Seven Years' War (1756–1763)
SEVEN YEARS' WAR (1756–1763)
SEVEN YEARS' WAR (1756–1763). Encompassing conflict in Europe, North America, the Caribbean, and India, the Seven Years' War resulted from a collision between two very different international problems. First, there was the growing colonial and imperial friction between Britain and France, which became acute in the early 1750s as the French authorities and the British colonists in North America began staking out rival claims to the Ohio River Valley. Open warfare then erupted in the backcountry during 1755, and this was followed by repeated British seizures of French shipping in the North Atlantic. In response Louis XV despatched Louis Joseph, marquis of Montcalm, with reinforcements for the French colonial forces, to take military command in New France (Quebec) in April 1756.
Second, the Seven Years' War stemmed from Austria's refusal to accept the loss of Silesia to Frederick II of Prussia during the War of the Austrian Succession, and from Russian determination to humble Prussia. The Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748) had merely suspended Austro-Prussian conflict over Silesia. While Austria carried out internal reforms to her administration, Count Wenzel Anton von Kaunitz, one of Maria Theresa's inner councillors who became chancellor in 1753, pursued the possibility, remote at first, of a French alliance against Prussia. Nevertheless, during 1755–1756 his patience and hard work began to pay dividends. Great Britain, anxious about the security of George II's German domains and no longer able to rely on Austrian support, secured Russian guarantees in September 1755 for George's electorate of Hanover in exchange for promised subsidies. This Anglo-Russian agreement in turn prompted a fearful Frederick II of Prussia to manage a reconciliation with Britain in January 1756 in the shape of the defensive Convention of London. But the unforeseen consequence was the "diplomatic revolution." A furious Russia all but repudiated her agreement with Britain and tightened her alliance with Austria, and both powers prepared for a combined war against Prussia. Now bereft of allies, Louis XV took up Kaunitz's proposal of an end to 250 years of Franco-Habsburg antagonism, and on 1 May the defensive first Treaty of Versailles was signed between France and Austria (Russia acceded to this treaty in January 1757). Two weeks later, after France invaded British-ruled Minorca, war broke out between the two states. Frederick II, now acutely aware of the forces gathering against him, felt he had no choice but to launch a preemptive strike in August to seize Saxony and take over its army, causing France to activate its Austrian alliance.
PRUSSIA'S STRUGGLE FOR SURVIVAL
Not until the summer of 1757 did the triple alliance launch an assault on Prussia, after France and Austria concluded the offensive second Treaty of Versailles (1 May) with the purpose of dismembering Frederick's state. Frederick's invasion of Bohemia was halted, and the Russians invaded East Prussia, but more damaging was the neutralization of the trapped Anglo-Hanoverian army by the French at Kloster-Zeven in early September. In the face of such a crisis, Frederick fought a campaign of strategic brilliance. First he crushed the poorly commanded and logistically weak Franco-Imperial army at Rossbach (5 November), deploying the greatly improved Prussian cavalry under Friedrich Wilhelm von Seydlitz and moving his infantry swiftly across the battlefield in echelon, rather than linear, formation. Then he followed this up with the defeat of the Austrians at Leuthen, two hundred miles to the east and exactly a month later, using the "oblique order" in an attack on the enemy right flank. After Rossbach, George II repudiated the convention of Kloster-Zeven, and Anglo-Hanoverian operations resumed under the command of Frederick's protégé Ferdinand of Brunswick-Wolffenbüttel. Moreover, thanks to William Pitt's return to power in June 1757, Britain began subsidizing both the Hanoverian forces and, from April 1758, Frederick's Prussia. With the odds evened up, Austria henceforth sought to wear Prussia down by a process of attrition, but this presupposed a certain strength within the triple alliance that itself was fading.
In 1758 the French were pushed back over the Rhine by Ferdinand, while the emerging dominance within the French government of Étienne-François, duke of Choiseul, produced in March 1759 the third Treaty of Versailles, in which France reduced her role in the continental war to that of an Austrian auxiliary, and concentrated instead on trying to force Britain into peace. Yet when the French returned to Westphalia in 1759, Ferdinand of Brunswick smashed them at Minden on 1 August. The principal burden of attacking Prussia had in fact passed in 1758 to the Russians, a symptom of their growing strength and stamina. Königsberg, in East Prussia, was captured in January, forcing this kingdom under Russian occupation for the rest of the war. However, in his Brandenburg heartland, Frederick II defeated the Russians in the bloody battle of Zorndorf in August, while an Austrian surprise attack at Hochkirch in October failed to loosen his control of Saxony and Silesia. Despite the apparent stalemate, the Austrians and Russians made a further joint offensive against Prussia during 1759, in which Frederick suffered his worst defeat ever, at Künersdorf, forcing him to abandon Saxony and Silesia. The following year saw victories on both sides, but Frederick's success against the Austrians at Torgau was bought with greater casualties than were suffered by the vanquished (3 November), and Russian troops even reached Berlin and held it to ransom.
