Third Treaty of San Ildefonso

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Third Treaty of San Ildefonso
Preliminary and Secret Treaty between the French Republic and His Catholic Majesty the King of Spain, Concerning the Aggrandizement of His Royal Highness the Infant Duke of Parma in Italy and the Retrocession of Louisiana.
North America; Louisiana-New Spain in white
Context Spain agrees to exchange Louisiana with France for territories in Italy
Signed 1 October 1800 (1800-10-01)
Location Real Sitio de San Ildefonso

The Third Treaty of San Ildefonso was a secret agreement signed on 1 October 1800 between the Spanish Empire and the First French Republic by which Spain agreed in principle to exchange their North American colony of Louisiana for territories in Tuscany. The terms were later confirmed by the March 1801 Treaty of Aranjuez.


For much of the 18th century, France and Spain were allies but after the execution of Louis XVI in 1793, Spain joined the War of the First Coalition against the French First Republic. Defeated in the War of the Pyrenees, Spain left the Coalition and signed the Peace of Basel with France in August 1795.

With France now engaged in the War of the Second Coalition, the two agreed an alliance in the 1797 Second Treaty of San Ildefonso. Spain declared war on Britain, leading to the loss of Trinidad in 1797 and Menorca in 1798; Britain occupied Menorca from 1708-1782 and its recovery was the major achievement of Spain's participation in the 1778-1783 Anglo-French War. A British naval blockade and attacks on Spanish merchant shipping severely impacted the economy, which was dependent on trade with its South American colonies, particularly the import of silver from Mexico.[1]

This placed the Spanish government under severe political and financial pressure, the National Debt increasing eightfold between 1793-1798.[2] Louisiana was only part of Spain's immense Empire in the Americas which it received as a result of the 1763 Treaty of Paris.[a] Preventing encroachment by American settlers into the Mississippi Basin was costly and risked conflict with the US, whose merchant ships Spain relied on to evade the British blockade.[3]

Louis Berthier, French signatory
Mariano Luis de Urquijo, Spanish signatory

Colonies were viewed as valuable assets; the loss of the sugar islands of Saint-Domingue, Martinique and Guadeloupe between 1791-1794 had a huge impact on French business.[b] Restoring them was a priority and when Napoleon seized power in the November 1799 Coup of 18 Brumaire, he and his Deputy Charles Talleyrand emphasised French expansion overseas.

Their strategy had a number of parts, one being the 1798-1801 Egyptian campaign, intended in part to strengthen French trading interests in the region. In South America, Talleyrand sought to move the border between French Guiana and Portuguese Brazil south to the Araguari or Amapá River, taking in large parts of Northern Brazil.[c][4] A third was the restoration of New France in North America, lost after the 1756-1763 Seven Years' War, with Louisiana providing raw materials for French plantations in the Caribbean.[5]

The combination of French ambition and Spanish weakness made the return of Louisiana attractive to both, especially as Spain was being drawn into disputes with the US over navigation rights on the Mississippi River.[6] Talleyrand claimed French possession of Louisiana would allow them to protect Spanish South America from both Britain and the US.[d]


Talleyrand, French Foreign Minister; the Treaty was part of a complex chain of related agreements

The Treaty was negotiated by French general Louis Alexandre Berthier and the Spanish former Chief Minister Mariano Luis de Urquijo. In addition to Louisiana, Berthier was instructed to demand the Spanish colonies of East Florida and West Florida, plus ten Spanish warships.[7]

Urquijo rejected the request for the Floridas but agreed Louisiana plus "...six ships of war in good condition built for seventy-four guns, armed and equipped and ready to receive French crews and supplies." In return, Charles IV wanted compensation for his son-in-law Louis, Infanta Duke of Parma, since France wanted to annex his inheritance of the Duchy of Parma.[8]

Details were vague, Clause II of the Treaty simply stating 'it may consist of Tuscany...or the three Roman legations or of any other continental provinces of Italy which form a rounded state.' Urquijo insisted Spain would hand over Louisiana and the ships only once France confirmed which Italian territories it would receive in return. Finally, the terms reaffirmed the alliance between France and Spain agreed in the 1796 Second Treaty of San Idelfonso.


Louis of Parma; France agreed to create an Italian Kingdom for Charles IV's son-in-law

On 9 February 1801, France and the Austrian Emperor Francis II signed the Treaty of Lunéville, clearing the way for the Treaty of Aranjuez in March 1801. This confirmed the preliminary terms agreed at Idelfonso and created the short-lived Kingdom of Etruria for Maria Luisa's son-in-law Louis.

