Seven Years' War

From Metapedia
Jump to: navigation, search

The Seven Years War lasted between 1754−1763 and involved all of the major European powers of the period. The war pitted Prussia and Britain and a coalition of smaller German states against an alliance consisting of Austria, France, Russia, Sweden, and Saxony. Russia temporarily changed sides in the later stages of the war.

Portugal (on the side of Great Britain) and Spain (on the side of France) were drawn into the conflict later, and a force from the neutral Netherlands was attacked in India. Because of its global nature, it has been described as the "First World War". It resulted in some 900,000 to 1,400,000 deaths and significant changes in the balance of power and territories of several of the participants.

The war began with Frederick the Great of Prussia's invasion of Saxony. Fighting between Britain, France and their respective allies in North America had broken out in 1754, two years before the general conflict, as part of an Imperial rivalry. The fighting in America is sometimes considered a separate war, the French and Indian War.

Despite being the main theatre of war, the European conflict resulted in a bloody stalemate which did little to change the pre-war status quo, while its consequences in Asia and the Americas were wider ranging and longer lasting. The war ended France's position as a major colonial power in the Americas (where it lost most of its possessions on the mainland of North America, in addition to some West Indian islands). Prussia confirmed its position in the ranks of the great European powers, retaining the formerly Austrian province of Silesia. Great Britain strengthened its territories in India and North America, confirming its status as the dominant colonial power.


In Canada, France and the United Kingdom, the name Seven Years' War is used to describe the North American conflict as well as the European and Asian conflicts. This conflict, though called the "Seven Years' War," lasted nine years from 1754 to 1763. In the United States, however, the North American portion of the war is popularly known as the French and Indian War. Many scholars and professional historians in America, such as Fred Anderson, however, follow the example of their colleagues in other countries and refer to the conflict as the "Seven Years' War," regardless of the theatre. In Quebec, the conflict is also referred to as La Guerre de la Conquête, meaning The War of Conquest. The conflict in India is termed the Third Carnatic War while the fighting between Prussia and Austria is called the Third Silesian War.

The war was also described by Winston Churchill as the first "World War", as it was the first conflict in human history to be fought around the globe, although most of the combatants were either European nations or their overseas colonies. As a partially Anglo-French conflict involving developing empires, the war was one of the most significant phases of the 18th century Second Hundred Years' War.


This war is often said to be a continuation of the War of the Austrian Succession that had lasted between 1740 and 1748, in which King Frederick II of Prussia, known as Frederick the Great, had gained the rich province of Silesia from Austria. Empress Maria Theresa of Austria had signed the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle only in order to gain time to rebuild her military forces and to forge new alliances, which she did with remarkable success. The political map of Europe had been redrawn in a few years as Austria abandoned its twenty-five year alliance with Britain. During the so-called Diplomatic Revolution of 1756, the centuries-old enemies of France, Austria and Russia formed a single alliance against Prussia.

Prussia's only major assistance came from Great Britain, their newfound allies, whose ruling dynasty saw its ancestral Hanoverian possession as being threatened by France. In many respects the two powers' forces complemented each other excellently. The British had the largest, most effective navy in the world, while Prussia had the most formidable land force on continental Europe, allowing Great Britain to focus its soldiers towards colonial expeditions. The British hoped that the new series of alliances that had been formed during the Diplomatic Revolution would allow peace to continue, but they in fact provided the catalyst for the eruption of war in 1756.

The Austrian army had undergone an overhaul according to the Prussian system. Maria Theresa, whose knowledge of military affairs shamed many of her generals, had pressed relentlessly for reform. Her interest in the welfare of the soldiers had gained her their undivided respect. Austria had suffered several humiliating defeats to Prussia in the previous war, and strongly dissatisfied with the limited help they had received from the British, they now saw France as the only ally who could help them retake Silesia and check Prussia's expansion.

The second cause for war arose from the heated colonial struggle between the British Empire and French Empire which, as they expanded, met and clashed with one another on two continents. Of particular dispute was control of the Ohio Country which was central to both country's ambitions of further expansion and development in North America. The two countries had been in a de facto state of war since 1754, but these military clashes remained confined to the American theatre.

