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Early in 1733 Augustus II, elector of Saxony and king of Poland, died in Warsaw from complications of a gangrenous foot. The elective throne of Poland thus fell vacant, and the states of Europe began cautious maneuvers designed to secure for each some national advantage in the choice of a successor. Before the year was out, diplomacy had given way to military force. Yet the Age of Reason fostered a relationship between diplomacy and warfare that limited the violence of military action.
The War of Polish Succession might have produced widespread carnage. It was a major struggle among the great powers of Europe with actions in Poland, the Rhineland, and Italy. Many illustrious commanders took part—Marshal Villars and Prince Eugene, Maurice de Saxe and Count Daun. Behind them stood the powerful figures of Cardinal Fleury, anxious to uphold the honor of King Louis even as he guarded against escalation of the war, and Emperor Charles VI, obsessed with his desire to keep the Holy Roman Empire in Hapsburg hands. After three years of wary military action the war ended as it had begun, in a series of secret diplomatic maneuvers. No nation was annihilated, no prince unthroned, and once again Europe’s precarious balance of power had been restored.
John L. Sutton’s engrossing account, the first in any major European language to bring together the evidence from the great diplomatic and military archives of Europe, reveals the very essence of eighteenth-century warfare, with its grand campaigns as formal as minuets, its sieges as gentlemanly as court receptions. On another level, the plight of the mercenaries who did much of the fighting yet had no stake in the conflict beyond day-to-day survival is portrayed just as vividly in this clear-eyed examination of a dynastic war and its setting.
John L. Sutton teaches in the Department of History at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown.
The University Press of Kentucky
Place of Publication
War of Polish Succession, Cardinal Fleury, Louis XV, Charles VI
Sutton, John L., "The King's Honor and the King's Cardinal: The War of the Polish Succession" (1980). European History. 23.
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