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Austrian Succession, War of the (1740–1748)

AUSTRIAN SUCCESSION, WAR OF THE (17401748)

AUSTRIAN SUCCESSION, WAR OF THE (17401748). On 20 October 1740 the death of the last male Habsburg, the Holy Roman emperor Charles VI (ruled 17111740), precipitated a major European war for the succession both to his territories and to the elected position of emperor. The lands over which Charles had ruled consisted of the Austrian duchies, the kingdom of Bohemia (including Silesia and Moravia), the kingdom of Hungary, the duchy of Milan, and the ten provinces of the southern Netherlands. Over the course of his reign he had sought political guarantees from the territorial princes of the empire and the other great powers that they would uphold the Pragmatic Sanction (an edict he had first promulgated in 1713) and ensure that the succession to the Habsburg lands would pass to his daughter Maria Theresa (b. 1717) in the absence of a son. There were, though, two rival claimants for Charles's inheritance, the daughters of his elder brother, the emperor Joseph I (ruled 17051711): Maria Josepha, married in 1719 to Crown Prince Augustus of Saxony, and Maria Amalia, who married Crown Prince Karl Albert of Bavaria in 1722. Despite the renunciations of all claims to the Habsburg inheritance made by the two archduchesses, this did not stop the Saxons and the Bavarians from intriguing throughout the 1720s and 1730s to secure some or all of the lands upon Charles VI's eventual death. Moreover, the last three years of Charles's reign made a dismemberment of the Habsburg Monarchy all the more likely thanks to a massive increase in the state debt during an unsuccessful and demoralizing war against the Ottoman Empire, which had revealed to the rest of Europe serious deficiencies in the Habsburg military machine.

The War of the Austrian Succession was precipitated in December 1740 by the invasion of Silesia by Frederick II ("the Great") of Brandenburg-Prussia (ruled 17401786), who had himself succeeded to his throne only six months earlier on the death of his father, Frederick William I (ruled 17131740). Unlike Frederick William, the new Prussian monarch had little respect for imperial law and institutions if they stood in the way of securing his territories; and while Frederick's claims on Silesia had more justification than has sometimes been conceded, nevertheless it was an act that caused alarm across Europe. Following the invasion and Prussia's defeat of the Austrians at Mollwitz in April 1741, Maria Theresa's stubborn refusal to negotiate with Frederick almost cost her the rest of her lands: between May and September 1741 a coalition was assembled consisting of France, Spain, Prussia, Bavaria, and Saxony that intended to seize large parts of the Habsburg Monarchy. Maria Theresa's truce with Frederick II, the Convention of Klein-Schnellendorf in October 1741, came too late to prevent a Franco-Bavarian occupation of Bohemia the following month; and this was followed in January 1742 by the election of Karl Albert (elector of Bavaria since 1726) as the new Holy Roman emperor. However, at the same time that Karl Albert was acclaimed as Charles VII, Maria Theresa's army, consisting in large part of loyal Hungarians, turned the tide, capturing Munich, the new emperor's ducal capital, after liberating Upper Austria from Bavarian control. This was followed in June by the provisional peace of Breslau between Prussia and Maria Theresa, and the final expulsion of the French from Bohemia in December that year.

From then on, the war took on wider European and even global dimensions, as Britain-Hanover and France, ostensibly still neutral, confronted each other in western Germany and at sea. In 1743 the French were almost completely forced out of the empire, and in March and April 1744 Louis XV (ruled 17151774) formalized hostilities by declaring war first on Great Britain and then on Austria. For the previous four years Britain and Spain had already been at war over trade with the Spanish American empire. In Europe, Spain, for its part, had been trying to divest Maria Theresa of Lombardy in northern Italy since 1741, but faced the opposition of Charles Emmanuel III, king of Sardinia and ruler of Piedmont (ruled 17291773), and warfare in northern Italy remained indecisive throughout the period up to 1746. In spite of renewed Prussian hostilities toward Austria, when Frederick II signed a full alliance with France in June, the 1744 campaigns in the Low Countries and the empire were also inconclusive.