War In Europe


The British Prime Minister The Duke of Newcastle remained optimistic that war could be prevented from breaking out in Europe by the new series of alliances. However a large French force was assembled at Toulon, and the French opened the campaign against the British by an attack on Minorca in the Mediterranean. A British attempt at relief was foiled at the Battle of Minorca and the island was captured on 28 June (for which Admiral Byng was court-martialed and executed). War between Britain and France had been formally declared on 18 May nearly two years after the first fighting had broken out in the Ohio Country.

Having received reports of the clashes in North America, and having secured the support of Great Britain, Frederick crossed the border of Saxony one of the smaller German states in league with Austria. He intended this as a bold pre-emption of an anticipated Austro-French invasion of Silesia. The Saxon and Austrian armies were unprepared, and their forces were scattered. At the Battle of Lobositz, Frederick prevented the isolated Saxon army from being reinforced by an Austrian army under General Browne. The Prussians then outmanoeuvred and surrounded the Saxon army which surrendered at Pirna in late 1756, resulting in the Prussian occupation of Saxony. The only significant Austrian success was the partial occupation of Silesia.

Britain had been surprised by the sudden Prussian offensive, but now began shipping supplies and money to their allies. A combined German force was organised under the Duke of Cumberland to protect Hanover from a French invasion. The British attempted to persuade their historic allies, the Dutch Republic to join the alliance, but the request was rejected as the Dutch wished to remain fully neutral. Despite the huge disparity in numbers, the year had been a successful one for the Prussian-led forces on the continent, in contrast to disappointing British campaigns in North America.


In early 1757, Frederick again took the initiative by marching into Bohemia hoping to inflict a decisive defeat on the Austrian forces. After the bloody Battle of Prague, the Prussians laid siege to the city, but had to lift the siege after a major Austrian counter-attack and Frederick's first defeat at the Battle of Kolin. That summer, the Russians had invaded East Prussia and defeated a smaller Prussian force in the fiercely contested Battle of Gross-Jägersdorf. Further defeats followed. Frederick was forced to break off his invasion of Bohemia, and withdraw back into Prussian-controlled territory.

Things were looking very grim for Prussia at this time, with the Austrians mobilizing to attack Prussian-controlled soil and a French army under Soubise approaching from the west. In what Napoleon would call "a masterpiece in maneuver and resolution" in November and December the whole situation in Germany was reversed. Frederick devastated first a French invasion at the Battle of Rossbach and then routed a vastly superior Austrian force at Battle of Leuthen. With these great victories, Frederick once again established himself as Europe's finest general and his men as Europe's finest soldiers. In spite of these successes the Prussians were now facing four major powers attacking on four fronts (France from the West, Austria from the South, Russia from the East and Sweden from the north). This problem was compounded when the main Hanoverian army under Cumberland was defeated at the Battle of Hastenbeck and then forced to surrender entirely at the Convention of Kloster-Zeven. The Convention removed Hanover and Brunswick from the war leaving the Western approach to Prussian territory extremely vulnerable. Frederick sent urgent requests to Britain for more substantial assistance, as he was now without any military support for his forces in Germany.

The British had suffered further defeats in America, particularly at Fort William Henry. At home however stability had been established. Since 1756 successive governments led by Newcastle and William Pitt had both fallen. In August 1757 the two men agreed to a political partnership and formed a coalition government which gave new, firmer direction to the British war effort. The new strategy emphasised both Newcastle's commitment to British involvement on the European continent particularly in defence of Germany and William Pitt's determination to use British naval power to launch expeditions to seize French colonies around the globe. The "dual strategy" would dominate British policy for the next five years.


Into late 1758 the general tide of the war continued to be in favour of the Prussians and British. In the west, the French were beaten in the Battle of Krefeld by Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick. Finally later in 1758 in the east, at the Battle of Zorndorf in Prussia, a Prussian army of 35,000 men under Frederick fought to a standstill with a Russian army of 43,000 commanded by Count Fermor. The Russians withdrew from the field. In the undecided Battle of Tornow on 25 September, a Swedish army repulsed six assaults by a Prussian army.The back-and-forth nature of the war continued as on 14 October, Marshal Daun's Austrians surprised the main Prussian army at the Battle of Hochkirch. Frederick lost much of his artillery but retreated in good order, helped by the densely wooded landscape.