How was it, though, that the three greatest military powers on the Continent failed to crush Frederick's Prussia? To begin with, Austria and Russia both suffered from sluggish systems of planning and logistics that impeded offensive operations. Furthermore, their leading generals were cautious, unimaginative, and relatively uncooperative, and in the French case frequently incompetent. Maria Theresa and her advisers displayed poor strategic sense, waging a war of aggressive intent in a largely defensive and attritional fashion that allowed Frederick to deal with his enemies in turn in each campaign. Elizabeth of Russia was similarly unable to provide clear strategic direction after her stroke in 1757 allowed a major split to open up in her council. Related to this, the aims of the three powers diverged sufficiently to impede any overriding common purpose of destroying Prussian power. All this combined to prevent Frederick's enemies from holding the initiative for any length of time, and from following up their military successes.
The weaknesses of the triple alliance were matched by the remarkable resilience of Prussia. Britain's financial support of Prussia and Anglo-Hanoverian military protection of Brandenburg from the west enabled Frederick to concentrate his forces against only two enemies after late 1757: Austria and Russia. Frederick's strategic, operational, and tactical skill, while by no means flawless, enabled a united Prussian command, and a heavily centralized and obedient state, to take full advantage of the deficiencies in the triple alliance's war effort. If Prussia was exhausted financially and materially, with underage and substandard recruits filling the army's ranks by 1760, the Austrians and the French were also incapable of further offensive action.
THE ANGLO-FRENCH IMPERIAL STRUGGLE 1755–1760
While the war in Europe produced stagnation, the Anglo-French conflict was vastly more decisive, in large part because Pitt was determined to destroy as much of France's overseas power as possible. In India, Robert Clive's skillful handling of indigenous auxiliary troops and combined operations with the navy allowed him to recapture Calcutta from the Nawab of Bengal in March 1757 after its loss the previous year; and he followed this by gaining control of all Bengal after his victory at Plassey (26 July). But in North America things were going considerably less well for the British. Montcalm made much progress in the backcountry in 1756–1757, but this only forced the British commanders to reconsider their strategy and plan instead for a full assault on New France up the Saint Lawrence River, for which they requested massive land and sea reinforcements from London.
They were fortunate that Pitt endorsed their request, and in early 1758 the issues that had bedeviled relations between the regular forces and the colonies were resolved to the satisfaction of the colonists, unlocking colonial military resources immediately. As if to prove the need to attack New France by sea, in July 1758 Montcalm blocked the British advance at Fort Ticonderoga at the foot of Lake Champlain, but the same month the French were unable to prevent a British amphibious seizure of their fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island. Four months later the British also reduced Fort Duquesne at the forks of the Ohio, and the cumulative effect of these successes was to neutralize the American Indian nations, who now came to an accommodation with the British colonial authorities. In the meantime, during 1758 Pitt launched a series of diversionary amphibious attacks on the French Atlantic coast, the mere threat of which pinned down French forces so they could not be deployed either against Hanover or in the colonies.
Worse was to come for Louis XV in 1759. Montcalm's forces in New France were suffering from a lack of supplies and dwindling manpower, in spite of the mass mobilization of the colony's adult males. Britain, by contrast, sent out eight thousand fresh troops under James Wolfe, who in June sailed up the Saint Lawrence with twenty-two ships of the line to Quebec City, which soon found itself cut off and with dwindling supplies. While Amherst captured Ticonderoga, securing New York and Massachusetts, in September Wolfe provoked Montcalm into a battle just outside Quebec where both commanders were killed, but the British were victorious. Although Quebec surrendered, remnants of the French army managed to escape, and, reinforced to seven thousand men, marched on Quebec to attempt its recapture in April 1760. Yet Lévis's victory over a British force just outside the city walls could not prevent the abandonment of the siege in the face of British relief, and in September the French governor, Pierre François de Rigaud, marquis of Vaudreuil, surrendered the rest of New France. But in spite of this vigorous campaign, the outcome in North America had, in reality, been determined the previous year at sea, when the British had destroyed one French battle fleet off Lagos (Portugal) on 17 August, and defeated the other at Quiberon Bay off the coast of Brittany (20 November). Not only did this dash Choiseul's serious hopes of an invasion of Britain; it also assured Britain command of the Atlantic and English Channel, allowing the blockade of French ports and cutting off the French overseas from the homeland. In June 1761 Britain even managed to capture Belle-Isle, dominating the southern coast of Brittany.
