The Partition Treaties 1698-1700

The first partition treaty, or treaty of The Hague

Negotiating the first partition treaty

The initiative for the first partition treaty was probably taken by Versailles. On 15 March 1698 the Earl of Portland wrote to King William III that on the 14th he had been visited by the French secretaries of state Torcy and Pomponne. They had communicated to him the idea of making some kind of treaty to prevent the outbreak of war in case Charles II died. It's probable that no specific proposals for a partition treaty were at that time communicated to Portland.

In order to make more specific proposals and to start negotiations France sent Tallard as ambassador extraordinary to London. On 11 April 1698 Tallard had a meeting with King William III, after which the latter communicated to Heinsius that in his opinion it would take all of Spain's Italian possessions to get the agreement of Emperor Leopold to a partition1.

After some talks with Tallard King William III stepped back and Portland continued the negotiations with Tallard. In London Secretary Vernon, John Somers, Shrewsbury, Orford and Montague were involved2. In August Portland and Tallard went to The Hague to finish the negotiations over there.

The treaty was signed in The Hague on 11 October 1698. For France it was signed by Tallard. On the English side Portland and Joseph Williamson signed. For the United Provinces it was signed by 8 men: Frans Verbolt, Mayor of Nijmegen for Gelderland; Frederik baron van Reede; Anthonie Heinsius for Holland; Johan Becker for Zeeland; J. van der Does for Utrecht; W. van Haaren for Friesland; A. Lencker for Overijssel; and Jan de Drews for Groningen.

Terms of the first partition treaty

By the conditions of the first partition treaty the electoral prince of Bavaria would inherit most of the Spanish crown; meaning Spain; the Spanish Netherlands and the Indies. The Dauphin would inherit Naples, Sicily, Finale, the ports in Tuscany (Porto Santo Stefano; Porto' Ercole; Orbetello, Talamone, Porto Longone, Piombino) and the part of Guipuzcoa north of the Pyrenees (notably the towns of San Sebastián and Fuenterrabía). Archduke Charles would get Milan.

Reasons for signing the first partition treaty

All in all this treaty satisfied both Louis XIV and the Sea Powers. For England and the United Provinces it meant that Spain and the Spanish Netherlands would remain independent. On the other hand the power of France would significantly increase due to the Italian possessions. The most important reason for William III to enter into this treaty was that there was no clear successor to the Spanish throne and therefore a sudden death of Charles II would lead to a chaotic situation. In such a situation France could probably simply march into the Spanish possessions, and especially Spain itself, without the alliance being able to prevent it.

For Louis XIV the reason to agree to the partition treaty was that it was not clear whether any successor to the Spanish crown would be named, and if this was the case who it was to be. If no successor was named he could indeed expect to march into Spain and support his candidate. In case a Bourbon candidate was named there was not so much need to enter into a treaty because he deemed to have good chances in a war with Spain on his side. In case Spain organized a regular succession by a Habsburg candidate the picture was however very different. Louis XIV could still invade Spain and try to get his hand on mainland Spain. Such a venture would however lead to an immediate renewal of the League of Augsburg. The participants of the anti-French alliance were also a lot more powerful in 1698 than they were in 1688. Louis therefore traded a hypothetical situation for the peaceful acquisition of Spain's Italian possessions.

Emperor Leopold was not invited to the negotiations. The reason was that France wanted to drive a wedge between the Sea Powers and the Emperor. The Sea Powers themselves were afraid and fed up with the Habsburg policy in this matter. This policy relied on a Habsburg candidate succeeding and the sea powers being forced to support him in order to preserve the balance of power.

Reactions to the first partition treaty

Upon hearing about the treaty Charles II and the Spanish aristocracy were furious about this foreign attempt to carve up the Spanish empire. They did have less problems with Joseph as king and therefore Spain decided that he would rule the whole Spanish empire, and the Habsburgs and Louis would get nothing. On 14 November 1698 Charles the Sufferer proclaimed his will in which Joseph got all, and the others got nothing.

