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Summary Article: Austrian Succession, War of the
from The Columbia Encyclopedia

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.

  • See biography by E. Crankshaw, Maria Theresa (1970).
  • Macartney, C. A., Maria Theresa and the House of Austria (1969).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2017

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