Robert Howard Lord.

The second partition of Poland; a study in diplomatic history online

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in Bischoffwerder's of March 24.


and at Berlin. 1 It was natural that Spielmann turned his thoughts
to that favorite project which had haunted the minds of Austrian
statesmen for almost a century — the exchange of the Belgian
provinces for Bavaria.

As we have already noted, there is some reason to think that as
early as 1787 Cobenzl and Spielmann, discussing this plan with
Joseph II, hoped to realize it by combining it with a Prussian
acquisition in Poland. The next known occasion on which it
cropped out was at the meeting of the State Conference on
January 17, 1792, when the subject of ' indemnities ' for the
expenses of a possible intervention in France was brought under
deliberation. It was then proposed, probably by Spielmann,
that the Imperial Court should seek its compensation in the ex-
change of Belgium for Bavaria. 2 The Conference did not formally
accept or reject this idea, but held it advisable to let the other
Powers be the first to broach the question of indemnities. When
that topic was first discussed between Bischoffwerder and Spiel-
mann at the end of February, the Prussian gained the impression
that the Austrians intended to revive their old Exchange plan. 3
Then in March, almost simultaneously with the decisive news
from Berlin and St. Petersburg, there arrived dispatches from
Munich which must have encouraged Spielmann to take up the
project. Count Lehrbach, the Austrian envoy to Bavaria,
reported that the Elector was once more possessed with his
ancient hankering to become a king; that he thought to sell his
vote at the coming Imperial election for the price of a crown; and
that since Bavaria did not possess all the qualifications of a
kingdom, he was willing to consent to an exchange, in order to
obtain a " sovereign district." 4 The sovereign district in ques-
tion could be, of course, only the Austrian Netherlands, the
oft-projected ' Kingdom of Burgundy.' At that moment the

1 Spielmann's discussion with Jacobi of March 21, mentioned below; Frederick
William's note to Schulenburg of March 12.

2 See the Vorlage of the State Chancellery, dated January 12, and the protocol
of the Conference of January 17, Vivenot, i, pp. 327-341.

3 Bischoffwerder's report of February 29, 1792, B. A., R. 1, Conv. 172.

4 Lehrbach's reports of March 10 and 16, printed in Schrepfer, Pfalzbayerns
Pulitik im Revolutionszeitalter , pp. 110-113.


Austrian cabinet could give no definite promises, but it took
pains not to cut off the Elector's hopes. Lehrbach was ordered to
scatter assurances of his master's desire to oblige His Serene
Highness, but to add that the realization of these plans must
depend on time and circumstances. 1

In these eventful March days in Vienna, when all the great
questions were clamoring for solution, in innumerable con-
ferences Austrian, Prussian, and Russian diplomats were sounding
each other, tentatively throwing out pregnant hints, developing
new and far-reaching combinations. Scanty as are the sources
of our information, it seems clear that in these ' conversations '
the ideas were broached, discussed, matured, out of which grew
the plan for the Second Partition of Poland. For example,
Bischoffwerder and Simolin, the former Russian envoy at Paris,
fell one day to discussing the Elector of Bavaria's desire to wear a
crown; the Russian hazarded the suggestion, " Why not make
him King of Burgundy, as it was once proposed to do ? " ; and the
Prussian replied that he believed his master would consent, if he
could obtain in return Dantzic, Thorn, and the adjacent districts. 2
Even more interesting are the discussions of Bischoffwerder with
Razumovski, the Russian envoy to the Court of Vienna. The
latter had frequently tried to sound the Prussian diplomat on the
Polish question, and on one occasion threw out the idea that
the best way to keep the Republic in bounds would be to partition
it once more. Bischoffwerder was at first cautious and reserved,
but soon after getting the orders of March 14 (in which Frederick
William indicated very clearly his desire for some such happy
consummation), he threw off the mask and told Razumovski
frankly that he believed a new dismemberment would be the
only means of attaining the common goal of the three Powers
with regard to both France and Poland. If the Empress, he
added, wished to come to an understanding with his master for

1 Kaunitz to Lehrbach, March 20, V. A., Bayern, Expcd., 1792.

2 L. Cobenzl to Ph. Cobenzl, May 19, 1792, V. A., Russland, Fasc. 139, a
private letter relating the story as Simolin told it on his return to St. Petersburg;
L. Cobenzl's official report of July 21, V. A., Russland, Berichte, 1792; Alopeus'
report of May 8/19, 1792, giving Bischoffwerder's later allusion to the conversation,
M. A., Ilpyccia, III, 29.


