Source: Paul Grimblot, Letters of William III. And Louis XIV. and
of their Ministers; Illustrative of the Domestic and Foreign Politics of
England from the Peace of Ryswick to the Accession of Phillip V. of Spain:
1697 to 1700 (London, 1848). Transcribed by Mike Kline.
Versailles, April 17, 1698.
I have received your letter of the 11th of this month. You could not make a better beginning towards the execution of my orders than by inducing the king of England to enter into explanations with you so freely as he has done respecting what he believes may ensure the peace of Europe, in the event of the death of the king of Spain. His answer is, indeed, very far from the project which I sent to you, but it is not impossible to find a medium between my sentiments and those of that prince, and to form, on that foundation, a certain plan of what should be done, in case of such an event, to preserve the peace.
He has considered what you said to him as a first proposal, and I look upon his answer to you in the same light. We must therefore examine whether expedients cannot be found to reconcile the difference of my sentiments and those of the king of England. It is certain that every expedient which will be proposed will be to the prejudice of the legitimate rights of me son, and of the princes his children; that consequently, all that I shall give up will be purely the effect of my desire to remove from Europe every cause of jealousy, and to secure its tranquility. I am, however, ready to reply to the two proposals which the king of England has made to you. The first was to raise the electoral prince of Bavaria to the throne of Spain; the second to place in one of my grandsons upon it, partitioning the monarchy.
You will inform the king of England that you have communicated these two proposals to me; that he may see, from the overtures which I have made to him, that I sincerely desire to preserve peace, and that it had seemed to me that no more certain means could be proposed than to abandon, as I offered to do, all the pretensions which my son had a right to make to the Spanish succession; that one of the princes, his sons, educated by Spaniards alone, and at an age susceptible of all the maxims which they chose to instill in him, ought not to give any umbrage to the rest of Europe; that the Spanish government would not be changed, and that, in doing justice to the legitimate heir, that monarchy would always be guided by the same interest and the same maxims which it has hitherto followed; still, that I have not come to so firm a determination upon the first project which I have formed, as to hinder me from examining those which he has communicated to you; that with regard to this first proposal, he may easily understand that it would not be just to ask from me, in favour of the electoral prince of Bavaria, what I would do for one of my grandsons; and, that if my son, solely with a view to the good of Europe, transferred to the Electoral Prince his right to the kingdom of Spain and the other parts of that monarchy; he would justly claim to retain at least some portion of that succession; that thus I am ready to propose an alternative, agreeably to the project of the king of England, to leave to that prince the choice of the proposal which he shall think the most conformable to the designs which both he and I entertain, to preserve the general peace, and to secure its continuance by a conditional treaty with him, which shall come onto operation only on the demise of his Catholic Majesty.
The first part of this alternative, would be to cede to the Electoral Prince, Spain, the Indies, the Low Countries, the islands of Majorca and Minorca, Sardinia, the Philippines, and the other countries and places at the present dependant on that monarchy, with the exception of the kingdom of Naples and Sicily, and the duchy of Luxembourg, the rights which belong to him; and, since the king of England would also wish, as it appears, that the Emperor should also have some share in this succession, it might be agreed to give the duchy of Milan to the Archduke.
The second part of the alternative would be to give to one of my grandsons all that now belongs to the Spanish monarchy, which is not comprehended in the following exceptions, viz: for the Electoral Prince, the Low Countries, as they are now possessed by his Catholic Majesty; for the Archduke, the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily, and the places on the coast of Tuscany; lastly, Milan for the duke of Savoy.
According to the second part of the alternative, the Spanish monarchy would be divided among the legitimate heirs and those who are called to the succession by the will of Philip IV.
It is easy to forsee the principal objection which the king of England may make to this project. He will say to the first part of the alternative that the Dutch, who already complain that their barrier is too weak in the Netherlands, would be still more alarmed if the duchy of Luxembourg were united to my crown; that the interest of that republic being one of the rules which he must follow, he cannot agree to a project which he believes to be so opposed to it.
You may reply to this objection, that the Netherlands, being retained be the electoral prince of Bavaria, would be in the hands of a powerful prince if he became king of Spain; that in the case, it would be very important to me to secure the frontier of my kingdom; that this would be the only use which I should make of the duchy of Luxembourg; and lastly, that it must not seem surprising that I ask it for the safety of the provinces of my kingdom, when I sacrifice to that of Europe so many considerable advantages belonging to my children.
With respect to the kingdom of Naples, and Sicily, the king of England will object, that the fortress of those countries, if in my hands, will make me master of the commerce of the Mediterranean. In this case you may intimate to him, as of yourself, that it would be so difficult to maintain those kingdoms in union with my crown, that the necessary expenses of sending succours to them would be so great, and the formerly, it has cost France so much to keep them in obedience, that I should very probably appoint a king to govern them, and that perhaps they might be the portion of one of my grandsons, who would choose to reign independently. But you will say nothing positive on this subject, he will be at liberty to prefer the second part of the alternative to the first.
