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Charles VI and the War of Polish Succession

During the years of peace, Austria under CharlesVI failed to diminish its debt or advance economically, and it failed to reform its military. Charles VI was no Peter the Great. He abolished some minor trade barriers but not the bigger barriers between his various lands. He built a road between Vienna and his port at Trieste, which helped develop Austria's maritime trade to the annoyance of Venice. Meanwhile, Austria's international trade was advancing little because of French and British competition.

Charles VI did strengthen Austria in one area. He had signed a defensive treaty with Russia's new ruler, Peter the Great's successor. The treaty had been defensive – against an attack by the Ottomans. But it was Poland that would be the focus of concern that would lead to the next war. Monarchical succession was still a source of instability. Augustus, ruler of Saxony and King of Poland, died in 1733. Russia joined with Austria in favoring the son of Augustus for Poland's throne. Louis XV of France favored his father-in-law, Stanislaus I, who had been king of Poland earlier in the century. And Louis' agents bribed Polish nobles in an attempt to win their support for Stanislaus.

Russians still saw Stanislaus as an enemy, and as soon as Stanislaus arrived in Warsaw, a Russian army arrived to expel him. Polish nobles complied with Russian and Austrian wishes and elected the son of Augustus as their king. The French were enjoying a new prosperity and felt recuperated from war. They were looking to recover their old position as Europe's leading power, and in 1733 they retaliated against Austria's position on Poland by declaring war. That year they sent an army across their border into the Charles VI's Holy Roman Empire – to Lorraine – fighting the Austrians and others from the Holy Roman Empire and taking the town of Kehl.

The British, still in a détente with France, preferred not to intervene, ignoring their old allies on the continent. The Swedes, on the other hand, were frightened by Russia's aggression in Poland and the possibility that Russia might interfere in a monarchical succession in their country. Sweden also chose to stay out of the war. But to defend itself better, Sweden buried its differences with Denmark, and the two signed an alliance.

Seeing another opportunity to win back territory in Italy, Philip V of Spain signed a "family compact" with his Bourbon relative Louis XV, and Spain declared war against Charles VI and Austria. France bribed the new king of Sardinia, the son of Vittorio Amadeus II, Charles Emanuel III, and he also joined the war against Austria. In 1734, French and Spanish troops drove Austrians from the city of Naples. Charles Emanuel won a battle against the Austrians at Guastalla near Parma in northern Italy, the Austrians losing 10,000 killed, and France recognized Charles Emanuel as ruler of the Duchy of Milan.

In 1735, Russian troops joined the Austrians fighting against the French in western Germany. The French had been urging the Ottomans to side with them against the Austrians and Russians. The Ottoman Empire was distracted by a war against its neighbor to its east: the Shiite Muslims in Iran. The Russians hoped to take advantage of this and were planning to expand to the Black Sea. And they talked the Austrians into joining them against the Ottomans, the two powers agreeing to divide the spoils equally.

In 1736, the Russians ravaged and slaughtered their way to Azov, by the Sea of Azov just north of the Black Sea, but they were unable to live off the land devastated by the defenders. The Russians succumbed to famine and illness, and were forced to evacuate. The Austrians were also suffering – from a shortage of money and from the quality of their military commanders. In 1736, while continuing to fight against the Ottomans, Austria felt obliged to make peace with France. In an agreement with France, Austria recognized Naples and Sicily as belonging to Spain and agreed to Louis XV acquiring Lorraine. And France agreed to the Duchy of Milan being returned to Austria, Victor Emmanuel III of the House of Savoy having to be content with giving up Milan and settling for nearby Novara and Tortona.

By the summer of 1737 the Ottomans were better prepared for war against the Russians and Austrians. The Russians that year captured the area around Otyakov, west of the Crimea, but then at Bender the Ottomans drove the Russians back. The Austrians were advancing in Walachia and beyond Bosnia into Serbia, and they took Nish in August. But by late October, the Ottomans were also driving back the Austrians, retaking Nish and routing the Austrians near Bucharest.

In 1738, the Russians failed to interest Christians in the Balkans in joining them against the Ottomans. The Russian war against the Ottomans stalled, while the Ottomans were advancing farther against the Austrians. In 1739, both Austria and Russia decided to negotiate an end to their war against the Ottomans. In this settlement, Austria returned to the Ottomans the city of Belgrade and territory south of the Sava River – territory it had won from the Ottomans in 1718. Russia was allowed to keep Azov on condition that it destroy the forts there and that it sail no ships on the Sea of Azov or the Black Sea. And the Tatars in the Crimea were to remain an independent buffer between the Ottomans and Russia.


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