers, Great Britain and the Dutch Republic. They were disappointed, as both the Dutch and the British chose to pursue a policy of neutrality. British Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole justified Britain”s non-intervention by insisting that the Anglo-Austrian Alliance agreed to in the 1731 Treaty of Vienna was a purely defensive arrangement, with Austria being the aggressor in this case. This position was attacked by the pro-Austrian British who wanted to help the Austrians against France, but Walpole”s dominant position ensured that Britain stayed out of the conflict. The French, not wanting to provoke Great Britain, carefully chose not to enter either the territory of the Austrian Netherlands or that of the Holy Roman Empire, which could have drawn either power into the conflict.

On Austria”s southern border, France in November 1733 negotiated the secret Treaty of Turin with Charles Emmanuel and prepared for military operations in northern Italy. It concluded the (also secret) Treaty of the Escorial with Spain, which included promises of French assistance in the Spanish conquest of Naples and Sicily. France also made diplomatic overtures to Sweden and the Ottoman Empire in an unsuccessful attempt to involve them in the conflict in support of Stanislaus.

The Austrians thus remained largely without effective external allies on their southern and western frontiers. Their Russian and Saxon allies were occupied by the Polish campaign, and the emperor distrusted Frederick William I of Prussia, who was willing to provide aid. Divisions within the empire also influenced the troop surge in 1733, as Charles Albert of Bavaria, who harbored ambitions to become the next emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, signed a secret agreement with France in November 1733, and tried, with little success, to dissuade the other rulers of the empire from the Wittelsbach family from providing troops to the emperor under the obligations of the treaty. While Britain itself did not provide support, the electorate of Hanover, where George II also reigned as Imperial Elector, proved willing to help. On April 9, 1734, a Reichskrieg (imperial war) was declared against France, forcing all imperial states to participate.

At the moment of the opening of the succession, France, that had badly digested all the concessions made through the treaties of Utrecht (1713) and Rastadt (1714), tried to recover part of the lost power by trying to impose the candidacy of Stanislaus Leszczyński, whose daughter Louis XV had married, and that also gathered the consent of the Polish Diet. But this candidacy was opposed by Frederick Augustus II, Elector of Saxony, supported by the triple alliance, but above all by Russia, which for some years had been approaching the western borders of its empire with the aim of making the weight of the tsarist power felt in the heart of Europe.


With a clever maneuver the French prime minister, Cardinal Andrea de Fleury, managed to put Leszczyński on the throne, but the Russian intervention turned the tables:

The Russians, commanded by Peter Lacy, crossed the border on July 31, 1733, and on September 20 appeared in the vicinity of Warsaw. In early October, they arrived in the vicinity of Prague near the village of Kiszkowo, here under the protection of the Russians, the outnumbered Saxon party managed to elect Augustus as heir.

Initially, Austrian and Saxon forces were to play the main role during the intervention in the country, and a Russian corps would eventually support them. However, the outbreak of war with France forced the Habsburgs to transfer their forces to Lorraine, and Austria pushed Russia to take on the entire burden of the intervention. The Russians directed three army corps towards the borders of the Republic. Troops under the command of Peter Lacy, who was entrusted with the general command of the Russian forces, prepared for operations in Livonia . The corps under the command of General Artemija Zagriażski instead concentrated its troops in the vicinity of Smolensk. The third corps under the command of General Weissbach concentrated in the vicinity of Kiev. In total, the strength of the three corps can be estimated at 75-90,000 soldiers. An additional corps under General Izmailov, however, was in reserve. Lacy”s army marched through the territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania until it reached Warsaw without encountering much resistance, the Lithuanian magnates were in fact in favor of the candidate of the house Wettin. In addition, the commander stationed in the Grand Duchy Michał Serwacy Wiśniowiecki, had at his disposal only three thousand men and therefore decided not to intervene.

