War of the Polish Succession Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

After Polish king Augustus II died in 1733, France favored the restoration of Poland’s deposed former king, Stanisław I Leszczyński, while the Holy Roman Empire and its allies supported Augustus III’s claim to his father’s throne. The resulting War of the Polish Succession resulted in Poland becoming a pawn through which the Western European powers attempted to increase their own territory and influence.

Summary of Event

The eighteenth century began in Europe with two wars, the War of the Spanish Succession Spanish Succession, War of the (1701-1714) and the Great Northern War. Great Northern War (1701-1721) In 1704, during the latter conflict, King Charles XII of Sweden invaded Poland, dethroned King Augustus II, the elector of Saxony, and placed the Polish nobleman Stanisław Leszczyński on the throne as King Stanisław I. When Charles was defeated in July, 1709, at the Battle of Poltava Poltava, Battle of (1709) by a coalition of Russia, Saxony, and Denmark led by Peter the Great, Augustus II was restored to the Polish throne, while Stanisław I Leszczyński went into exile in France. [kw]War of the Polish Succession (Oct. 10, 1733-Oct. 3, 1735) [kw]Succession, War of the Polish (Oct. 10, 1733-Oct. 3, 1735) [kw]Polish Succession, War of the (Oct. 10, 1733-Oct. 3, 1735) Polish Succession, War of the (1733-1735) Polish throne [g]Poland;Oct. 10, 1733-Oct. 3, 1735: War of the Polish Succession[0830] [g]Germany;Oct. 10, 1733-Oct. 3, 1735: War of the Polish Succession[0830] [g]France;Oct. 10, 1733-Oct. 3, 1735: War of the Polish Succession[0830] [g]Italy;Oct. 10, 1733-Oct. 3, 1735: War of the Polish Succession[0830] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Oct. 10, 1733-Oct. 3, 1735: War of the Polish Succession[0830] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Oct. 10, 1733-Oct. 3, 1735: War of the Polish Succession[0830] [c]Expansion and land acquisition;Oct. 10, 1733-Oct. 3, 1735: War of the Polish Succession[0830] Louis XV Fleury, André-Hercule de Charles VI Stanis{lstrok}aw I Augustus III Philip V Eugene of Savoy Belle-Isle, Charles Fouquet de Berwick, duke of Villars, duc de Charles III

From the conclusion of the two conflicts that had opened the century until 1733, Europe enjoyed a fragile but generally peaceful balance of power. Agreements concerning British, French, Spanish, and Austrian succession seemed to have been reached, and although brief conflicts occurred during the intervening years, none involved the whole of Europe. In 1733, however, Augustus II died, reviving old tensions over the Polish succession. The question of who should be the next ruler of Poland became one of international concern.

Within two months of Augustus II’s death, Louis XV of France, who had married Stanisław I Leszczyński’s daughter Maria in 1725, sent declarations to all the courts of Europe that he would protect free elections in Poland, with the expectation that Stanisław would be elected. However, Austria’s Emperor Charles VI, Russia’s Czarina Anna, and Prussia’s Frederick William I supported the claim of Augustus III, the new elector of Saxony, to his father’s throne. In November, 1733, Philip V, king of Spain and uncle of the French king, agreed to support France through the first of several “Family Compacts” between the two Bourbon houses.

On April 27, 1733, the Polish Convocation Diet met in twenty-seven sessions to establish guidelines and set a date for the election of the new king. Composed of Polish nobility and many lesser landowners and expecting support from the French, the diet declared that the election should go to a Pole with no territory outside Poland. The Diet of Election convened in Warsaw on August 25, 1733, and Stanisław I Leszczyński, who had arrived from France incognito, was elected on September 10. However, on October 5, a minority of Saxon supporters within the Polish diet met at the Plain of Praga near Kamien and, backed by Russian troops, elected Augustus III king of Poland and duke of Lithuania.

This second election of October 5 provoked the War of the Polish Succession. Louis XV declared war on Charles VI on October 10, 1733. Obliged by previous alliances to side with one or another of the warring empires, the nations of continental Europe were gradually drawn into the war. On October 13, 1733, France’s Marshal Charles Fouquet de Belle-Isle entered Lorraine unopposed and held that duchy for the duration of the war. France launched a limited military offensive in October, primarily on two fronts—the Rhineland and Italy—while Austria maintained a purely defensive position, even delaying its official declaration of war until early in 1734.

On the northern front, French troops led by James Fitzjames, the duke of Berwick, captured several fortresses in the Rhineland, including Kehl (October 29, 1733), Trarbach and the Ettlingen Lines (May, 1734), and Philippsburg (July, 1734). The war on the southern front, led by the duc de Villars, did not go as well for France, because its military allies had differing motives for their support. King Charles Emanuel of Sardinia was satisfied with the surrender of Milan in December, 1733, and could not be counted on for ongoing support. The Spanish troops under Don Carlos de Bourbon, the son of Philip V, abandoned their French allies to go to Naples in February, 1734, where Don Carlos was welcomed as king of Naples and, soon after, of Sicily, becoming Charles IV of the Two Sicilies.