DOMESTIC POLITICS AND THE ENDING OF THE WAR
However, by the end of 1760 there was a general war-weariness among all the belligerents, even the British, whose economy was flourishing. Indeed, during 1761 Anglo-Prussian relations deteriorated largely because Frederick II refused to consider any concessions to his enemies, culminating in the curtailment of British subsidies in April 1762. All this notwithstanding, the hostility of Elizabeth of Russia to Frederick II, and Pitt's determination to wring a "Carthaginian peace" out of France prolonged the conflict. What pushed the great powers toward peace was not victories or defeats but rather changes in their domestic political configurations.
George III's accession in October 1760 produced a notably more pacific tone in the British government, driving Pitt out of the ministry a year later. France sought to profit from this, ratcheting up demands in peace negotiations. Louis XV forged a third Family Compact in August 1761 with the anglophobe Charles III of Spain, who had acceded to his throne in 1759. This produced in January 1762 a Spanish declaration of war against Britain, ostensibly to protect Charles's New World economic interests, but Charles's rash decision was soon repented, as Britain captured both Havana (August) and Manila (October) in successful amphibious operations. That same year, the British also captured the islands of Martinique, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent, Grenada, and Tobago from France, to add to earlier seizures of Guadeloupe in 1759 and La Gorée in West Africa (1758). The Franco-Spanish position at the end of 1762 was worse than it had been a year earlier. Nevertheless, John Stuart, earl of Bute, now directing the British government, concluded the unnecessarily lenient Peace of Paris (10 February 1763) in which Martinique, Guadeloupe, Saint Lucia, and La Gorée were returned to France. All of New France, except Saint Pierre and Miquelon and fishing rights off Newfoundland, was retained by the British, and in India France was permitted to retain only the five trading posts held in 1748; Minorca was returned to Britain in exchange for Belle-Isle. To recover Cuba and Manila, Spain ceded Florida to Britain, receiving compensation from Louis XV in the form of Louisiana. Britain had shattered the French empire, and France had seen her armies humiliated (with serious domestic political consequences), but the French territories George III handed back to Louis XV were the most productive.
Prussia's survival intact, with peace concluded at Hubertusburg (15 February 1763), equally owed much to changes in domestic politics: the death of Tsarina Elizabeth in January 1762, and Peter III's immediate withdrawal of Russia from the triple alliance. Catherine II, after her usurpation of the throne six months later, maintained Russian neutrality but refused to assist Frederick as her husband had wished to do. With the treaty, Europe reverted to the status quo ante bellum. By merely carrying on the war, and regularly defeating his enemies against massive odds, Frederick II acquired the sobriquet "the Great" for himself and Prussia's recognition as a great power by the other states. Austria had failed dismally in the attempt to regain Silesia, prompting a further bout of administrative reform that, in less than a decade, increased the quality and quantity of her armies. Yet Russia, in spite of making no territorial gains from the war, emerged as the arbiter of eastern Europe, in part through her military performance but also thanks to the new tsarina, Catherine II, who was determined that Russia would henceforth act to maintain its newly acquired pivotal role.
See also Austrian Succession, War of the (1740–1748) ; British Colonies: The Caribbean ; British Colonies: North America ; Catherine II (Russia) ; Elizabeth (Russia) ; Frederick II (Prussia) ; French Colonies: The Caribbean ; French Colonies: North America ; Louis XV (France) ; Maria Theresa (Holy Roman Empire) ; Pitt, William the Elder and William the Younger ; Prussia .
Anderson, Fred. Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of the Empire in British North America, 1754–1766. London, 2000.
Dorn, Walter L. Competition for Empire, 1740–1763. London and New York, 1963. See chapter 8. Still the best narrative of the war.
Middleton, Richard. The Bells of Victory: the Pitt-Newcastle Ministry and the Conduct of the Seven Years' War, 1757–1762. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1985.
Scott, H. M. The Emergence of the Eastern Powers 1756–1775. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 2001.
Seven Years' War
SEVEN YEARS' WAR
The Seven Years' War (1756–1763) involved nearly every European state and was watershed in world history. It arose as a result of the Anglo-French colonial rivalry and because of the growing might of Prussia in central Europe, which threatened the interests of Austria, France, and Russia. The outcome ensured that England became the dominant power in North America, and the war consolidated the growing power and prestige of Frederick the Great's Prussia. For this, he could thank Russia and its bizarre participation in the war. Internally, Russian actions in the Seven Years' War also brought about a palace coup and the subsequent rule of Catherine II.
