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The War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748) involved nearly all the powers of Europe (except for the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Ottoman Empire). The war began under the pretext that Maria Theresa of Austria was ineligible to succeed to the Habsburg thrones, because Salic law precluded royal inheritance by a woman, though in reality this was a convenient excuse put forward by Prussia and Francemarker to challenge Habsburg power. Austria was supported by Great Britainmarker and the Dutch Republic, the traditional enemies of France, as well as the Kingdom of Sardinia and Saxony. France and Prussia were allied with the Electorate of Bavaria. The war ended with the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748. The most enduring military historical interest and importance of the war lies in the struggle of Prussiamarker and the Habsburg monarchs for the region of Silesia.


All the participants of the War of the Austrian Succession.
Blue: Austria, Great Britain with allies.
Green: France, Prussia, Spain with allies.
In 1740, after the death of her father, Charles VI, Maria Theresa succeeded him as Queen of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia, Archduchess of Austria and Duchess of Parma. Her father had also been Holy Roman Emperor, but Maria Theresa was not a candidate for that title, which had never been held by a woman; the plan was for her to succeed to the hereditary Habsburg domains, and her husband, Francis Stephen, to be elected Holy Roman Emperor. The complications involved in a female Habsburg ruler had been long foreseen, and Charles VI had persuaded most of the states of Germany to agree to the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713.

Problems began when King Frederick II of Prussia violated the Pragmatic Sanction and invaded Silesia on 16 December 1740, using Treaty of Brieg of 1537 under which the Hohenzollerns of Brandenburgmarker was to inherit the Duchy of Brieg as a pretext. Maria Theresa, as a woman, was perceived as weak, and other rulers (such as Charles Albert of Bavaria) put forward their own competing claims to the crown as male heirs with a clear genealogical basis to inherit the elected dignities of the great Imperial title.

Silesian Campaign of 1740

Prussia in 1740 was a small and thoroughly organized emerging international power. While the only recent war experience of its army had been in the desultory War of the Polish Succession (Rhine campaign of 1733–1735) , it therefore had an uninspiring reputation and was counted as one of the larger of very many minor armies of Europe of which there were a plenitude in the German states.

Only few, and those counted as dreamers, thought that it could rival the modern forces of Austria and France. But King Frederick William I had drilled it to a perfection previously unknown, and the Prussian infantry soldier was so well-trained and well-equipped that he could fire five shots to an Austrian's three. Prussian cavalry and artillery were comparatively less efficient, but they were of somewhat better quality as well, for Prussia had contended with the excellent cavalry of Poland to its east and faced Swedish artillery in the early to middle seventeenth century.

The initial advantage of Frederick's army was that undisturbed by wars, it had developed the professional standing-army concept to full maturity and effect. This was telling in the early going while the Austrians had to wait for drafts to complete the field forces, Prussian regiments took the field at once, and thus Frederick was able to overrun Silesia almost unopposed.

In any event, his army had massed quietly along the Oder River during early December, and on 16 December 1740, without declaration of war, it crossed the frontier into Silesia. The extant forces available to the local Austrian generals could do no more than garrison a few fortresses, and they necessarily fell back to the mountain frontier of Bohemia and Moravia with only a small remnant of their available forces left in the garrisons.

On their new territory, the organized Prussian army was soon able to go into winter quarters, holding all Silesia and investing the strong places of Glogaumarker, Briegmarker and Neissemarker. In effect, in one step, Prussia had doubled its population and made huge gains in its industrial productivity for the minor cost of fair treatment of the people in the occupied territory—an atypical factor and effect in a day when relatively undisciplined mercenary forces (typically gangs of thugs in quasi uniforms organized under a "captain" or "colonel" who had little interest in protecting the populace, and every interest in accommodating his men's desires) were the rule rather than the exception with their habitual raping, looting, and abuse of the various populations around themselves — which were generally forced to provide quarters.