The year 1759 saw some severe Prussian defeats. At the Battle of Kay, or Paltzig, the Russian Count Saltykov with 47,000 Russians defeated 26,000 Prussian troops commanded by General Carl Heinrich von Wedel. Though the Hanoverians defeated an army of 60,000 French at Minden, Austrian general Daun forced the surrender of an entire Prussian corps of 13,000 men in the Battle of Maxen. Frederick himself lost half his army in the Battle of Kunersdorf, the worst defeat in his military career, and one that drove him to the brink of abdication and suicide. The disaster resulted partly from his misjudgment of the Russians, who had already demonstrated their strength at Zorndorf and at Gross-Jägersdorf.

Final Years


Prussia began the 1761 campaign with just 100,000 available troops, many of them new recruits. 1762 brought two new countries into the war. Britain declared war against Spain on 4 January 1762; Spain reacted by issuing their own declaration of war against Britain on 18 January. Portugal followed by joining the war on Britain's side.

At the Battle of Villinghausen, Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick defeated a 92,000-man French army. The Russians under Zakhar Chernyshev and Pyotr Rumyantsev stormed Kolberg in Pomerania, while the Austrians captured Schweidnitz. The loss of Kolberg had seen Prussia lose its last port on the Baltic Sea.[13] In Britain, it was speculated that a total Prussian collapse was now imminent.

Great Britain now threatened to withdraw her subsidies, and, as the Prussian armies had dwindled to 60,000 men, Frederick's survival was severely threatened. Then on 5 January 1762 the Russian Empress Elizabeth died. Her Prussophile successor, Peter III, at once recalled Russian armies from Berlin (see: the Treaty of Saint Petersburg (1762)) and mediated Frederick's truce with Sweden. In the aftermath, Frederick was able to drive the Austrians from Silesia in the Battle of Freiberg (29 October 1762), while his Brunswick allies captured the key town of Göttingen.

The long British naval blockade of French ports had sapped the morale of the French populace. The French will to continue collapsed yet further when news of a French failure in Newfoundland reached Paris. Feelers for peace were now extended to the British. By 1763 Frederick had Silesia under his control and had occupied parts of Austria. The British subsidies had been withdrawn by the new Prime Minister Lord Bute, and the Russian Emperor had been overthrown by his wife Catherine the Great who now switched Russian support back to Austria and launched fresh attacks on Prussia. Austria, however, had been weakened from the war and like most participants they were facing a severe financial crisis. In 1763 a peace settlement was reached at the Treaty of Hubertusburg ending the war in central Europe.

War in the Colonies

North America

Beginning with George Washington's victory at Jumonville Glen in 1754, and his surrender at the Battle of Fort Necessity a month later, the French and Indian War escalated into the worldwide conflict known as the Seven Years War. In 1757, following three years of warfare in the Ohio Valley, the British mounted an attack on New France by land as well as sea. French forces defeated British attacks in the Hudson Valley and French naval deployments successfully defended the key fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island, as well as the approaches to Quebec. However, a renewed British offensive in 1758 succeeded in taking Louisbourg. Then on 13 September 1759, following a three-month siege of Québec, General James Wolfe defeated the French forces at the Plains of Abraham outside the city. The French staged a counteroffensive in the spring of 1760 with some success, but failed to retake Québec due to a lack of naval support. French forces retreated to Montréal, where on 8 September they surrendered in the face of overwhelming British numerical superiority. This defeat has serious ramifications in Canada to this day, as the Quebec sovereignty movement continues to see this as their "nation's" defining moment.

In 1762, toward the end of the war, French forces attacked St. John's, Newfoundland. If successful, the expedition would have strengthened France's hand at the negotiating table. Though they took St. John's and raided nearby settlements, the French forces were eventually defeated by British troops at the Battle of Signal Hill. This was the final battle of the war in North America, and it forced the French to surrender to the British under Lieutenant Colonel William Amherst. The victorious British now controlled all of eastern North America.

The history of the Seven Years' War, particularly the siege of Québec and the death of Wolfe, generated a vast number of ballads, broadsides, imagesmaps and other printed materials, which testify to how this event continued to capture the imagination of the British public long after Wolfe's death in 1759.