Józef Potocki, in command of the troops of the Polish crown concentrated near Warsaw, initially had the intention to defend the capital from the Russians, trying to stop them in the act of crossing the Vistula. But he changed his mind fearing to be defeated and to lose the army, which was the only guarantor of his power. After several demonstrative attacks against the Russian embassy, Potocki withdrew the army to Radom, without making any attempt to resist the enemy. Leszczyński and the magnates who supported him, as well as the nobility and state officials, were forced to leave Warsaw because of Potocki”s behavior.

The opportunity to stop at least temporarily the Russians on the river was wasted, this if it had happened could have had a great psychological impact. Potocki divided his forces into several parts and consistently avoided engaging in battle with the Russians. The Crown”s forces did not exceed 8000-9000. Potocki had to leave some of his troops, including infantry, dragoons and artillery, in the fortresses in the Ukraine, because he feared that the Russians wanted to trigger an anti-Polish revolt among the peasants or a haidamaka (revolt of Cossacks and peasants) in the area, which would have seriously complicated the already precarious situation in which the state was.

Leszczyński with the royal guards and ministers retreated to Danzig, a friendly city, where he was supported by the citizens, mostly German ones. Until the beginning of July 1734, the city became a center of resistance against the violation of electoral freedom.

On November 15, 1733, Peter Lacy managed to reach as far as Łowicz, before winter stopped his advance. Meanwhile, in Saxony, preparations for the capture of Krakow were at an end. The capture of the city was the first objective of the Saxon army, as this was the city where the coronation of Polish monarchs took place, and therefore its possession would serve to perform the coronation ceremony of Augustus III.

The task of defending Krakow was assumed by the voivode of Lublin Jan Tarło, who commanded the pospolite ruszenie (militia) of Krakow and Sandomierz. On January 7, General Diemer”s Saxon corps crossed the Polish border in the Tarnowskie Góry area. An attempt to stop their march by Tarła”s troops ended in a severe defeat. Krakow was conquered. However, it was the end of the Saxon successes because Jan Tarło managed to strengthen his forces in the province of Krakow . In the Battle of Miechów, the Poles commanded by Adam Tarła managed to defeat a Saxon unit, which temporarily slowed the Saxon advance on Danzig. However, Tarła was not able to recapture Kraków.

On January 16, 1734 Lacy occupied the city of Torun, whose inhabitants swore an oath to Augustus III and accepted the Russian garrison. Lacy managed to bring only 12,000 soldiers to Danzig, which was not enough to besiege it, because the number of besiegers exceeded the forces of the besiegers. In addition to the Poles, the city was also home to French engineers and some Swedish officers. Beginning on February 22, the siege of the city began. On March 5, 1734, Field Marshal Burkhard Christoph von Münnich, in command of Russian reinforcement troops, arrived in Danzig and replaced Lacy in command. On March 9, Russian troops succeeded in capturing the city suburbs. On April 18, the cannons arrived and began the bombardment, and shortly thereafter also Saxon reinforcements under the command of John Adolph II of Saxony. At the same time, a French naval squadron came to the rescue of Stanislaus, but the landing party did not find the opportunity to enter the city, because Münnich took the fort of Sommerschanz, in this way controlling the port, so the French boarded the ships and went to sea. In the last days of April Münnich decided to attack the fort of Hagelsberg. The assault, however, ended in failure: the losses in the action were 2,000 dead and wounded. On May 13, 11 French ships appeared again at sea, landing 2,000 soldiers. On May 16, these attacked the Russian trenches, while the besieged made a sortie out of the city, however both were repelled.

At the beginning of June, the Russian fleet arrived with artillery, the French naval squadron so, left the troops in Weichselmünde and withdrew, losing a frigate, which was stranded. Münnich received the artillery, began to bombard Weichselmünde, and on June 12 the French surrendered it. The next day, the fortification of Münde surrendered. On June 28, 1734, Danzig capitulated, and Stanislaus was forced to flee again: first disguised as a peasant, to Königsberg, the Prussian capital, where King Frederick William I refused to hand him over as requested by the Russians, and then to France. After that most of the Polish magnates sided with Augustus Il, in what became known as the Sejm of Pacification, held in June-July 1736, Augustus was confirmed King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania.