Nationalism as we know it today, was not a factor but an evolving concept just coming into its early years. Prussia benefited greatly from the apolitical nature of the society of the time, as the masses in central Germany would correspondingly suffer as the contending armies rampaged through their plains yet again.

Silesian Campaign of 1741

In February 1741 the Austrians collected a field army under Count Neipperg and made preparations to re-conquer Silesia. While the Austrian garrisons in Neisse and Brieg continued to hold out against Prussian forces, Glogau was stormed on the night of 9 March 1741. The Prussian besiegers under Leopold II, Prince of Anhalt-Dessau executed their task in one hour with a mathematical precision which excited universal admiration. However, the Austrian army in Moravia took to the field at a time when Frederick's cantonments were dispersed over all Upper Silesia. Consolidating the army proved a difficult task for the ground was deep in snow; before it could be completed, Neisse was relieved and the Prussians cut off from their own country by the march of Neipperg from Neisse on Brieg. A few days of slow manoeuvring between the two armies ended in the Battle of Mollwitz (10 April 1741), the first pitched battle fought by Frederick and his army. The Austrians routed the Prussian right wing of cavalry, but Frederick's infantry held and won the battle.

Frederick himself was absent after the battle. He had fought in the cavalry mêlée, but when the battle seemed lost, he had been persuaded by Field Marshal Schwerin to ride away. Schwerin thus, like Marshal Saxe at Fontenoymarker, remained behind to win the victory, and the king narrowly escaped being captured by wandering Austrian hussars.

In the aftermath of the battle the Prussians secured Brieg, and Neipperg fell back to Neisse, where he maintained himself and engaged in a series of manoeuvres during the summer. Europe recognized the emergence of a new military power, and France sent Marshal Belle-Isle to Frederick's camp to negotiate an alliance, causing the "Silesian adventure" to become the War of the Austrian Succession. The Elector of Bavaria's candidacy for the imperial dignity was to be supported by a French "auxiliary" army, and other French forces were sent to observe Hanovermarker. Saxony was already watched by a Prussian army under Leopold I, Prince of Anhalt-Dessau, the "old Dessauer", who had trained the Prussian army to its present perfection.

During the Russo-Swedish War, 1741-1743, the task of Sweden was to prevent Russia from attacking Prussia, but her troops were defeated, on 3 September 1741, at Villmanstrandmarker by a greatly superior Russian army. In 1742 another great defeat was sustained by the Franco-Prussian alliance, when the Russians conquered Helsinkimarker from Sweden.

Allies in Bohemia, 1741

The French duly joined the Bavarian Elector's forces on the Danube and advanced towards Viennamarker, but the objective was suddenly changed, and after many countermarches the anti-Austrian allies advanced, in three widely-separated corps, on Praguemarker. A French corps moved via Ambergmarker and Pilsenmarker. The Elector marched on Budweismarker, and the Saxons (who had now joined the allies) invaded Bohemia by the Elbe valley. The Austrians could at first offer little resistance, but before long a considerable force intervened at Tábormarker between the Danube and the allies, and Neipperg was now on the march from Neisse to join in the campaign. He had made with Frederick the curious agreement of Klein Schnellendorf (9 October 1741), by which Neisse was surrendered after a mock siege, and the Austrians undertook to leave Frederick unmolested in return for his releasing Neipperg's army for service elsewhere. At the same time the Hungariansmarker, moved to enthusiasm by the personal appeal of Maria Theresa, had put into the field a levée en masse, or "insurrection", which furnished the regular army with an invaluable force of light troops. A fresh army was collected under Field Marshal Khevenhüller at Vienna, and the Austrians planned an offensive winter campaign against the Franco-Bavarian forces in Bohemia and the small Bavarian army that remained on the Danube to defend the electorate.

