Austrian Succession, War of the (1740–1748)

views updated May 17 2018


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) .


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

Austrian Succession, War of the

views updated May 21 2018

Austrian Succession, War of the

AUSTRIAN SUCCESSION, WAR OF THE. 1740–1748. Frederick II (the Great), king of Prussia, rejected the Pragmatic Sanction, by which the Habsburg Emperor Charles VI of Austria decreed in 1713 that his territories should pass to his daughter Maria Theresa if he should have no male heir. When in fact Charles died in October 1740 without a male heir, Frederick laid claim to and invaded the Austrian province of Silesia in December 1740. A coalition of France, Spain, Saxony, and Sardinia, each coveting a portion of the Habsburg dominions, supported the Bavarian candidate for election as Holy Roman Emperor in 1741. Maria Theresa looked to Britain, Austria's traditional ally against France, for support. Britain managed to arrange a temporary peace between Austria and Prussia in July 1742, but Britain was drawn into the war because King George II was simultaneously elector of Hanover. Acting nominally in support of his Habsburg ally (but fully aware that France was the principal threat to both Britain and Hanover), George II led an Anglo-Dutch-Hanoverian force (the "Pragmatic Army") to victory over the French at Dettingen, 27 June 1743, the last time a British king personally led his troops in battle.

The French withdrew from German soil, and Britain formed an alliance with Austria and Sardinia to drive France and Spain from Italy. France, Spain, and Prussia formed a countervailing alliance. The French declaration of war against Britain on 31 March 1744 ended the absurd situation in which hostilities on land and at sea had taken place between powers nominally at peace. France supported the Stuart claimant to the British throne, which touched off the second Jacobite Rebellion ("the '45"), led by the Young Pretender. Although distracted at home, Britain continued to support an Anglo-Dutch-Austrian army in Flanders, led by the king's son, the duke of Cumberland. When Maurice de Saxe, marshal of France, defeated this army at Fontenoy on 11 May 1745, the French gained control of Flanders. By October, Cumberland and his British troops were on their way to Scotland, where on 16 April 1746 they crushed the Jacobites at Culloden. Prussia withdrew from the alliance on 25 December 1745, when Maria Theresa agreed to let Frederick retain Silesia, a bargain that allowed Austria to drive the French and Spanish from northern Italy in 1746.

The European war evolved into a struggle for maritime and colonial supremacy and became interwoven with conflict in India and North America, where it was called King George's War. The so-called War of Jenkins' Ear had already erupted in 1739 over British commercial penetration of Spain's American empire, and the conflict continued in the Caribbean and on the mainland until 1742. Britain's New England colonies captured Louisburg in June 1745, the French took Madras in 1746, and Britain gained control of the seas.

The treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, 18 October 1748, restored all conquests, including Louisburg, much to the disgust of colonial Americans. Prussia retained Silesia, the Dutch Republic regained its frontier fortresses in Flanders, the Pragmatic Sanction was guaranteed, Francis I (Maria Theresa's consort and coregent) was elected emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, and France agreed to expel the Young Pretender.

The war left an unstable situation in its wake and demonstrated how conflict in Europe could expand overseas. The next war involving these European powers would begin in North America and ignite the tinder the war of the Austrian succession had left strewn across Europe. The war is of interest also because many British and American officers who later served in the Revolution underwent their baptism of fire in this conflict.

SEE ALSO Aix-la-Chapelle, Treaty of; Colonial Wars; Culloden Moor, Scotland; Fontenoy, Battle of; Jenkin's Ear, The War of; King George's War.


Browning, Reed. The War of the Austrian Succession. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993.

Showalter, Dennis E. The Wars of Frederick the Great. New York: Longmans, 1996.

                             revised by Harold E. Selesky

Austrian Succession, War of the

views updated Jun 11 2018

Austrian Succession, War of the. Most of western Europe was plunged into war through Frederick the Great's invasion of Austrian Silesia in December 1740 (though Britain was already fighting the War of Jenkins's Ear with Spain). There followed eight years of continental and colonial warfare that killed half a million people. The European fighting took place in three theatres, the Low Countries, Italy, and central Europe. Spain and France were closely allied, with periodic links to Prussia. Britain, Piedmont-Sardinia, the United Provinces, and Austria were ranged against them. British, Austrian, and Dutch troops, often under the duke of Cumberland's command, fought against the French in the Low Countries. George II himself fought at Dettingen (1743), but before the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748, the French army had thrust deep into Dutch territory. In Italy, Britain provided financial and naval support for the Austrians and Piedmont-Sardinians against a Franco-Spanish army seeking to carve a kingdom for Don Philip of Spain. In central Europe, British money helped Maria Theresa in her fight for the territorial survival of Austria against the powerful onslaughts of France and Prussia. At sea Britain was triumphant, the French navy having been destroyed by late 1747, largely due to the skill of Anson and Hawke. This placed the French economy under great strain by barring access to her colonies. In India the French had moderate success, but in America the British predominated, capturing the fort of Louisbourg in June 1745.

At home, the war helped to end the career of Walpole and assisted the rise of Carteret. The suggestion that Britain was supporting others for little gain was used by the Pelham brothers to oust Carteret in 1744, but the policy of subsidizing allies continued. Apart from the Jacobite rising of 1745–6, the conflict seemed remote to the British people and was not a ‘popular war’ in the manner of the Seven Years War. Its inconclusiveness demonstrated its futility.

Andrew Iain Lewer

Austrian Succession, War of the

views updated May 21 2018

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

War of the Austrian Succession

views updated May 14 2018

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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