The death of Charles VII in January 1745 changed the political picture dramatically. Max Joseph, his successor as elector of Bavaria, aware of the impossibility of the Bavarian position, promised to vote for Maria Theresa's husband, Francis Stephen of Lorraine, grand duke of Tuscany, to be the next emperor, which he accordingly became in October. But the military tide had not by any means turned, for French arms were proving dangerously triumphant in the Netherlands. On 11 May 1745 Maurice de Saxe, marshal of France, defeated the combined Anglo-Austrian-Dutch army at Fontenoy, and went on to capture a string of fortresses in Flanders stretching nearly as far as Antwerp by the end of the year. This was not least because the British contingent under the duke of Cumberland had been withdrawn to deal with the Jacobite rising in Scotland which was threatening to overcome the Hanoverian government of Cumberland's father George II (ruled 17271760). They were not to return in force to the continent until well into the following year. Meanwhile, Prussia forced Austria to sign the treaty of Dresden in December 1745, on broadly similar terms to that of Breslau three years earlier.

Nevertheless, Austrian fortunes still showed few signs of improving. Although Charles-Emmanuel largely succeeded in recovering and protecting his own territories and those of Maria Theresa in Italy during 1746, the advantages continued to go France's way in the Netherlands: in February, Saxe captured Brussels, while the following year saw him drive along the River Scheldt and into the Dutch Republic, capturing in September 1747 the seemingly impregnable fortress of Berg-op-Zoom. By now, however, a degree of exhaustion was setting in on all sides, symbolized by Saxe's pyrrhic victory over Cumberland at Lawfeld in July 1747. Warfare in the Caribbean had proved largely uneventful, while the British colonial authorities in Massachusetts back in June 1745 had succeeded with the help of the Royal Navy in capturing the French fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island, which Louis XV wanted back but could not regain by military and naval means. This was offset by the French capture of Madras from the British in September 1746, the only notable action in India.

The Peace of Aix-La-Chapelle of OctoberNovember 1748, which marked the end of the war, preserved most of the inheritance of Charles VI for Maria Theresa: she had formally conceded Silesia to Prussia in the December 1745 treaty of Dresden, and she now had to give up the western third of the duchy of Milan to Sardinia, and the duchies of Parma and Guastalla to Don Philip, half-brother of the Spanish king Ferdinand VI (ruled 17461759). But the price France paid for the return of Louisbourg and for Austrian concessions to the Spanish Bourbons was high: Louis XV returned to Austria all his conquests in the Netherlands, to the irritation of French public opnion. Aix-La-Chapelle was more of a truce than a definitive treaty, for even in Italy the creation of stability required another round of agreements in 1752. There was still plenty of unfinished business left over from the years 17391740, most notably Maria Theresa's personal refusal to reconcile herself to the loss of Silesia, and the persistent friction between the British on the one hand, and the French and Spanish Bourbons on the other over colonial matters in the Americas and India. Further conflict was both likely and imminent.

See also Bavaria ; Charles VI (Holy Roman Empire) ; Frederick II (Prussia) ; Frederick William I (Prussia) ; Habsburg Dynasty: Austria ; Louis XV (France) ; Maria Theresa (Holy Roman Empire) .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Anderson, M. S. The War of the Austrian Succession, 1740 1748. London, 1995.

Browning, Reed. The War of the Austrian Succession. New York, 1993.

McLynn, F. J. France and the Jacobite Rising of 1745. Edinburgh, 1981.

Scott, H. M., and Derek McKay. The Rise of the Great Powers, 16481815. London, 1983. Chaps. 46.

Guy Rowlands

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Austrian Succession, War of the

War of the Austrian Succession, 1740–48, general European war.

Causes of the War

The war broke out when, on the strength of the pragmatic sanction of 1713, the Austrian archduchess Maria Theresa succeeded her father, Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, as ruler of the Hapsburg lands. The elector of Bavaria, Charles Albert, advanced counterclaims to the succession while Philip V of Spain and Augustus III of Poland and Saxony advanced weak claims of their own. Frederick II of Prussia, on even less tenable grounds claimed part of the province of Silesia.