The French in the meantime had stormed Prague on 26 November 1741, Francis Stephen, husband of Maria Theresa, who commanded the Austrians in Bohemia, moving too slowly to save the fortress. The Elector of Bavaria, who now styled himself Archduke of Austria, was crowned King of Bohemia (9 December 1741) and elected to the imperial throne as Charles VII (24 January 1742), but no active measures were undertaken.

In Bohemia the month of December was occupied in mere skirmishes. On the Danube, Khevenhüller, the best general in the Austrian service, advanced on 27 December, swiftly drove back the allies, shut them up in Linzmarker, and pressed on into Bavaria. Munichmarker itself surrendered to the Austrians on the coronation day of Charles VII.

At the close of this first act of the campaign the French, under the old Marshal de Broglie, maintained a precarious foothold in central Bohemia, menaced by the main army of the Austrians, and Khevenhüller was ranging unopposed in Bavaria, while Frederick, in pursuance of his secret obligations, lay inactive in Silesia.

Campaigns of 1742

Frederick had hoped by the truce to secure Silesia, for which alone he was fighting. But with the successes of Khevenhüller and the enthusiastic "insurrection" of Hungary, Maria Theresa's opposition became firmer, and she divulged the provisions of the truce, in order to compromise Frederick with his allies. The war recommenced. Frederick had not rested on his laurels. In the uneventful summer campaign of 1741 he had found time to begin that reorganization of his cavalry which was before long to make it even more efficient than his infantry. The Emperor Charles VII, whose territories were overrun by the Austrians, asked him to create a diversion by invading Moravia. In December 1741, therefore, Schwerin had crossed the border and captured Olomoucmarker. Glatz also was invested, and the Prussian army was concentrated about Olomouc in January 1742. A combined plan of operations was made by the French, Saxons and Prussians for the rescue of Linz. But Linz soon fell. Broglie on the Vltava, weakened by the departure of the Bavarians to oppose Khevenhüller, and of the Saxons to join forces with Frederick, was in no condition to take the offensive, and large forces under Prince Charles of Lorraine lay in his front from Budweismarker to Jihlavamarker (Iglau). Frederick's march was made towards Iglau in the first place. Brnomarker was invested about the same time (February), but the direction of the march was changed, and instead of moving against Prince Charles, Frederick pushed on southwards by Znojmomarker and Mikulovmarker. The extreme outposts of the Prussians appeared before Vienna. But Frederick's advance was a mere foray, and Prince Charles, leaving a screen of troops in front of Broglie, marched to cut off the Prussians from Silesia, while the Hungarian levies poured into Upper Silesia by the Jablůnkov Passmarker. The Saxons, discontented and demoralized, soon marched off to their own country, and Frederick with his Prussians fell back by Svitavymarker and Litomyšlmarker to Kutná Horamarker in Bohemia, where he was in touch with Broglie on the one hand and (Glatz having now surrendered) with Silesia on the other. No defence of Olomouc was attempted, and the small Prussian corps remaining in Moravia fell back towards Upper Silesia.

Prince Charles, in pursuit of the king, marched by Jihlava and Teutsch (Deutsch) Brod on Kutná Hora, and on 17 May was fought the Battle of Chotusitz, in which after a severe struggle the king was victorious. His cavalry on this occasion retrieved its previous failure, and its conduct gave an earnest of its future glory not only by its charges on the battlefield, but by its vigorous pursuit of the defeated Austrians. Almost at the same time Broglie fell upon a part of the Austrians left on the Vltava and won a small, but morally and politically important, success in the action of Sahaymarker, near Budweis (24 May 1742). Frederick did not propose another combined movement. His victory and that of Broglie disposed Maria Theresa to cede Silesia in order to make good her position elsewhere, and the separate peace between Prussia and Austria, signed at Breslaumarker on 11 June, closed the First Silesian War, but the War of the Austrian Succession continued.