Upon hearing about this first partition treaty emperor Leopold was also outraged and felt betrayed, but this was not such a problem as Louis and William could have enforced the treaty. William's problem was solved in as far as that France would not get Spain and the Spanish Netherlands without a war. It was not solved with regard to the fact that Louis might go to war to get the Spanish Netherlands.

The death of the proposes successor electoral prince Joseph of Bavaria

The appointment of Joseph of Bavaria as universal heir to Charles II had practically fulfilled the ambition of William III by keeping the inheritance out of French hands. For Louis it kept the Habsurgs out of Spain. This way the will had both annulled and confirmed the first partition treaty. On 6 February 1699, within three months of the conclusion of the treaty, Joseph of Bavaria died of unknown causes. A political murder? Perhaps, Max Emanuel anyhow vented his suspicions. A new solution had to be found.

The second partition treaty

Contents of the Second Partition treaty

On 11 June 1699 a second partition treaty was agreed to. Archduke Charles took the place of Joseph of Bavaria and Milan was added to the Dauphin's part, but exchanged for Lorraine. In other words: Archduke Charles got Spain, the Indies and the Spanish Netherlands, the Dauphin got Naples, Sicily and Lorraine, and the Duke of Lorraine got Milan. A condition was made that Charles' territories could never be united with the empire. The treaty was thus ratified by the seapowers and France alone on 13 March 1700. It seemed as if the problem was solved, even though the emperor would not adhere to the treaty.

Fatal flaws of the Second Partition treaty

The fatal flaws in this treaty were related to the fact that it did not take the Spanish internal position into account. The first flaw was that for the Spanish government a partition was unacceptable. Therefore Charles II could only name a universal heir. The only practical choices were Archduke Charles or Philip of Anjou. A choice for the Habsburg candidate as universal heir would annul the treaty, and could lead to an immediate declaration of war by France. Naming the Bourbon candidate could also lead to war, but also to measures by pro-Habsburg forces and troops in Spain. It's highly probable that Charles II therefore wanted to delay making his will as long as possible.

The second flaw in the treaty was that it did not take into account that Charles II was free in chosing his heir and that this heir could not be hindered from taking possession of Spain itself. It should therefore have provided for a method of partition that depended on the choice of heir. The treaty as it was could only be executed if Archduke Charles was chosen, and this brings us to the flaw that the emperor was not included. Taken together this meant that in case the Habsburg candidate was chosen the emperor was not bound to cede anything and would almost certainly risk war to hold on to the entire inheritance. In case the Bourbon candidate was chosen he had to take Spain itself in order to prevent the previous scenario and because this was in violation of the treaty he could just as well try to take the whole.

Conspiracy in Madrid

Due to the fatal flaws in the second partition treaty it did not stand in the way of Louis' ambition to get the Spanish inheritance. He could play to get Philip of Anjou on the throne and fall back on the treaty in case these attempts failed. Secretly Louis poured in diplomats with a lot of money in order to bring the Spanish aristocracy to choosing one of his descendants. This the Spanish aristocrats and clergy accomplished by surrounding the king's deathbed with priests and barring the queen from seeing him. This way a will of doubtful legality was made on October 7 1700, of which Paris was informed immediately, after which the king died on November 1.

At first Louis, on hearing of the will told the Dutch he would waver his rights and adhere to the partition treaty. On 8 November 1700 he heard of Charles II's death. The Spanish then made clear that if he did not accept the will the crown of Spain would be offered to Archduke Charles. Adhering to the partition treaty therefore involved marching to Italy and war with the emperor over the Italian possessions. Adhering to the will would certainly also lead to war, because the emperor would at least try to conquer Milan. In fact the consequences of both choices were highly impredictable. On 12 November Louis wrote to Madrid that he would follow the will. A formal proclamation of the 18 year old Philip as king of Spain was made on 16 November 1700.


1) Englische Geschichte by Leopold Ranke has an 11 April 1698 letter by William III to Heinsius: 'Den G. van Tallard heeft van dagh bij mij geweest in een particuliere audientie en heeft mij geproponeert hetselve dat Pomponne en Torcy aan G. van Portland hebben gedaan'
2) For example Charles Knight's school history of England, London 1865, page 482 for these persons being involved on the English side.