According to what that prince said to you, one of the principal difficulties will be on the extension of the barrier to the Netherlands, which he demands. I cannot accede to it in any way whatsoever. You will therefore declare on this subject, that it is also for my interest, and for the safety of the frontiers of my kingdom, to have a barrier; that I cannot cede any of the fortresses which I now have; that not only are the fortresses of his Catholic Majesty in the Netherlands very strong and very good, but the country may even be said to be naturally fortified by the rivers and canals by which it is traversed; that the barrier, such as it is at present, appeared sufficient to the States General, since it was by the treaty of Nimeguen that it was agreed upon; that, far from having been weakened since that treaty, the fortresses of Namur and Mons have been considerably augmented; that the late treaty of Ryswick has confirmed what was done at Nimeguen in this respect, and that on these two occasions the Dutch have found the barrier sufficient; that it may be easily judged, by what I do to secure the repose of Europe, that it will never be my intention to disturb the elector of Bavaria in the possession of the Netherlands, if he should ever obtain them, but that, even if affairs should change, the support of England and Holland will always give him sufficient succour to maintain his ground, and that it is essential to interests of my kingdom to have at all times a barrier on the side if the Netherlands. In fine, I repeat to you that I cannot listen to any proposal in regard to this article.
The second demand, of which the king of England has already spoken, is that respecting the security of the trade in the Mediterranean, and does not mention that of the Indies, for he touched so slightly upon it, as you state in your letter that it is better not to refer to it.
If this prince would be content with treaties for the security of the trade in the Mediterranean, all the assurances which he should himself deem necessary on this subject might be given him, and I would engage to take such steps as he should judge advisable to induce the Spaniards to renew those treaties which they already have with England; I will also consent to make new ones for the benefit of commerce. But if the treaties are not sufficient for him, and he demands places of safety in the Mediterranean, you will show him that it must seem extraordinary that England, which does not pretend to any rights to the Spanish succession, should desire to have a share of the states dependant on that monarchy. If, however, he persists in this demand, you must ascertain what are the places which he desires for the security of the commerce of the English and Dutch in the Mediterranean, and if he reduces his demand only to the places situated on the coast of Africa, without requiring any of those which are on the continent of Spain, I would consent to promise them.
With respect to the Indies, as he has not yet spoken positively on that subject, I presume that he already foresees an opposition which I should make; and the only instructions which I have to give you on this article is, to let him know, if he speaks to you about it, that I have not informed you of my intentions, but that it is easy to comprehend that the kingdom of Spain, script of the Indies, would be too inconsiderable, and that the king of Spain could never call himself master of that part of the new world, if he shared it in any way with the English and the Dutch. If the king of England does not speak to you on this article, you will also observe silence respecting it.
It is not my intention to insist strongly on what I have placed in the second part of the alternative, respecting the cession of Milan to the duke of Savoy. I would consent, if this were the only difficulty likely to prevent the acceptance of the other articles, to cede also the state of Milan to the Archduke, but this overture mist not be made till the negotiating is more advanced; and you will inform the king of England, that, as the Emperor has for some time past manifested the designs which he is forming in Italy, it seems to me that nothing would be more calculated to promote their success than to give to his son all the states which the king of Spain possesses in Italy; that in this view I believe that the only means to frustrate these designs will be, to oppose to him a prince whose power may counterbalance that of the Emperor; and that this can be done only by rendering that of the duke of Savoy more considerable; that, however, you will give me an account of the different views which the king of England may entertain on this subject.
Lastly, if that prince requires that I should assure him that, in no case whatsoever, the Spanish monarchy shall ever be united to my crown, you will tell him that I have not given you any positive instructions on this subject; that, nevertheless, you are persuaded that I shall readily give this assurance, provided the Emperor gives a similar one that the states of Italy, which will be given to the Archduke, shall never be united to the Imperial crown.
The king of England has communicated to Lord Portland everything that passed in your audience, and that ambassador has asked an audience with me, to know of my intention respecting the proposals of the King his master. I shall give it him tomorrow, and shall speak conformably to what I write to you on the alternative. I shall tell him that I have given you instructions to inform the king of England of it, and it appears to me much more to the purpose that the negotiation should be carried on between that prince and you. It is with this view that, before giving him an audience, I thought fit to dispatch a courier to you. I see, by the result, that the king of England explains his sentiments much more fully when he is himself addressed than through his ambassador.
I approve of the reply you made regarding the uneasiness which the king of England expressed to you on the subject of King Jamesís residence at St. Germains. Even supposing that prince to have designs, which he has not, it is much more easy for me to counteract them when he is near me, than if he were at a distance. Should the king of England again speak with you upon this subject, you will answer him as you have already done, and will inform me of what he has said to you.
Return to Document Discovery Project