Campaign of 1743

1743 opened disastrously for the emperor. The French and Bavarian armies were not working well together, and Broglie and Seckendorf had actually quarrelled. No connected resistance was offered to the converging march of Prince Charles's army along the Danube, Khevenhüller from Salzburg towards southern Bavaria, and Prince Lobkowitz from Bohemia towards the Naabmarker. The Bavarians suffered a severe reverse near Braunaumarker (9 May 1743), and now an Anglo-allied army commanded by King George II, which had been formed on the lower Rhine on the withdrawal of Maillebois, was advancing southward to the Mainmarker and Neckarmarker country. A French army, under Marshal Noailles, was being collected on the middle Rhine to deal with this new force. But Broglie was now in full retreat, and the strong places of Bavaria surrendered one after the other to Prince Charles. The French and Bavarians had been driven almost to the Rhine when Noailles and the king came to battle. George, completely outmaneuvered by his veteran antagonist, was in a position of the greatest danger between Aschaffenburgmarker and Hanaumarker in the defile formed by the Spessartmarker Hills and the river Main. Noailles blocked the outlet and had posts all around, but the allied troops forced their way through and inflicted heavy losses on the French, and the Battle of Dettingen is justly reckoned as a notable victory of British arms (June 27).

Broglie, worn out by age and exertions, was soon replaced by Marshal Coigny. Both Broglie and Noailles were now on the strict defensive behind the Rhine. Not a single French soldier remained in Germany, and Prince Charles prepared to force the passage of the great river in the Breisgaumarker while the king of Britain moved forward via Mainz to co-operate by drawing upon himself the attention of both the French marshals. The Anglo-allied army took Wormsmarker, but after several unsuccessful attempts to cross, Prince Charles went into winter quarters. The king followed his example, drawing in his troops to the northward, to deal, if necessary, with the army which the French were collecting on the frontier of the Southern Netherlands. Austria, Britain, Holland and Sardinia were now allied. Saxony changed sides, and Sweden and Russia neutralized each other (Peace of Åbo, August 1743). Frederick was still quiescent. France, Spain and Bavaria actively continued the struggle against Maria Theresa.

Campaign of 1744

With 1744 began the Second Silesian War. Frederick of Prussia, disquieted by the universal success of the Austrians, secretly concluded a fresh alliance with Louis XV of France. France had posed hitherto as an auxiliary, its officers in Germany had worn the Bavarian cockade, and only with Britain was it officially at war. France now declared war direct upon Austria and Sardinia (April 1744). A corps was assembled at Dunkirkmarker to support the cause of James Stuart in Great Britain, and Louis XV in person, with 90,000 men, prepared to invade the Austrian Netherlands, and took Meninmarker and Ypresmarker. His presumed opponent was the allied army previously under King George II and now composed of British, Dutch, Germans and Austrians. On the Rhine, Coigny was up against Prince Charles, and a fresh army under the Prince de Conti was to assist the Spaniards in Piedmont and Lombardy. This plan was, however, at once dislocated by the advance of Charles, who, assisted by the veteran marshal Traun, skillfully manoeuvred his army over the Rhine near Philippsburgmarker (July 1), captured the lines of Weissenburg, and cut off Coigny from Alsacemarker. Coigny, however, cut his way through the enemy at Weissenburg and posted himself near Strasbourgmarker. Louis XV now abandoned the invasion of the Southern Netherlands, and his army moved down to take a decisive part in the war in Alsace and Lorraine. At the same time Frederick crossed the Austrian frontier (August).

