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Definition: War of the Austrian Succession from The Macquarie Dictionary

a war (1740--48) in which Austria, England, and the Republic of the Netherlands opposed Prussia, France, and Spain over the right of succession of Maria Theresa of Austria.

Summary Article: War of Austrian Succession (1740–1748)
from Germany at War: 400 Years of Military History

The War of the Austrian Succession pitted Prussia and France against a combination of Austria, Great Britain, and a number of the German states. In addition, the War of the Austrian Succession encompassed two of the three Silesian Wars. Two major factors were at stake in Central Europe: the possession of the title of Holy Roman Emperor and Austrian territory, specifically the province of Silesia.

The first phase of the conflict, also known as the First Silesian War, came as the result of the ascension to the throne of Empress Maria Theresa in Austria as well as the coronation of Friedrich II (Frederick the Great) in Prussia. Concerned over what should happen if there was no male heir to the throne of Austria, Maria's father, the Holy Roman Emperor Karl VI had sought the consent of the various European monarchs to the Pragmatic Sanction. This document allowed for the rise to the throne of Maria Theresa as Queen of Hungary, Croatia, and Bohemia, archduchess of Austria and Duchess of Parma. She could not, however, stand as a candidate for the title of Holy Roman Emperor. Karl hoped by this means to prevent the houses of Europe from attacking the Austrian Empire in order to expand their territories.

The actual fighting in the conflict commenced with the invasion of the Austrian province of Silesia by Prussian forces under Friedrich II on December 16, 1740. The capture of this province was sealed through the Prussian victory at the Battle of Mollwitz on April 10, 1741, which also demonstrated the capability of the reformed Prussian Army. The conquest of Silesia effectively doubled the size of Prussia.

Friedrich was not the only monarch who sought to expand his territory at Austria's loss. He was joined by Karl Albert of Bavaria who sought the Imperial title that Maria Theresa hoped to acquire for her husband Franz Stephan Karl Albert succeeded in attaining the Imperial dignity, being crowned Karl VII on January 24, 1742.

The first phase of the War of the Austrian Succession, also known as the First Silesian War, closed with the Treaty of Breslau on June 11, 1742, which essentially ceded Silesia to Prussia. Friedrich then withdrew Prussia from the war. In doing so, he had achieved his territorial ambitions, but at the cost of alienating his Allies.

The war continued in 1743, with the French and the Bavarians being driven out of the German states by a renewed Austria. The most significant battle during this period of the conflict was at Dettingen on June 27, 1743, where the Pragmatic Army—a force made up of British, Austrian, and Hanoverians—defeated a larger French force.

The year 1744 witnessed the return of Prussia to the conflict, which opened what is known as the Second Silesian War. Friedrich returned to the battlefield through a secret alliance with Louis XV of France, known as the Treaty of Paris signed on June 5, 1744; both monarchs were concerned about the Austrian reversal of fortune that had taken place during 1743. Bavaria was included in this alliance as well.

Prior to his return to active campaigning, Friedrich had spent two years increasing the size of the Prussian Army to some 140,000 troops, and amassing a war chest of over 6 million Thalers, twice the amount with which he had embarked on his initial invasion of Silesia. Friedrich identified three key areas that France and Prussia must capture between them: Bavaria, Bohemia, and Hanover. Friedrich crossed the Austrian frontier in August, aiming at Prague. He reached the city by September 2, as Austria was already heavily committed on other fronts, and the Prussians encountered only light opposition. Once the Austrians regained their organization in Bohemia, however, they drove Friedrich back in a number of maneuvers, and through the use of numerous light troops recruited from their borders. By the end of the year, the Austrians had even crossed the border into Silesia. Now the Austrians sought to generate a more solid alliance against their foes.

The alliance against Prussia, Bavaria, and France was formalized with the Treaty of Warsaw, signed on January 8, 1745. This agreement brought together Austria, Great Britain, Holland, and Saxony. The year also witnessed three of the greatest battles of the war at Fontenoy (May 11), Hohenfriedberg (June 4), and Kesselsdorf (December 15). Hohenfriedberg effectively knocked Karl VII of Bavaria out of the war. He died soon thereafter.

The War of the Austrian Succession began to wind down on the death of Karl VII in 1745. By the end of the year, Friedrich was again pulling Prussia out of the war, this time through the Peace of Dresden, signed on December 25 between Austria and Prussia. This treaty ended the Second Silesian War. Under this agreement, Friedrich recognized the result of the Imperial election that raised Franz Stephan to the Imperial dignity as Franz II on October 4, 1745. In return, Prussia was able to retain Silesia. In many ways, this agreement was similar to the Peace of Breslau.

Likewise, in the later stages of the war, the focus for some of the belligerents switched from Central Europe to the periphery and even to North America and India. In Europe, the main theaters of the war became Italy and the Netherlands. The fighting in the Netherlands highlighted the abilities of French Marshal Maurice de Saxe.

The war finally ended with the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen) in 1748. This restored the status quo ante to all of the participating states, with the important exception that Prussia retained Silesia. Much of the Prussian success in the conflict was due to the manner in which the state was organized to make good use of its meager resources. In addition, the War of the Austrian Succession ignited the rivalry between Prussia and Austria over which state would be the chief arbiter of affairs in Central Europe. The tensions of this rivalry later contributed to the outbreak of the Seven Years’ War.

See also: Dettingen, Battle of; Friedrich II, King of Prussia (Frederick the Great); Hohenfriedberg Campaign of Frederick the Great; Hohenfriedberg, Battle of; Holy Roman Empire (Heiliges Römisches Reich); Mollwitz, Battle of; Prussia, Kingdom of; Prussian Army (1715–1789); Seven Years’ War; Silesia; Silesian War, First; Silesian War, Second

Additional Reading
  • Anderson, M. S. The War of the Austrian Succession 1740-1748. Longman London, 1995.
  • Browning, Reed. The War of the Austrian Succession. St. Martin's Griffin New York, 1995.
  • Citino, Robert M. The German Way of War: From the Thirty Years’ War to the Third Reich. University of Kansa Press Lawrence, 2005.
  • Duffy, Christopher. The Army of Frederick the Great. 2nd ed. Emperor's Press Chicago, 1996.
  • Duffy, Christopher. Frederick the Great: A Military Life. Routledge London, 1985.
  • Showalter, Dennis. The Wars of Frederick the Great. Longman London, 1996.
  • James R. McIntyre
    Copyright 2014 by David T. Zabecki

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