common aggrandizement in Poland, they could satisfy Austria by
reviving the Bavarian Exchange plan in her favor. He denied
having any instructions from the King on this subject, but
repeated frequently that the proposition would cause his sover-
eign great satisfaction. 1 Here was already outlined in all definite-
ness the plan which, it has hitherto been supposed, was conceived
only two months later : the plan for combining the French enter-
prise with the affairs of Poland in such a way that Austria should
secure her indemnity for the intervention in the West by means
of the Bavarian Exchange, while the other two Powers took theirs
at the expense of the unfortunate Republic. Finally, it appears
that Bischoffwerder, perhaps as a sequel to his conversation with
Razumovski, suggested this same project to Spielmann. 2

The Bavarian-Polish plan was, then, in the air, when on March
2 1 Spielmann broached to Jacobi — for the first time in the official
intercourse between the two German Powers — the idea of a new
partition of Poland. He declared that if the King of Prussia
decided that the plan submitted to him by Austria for the settle-
ment of the Polish question did not conform to his interests, it
rested with him to propose another plan in its stead, to which the
King of Hungary would reply with the same frankness and
loyalty as heretofore. If Frederick William desired to profit by
circumstances to obtain an acquisition in Poland, the Court of
Vienna would never oppose, for it recognized that Prussia could
secure a suitable arrondissement only in that quarter. What his
master would claim in return, Spielmann did not clearly say;
but he intimated that Austria could not wish to extend her fron-
tiers on the side of Poland, but could easily find a desirable

1 Razumovski to the Empress, March 11/22, 1792, M. A., ABcrpifl, III, 52.
This conversation took place the 21st. It is uncertain whether Razumovski was
authorized to make any such insinuation. There are no instructions on the subject
in Ostermann's dispatches of this period; but on the other hand, it is perhaps signifi-
cant that the envoy in his report to the Empress made no apologies for having
hazarded a suggestion of such far-reaching importance. It is not improbable that
he may have been authorized to make such insinuations through private letters
from Zubov or Markov, with whom he maintained a regular correspondence.

2 Razumovski to Bezborodko, July 4, 1792, from Spielmann's later confidential
disclosures, M. A., ABdpifl, III, 54. A number of documents illustrating these
' conversations ' at Vienna will be found in Appendix XII.


arrondissement elsewhere; and he suggestively declared that there
was hardly a plan in the world which the two Courts could not
realize, if they were only thoroughly agreed and sincerely resolved
upon it. Finally, he did not tire of repeating that the policy to be
adopted by the two allies towards Poland was left entirely to
Frederick William's decision. That was virtually inviting the
King of Prussia to come forward and propose Exchange and
Partition. 1 The Court of Berlin, however, was still too cautious
to show its hand so openly. It contented itself with expressing
its gratitude and pointing to the necessity of awaiting further
communications from Russia; 2 and thus the question of indem-
nities rested for the time being. At any rate, the ground had
been prepared for a revolutionary change in the Polish policy of
Austria. The seeds had been sown from which sprang the momen-
tous agreements of two months later.

While Spielmann was more or less independently evolving these
dangerous and alluring projects, his chief, the Chancellor, was
slower to adapt himself to the new situation. Although there
could no longer be any expectation of saving the Constitution of
the Third of May, Kaunitz did not cease to lavish confidences and
good advice upon the Court of Dresden, and he allowed Landriani

1 Jacobi's report of March 21, Bischoffwerder's of March 27, B. A., R. 1, 169,
and R. 1, 172.

Jacobi reported that Spielmann, speaking of Poland, had said:
"... que s'il s'agissoit de profiter des Circonstances pour s'arrondir, Votre
Majeste pourroit etre tres sure qu'Elle ne trouveroit jamais le Roi de Hongrie dans
son chemin, qu'on reconnoissoit ici que rien que la Pologne pourroit offrir a la
Prusse des arrondissements convenables et propres a donner encore plus de solidite
et de consistence a la Monarchic Prussienne, que dans le cas que Votre Majeste
trouvat ce parti preferable a. tout autre, il ne doutoit nullement que les Cours de
Vienne et de Berlin etant bien d'accord, et sincerement resolues de pousser leur
poinle, on ne parvient a s'arranger, . . . qu'il s'entendoit que les portions d'ag-
grandissement devoient etre egales pour les deux parties, qu'il ne vouloit pas me
cacher que la Cour de Vienne ne pourroit jamais trouver de sa convenance d'etendre
ses Etats vers la Pologne, que ce seroit plutot s'affoiblir, mais qu'il y auroit d'autres
moyens pour s'arrondir. ... II finit la Conversation sur cette matiere par me
t6moigncr son impatience extreme d'apprendre quel seroit le plan que Votre Majesty
trouveroit bon de substituer a celui parti dimanche dernier par le Courier du
General de Bischoffswerder."