The attention and resources of Austria were fully occupied, and the Prussians were almost unopposed. One column passed through Saxony, another through Lusatia, while a third advanced from Silesia. Prague, the objective, was reached on 2 September. Six days later the Austrian garrison was compelled to surrender, and the Prussians advanced to Budweis. Maria Theresa once again rose to the emergency, a new "insurrection" took the field in Hungary, and a corps of regulars was assembled to cover Vienna, while the diplomats won over Saxony to the Austrian side. Prince Charles withdrew from Alsace, unmolested by the French, who had been thrown into confusion by the sudden and dangerous illness of Louis XV at Metzmarker. Only Seckendorf with the Bavarians pursued him. No move was made by the French, and Frederick thus found himself isolated and exposed to the combined attack of the Austrians and Saxons. Marshal Traun, summoned from the Rhine, held the king in check in Bohemia, the Hungarian irregulars inflicted numerous minor reverses on the Prussians, and finally Prince Charles arrived with the main army. The campaign resembled that of 1742: the Prussian retreat was closely watched, and the rearguard pressed hard. Prague fell, and Frederick, completely outmanoeuvred by the united forces of Prince Charles and Traun, retreated to Silesia with heavy losses. At the same time, the Austrians gained no foothold in Silesia itself. On the Rhine, Louis XV, now recovered, had besieged and taken Freiburgmarker, after which the forces left in the north were reinforced and besieged the strong places of Southern Netherlands. There was also a slight war of manoeuvre on the middle Rhine.

Campaign of 1745

1745 saw three of the greatest battles of the war: Hohenfriedberg, Kesselsdorf and Fontenoymarker. The first event of the year was the Quadruple Alliance of Britain, Austria, Holland and Saxony, concluded at Warsawmarker on 8 January 1745 (Treaty of Warsaw). Twelve days later, the death of Charles VII submitted the imperial title to a new election, and his successor in Bavaria was not a candidate. The Bavarian army was again unfortunate. Caught in its scattered winter quarters (action of Amberg, January 7), it was driven from point to point, defeated it the Battle of Pfaffenhofen and the young elector Maximilian III Joseph had to abandon Munich once more. The Peace of Füssen followed on 22 April, by which he secured his hereditary states on condition of supporting the candidature of the Grand-Duke Francis, consort of Maria Theresa. The "imperial" army ceased ipso facto to exist, and Frederick was again isolated. No help was to be expected from France, whose efforts this year were centred on the Flanders campaign. In effect, on 10 May, before Frederick took the field, Louis XV and Saxe had besieged Tournaymarker, and inflicted upon the relieving army of the Duke of Cumberland the great defeat of Fontenoymarker.

In Silesia the customary small war had been going on for some time, and the concentration of the Prussian army was not effected without severe fighting. At the end of May, Frederick, with about 65,000 men, lay in the camp of Frankensteinmarker, between Glatz and Neisse, while behind the Karkonoszemarker about Landeshutmarker Prince Charles had 85,000 Austrians and Saxons. On 4 June was fought the Battle of Hohenfriedberg or Striegau, the greatest victory as yet of Frederick's career, and, of all his battles, excelled perhaps by Leuthen and Rossbach only. Prince Charles suffered a complete defeat and withdrew through the mountains as he had come. Frederick's pursuit was methodical, for the country was difficult and barren, and he did not know the extent to which the enemy was demoralised.

The manoeuvres of both leaders on the upper Elbe occupied all the summer, while the political questions of the imperial election and of an understanding between Prussia and Britain were pending. The chief efforts of Austria were directed towards the valleys of the Main and Lahn and Frankfurtmarker, where the French and Austrian armies manoeuvred for a position from which to overawe the electoral body. Marshal Traun was successful, and Francis was elected Holy Roman Emperor on 13 September. Frederick agreed with Britain to recognise the election a few days later, but Maria Theresa would not conform to the Treaty of Breslau without a further appeal to the fortune of war. Saxony joined in this last attempt. A new advance of Prince Charles quickly brought on the Battle of Soor, fought on ground destined to be famous in the war of 1866marker. Frederick was at first in a position of great peril, but his army changed front in the face of the advancing enemy and by its boldness and tenacity won a remarkable victory (September 30).