Prussia had emerged as a potential European power by the middle of the eighteenth century. Under Frederick II (r. 1740–1786), Prussian policies became increasingly ambitious. Frederick wanted to consolidate his power and territories gained at the expense of Austria during the 1840s. Austria, for its part, desired a return of territories such as Silesia. Russia and France also worried over Prussian power and potential incursions near their respective borders. When war broke out between France and England over their North American territories, Prussia signed an alliance with England in January 1756. The alliance brought a rapprochement between France and Austria. By the end of 1756, Russia signed a new alliance with its traditional ally, Austria. The sides had been drawn.
After war broke out in 1756 on the continent, Frederick's forces enjoyed success against the Austrians. By April 1756 the Prussians reached Prague. In the Bohemian capital the Austrians rallied, and Frederick's forces retreated. At that point Austria's allies, including Russia, entered the conflict. Despite the numbers stacked against him, Frederick continued to win surprising victories, and 1757 established his reputation as a brilliant commander.
The following year brought mixed results and mounting casualties for the Russians, who lost twelve thousand troops at August's Battle of Zorndorf. In 1759 the allies, and particularly Russia, ratcheted up the pressure. Led by General Pyotr Saltykov, the Russian army occupied Frankfurt in June 1759. By 1760 Frederick had only half the numbers of his Russian and Austrian opponents, who began to close the circle against Frederick. Russian commanders in particular focused on Berlin, and even occupied the Prussian capital for three days in September and October 1760. Exhausted by the continuous marching demanded of eighteenth-century warfare, the two sides fought no serious battles for the rest of 1760 and most of 1761. Frederick's situation, however, was grave. Russia and Austria could count on more soldiers and supplies, and Prussia was cut off from Silesia, a major supplier of food.
Then the situation changed dramatically. On January 5, 1762, the Empress Elizabeth died. Her successor, Peter III, was a fervent admirer of Frederick II and all things Prussian. When he took the throne, Peter ended the war with Prussia, called his troops back, and returned all territorial gains. As a result, Frederick recovered and defeated the Austrians. France, defeated in North America and more disinterested about the continental war, also signed a treaty with Prussia. Frederick's "miracle" had resulted from Russia's flip-flop, and his victory brought the first step toward Prussian domination of Germany.
At home, Peter III's decision ran counter to Russia's strategic and political interests. Contemporaries called the conflict the "Prussian War," and even popular prints of the time depicted the war as a struggle solely between Russia and Prussia. The decision to hand Frederick victory thus did not go over well within any segment of the population. Catherine, Peter's German wife, led a palace coup against her husband that toppled him from power on July 9, 1762. Catherine II's rise to power would have been inconceivable had it not been for Russia's participation in the war.
Keep, John L. H. (2002). "The Russian Army in the Seven Years' War." In The Military and Society in Russia, 1450–1917, ed. Eric Lohr and Marshall Poe. Leiden: Brill.
Leonard, Carol. (1993). Reform and Regicide: The Reign of Peter III of Russia. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Stephen M. Norris
Seven Years' War
Seven Years' War
SEVEN YEARS' WAR. 1756–1763. All four of the major European wars between 1689 and 1763 also involved conflict among the imperial powers in North America and the West Indies. The first three (the War of the League of Augsburg, the War of the Spanish Succession, and the War of the Austrian Succession) began in Europe and spread across the Atlantic. The final conflict in this sequence was unique in that it began in the Ohio Valley and then spread to the European Continent. Known, confusingly, in America as "the" French and Indian War (1754–1763), this conflict is known in Europe by its duration, the roughly seven years between 18 May 1756 (when Britain declared war against France) and 10 February 1763 (when the Peace of Paris was signed).
Although Britain had hoped to confine to North America its fight to remove what it considered to be French encroachments on lands it claimed in the Ohio Valley, events beyond its control ensured that this would not happen. Since 1689, Britain had followed a national security policy of joining with other European powers to curb the efforts of France to dominate the Continent. Pursuing this policy required Britain's leaders to strike a balance between committing troops to campaigns against French armies and crippling the French economy by using its naval superiority to cut off France's overseas trade while simultaneously subsidizing its allies to do the actual fighting on the Continent. By the middle of the eighteenth century, this "blue-water strategy" of relying on allies and the Royal Navy had become more feasible. French overseas commerce had grown into a substantial part of the overall French economy, while despite the tug of the Hanoverian connection on George II (who was simultaneously Elector of Hanover), there was a growing reluctance on the part of British politicians to be drawn into struggles on the European Continent. Britain had supported Austria with money and troops during the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–1748) and was trying to re-knit an alliance structure that would keep the balance of power stable through money and diplomacy.