The fiercest battles of the war were fought in Italy in 1734: The Battle of Parma Parma, Battle of (1734) in June and the Battle of Guastalla Guastalla, Battle of (1734) in September saw the heaviest losses of the war, without resulting in lasting gains for either side. Meanwhile, Stanisław I, who had relocated to Gdańsk at the end of September, received little military support from the French during the attack on that city by Russian-Saxon forces at the beginning of 1734. When Gdańsk fell in June after a five-month siege, Stanisław I escaped and was harbored at Königsberg in Prussia until the armistice.

By the fall of 1734, the campaigns on both sides dwindled, and there were no serious military engagements in 1735. The war, however, cost France two of its most famous elderly and seasoned marshals, Berwick and Villars, who died within five days of each other in June, 1734. It also saw the last appearance in the field of the great Austrian general, Prince Eugene of Savoy.

As often happened in the eighteenth century, diplomatic efforts to reach a settlement were simultaneous with military action. Diplomacy began as early as the fall of 1734, when the British ambassador to Holland began a series of communiqués with French prime minister Cardinal André-Hercule de Fleury concerning tentative terms for a peace settlement. In the first part of 1735, negotiations by several other mediators resulted in the Preliminaries of Vienna, signed in Vienna on October 3, 1735. France and Austria officially ratified these agreements in the Third Treaty of Vienna Vienna, Treaty of (1738) on November 18, 1738, with the clauses concerning Spain later ratified at Versailles in April, 1739. The treaty’s provisions redistributed portions of Italy to Spain and Austria and granted Stanisław I Leszczyński the title of king of Poland, in exchange for his abdication in favor of Augustus III. Stanisław received the autonomous duchy of Lorraine, while the displaced duke of Lorraine (the future Austrian emperor Francis I) inherited Tuscany.

Significance

Following the War of the Spanish Succession (1702-1714) and preceding the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748), the War of the Polish Succession was one of the many wars in the eighteenth century over the question of dynastic succession, which was key to preserving power within a nation, as well as to maintaining a balance of power between nations. Poland’s importance, however, receded after the war, as that country increasingly became a defenseless pawn in international diplomacy. Losing some of its territory in 1772 and 1793 in the first and second partitions of Poland, Partitions of Poland it ceased to exist as a nation altogether after the third partition in 1795, when the Polish king was forced to abdicate and the rest of Poland’s land was parceled out to Russia, Prussia, and Austria. The question of dynastic succession in Poland thus became moot.

The War of the Polish Succession resulted in immediate as well as long-term changes to the political map of Europe. The Third Treaty of Vienna stipulated that Lorraine French Lorraine would return to France upon the death of Stanisław Leszczyński. This came to pass in 1766, and France no longer had a troublesome island of foreign territory within its borders. Spain regained almost all the territory it had lost to Austria and Savoy in the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) Utrecht, Treaty of (1713) at the close of the War of the Spanish Succession, and the Spanish Bourbon Dynasty preserved its hold on the Two Sicilies until 1860. Austria regained most of its prewar Italian territory as well as Tuscany. The aftermath of the War of the Polish Succession restored a balance of power in Europe; however, that lasted only a few years before it was again challenged.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Campbell, Peter R. Power and Politics in Old Regime France, 1720-1745. New York: Routledge, 1996. Detailed discussion of French domestic and foreign policy with an emphasis on the role of Cardinal de Fleury. Copious notes, bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Friedrich, Karin. The Other Prussia: Royal Prussia, Poland, and Liberty, 1569-1772. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Focus on the political and religious self-identity of Polish Prussia, a province of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from 1466 to 1793. Extensive multilingual bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kamen, Henry. Philip V of Spain: The King Who Reigned Twice. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2001. Overview of Spanish diplomatic policies, military engagements, and relationship to France during Philip’s reign. Diagrams, notes, brief bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lukowski, Jerzy, and Herbert Zawadzki. A Concise History of Poland. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. The first Polish history from the Middle Ages to the present day in English; a section on the War of the Polish Succession. Charts, black-and-white photos, bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sutton, John L. The King’s Honor and the King’s Cardinal: The War of Polish Succession. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1980. The first full-length English book on the war; engaging account with military and diplomatic details from memoirs and letters. Bibliography and index.

Great Northern War

War of the Spanish Succession

Battle of Poltava

Treaty of Utrecht

Treaty of Vienna

Accession of Frederick the Great

Maria Theresa Succeeds to the Austrian Throne

War of the Austrian Succession

Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle

Lorraine Becomes Part of France

Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Eighteenth Century</i>

Charles VI; Charles XII; Eugene of Savoy; André-Hercule de Fleury; Frederick William I; Louis XV; Peter the Great; Philip V. Polish Succession, War of the (1733-1735) Polish throne

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