But the campaign was not ended. An Austrian contingent from the Main joined the Saxons under Field Marshal Rutowsky (1702–1764), and a combined movement was made in the direction of Berlin by Rutowsky from Saxony and Prince Charles from Bohemia. The danger was very great. Frederick hurried up his forces from Silesia and marched as rapidly as possible on Dresdenmarker, winning the actions of Katholisch-Hennersdorfmarker (November 24) and Görlitzmarker (November 25). Prince Charles was thereby forced back, and now a second Prussian army under the Old Dessauer advanced up the Elbe from Magdeburgmarker to meet Rutowsky. The latter took up a strong position at Kesselsdorfmarker between Meissenmarker and Dresdenmarker, but the veteran Leopold attacked him directly and without hesitation (December 14). The Saxons and their allies were completely routed after a hard struggle, and Maria Theresa at last gave way. In the Peace of Dresden (December 25) Frederick recognized the imperial election, and retained Silesia, as at the Peace of Breslau.

Italian Campaigns, 1741–1747

In central Italy an army of Neapolitansmarker and Spaniards was collected for the purpose of conquering the Milanesemarker. In 1741, the allied Neapolitans and Spaniards had advanced towards Modenamarker, the duke of which state had allied himself with them, but the vigilant Austrian commander, Count Traun had out-marched them, captured Modena, and forced the duke to make a separate peace.

In 1742, Traun held his own with ease against the Spanish and Neapolitans. Naples was forced by a British squadron to withdraw her troops for home defence, and Spain, now too weak to advance in the Po valleymarker, sent a second army to Italy via France. Sardinia had allied herself with Austria, and at the same time neither state was at war with France, and this led to curious complications, combats being fought in the Isère valley between the troops of Sardinia and of Spain, in which the French took no part.

In 1743, the Spanish on the Panaromarker had achieved a Pyrrhic victory over Traun at Campo Santo (8 February 1743), but the next six months were wasted in inaction, and Lobkowitz, joining Traun with reinforcements from Germany, drove back the enemy to Riminimarker. The Spanish-Piedmontese war in the Alps continued without much result, the only incident of note being the first Battle of Casteldelfino (7-10 October 1743), when an initial French offensive was beaten off.

In 1744 the Italian war became serious. A grandiose plan of campaign was formed, and the French and Spanish generals at the front were hampered by the orders of their respective governments. The object was to unite the army in Dauphiné with that on the lower Po. The support of Genoamarker allowed a road into central Italy. But Lobkowitz had already taken the offensive and driven back the Spanish army of the Count de Gages towards the Neapolitan frontier, so the King of Naples had to assist the Spaniards. A combined army was formed at Velletri, and defeated Lobkowitz there on 11 August. The crisis past, Lobkowitz then went to Piedmont to assist the king against Conti, the King of Naples returned home, and de Gages followed the Austrians with a weak force.

The war in the Alps and the Apenninesmarker had already been keenly contested. Villefranche and Montalbanmarker were stormed by Conti on 20 April, a desperate fight took place at Peyre-Longue on 18 July (second Battle of Casteldelfino), and the King of Sardinia was defeated in a great battle at Madonna dell'Olmo (September 30) near Coni (Cuneomarker). Conti did not, however, succeed in taking this fortress, and had to retire into Dauphiné for his winter quarters. The two armies had, therefore, failed in their attempt to combine, and the Austro-Sardinians still lay between them.

The campaign in Italy this year was also no mere war of posts. In March 1745 a secret treaty allied the Genoese republic with France, Spain and Naples. A change in the command of the Austrians favoured the first move of the allies. De Gages moved from Modena towards Luccamarker, the French and Spaniards in the Alps under Marshal Maillebois advanced through the Italian Riviera to the Tanaro, and in the middle of July the two armies were at last concentrated between the Scriviamarker and the Tanaro, to the unusually large number of 80,000. A swift march on Piacenzamarker drew the Austrian commander thither, and in his absence the allies fell upon and completely defeated the Sardinians at Bassignano (September 27), a victory which was quickly followed by the capture of Alessandriamarker, Valenzamarker and Casale Monferratomarker. Jomini calls the concentration of forces which effected the victory "le plus remarquable de toute la guerre".

