London's Partitioning Diplomacy


The primary aim of the merchant elites of the City of London and the United Provinces of the Netherlands was to eradicate competition in maritime trade by beating two great Catholic empires, France and Spain. Much of this aim would be achieved through so called 'partitioning diplomacy'. In 1697, the hostilities between England and France had been temporarily suspended by the treaty signed in the Dutch city of Ryswick, to give place to a new partition plan. In 1698, a Freemason, Hans Willem Bentinck, a favourite of king William III of England, had a series of meetings with the French, first in Paris and then in Hague, concocting the partitioning of Imperial Spain. The secret Treaty of Hague of 1698, known as First Partition Treaty, was signed by England, France and United Provinces of the Netherlands, and provided for the partitioning of the territories of Catholic Spain in Europe between France, Austria, and Duchy of Lorraine (present-day north-eastern France) on death of the childless king Carlos II of Spain of the House of Habsburg. The conspirators agreed that Joseph Ferdinand, Electoral Prince of Bavaria, would inherit the Spanish throne but after his sudden death, the interested parties met again and signed a new treaty in London in 1700, known as Second Partition Treaty, passing the Spanish throne to Archduke Charles, son of Emperor Leopold I of Austria, giving France in return all of Spanish possessions in Italy.

King Carlos II of Spain naturally rejected all these arrangements. Persuaded by pro-French cardinal, Luis Manuel Fernández de Portocarrero, archbishop of Toledo and former viceroy of Catalonia, he left all his possessions to Philip d'Anjou, grandson of King Louis XIV of France. This opened up a prospect of France and Spain uniting under the House of Bourbon into one big European Catholic Empire, a possibility that the London merchant elites could not accept. Therefore, when the French King Louis XIV renounced the Treaty of London in favour of the Spanish king's chosen heir, England formed a powerful anti-French Grand Alliance. It comprised the United Provinces of the Netherlands, which was in political and commercial alliance with England; Austria, which hoped to retain its Habsburg dynasty on the Spanish throne; Prussia, whose Duke Frederick III of Brandenburg, was a cousin of king William III; and allies of Prussia, Hanover and Saxony. This anti-French, anti-Spanish alliance was supported by the House of Savoy, which wanted to help the Habsburgs, and by Portugal, which was in alliance with England since the times of the Knights Templar. Within Spain, Catalonia province with its capital in Barcelona sided with England to support the Austrian Habsburg pretender. Although previously the Frankish vassals, Catalonia Province became part of Crown of Aragon in the twelve century through dynastic marriage, and as a coastal territory, it spread the power of the Aragonese Crown into the Mediterranean Sea with sup port of the Jewish financiers who were more numerous in Barcelona than elsewhere.75 This made Barcelona into a powerful and wealthy city and made Catalonia develop a certain degree of independence with its own political institutions which were preserved even after the union of the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon into kingdom of Spain in 1469.

In course of preparations for war, the Whigs made arrangements to secure royal succession. In 1684, Queen Mary died without an heir and king William III reigned on his own. The daughter of deposed king James II, Princess Anne, and her descendants, were in line of succession according to the Bill of Rights 1689, but Princess Anne had suffered series of miscarriage and eventually found herself confined to a wheelchair and wholly dependent upon vicious and manipulative Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough. Sarah Churchill exploited whatever and whomever possible in order to advance the interests of the Whig party or to increase her already immense fortune.76 When in 1701 the exiled king James II died in France and Prince Anne's only child also died, the merchants of the City of London decided to take up the legislative measures to ensure that the English Crown passes to the protestant monarch. The same year, the English Parliament passed “An Act for the Further Limitation of the Crown and Better Securing the Rights of the Subject”, known as the Act of Settlement, which passed the Crown of England and Ireland, upon Anne's death, to the next Protestant in line to the throne, Sophia, Electress of Hanover, granddaughter of king James VI of Scotland and I of England, and to her Protestant descendants. The Act of Settlement stated that Catholics or those married to Catholics could not succeed to the throne. When king William III died the following year, in 1702, Princess Anne became Queen of England and Ireland. Because of her close friendship with Sarah Churchill, she immediately appointed John Churchill commander of the Army in preparation for war against France and Spain.

The War over Spanish Succession began when Prince Eugene of Savoy, an experienced imperial general who run successful campaigns against the Ottoman Turks, entered into Spanish possessions in Italy. The fighting then carried on through siege and counter-siege, on land and sea. In 1704, John Churchill, the Allied Commander-in-Chief, led the British and Dutch troops far into Bavaria, misleading the French, who expected an attack from Alsace. On August 13, 1704, joined by the Prussian troops and seconded by Prince Eugene of Savoy, he defeated the numerically superior Franco-Bavarian army, at the small village of Blindheim, on the banks of the Danube river. All along, the merchants and bankers of Amsterdam and the City of London, ensured provisions of supplies. Solomon de Medina, Jewish arms dealer, accompanied Churchill on his European campaigns, furnishing provisions and building an effective intelligence network. Later Churchill would find himself under attack in the English parliament for paying 6,000 pounds a year to “the Jew”.77 Prince Eugene Savoy could count on credit from the Jewish bankers, Samuel Oppenheimer and his friend, Samson Werheimer.78 In the same month, in August 1704, an English and Dutch expedition, captured Spanish port of Gibraltar, strategic for control of the straits of Gibraltar, and defeated the Spanish off the coast of Malaga. In 1706, after Prince Eugene stroke further victories in north Italy and Marlborough swept the French out of the Spanish Netherlands, the belligerent parties entered into peace negotiations.

Back at home, the merchants of the City of London faced opposition from Scotland, still an independent kingdom, which felt offended for not being consulted regarding Act of Settlement. Consequently, the Scottish Parliament passed in 1704 its own Act of Security, in effect a declaration of its independence. The English parliament retaliated by producing an Aliens Act in 1705 threatening to expel all non-naturalized Scots residents from England, and then offering Bill of Union in 1706, accompanied by a bribe. The Scots feared that rejection of the voluntary union may result in the economic sanctions and imposition of the Union by force, so their offer was accepted. The end result was the Act of Union which was passed in 1707 where the two states, in the words of the Treaty, were "United into One Kingdom by the Name of GREAT BRITAIN.” Its new flag, the Union Jack, combined a red cross on a white background - known as St Georges Cross - and a white saltire on a blue background - known as St Andrew's Cross - and had been invented by king James I already more than a century ago. Scottish law, currency and the Presbyterian Church of Scotland were not to be touched but the age-old Scottish monarchy, founded by Kenneth Mac Alpin in the ninth century and tied since 1371 to the House of Stuart, was to end with the life of Queen Anne.79 Scotland's union with England was opposed by the common people of Scotland but countless petitions and riots were effectively suppressed. The Scottish Parliament was dissolved and not to meet again until 1999.

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75 Further reading: Henry John Chaytor, A History of Aragon and Catalonia (AMS Press, 1969) »

76 Further reading: Ophelia Field, Sarah Churchill: Duchess of Marlborough: The Queen's Favourite (St. Martin's Press; 2003) »

77 Ruth Schuster; This Day in Jewish History: 1700: The First Jew to be made a knight is born; Dutch-born arms dealer Solomon de Medina had friends in the highest places of the British realm”, Haaretz, 23 January 2014 »

78 Morawski, Źródła Rozbioru Polski, p. 167 »

79 Davies, The Isles, p. 622 »