2 Rescript to Jacobi of March 24, and in similar tone throughout April, B. A.,
R. 1, Conv. 169.


to continue to fire the Poles with hopes that could never be
realized. In spite of the pressure from Berlin, in spite of Louis
Cobenzl's admonitions, a month went by before a reply was made
to Golitsyn's communications. And then what a reply! Cobenzl
was instructed, on the one hand, to give the strongest assurances of
the devotion of the new King of Hungary to the Russian alliance,
and to dispel any feelings of distrust or displeasure that might
have arisen at St. Petersburg; but on the other hand, he was
ordered to " make the Russian Court ashamed of its unseemly
and disloyal conduct," and to intimate that Austria still held —
in theory at least — to her former views on the Polish question.
Moreover, he was to demand that the Empress should do nothing
in Poland until the triple concert came into existence; that she
should content herself with such modifications of the new con-
stitution as were absolutely necessary; and that she should avoid
recourse to violent measures. 1 Stripped of its verbiage, this
answer amounted to a consent to the concert proposed by the
Empress, and to a surly admission that the Constitution of the
Third of May would have to be sacrificed in whole or in part.
Doubtless Kaunitz would have done well to swallow his pride and
approve with good grace what he was powerless to prevent. If he
flattered himself that by delays and recriminations he could hold
back the Empress from carrying out her plans, he was vastly
mistaken. That the Court of Vienna should do anything really
effective in defence of Poland was almost out of the question,
owing to the cardinal necessity of maintaining the Russian
alliance, and in view of the equivocal attitude of Prussia. And
whatever slight chances of such action there might have been
vanished entirely when — only a week after the sending of the
reply to St. Petersburg — on April 20 France declared war on


With the outbreak of the Revolutionary War we have no con-
cern here except in so far as it influenced the development of the
Polish question. But since the fate of Poland was soon bound up

1 Instructions to L. Cobenzl of April 12, Vivenot, i, pp. 437-448.


with the question of indemnities for this war, and as that ques-
tion in less than a year became confused by a bitter dispute about
the nature of the war, it is necessary to consider briefly the cir-
cumstances under which Austria and Prussia entered upon the
great struggle.

If it was later maintained that the Court of Vienna went into
the war only in order to vindicate ' the cause of all sovereigns,'
the statement was, to say the least, hardly a half-truth. Down
to the moment when it became convinced that an attack from
France was impending — that moment may be fixed about the
10th of April, — the Austrian government had done nothing but
temporize, in the hope that there would be no necessity for any
serious action. It was only on April 13 that the dispatch of
50,000 troops to the frontier was decided upon, and even this was
essentially a defensive measure. 1 It was only on April 21 that
the long delayed invitations to the general concert were sent out. 2
It was only on the 28th that, yielding to the pressure from Berlin
and to the necessities of self-defence, the State Conference
resolved upon aggressive action. And the reasons adduced in the
protocol for this last step are highly significant. Since Prussia,
it was said, would not send her troops to the front unless assured
that Austria agreed to take the offensive with her, since the
defence of the Netherlands essentially depended upon the dis-
patch of those troops, and since little or no aid was to be expected
from the other Courts, it seemed necessary that, without waiting
for a general concert of the Powers, Austria and Prussia should
present the proposed declaration at Paris, and in case of an
unsatisfactory answer, proceed immediately to armed interven-
tion. 3 The Court of Vienna thus agreed to aggressive action
against France, ostensibly for the common cause of all sovereigns;
but its resolution was taken only at the eleventh hour — two
days before the French declaration of war was known at the
Austrian capital — and it was taken chiefly in order to secure
Prussian aid against an attack expected almost with certainty.

