War of the Polish Succession

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POLISH SUCCESSION, WAR OF THE (17331738). In February 1733 Augustus II (16701733; ruled 16971704, 17091733), elector of Saxony, king of Poland, and grand duke of Lithuania, died, leaving the throne of the elective monarchy of Poland-Lithuania vacant. Two candidates emerged, backed by opposing European alliances in a war that became significant not only for Poland-Lithuania but also for the brokering of power in Europe. Augustus II had attempted to introduce a hereditary monarchy to safeguard the Polish throne for his son Frederick Augustus II (16961763; ruled 17341763). However, Poles and Lithuanians were reluctant to elect a third candidate from Saxony, confirming a hereditary precedent set by Augustus I (Sigismund II Augustus; 15201572; ruled 15481572) and Augustus II. Most of the nobility, whose duty it was to elect the monarch, supported the Polish candidate Stanislaw I Leszczynski (16771766; ruled 17041709, 17331735), formerly elected king of Poland between 1704 and 1709 under a Swedish protectorate. Supported by his son-in-law the French king Louis XV (17101774; ruled 17151774) and the influential Polish Potocki and Czartoryski families, Leszczynski was elected king by the Polish-Lithuanian Sejm (parliament) on 12 September 1733. However, Russia and Austria, despite a previous secret agreement with Prussia in 1732 to exclude both candidates, pledged support for Augustus as the only pragmatic alternative. In addition the Saxon had promised the Duchy of Courland to Russia and to renounce his rights to any claims to the Habsburg throne.

At the election of Leszczynski, Russian and Saxon armies marched into Poland, and the nobility was forced to elect Frederick Augustus as Augustus III in December 1733. Leszczynski, supported by the Confederation of Dzików (led by Adam Tarlo), was forced to flee to the city of Danzig (Gdańsk), which refused to surrender to the Russians. When Danzig fell to the Russians (despite what some would call half-hearted French military and naval aid), Leszczynski fled Poland. In 1736 the so-called Pacification Parliament succeeded in normalizing the situation in Poland and saw the departure of Russian and Saxon troops.

The War of the Polish Succession manifestly demonstrated the continuing interference in Polish-Lithuanian affairs by foreign powers, especially Russia. However, its significance was not confined only to the succession to the Polish throne; it had geopolitical consequences for other European states. France, allied with Spain and Sardinia, took the Duchy of Lorraine and made Leszczynski its nominal duke on condition that the duchy revert to France upon his death. Leszczynski also retained his royal title. In turn the deposed duke of Lorraine was compensated with the grand duchy of Tuscany upon the death of its last surviving Medici ruler. Spain had gained Austrian-ruled Lombardy, Naples, and Sicily, while Austria received the duchies of Parma and Piacenza. Importantly, France agreed to recognize the Pragmatic Sanction that guaranteed Maria Theresa's (17171780) succession to the Habsburg throne. Negotiations for peace began in Vienna in 1735, but a final treaty was not signed until 1738. Therefore some sources date the end of the War of the Polish Succession 1735, while others favor 1738. Retrospectively this war was seen by many as one of the precursory events to the partitions of Poland-Lithuania.

See also Augustus II the Strong (Saxony and Poland) ; Poland, Partitions of .


Davies, Norman. God's Playground: A History of Poland. 2 vols. Oxford, 1981.

Wanda Wyporska

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War of the Polish Succession, 1733–35. On the death (1733) of Augustus II of Poland, Stanislaus I sought to reascend the Polish throne. He was supported by his son-in-law, Louis XV of France. The rival candidate for the throne was the son of Augustus II, the elector of Saxony, who was supported by Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI and by Anna of Russia. Stanislaus was elected by a majority of the Polish nobles, but a minority proclaimed the elector of Saxony king of Poland as Augustus III. Stanislaus, being without troops, could not resist the Russian forces that intervened in his rival's behalf; after the fall (1734) of Danzig, he fled to France. The war continued to be fought along the Rhine and in Italy, with Spain and Sardinia joining France against the emperor. Spain sought to recover Naples and Sicily, which it had ceded to Austria at the Peace of Utrecht, and Sardinia sought to dislodge the Austrians from Lombardy. The allies were successful in Italy, where Spanish troops seized Sicily and Naples. The territories of the duke of Lorraine (the son-in-law of Charles VI, later Emperor Francis I) were in the meantime occupied by the French. In 1735, by the preliminary Treaty of Vienna, peace was obtained through a general dynastic reshuffle. Stanislaus I renounced Poland, though he retained his royal title, and was compensated with the duchies of Lorraine and Bar, which were to pass to the French crown at his death. The dispossessed duke of Lorraine was promised the succession to the grand duchy of Tuscany after the death of its last Medici ruler (which occurred in 1737). Spain received Naples and Sicily and in exchange ceded to Austria its claims to the duchy of Parma. Austria retained Lombardy; in addition, the emperor received from France a guarantee of the Pragmatic Sanction. Sardinia neither gained nor lost anything. A final peace treaty was signed after lengthy negotiations in 1738.