The "Seven Years War"

~~ Paul V. Hartman ~~

How A Small Island Became The British Empire

The Seven Years War between Prussia and Austria (mainly) (with a host of other nations), was the lift off for the British Empire, but who would have imagined it, since Britain's contribution to what was a land war in Europe was light on men and material. But it was heavy in money, spent on Prussia, and designed to keep France occupied while the British navy went around the world scooping up French colonies.

This war, begun in 1756, was a residual of the War of Austrian Succession, in which England aligned with Austria and France aligned with Prussia, Frederick and Prussia winning and getting the territory named Silesia as the prize. Austria, to get it back, convinced its long-time enemy France that it might be better served aligning with Austria to prevent Prussia from becoming the dominant player in Europe. France accepted the argument. England then switched sides, for several reasons: France was England's principal enemy for hundreds of years, England needed Russian timber for her navy, and England's George II wanted to protect the territory of Hanover, from which his family flowed.

The Treaty of Versailles united France and Austria, to which would be added Russia, the German States, Sweden, Saxony, and Poland, and each of these began gearing up for a "final" war to put Prussia away for good.

Frederick of Prussia, considered the greatest general of the century (until Napoleon) saw the gathering storm and decided to go on offense, subduing nearby Saxony right away, and then winning the first engagement with Austria. After that, the balance switched to Austria-France and Frederick, undermanned, and attacked from numerous directions, lost several battles. However, England starting sending large subsidies to keep Frederick afloat, and sent some troops to defend Hanover. Frederick rebuilt his army with English money and won the main battle of the war against the larger Austrian army at Breslau (1757). Over the next four years, the same territories would be taken and lost several times by one side or the other, the war pausing for rest each winter.

France was going bankrupt on this war and began to look for a way out. Russian czar Peter III lost his country (1762) in a coup d'etat to Katherine, and she wanted Russia out of the war. Sweden dropped out. Then the Turks, seeing the Austrians occupied, attacked Hungary.

Prussia, and Frederick, appeared several times to have lost this war, but with the above events, gathered confidence, took on a larger French army at Burkesdorf and won.

The British navy had been busy. It had gone around the world, driving the French out of its colonies in India, Canada, the Caribbean, the Great Lakes region, Louisiana, Cuba, and Manila. France could only strike back with General Montcalm in Canada, where they succeeded in taking Fort William Henry from the British in 1757 (a battle known from the novel and film "Last of the Mohicans"), but then Montcalm lost to Wolfe in the battle of Quebec (in which both generals died) and France abandoned Canada.

The Seven Year War ended with the Peace of Fontainbleu in 1762. France got its Caribbean colonies back but was obliged to give up claim to India and Canada. Spain, a minor participant, was obliged to cede Florida to England but obtained Louisiana from France. In Europe, territorial ownership reverted to the exact conditions which existed before this war began. The big winner was Britain, and this was the start of the British Empire.

--= The Hartman Web Site © , 1995 - 2006   All rights reserved. =--