1 Conference protocol of April 13, Vivenot, i, pp. 456 ff.

2 Vivenot, ii, pp. 1-4.

3 Conference protocol of April 28, Vivenot, ii, pp. 10 ff.



On the other hand, it may be said that the immediate cause of
the war was the refusal of Austria to desist from the concert on
French affairs. In this sense, Austria was drawn into the conflict
by her adherence to the ' common cause,' and had a right to the
help of those Courts which had preached the anti-revolutionary
crusade with such ardor.

If there are moral rights in politics, seldom has an attacked
Power had stronger claims of that nature to the support of
another Power, than Austria had to the support of Prussia.
Frederick William had not only approved each of the fateful
replies of Kaunitz to the French government, but had con-
stantly urged stronger and more aggressive measures. One need
not be deceived by the occasional Prussian declarations that the
King was far from wishing to force Austria into a war; and that
he sought only to establish the principle that it was necessary
either to leave French affairs severely alone, or else to intervene
vigorously. Nothing would have grieved him more than to see
Austria adopt the former alternative. When at times she
seemed likely to do so — especially after Leopold's death — the
Court of Berlin took all imaginable pains to prevent the abandon-
ment of the enterprise. 1 From January on, the constant refrain
of Prussian communications was the necessity that the two Courts
agree at once upon vigorous measures against France. 2 The
Prussians attached very little importance to a general concert.
They doubted as much as did the Austrians that it would ever
come into being. They wanted to interfere in France whether the
concert was established or not. If they occasionally pressed for
the sending out of the invitations to the other Powers, the reason
was simply this: that if Austria and Prussia carried out the
French enterprise without any kind of agreement with the other
Courts, the latter — especially England and Russia — might
try to deprive them of " more or less of their just indem-

1 Cf. Bischoffwerder's instructions; the rescripts to him of March 6 and 13,
and to Jacobi of February 6 and 9 and March 3.

2 Rescript to Jacobi of January 5 ; notes to Reuss of January 13 and February
5; rescripts to Bischoffwerder of March 6, 13, 15, 19, 24, to mention only a part of
the evidence at hand.


nities." 1 Of the active cooperation of the other Powers there is
hardly any serious suggestion in the Prussian dispatches.

How to drive Austria into action without waiting for a chimeri-
cal general concert, was for months the problem before Berlin.
In March Bischoffwerder reported dismally that nothing short of
a French attack would suffice; and he confided to Razumovski
his plan for provoking such an aggression on the part of c the
democrats.' 2 It was, therefore, with no little jubilation that the
Prussians received the news that the French were planning to
invade the Empire. 3 That would end the intolerable delays of the
Court of Vienna. Frederick William much preferred to have the
enemy assume the role of aggressor: ' they would thereby,' as his
ministers wrote, ' put the game into the hands of the other
Powers, and give the latter a clearer right than ever to demand
indemnities at the end of the war.' 4 So great was the King's
ardor that his advisers had difficulty in restraining him from going
ahead without waiting for the resolutions of Austria. 5 And if any
further proof were needed that Prussia did not draw the sword
merely in defence of her ally, it could be found in the fact that
towards the end of April, when it was thought at Berlin that
France was not going to attack after all, the King was still re-
solved to await only the final decision of Austria before sending
his troops to the front and beginning action. 6 He was firmly
determined upon a course that could lead only to war, before the V
news of the French declaration arrived in Berlin.

This declaration did not alter Frederick William's conception
of the nature of his participation in the enterprise. As early as the
middle of April, Reuss had raised the pregnant question of the

1 Rescripts to Bischoffwerder of April 5 and to Jacobi, April 6, B. A., R. i, 172
and 169.

2 Bischoffwcrder's reports of March 6, 9, 27, B. A., R. 1, 172; Razumovski's
report of February 28/March 10, M. A., ABCTpia, III, 53.

s Rescripts to Bischoffwerder, April 5, and Jacobi, April 6, B. A.

4 Rescripts to Jacobi, April 16 and 30, May 9, ibid.

6 Schulcnburg to Brunswick, April 20, 22, 24 (P. S.), B. A.,R. XI,Frankreich, Sgb.

6 Schulenburg to Brunswick, April 24 (P. S.); the cabinet ministry to the King,
April 25, B. A., R. 96, 147 C; rescript to Jacobi, April 28, B. A., R. 1, 169.