With the enemy forces folded, Russian troops nevertheless remained stationed in Lithuania and eastern Poland, as Saxony wished to have troops near its border due to Prussia”s insecure position in the war.

The flight of the French candidate was a mortification for France that was not slow to react by unleashing a war offensive against Austria, its eternal rival and ally of Russia. The chessboard was the same as the previous war of succession: Italy, Rhineland and Lorraine.


After declaring war on October 10, France opened hostilities three days later: after invading the Duchy of Lorraine, the French built two bridges across the Rhine, one near Germersheim, the other near Oberhausen. On October 12, 1733, French troops crossed the Rhine at Kehl and attacked the local fortress, defended by 1306 men of district troops and 106 men of Austrian infantry, under the field marshal of Württemberg, and Lieutenant Ludwig Dietrich von Pfuhl. The fortress capitulated on October 29; France thus gained control of both objectives within a few weeks.

In the spring of 1734 the French, under the command of the Duke of Berwick, moved up the Rhine Valley with a strong army to wrest the fortress of Philippsburg from the Imperials. Berwick successfully outflanked the enemy”s line of defense, and Prince Eugene of Savoy was forced to withdraw his forces to the imperial camp of Heilbronn. This move paved the way for the French army. On June 1, 1734 began the siege of the fortress, which was surrounded by 60,000 men.

The imperial relief army, composed of about 35,000 men under Prince Eugene, flanked by Crown Prince Frederick II of Prussia, failed to break the siege: the Savoy made a few attempts to free the fortress, but never decisively attacked the besieging army, due to numerical inferiority and the relatively poor quality of the available troops.

Duke of Berwick during the siege, was killed by a grenade, or cannonball while inspecting a trench. Claude François Bidal d”Asfeld was appointed Marshal of France and given supreme command of the Army of the Rhine. On June 22, the new general had a covered path of the fortress attacked, which led to the capture of 60 prisoners and the removal of a bastion.

A month later, on July 18, the fortress surrendered and the garrison was honorably discharged. The imperial commander of the fortress, Baron von Wuttgenau, was promoted to field marshal-lieutenant for the long defense against the overwhelming enemy force. Count Friedrich Heinrich von Seckendorff, who led the command of the army for some time, distinguished himself as commander of the imperial army, which was now retreating from Philippsburg towards Bruchsal.

In October 1734 Prince Eugene handed over the supreme command of the Rhine army to Karl Alexander von Württemberg, who had provided the fortresses of Freiburg, Breisach and Mainz, still under imperial command, with sufficient troops and supplies for a siege. General von Seckendorff organized the creation of a new defensive position along the Rhine between Koblenz and Mainz and became governor of the latter fortress.

Emperor Charles VI did not accept King Frederick William I”s offer to reinforce the imperial army on the Rhine with 50,000 men, because he did not want to make concessions to the Prussians in the Jülich-Berg succession. Instead, in the summer of 1735, the emperor authorized the passage of Russian troops through German territory to strengthen the now-threatened Neckar River front. In the summer of 1735, Prince Eugene again went to the front at the request of the emperor, to his headquarters in Heidelberg. At the end of August, the first Russian regiments under General Lacy also arrived there.

The French forces continued to advance along the Rhine as far as Mainz, but the growing numbers of the imperial army, now also reinforced by Russian regiments, prevented France from establishing a siege there. Eugene thus went on the offensive: a force of 30,000 men under the command of cavalry general Friedrich Heinrich von Seckendorff advanced with 30,000 men over the Hunsrück, crossed the Rhine, and on October 20 drove back the French troops near Salmbach, pushing them back toward Trier, and finally defeating them at Clausen in October 1735, before the preliminary terms of peace were reached with the armistice of November 11, 1735. Until this date, Friedrich Heinrich von Seckendorff troops held the French in check in the Eifel region and on the Rhine.


