Thursday, February 28, 2008

War of the Polish Succession... per my last post, as I'd never, ever, heard of the War of the Polish Succession, and my interest (as usual!) was piqued, I decided to go off and have a research one lunchtime - thought you might be interested in what I found out. For those of you who know the war intimately, however, my apologies.... J

So what did I find out?? Well, the war lasted about five years from 1733 to 1738 and was started as a result of their being no clear successor to Augustus II, the then King of Poland (known as "the Strong" he was also Duke Elector of Saxony).

After he died the Polish governing body (known as the Sejm) elected Stanislaus I Leszczynski to be king (that's him, to the left), a minority however, elected Augustus III the son of the previous king. Stanislaus was interesting as this was the second time he was elected king of Poland - he'd also been king 30 years before as a result of political manoeuvring at the end of the Great Northern War

The war started out then, as a purely civil war but soon escalated (as is all too common at this period of time) into a European war of quite astonishing political complexity!

France came in on the side of Stanislaus, as firstly Louis XV was his son-in-law, but also because France was looking to balance Russian and Austrian power in Northern and Eastern Europe. Spain supported France (Philip V was Louis' uncle), as did the Kingdom of Sardinia.

Austria came in on the side of Augustus (that's him to the right) not because he was their first choice, apparently they found him "irritating"(!), but because he was the only credible alternative. They were supported by Russia, Prussia and Saxony (by dint of Augustus being Duke Elector).

Britain and the Netherlands, Bavaria (by dint of treaty with France), and Sweden remained neutral in this war.

I would recommend a read of the Wikipedia entry for a little more detail on the politics, which are complex in the extreme, but basically, the rapid expansion of the war was due to France (supported by her allies and supporters) using the succession issue to "have a go" at Austria (supported by etc etc etc.). Deep down in the bowels of this was their ultimate aim which was to wrest the Duchy of Lorraine away from the Austrians.

Spain was after territory in Italy - controlled by Austria at this time..

Not surprisingly given this spread of underlying aims, the war had four main theatres:

~ in the Polish theatre of war (and the picture is of the siege of Gdansk) the Russians quickly took Danzig (June 1734), effectively ending the war in this theatre. Stanislaus fled to France.

~ on the Rhine the French took Philipsburg (July 1734) and went on to occupy the Duchy of Lorraine and the Habsburg Netherlands. By the by, Philipsburg marked the first major engagement of the young Frederick the Great, and the last major engagement of Eugene..

~ in Northern Italy, a French-Sardinian army occupied Milan, fought an Austro-Prussian army at the battle of Parma (June 1734 - indecisive result - approx 50,000 per side) and again at Guastalla (September that year - approx 40,000 per side). This latter was a Franco-Sardinian victory, credited largely to the Sardinians.

~ in southern Italy, Spanish forces defeated the Austrians at Bitonto (May 1734) in the Kingdom of Naples, they then went on to occupy Naples and Sicily.

...all in all then, the war was a disaster for Austria, but the arrival of Russian troops on the Rhine resulted in the French party opening peace talks, which were agreed with the Treaty of Vienna in November 1738.

By it:

~ Augustus was confirmed as king of Poland, Stanisłaus being compensated with the Duchy of Lorraine (clever that - you may remember who his son-in-law was, and with no other children guess who Lorraine would pass to on his death!)

~ Spain was forced to give up Tuscany & Parma (which passed to Austria) but Charles was compensated by being confirmed as king of Naples and Sicily (& Tuscany and Parma were regained by the Spanish after the War of the Austrian Succession, anyway!)

~ Austria ceded a strip of western Milan (with the city of Novara) to Piedmont. The succession in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany was promised to Francis, the ex-Duke of Lorraine - little bit like a roundabout at this point..!

So bottom line - not much changed... the French and Austrian power base shifted slightly; overall the war was regarded a French victory, but the settlement wasn't lasting. The War of Austrian Succession (which I have heard of!) was soon to follow, again seeing France and Austria opposed to each other.

Things to read - these two are probably the best:


  1. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for the fascinating summary of this (apparently) little known conflict. It's terribly interesting.

    Best Regards,


  2. I HAD known about it . . . but not in the detail that you've provided.

    My main recollection of it was that Poles had very little to do about the war . . . that it was essentially another Bourbon/Hapsburg conflict and that it was mainly contested outside of Poland.

    -- Jeff

  3. Thanks Stokes..

    Thanks to you to, Jeff... your memory doesn't let you down as you've summed the war up pretty neatly.. it was all just an excuse for the big guys to gang up on each other.. I think if I was to ever take this period up (and I'm not planning too!) then the Italian theatres look to be the most exciting...

  4. I'm still tempted to get into the Italian and/or Spanish Theatres of the WSS in 15mm . . . my one big concern is that the French and Imperial armies are rather similar in their coloring. The Northern Theatre seems to have more interesting visuals.

    -- Jeff

  5. Yes... bit too much grey??

    The theatre that I would be tempted by once I've finished building up a critical mass for the campaigns in north Europe, would be Spain... the Spanish army in particular is spectacular - yellow, red, green, Irish regiments, Swiss regiments, it's endless!

  6. But I've not been able to find much information yet about the units in the Spanish Theatre . . . of course I'm in the early stages.

    Sadly, one of the armies that I'd really like to do is Piedmont . . . but I've not found that they actually did much (if any) fighting.

    -- Jeff