First Silesian War

Frederick II began the war by invading and rapidly occupying Silesia. His cynical offer of support to Maria Theresa if she would cede the province was rejected. Victorious at Mollwitz (1741), Frederick obtained the alliance of France, Spain, Bavaria, and Saxony. Charles Albert of Bavaria, who was promised the imperial election, advanced on Vienna. In Oct., 1741, however, Prussia agreed to a truce in exchange for most of Silesia. This armistice was soon broken but gave the Austrians an opportunity to regroup their forces. The French were unwilling to permit the Bavarians too much power and ordered them to attack Bohemia, which was relatively unimportant, instead of Vienna. Joined by France and Saxony, Bavaria took Prague (Nov., 1741), and Charles Albert was elected emperor as Charles VII.

Meanwhile, Maria Theresa had obtained full support from the Hungarian diet and the promise of aid from Great Britain, which had been at war with Spain since 1739 (see Jenkins's Ear, War of). Early in 1742 Austrian troops overran Bavaria and laid siege to Prague, and in July, Maria Theresa made peace with Prussia by ceding most of Silesia (Treaty of Berlin). Thus ended this conflict, often called the First Silesian War. Saxony also made peace and joined Austria as an ally in 1743. The epic retreat from Prague of the French under Marshal Belle-Isle (winter, 1742–43) was followed by the victory of George II of Britain over the French at Dettingen (1743).

Second Silesian War

In 1744 Frederick II, fearing the rising power of Austria, started the Second Silesian War by invading Bohemia; he was soon expelled by Austrian and Saxon forces. On the death (1745) of Emperor Charles VII, Bavaria, once more overrun by Austrian troops, was forced out of the war. These Austrian successes were balanced by the great French victory (1745) of Fontenoy, where Maurice de Saxe defeated the British. Anxious for peace, George II concluded (1745) the Convention of Hanover with Frederick II, who promised to support the imperial candidacy of Maria Theresa's husband (shortly afterward elected as Francis I) in return for her cession of Silesia guaranteed by Europe. Defeated at Hohenfriedberg and at Kesselsdorf, Maria Theresa accepted the compromise in the Treaty of Dresden with Prussia (Dec., 1745).

The war continued in N Italy, in the Low Countries, in North America (see French and Indian Wars), and in India. The chief belligerents (Austria, Britain, Holland, and Sardinia on the one side, France and Spain on the other) grew weary of the conflict. Although Maria Theresa secured (1748) the alliance of Russia, the other nations were determined to restore peace, and late in 1748 the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (see Aix-la-Chapelle, Treaty of, 2) was signed. Prussia gained Silesia and thus emerged as a major European power; the Hapsburgs thenceforth looked to the east for resources to develop their state.

Bibliography

See biography by E. Crankshaw, Maria Theresa (1970); C. A. Macartney, Maria Theresa and the House of Austria (1969).

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Austrian Succession, War of the

Austrian Succession, War of the Conflict between Austria and Prussia for control of the German states, prompted by the succession (1740) of Maria Theresa to the Habsburg lands of her father, Charles VI. Maria Theresa was faced with counterclaims to her succession from Philip V of Spain, Augustus III of Poland and Charles Albert, Elector of Bavaria. The war began with Frederick II (the Great) of Prussia's invasion of the Habsburg province of Silesia. In 1741, with French aid, Charles Albert captured Prague. In 1742, with British and Hungarian support, Maria Theresa launched a counter-offensive that overran Bavaria. This first phase (First Silesian War) was concluded by the Treaty of Berlin (1742) in which Prussia gained most of Silesia. The French army was forced to retreat from Prague and was defeated at Dettingen (1743) by George III of Britain. In 1744 Frederick II launched a second invasion of Silesia, but was repulsed. In 1745 the French won a major victory over the British at Fontenoy. George III and Frederick II signed the Convention of Hanover in which Britain recognized Prussia's claims to Silesia in return for Frederick's support of the candidacy of the husband of Maria Theresa as Emperor Francis I. War was formally ended by the Treaty of Aix-La-Chapelle (1748). See also French and Indian Wars

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War of the Austrian Succession

War of the Austrian Succession a group of several related conflicts (1740–8), involving most of the states of Europe, that were triggered by the death of the Emperor Charles VI and the accession of his daughter Maria Theresa in 1740 to the Austrian throne.

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