The French and Savoy troops, amounting to over 50,000 men, under the command of Charles Emmanuel, entered the Milanese territory already on October 24, meeting a minimal resistance, since the Austrian forces in the duchy consisted of only 12,000 men. By November 3, the city of Milan itself surrendered, even though the Austrian governor, Count Wirich Philipp von Daun, still garrisoned the fortress. The grand marshal of France, the Duke of Villars, joined Charles Emmanuel in Milan on November 11. While Villars wanted to move immediately against Mantua to secure control of the Alpine passes against the Austrian reinforcements, Charles Emmanuel, wary of his French allies and their relations with Spain, tried to secure control of the Milan area. The army spent the next three months liquidating Austrian opposition in the remaining fortified cities of the duchy. Villars tried to convince Don Carlos of Parma to join the expedition against Mantua, but Carlos concentrated on the campaign in Naples. Villars began to move against Mantua, but Charles Emmanuel resisted and the army made little progress. In early May, an Austrian army of 40,000 men under Count Claude Florimond de Mercy crossed the Alps and threatened to approach the rear of the French army with a flanking maneuver. Villars responded by retreating from Mantua and attempting unsuccessfully to interrupt the Austrian army”s crossing of the Po River. Villars, frustrated by the delaying tactics of Carlo Emanuele, withdrew on May 27. He fell ill during his return to France and died in Turin on June 17.

Mercy”s forces repeatedly attempted to cross the Parma stream in June, but it was not until the end of that month that they were able to cross the waterway and approach the city of Parma, where the Allied forces, now under the command of French marshals de Broglie and Coigny, were entrenched. In the battle of Colorno first and in a bloody battle near the village of Crocetta on June 29, the Austrians were repulsed, Mercy was killed, and Frederick of Württemberg, the second in command, was wounded. Charles Emmanuel returned the next day to retake command, and resumed his delaying tactics, failing to immediately pursue the retreating Austrians. The Austrians retreated toward the Po, where they were reinforced by additional troops under the command of Field Marshal Königsegg. After two months of inaction, during which the armies faced each other across the river Secchia, on September 15, Königsegg took advantage of the laxity of the enemy and carried out a raid in the headquarters of Coigny in Quistello, almost capturing Coigny and taking among other prizes, the porcelain of Carlo Emanuele. Two days later the French retreated to a position near Guastalla in response to Austrian maneuvers, but a detachment of nearly 3,000 men was surrounded and captured by the advancing Austrians. On September 19, Königsegg attacked the Allied position at Guastalla and, in another bloody battle, was defeated, losing Frederick of Württemberg, among others. Königsegg retreated across the Po, taking up a defensive position between the Po and the Oglio, while the King of Sardinia took advantage of his victory. When they withdrew most of the Allied army to Cremona, the Austrians advanced up the north bank of the Po to the Adda, before both armies entered winter quarters in December 1734.

In southern Italy, the Austrians, adopting a defensive strategy to protect a large number of fortresses, were soundly defeated. Don Carlos gathered an army composed mainly by Spaniards, but also by French and Savoy troops. Moving south through the Papal States, his army bypassed the first line of Austrian defense at Mignano, forcing them to retreat to the fortress of Capua. Then virtually without a fight he entered Naples welcomed by the city”s notables, as the Austrian viceroy had fled to Bari, and the fortresses held by the Austrians in the city were quickly occupied. While maintaining the blockade of the strongest Austrian garrisons at Capua and Gaeta, the bulk of the Allied army concentrated on the remaining Austrian forces. These tried to resist but at the end of May they were defeated at Bitonto. Capua and Gaeta were then adequately besieged, while the Austrian fortresses in Sicily were quickly subdued. Gaeta surrendered in August, while Capua held out until November when its commander, Otto Ferdinand von Abensberg und Traun, finally negotiated terms of surrender when he ran out of ammunition. The Jacobite pretender to the thrones of the United Kingdom and France, Charles Edward Stuart, who was less than 14 years old at the time, also participated in the French and Spanish siege of Gaeta, making his first exposure in battle. In 1734 with the Bourbon conquest of the Two Sicilies, decided with the battle of Bitonto, the Kingdoms of Naples and Sicily became independent again, after more than two centuries of political domination, first Spanish and then Austrian.