France, too, wanted to concentrate on events overseas, but both powers were drawn into a European war when Frederick II of Prussia attacked Saxony in an effort to preempt a new grand alliance of Austria, Russia, and a reluctant France from squeezing him back to being a secondary power. Britain had no choice but to ally with Frederick and send troops and subsidies to the Continent. Although the British army initially performed badly in Germany, Frederick managed to hold off encirclement by hard marching and heavy casualties. British performance improved, culminating in a tactical triumph over the French at Minden on 1 August 1759, but by that time the bulk of Britain's money, troops, and attention had been shifted to North America. The death of the anti-Prussian czarina of Russia on 6 January 1762 ultimately broke the alliance and saved Frederick. After several years of frustration in North America, the combination of British naval superiority and a series of slow but steady land campaigns that culminated in James Wolfe's lucky victory at the Plains of Abraham in Quebec on 13 September 1759 capped an annus mirabilus (year of miracles) that left Britain dominant at sea and in North America.
Even before the Peace of Paris ratified Britain's tremendous success, its leaders were grappling with the problems of how to pay the expenses incurred during the war and how to reorder the newly expanded empire. Their choices precipitated the War for American Independence.
Clayton, T. R. "The Duke of Newcastle, the Earl of Halifax, and the American Origins of the Seven Years' War." Historical Journal 24 (1981): 571-603.
Higgonet, Patrice. "The Origins of the Seven Years' War." Journal of Modern History 40 (1968): 57-90.
Middleton, Richard. The Bells of Victory: The Pitt-Newcastle Ministry and the Conduct of the Seven Years' War, 1757–1762. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
Showalter, Dennis E. The Wars of Frederick the Great. London: Longman, 1996.
revised by Harold E. Selesky
Seven Years War
But the fighting was not confined to Europe. Preoccupied with their war against Prussia, the French were in no position to protect their overseas possessions, and Britain took full advantage. In North America spasmodic fighting between British and French settlers had been going on for years. In 1758 Pitt dispatched an expeditionary force of 12,000 men under General Amherst to capture the fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island and, when this proved successful, ordered a more ambitious advance into French-held Canada. On the night of 12–13 September 1759 Major-General James Wolfe, commanding no more than 3,000 men, mounted a surprise attack on Quebec on the upper reaches of the St Lawrence river. Carried there by a British fleet under Admiral Saunders, Wolfe's men scrambled up cliffs to the south of Quebec under cover of darkness and, as dawn broke, faced a force of about 5,000 French soldiers under the marquis de Montcalm on the Plains of Abraham. The ensuing battle was short and decisive; although both Wolfe and Montcalm were fatally wounded, the French retreated and Quebec fell. Montreal followed, leaving Britain in control of much of Canada.
By then, the British had also consolidated their power in India, where the pro-French nawab Siraj-ud-Daula was defeated by Robert Clive at the battle of Plassey in 1757 to give the East India Company control of Bengal. By 1761, when the French outpost at Pondicherry surrendered to General Eyre Coote, this control had been extended into the Carnatic.
Seven Years War
Seven Years' War
Seven Years' War
Seven Years' War, conflict (1756–1763) also known in North America as the French and Indian War. The Seven Years' War aligned Prussia and England against France, Austria, and Russia in Europe and England against France in North America. It began when Frederick II the Great (1712–1786) of Prussia invaded Saxony and then Austria and ended after Great Britain, with the strongest navy, conquered all of Canada and took the French sugar islands. The final settlement, the Peace of Paris (10 February 1763) was favorable to Great Britain, which received all of Canada and land east of the Mississippi. Although unprepared to challenge British naval power, Spain entered the war after making the third (Bourbon) Family Compact with France on 15 August 1761. Britain captured Havana in 1762, but returned the port to Spain in 1763. Spain ceded Florida and all Spanish territory in North America to Great Britain. Spain's only victory in the war was taking Colônia Do Sacramento from Portugal, Britain's ally, but the peace terms required that Spain return the Río de la Plata colony. The war exposed Spain's colonial vulnerability and subsequently Charles III (1716–1788) instituted a variety of reforms to strengthen the ties between the colonies and Spain and improve military defense.
See alsoColonialism .
Richard Pares, War and Trade in the West Indies, 1739–1763 (1963).
Max Savelle, Empires to Nations: Expansion in America, 1713–1824 (1974).
Anderson, Fred. Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754–1766. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.
Suzanne Hiles Burkholder
Seven Years' War
SEVEN YEARS' WAR
SEVEN YEARS' WAR. SeeFrench and Indian War .