In India the outbreak of the Seven Years' War in Europe resulted in a renewal of the long running conflict between French and British trading companies in the region for influence. The war spread beyond southern India and into Bengal, where British forces under Robert Clive recaptured Calcutta from the Nawab Siraj ud-Daulah, a French ally, and ousted him from his throne at the Battle of Plassey. In the same year the British also captured the French settlement in Bengal at Chandernagar.

However, the war was decided in the south. Although the French captured Cuddalore, their Siege of Madras failed, while the British commander Sir Eyre Coote decisively defeated the French under the Comte de Lally at the Battle of Wandiwash in 1760 and overran the French territory of the Northern Circars. The French capital of Pondicherry fell to the British in 1761; together with the fall of the lesser French settlements of Karikal and Mahe this effectively eliminated French power from India.


The Anglo-French hostilities were ended in 1763 by the Treaty of Paris, which involved a complex series of land exchanges, the most important being France's cession to Spain of Louisiana, and to Great Britain the rest of New France except for the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon. France was given the choice of retrieving either New France or its Caribbean island colonies of Guadeloupe and Martinique, and chose the latter to retain these lucrative sources of sugar, writing off New France as an unproductive, costly territory. France also returned Minorca to the British. Spain lost control of Florida to Great Britain, but received New Orleans and the Louisiana Territory west of the Mississippi River from the French. The exchanges suited the British as well, as their own Caribbean islands already supplied ample sugar, and with the acquisition of New France and Florida, they now controlled all of North America east of the Mississippi, with the exception of New Orleans.

In India, the British retained the Northern Circars, but returned all the French trading ports. The treaty, however, required that the fortifications of these settlements must be destroyed and never rebuilt, while only minimal garrisons could be maintained there, thus rendering them worthless as military bases. Combined with the loss of France's ally in Bengal and the defection of Hyderabad to the British side as a result of the war, this effectively brought French power in India to an end, making way for British hegemony and eventual control of the subcontinent.

European boundaries were returned to their status quo ante bellum by the Treaty of Hubertusburg (February 1763). Prussia thus maintained its possession of Silesia, having survived the combined assault of three neighbours, each larger than itself. Prussia gained enormously in influence at the expense of the Holy Roman Empire. This increase in Prussian influence, it is argued, marks the beginning of the modern German state, an event at least as influential as the colonial empire Great Britain had gained. Others, including Fred Anderson, author of Crucible of War, believe the war was needless and overly costly.

The French Navy was crippled by the war, which meant that only an ambitious rebuilding program in combination with the Spanish fleet would see it again able to challenge the Royal Navy's command of the sea.

However, the British now faced the delicate task of pacifying their new French-Canadian subjects, as well as the many American Indian tribes in the western lands who had supported the French. George III's Proclamation of 1763, which forbade white settlement beyond the crest of the Appalachians, was intended to appease the latter, but led to considerable outrage in the Thirteen Colonies whose inhabitants were eager to acquire native lands. The Quebec Act of 1774, similarly intended to win over the loyalty of French Canadians, also spurred resentment among American colonists. Victorious in 1763, Great Britain would soon face another military threat in North America — this time from its longtime subjects.

It should be noted, that while Frederick the Great's earlier acts of aggression towards Austria can to some degree be blamed for the outbreak of the Seven Years' War, the war was waged against him by a far stronger coalition of the largest European powers intent on reversing Prussia's fortunes. The nations and empires allied against Prussia during most of the war comprised over half of Continental Europe, and Frederick's forces were compelled to fight at times on four fronts. To maintain the defense of Prussia "against the greatest superiority of power and the utmost spite of fortune" in the words of Lord Macaulay, while retaining Prussia's earlier territorial gains, stands as a significant accomplishment of leadership in itself. The Austrian army also performed well and sometimes successfully against a Prussian army led by a man later acknowledged by Napoleon Bonaparte as a greater military leader than himself, and thanks to Maria Theresa's leadership the war was not such a great loss for Austria that Austrian prestige or internal stability were seriously harmed. However, the same cannot be said of France.

The Seven Years' War was the last major military conflict on the European continent before the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars in 1792.