The armies in northern Italy suffered significantly during the winter, with significant losses to disease and desertions. For the 1735 campaign, Allied forces in northern Italy came under the command of the Duke of Noailles, elevated to marshal after his contributions in the Rhine campaign. Spanish forces, now available after their successes in the south, also joined in May. In response to this threat, Königsegg withdrew to the bishopric of Trent, but left the fortress city of Mantua well defended. At this point the divisions between the allies became apparent, as Spain claimed Mantua and refused to guarantee Milan to Charles Emanuel. In response, Charles Emmanuel refused to allow the use of his siege equipment against Mantua. As a result, the Franco-Spanish army had no choice but to blockade the city. When Charles Emmanuel withdrew his forces from the area, the allies were forced to retreat, and the beleaguered Austrians took advantage of the opportunity, reclaiming most of the Milanese in November, finding little opposition.

The military operations were unsatisfactory on all fronts and went on wearily, also because Charles of Habsburg needed to have the Prammatica Sanzione recognized by the other ruling houses of Europe, including the Bourbons of France and Spain with whom Austria was at war. Charles of Habsburg, therefore, rather than fighting back, was at war with France. But also France, having understood that the Polish throne was definitely lost, was no longer interested in continuing the war against Austria.

All the contenders realized that it was necessary to close the hostilities. However, there was a lack of proposals to open peace negotiations.

The opportunity arose when the marriage between Francis Stephen of Lorraine and Maria Theresa of Habsburg was announced. This circumstance gave France the opportunity to propose to assign the Duchy of Lorraine to Stanislaus Leszczyński in exchange for the recognition of the “Pragmatic Sanction”, with the aim, far from being hidden, of preventing Lorraine and Austria from remaining under the same sceptre.

But Francis Stephen was still the future husband of the heir to the Austrian throne; which discouraged him from being deprived of his homeland in the name of reason of state. The impasse pushed the King of Prussia, Federico Guglielmo I, to declare himself favourable to the French proposal with the variation to assign to Francesco Stefano the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, as compensation for the loss of his territory. The chancelleries of the powers engaged in the war were activated in such sense and brought to conclusion the conflict.

These events took place between October 30, 1735 (date of the so-called Vienna preliminaries) and November 18, 1738 (date of the third Treaty of Vienna) and ended with the Peace of Paris on June 1, 1739, which put an end to the War of Polish Succession.

In the years following the Peace of Paris, Lorraine was gradually absorbed into French territory, becoming a mere province. France lost control of Acadia and Newfoundland; England obtained Acadia, Newfoundland, Menorca, Gibraltar and the monopoly on black slaves; the Habsburgs kept the Southern Netherlands and the Duchy of Milan and acquired the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, exchanged by Francis Stephen with Lorraine as a clause of the treaty and to be able to marry Maria Theresa of Austria.

It is necessary, however, to analyze in more detail the real reasons and events that led to the signing of the Treaty of Vienna in 1738 and the subsequent Peace of Paris, as well as the consequences that the signed agreements brought throughout Europe, retracing the events described above in the light of the political motivations that directed the monarchs in their choices.

The foreign policy of Louis XV, in the wake of that of his predecessor and implemented with skill by his prime minister, was all oriented to the reorganization of the Habsburg power, which had undergone a considerable increase after the conclusion of the war for the succession to the throne of Spain. In fact, although Spain and its Caribbean and South American possessions had fallen into the French hands of the Bourbons, the Habsburgs had obtained so many territories in Europe that Austria had become the greatest continental power.

The policy of Louis XV was supported by Philip V King of Spain and by his second wife, Elisabeth Farnese, who, as mentioned above, saw in the strategy of the French monarch the possibility to acquire territories for his sons Charles and Philip.