Schulenburg to Brunswick, April 24: the Duke's letter " ne pouvoit arriver
plus a propos pour affermir Sa Majeste dans les dispositions ou j'avois tadiS de la



form of the King's cooperation in case of a French attack upon
Austria, and had received the answer, ' that it was hardly to be
supposed that the Court of Vienna would wish to regard such an
attack as a mere casus foederis , on the same plane as an aggression
of other Powers.' The Prussian ministry ' believed rather that
Austria would much prefer to hold to the basis of the broader
engagements and stipulations of the concert.' l In a rescript to
Jacobi a few days later, the King was made to express himself in
the same sense. " I persist," he said, " in the most invariable
resolution to act in this case [in the event of a French attack] . . .
according to the engagements which I have undertaken, on a
footing of complete equality with the Court of Vienna." 2 The
engagements which the King chose to regard as involved, were
not those of the February alliance, but those of the concert agreed
upon between the two Courts for an intervention in France. The
reason is perfectly obvious. Not by sending the small auxiliary
corps stipulated in the alliance treaty, but only by taking part
in the war with forces equal to those of Austria, could Prussia
claim in the end an indemnity completely equivalent to that of
her ally. Furthermore, on receiving the news of the French
declaration of war, the King sent to Vienna the significant de-
claration: " I accept with real satisfaction the assurance that His
Apostolic Majesty will act against France in concert with me and
with the greatest vigor, even if, contrary to expectation, the other
Courts, and especially Russia, should refuse their cooperation." 3
If at the same time he recommended that the Court of Vienna
should base its counter-declaration against France on the injustice
of the French attack, while he would justify his own intervention
by the hostile measures of France against the Germanic Empire,

mettre, d'agir dans cette importante occasion avec la circonspection necessaire a
l'egard des intentions et des vues toujours fort protegees de la Cour de Vienne."

Rescript to Jacobi, April 28: " Je crois que par toutes les circonstances . . .
on peut regarder dans ce moment une invasion des Francois comme de la derniere
in vraisemblance. ' '

The Cabinet Ministry to the King, April 25: " II nous paroit done, qu'il ne
s'agit plus que d'attendre l'indication du terme precis ou toute l'armee autrichienne
sera rendue au lieu de sa destination, et en etat de commencer les operations."

1 Rescript to Jacobi, April 12, ibid.

2 Rescript of April 16, B. A., R. 1, 169. 3 Rescript to Jacobi, May 9, ibid.


this was only another illustration of the same point of view. It
was not in virtue of the treaty of alliance, and not as a member of
a nebulous general concert which still remained unformed, that
Prussia went into the Revolutionary War. It was rather in
accordance with engagements contracted with Austria before the
war for a joint intervention by the two German Powers, engage-
ments of which Frederick William himself had been the principal

Unfortunately, however, these engagements had never been
drawn up in proper form. The communications between the two
Courts had been for the most part purely oral. At one moment,
indeed, Austria was not far from securing a formal written de-
claration which might later have served her in good stead. On
April 18 the Prussian ministry submitted to the King two
alternative drafts for a note to Reuss, in both of which was the
stipulation: " that whether the French attack took place or not, the
allied armies should take the offensive as soon as they were assembled,
and [the two Powers] should not lay down arms except by common
accord, when the aim of the concert had been attained, and the
expenses of the intervention had been repaid or at least their repay-
ment assured. " It was probably due to Schulenburg that a much
less definite and significant note was finally drawn up and pre-
sented to the Austrian envoy. 1 As matters stood at the outbreak
of the war, the chief agreements arrived at were that the two
Courts should employ equal forces and act on the offensive. As
for the aim of the war, no program existed save that laid down
for the general concert; and there was no obligation to adhere to
that. 2 The idea that one Power might abandon the struggle
without the consent of the other had not even been discussed.
Doubtless there was on both sides quite too much optimism about
the enterprise; but it was an unpardonable fault in the Austrian
ministers that they made no effort to secure any binding engage-
ments on this point from Prussia.

1 Schulenburg to the King, April 19, B. A., R. 96, 147 G.\ and to Brunswick,
April 20, B. A., R. XI, Frankreich, Sgb.

2 Cf. the rescript to Jacobi of May 9: " l'aggression des Francois . . . nous
met dans le cas de n'avoir plus besoin de nous Her les mains en nous en tenant

Online LibraryRobert Howard LordThe second partition of Poland; a study in diplomatic history → online text (page 28 of 59)