The Treaty has traditionally been seen as extremely one-sided in favour of France but modern historians are less critical. In reality, Spain exercised effective control only over a small part of the territory included in the 1803 Louisiana Purchase while an attempt to control US expansion into Spanish territories by the 1795 Pinckney's Treaty proved ineffective.[9] Spain's Chief Minister Manuel Godoy saw disposal as a necessity, later justifying it in his Memoirs.[e][10]

French ambitions in North America were regarded with concern by the Americans, which had British Canada in the north and did not want an aggressive and powerful France to replace Spain in the south.[11] Between 1798-1800, the two countries fought an undeclared war at sea, the so-called Quasi-War which was ended by the Convention of 1800 or Treaty of Mortefontaine. In 1801, a French army landed on Haiti; its recapture would be the first step in France's new North American Empire, with Louisiana a source of raw materials and supplies. In March 1802, the Treaty of Amiens ended the War of the Second Coalition and in October, Charles IV announced the transfer of Louisiana to France.[12]

However, by now it was clear the Saint-Domingue or Haiti expedition had been a catastrophic failure, with Napoleon's brother-in-law, General Charles Leclerc dying from yellow fever along with many of his troops.[f]. Without Haiti, Louisiana was irrelevant and with France and Britain on the verge of hostilities, Napoleon needed the money. Despite previous undertakings not to do so, France sold Louisiana to the US for $15 million in April 1803, just before war with Britain began again in May 1803.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Their ally France ceded it as compensation for Spanish concessions to Britain elsewhere.
  2. ^ Losses were not confined to plantation owners in the Caribbean but inlaced slave traders in colonies like Senegal that supplied labour. France abolished slavery in 1794 but was reimposed in 1802 in French sugar-cane islands.
  3. ^ Terms were contained in the draft 1797 Treaty of Paris which was never approved although similar conditions were imposed on Portugal in the 1801 Treaty of Madrid
  4. ^ Letter to Urquijo; ...the power of America is bounded by the limit which it may suit the interests and the tranquillity of France and Spain to assign here. The French Republic... will be the wall of brass forever impenetrable to the combined efforts of England and America.
  5. ^ Godoy wrote ...(Louisiana) not yielding much to our treasury, nor to our trade, and generating sizeable expenses in money and soldiers, ...the return...can be deemed as a gain, instead of a sacrifice...(Tuscany), cultivation perfect, industry flourishing, trade expanded...a million and a half inhabitants; state revenues of about three million pesos fuertes... The weakness of this argument is France was effectively returning territory to those it had taken it from in the first place.
  6. ^ An estimated 15,000 - 22,000 out of 30,000, many of them experienced and elite veteran soldiers.


  1. ^ Sánchez, Rafael Torres (2015). Constructing a Fiscal Military State in Eighteenth Century Spain. AIAA. pp. 66 passim. ISBN 1137478659.
  2. ^ José Canga-Argüelles: Diccionario de hacienda, pags. 236 - 237, (1826) (in Spanish)
  3. ^ Maltby, William (2008). The Rise and Fall of the Spanish Empire. Palgrave. p. 168. ISBN 1403917922.
  4. ^ Hecht, Susanna (2013). The Scramble for the Amazon and the Lost Paradise of Euclides Da Cunha. University of Chicago. pp. 113–114. ISBN 0226322815.
  5. ^ Kemp, Roger (ed) (2010). Documents of American Democracy. McFarland & Co. pp. 160–161. ISBN 0786442107.
  6. ^ Kemp, Roger (ed) (2010). Documents of American Democracy. McFarland & Co. p. 160. ISBN 0786442107.
  7. ^ Rodriguez (ed), Junius P (2002). The Louisiana Purchase: A Historical and Geographical Encyclopedia. ABC Clio. p. 9. ISBN 0471191213.
  8. ^ Tarver, Micheal Hn (Author, Editor), Slape, Emily (Author, Editor) (2016). The Spanish Empire; An Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 53. ISBN 161069421X.
  9. ^ Maltby, William (2008). The Rise and Fall of the Spanish Empire. Palgrave. p. 168. ISBN 1403917922.
  10. ^ Godoy, Manuel (1836). Memoirs Of Don Manuel De Godoy: Prince Of The Peace, Duke Del Alcudia, Count D'everamonte Volume 2 (2012 ed.). Nabu. pp. 47–59. ISBN 1279296461.
  11. ^ Kemp, Roger (ed) (2010). Documents of American Democracy. McFarland & Co. p. 160. ISBN 0786442107.
  12. ^ Real cédula expedida en Barcelona, a 15 de octubre de 1802, para que se entregue a la Francia la colonia y provincia de la Luisiana. Coleccion histórica completa de los tratdos, convenciones, capitulaciones, armistricios, y otros actos diplomáticos de todos los estados: de la America Latina comprendidos entre el golfo de Méjico y el cabo de Hornos, desde el año de 1493 hasta nuestros dias, Volume 4 (in Spanish). Paris. 1862. pp. 326–328.


  • Canga-Argüelles, José: Diccionario de Hacienda; (1826 (in Spanish));
  • Godoy, Manuel; Memoirs Of Don Manuel De Godoy: Prince Of The Peace, Duke Del Alcudia, Count D'Everamonte Volume 2; (Nabu, 2012 ed.)
  • Hecht, Susanna; The Scramble for the Amazon and the Lost Paradise of Euclides Da Cunha; (University of Chicago, 2003);
  • Kemp, Roger (ed); Documents of American Democracy; (McFarland & Co, 2010);.
  • Maltby, William; The Rise and Fall of the Spanish Empire; (Palgrave, 2008);
  • Rodriguez,Junius P (ed); The Louisiana Purchase: A Historical and Geographical Encyclopedia; (ABC CLIO, 2002).
  • Sánchez, Rafael Torres; Constructing a Fiscal Military State in Eighteenth Century Spain; (AIAA, 2015);
  • Tarver, Micheal H (Author, Editor), Slape, Emily (Author, Editor); The Spanish Empire; An Historical Encyclopedia; (ABC-CLIO, 2016);

External links[edit]