At the beginning of the thirties, the King of France, having realized that he had lost any ascendancy over Poland, which had definitely come under the influence of Russia and Austria at the hands of King Augustus II of Saxony, was forced to turn his attention to Italy, in an attempt to create an embankment on the southern front of the Habsburg Empire.

On the occasion of the treaty of Turin on September 26, 1733, Louis XV signed an agreement with Charles Emmanuel III of Savoy, to whom he promised the cession of Lombardy in exchange for the cession of Savoy to France. Immediately afterwards, on November 7, 1733, he signed with Philip V the Escorial treaty through which he promised territories in Italy to both sons of Elisabeth Farnese.

The two treaties, however, did not appear to be in perfect harmony, especially because the Escorial agreement did not fully confirm the commitments made in Turin with the Savoy. On the contrary, they even hinted at the possibility of a hegemony of Spain over the Milanese area, thus reducing the sovereignty and the autonomy of the Savoy. Carlo Emanuele was immediately aware of this circumstance the day after the occupation of Milan by his troops on December 10, 1733.

The relationships of alliance between France, Spain and the Savoy underwent, as a consequence, a remarkable reorganization, but not to the point to induce the Savoy King to a reversal of alliance in favor of the imperialists. Carlo Emanuele preferred to wait, instead, for the conclusion of the direct negotiations between France and Austria, well knowing that an Anglo-Dutch mediation was underway which also had the purpose of favoring the maintenance of a Savoy State as a force of interposition between the Habsburgs and the Bourbons in Italy.

After two years of war actions, 1734 and 1735 (on June 29, 1734, in the battle of San Pietro, occurred near Parma, precisely at Crocetta, a very bloody battle in which thousands of soldiers and the Austrian supreme commander fell; and on September 19, 1734 in the battle of Guastalla), France and Austria signed on October 3, 1735 a preliminary peace agreement containing the reorganization of the Italian States.

The agreements provided for the assignment of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany to Francis III Stephen of Lorraine, once Gian Gastone, the last representative of the de” Medici dynasty, had passed away, to compensate for the assignment of Lorraine to Leszczyński.

Austria maintained the free port of Livorno but ceded to Don Carlo di Borbone the State of the Presidii, the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily.

The Savoy state was strengthened with the acquisition of the Langhe and the western territories of Milan and was authorized, moreover, to build strongholds in the newly conquered territories. Austria was recognized by the Prammatica Sanzione of 1713 and the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza was returned to it.

The Vienna Preliminaries of 1735, described above, were implemented first in the Third Treaty of Vienna of 1738 and then in the Peace of Paris of 1739, which definitively settled the Lorraine question.

The agreements signed by France and Austria with the third treaty of Vienna in 1738 should have constituted for the Italian States a definitive and stable arrangement within the framework of the policy of balance between all the major European powers of the first half of the 18th century. Instead, the geopolitical order of Italy, born at the conclusion of the War of Polish Succession, would have been upset again in the space of a few years.

The Peace of Paris, in closing the War of Polish Succession, also sanctioned the downsizing of the Habsburg power that had come out considerably strengthened by the conclusion of the previous war of succession to the Spanish throne.

In fact, if it is true that an Austro-Russian candidate had ascended to the Polish throne, it is also true that the new sovereign sailed more in the Russian orbit than in the Habsburg one. Just as it is true that Austria was assigned the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza, it is also true that this assignment took place at the price of the cession of Lorraine to France, of the western territories of Milan to Piedmont, as well as the Kingdoms of Naples and Sicily to Don Carlo of Bourbon.

The long-awaited peace in Europe seemed to have finally been achieved. It was a short-lived illusion. A few years later another great conflict would break out, the War of the Austrian Succession, which would have had as its protagonist the most powerful dynasty on the continent, the Habsburgs.


  1. Guerra di successione polacca
  2. War of the Polish Succession
Ads Blocker Image Powered by Code Help Pro

Ads Blocker Detected!!!

We have detected that you are using extensions to block ads. Please support us by disabling these ads blocker.