The complicated politics of Italy, however, brought it about that Maillebois was ultimately unable to turn his victory to account. Indeed, early in 1746, Austrian troops, freed by the peace with Frederick, passed through the Tyrol into Italy. The Franco-Spanish winter quarters were brusquely attacked, and a French garrison of 6000 men at Astimarker was forced to capitulate. At the same time Maximilian Ulysses Count Browne with an Austrian corps struck at the allies on the lower Po, and cut off their communication with the main body in Piedmont. A series of minor actions thus completely destroyed the great concentration. The allies separated, Maillebois covering Liguria, the Spaniards marching against Browne. The latter was promptly and heavily reinforced, and all that the Spaniards could do was to entrench themselves at Piacenza, Philip, the Spanish Infant as supreme commander calling up Maillebois to his aid. The French, skillfully conducted and marching rapidly, joined forces once more, but their situation was critical, for only two marches behind them the army of the King of Sardinia was in pursuit, and before them lay the principal army of the Austrians. The pitched Battle of Piacenza (June 16) was hard fought, and Maillebois had nearly achieved a victory when orders from the Infant compelled him to retire. That the army escaped at all was in the highest degree creditable to Maillebois and to his son and chief of staff, under whose leadership it eluded both the Austrians and the Sardinians, defeated an Austrian corps in the Battle of Rottofreddo (August 12), and made good its retreat on Genoa.

It was, however, a mere remnant of the allied army which returned, and the Austrians were soon masters of north Italy, including Genoa (September). But they met with no success in their forays towards the Alps. Soon Genoa revolted from the oppressive rule of the victors, rose and drove out the Austrians (December 5–11) as an Allied invasion of Provence stalled, and the French, now commanded by Belle-Isle, took the offensive (1747). Genoa held out against a second Austrian siege, and after the plan of campaign had as usual been referred to Paris and Madrid, it was relieved, though a picked corps of the French army under the Chevalier de Belle-Isle (1684–1747), brother of the marshal, was defeated in the almost impossible attempt (July 10) to storm the entrenched pass of Exillesmarker (Colle dell'Assietta), the chevalier, and with him much of the elite of the French nobility, being killed at the barricades. Before the steady advance of Marshal Belle-Isle the Austrians retired into Lombardy, and a desultory campaign was waged up to the conclusion of peace.

Later campaigns

The last three campaigns of the war in the Netherlands were illustrated by the now fully developed genius of Marshal Saxe. After Fontenoy, the French carried all before them. The withdrawal of most of the British to aid in suppressing the 'Forty-Five' rebellion at home left their allies in a helpless position. In 1746 the Dutch and the Austrians were driven back towards the line of the Meusemarker, and most of the important fortresses were taken by the French. The Battle of Roucoux (or Raucourt) near Liègemarker, fought on 11 October between the allies under Prince Charles of Lorraine and the French under Saxe, resulted in a victory for the latter. Holland itself was now in danger, and when in April 1747 Saxe's army, which had now conquered the Austrian Netherlands up to the Meuse, turned its attention to the United Provinces. The old fortresses on the frontier offered but slight resistance. Since August 1746 talks had been ongoing at the Congress of Breda to try and agree a peace settlement, but up to this point they had met with little success.

The Prince of Orange and the Duke of Cumberland suffered a severe defeat at Lauffeld (Lawfeld, also called Val) on 2 July 1747, and Saxe, after his victory, promptly and secretly despatched a corps under Marshal Lowendahl (1700–1755) to besiege Bergen op Zoom. On 18 September Bergen op Zoom was stormed by the French, and in the last year of the war Maastrichtmarker, attacked by the entire forces of Saxe and Lowendahl, surrendered on 7 May 1748. A large Russian army arrived to join the allies, but too late to be of use. The quarrel of Russia and Sweden had been settled by the Peace of Åbo in 1743, and in 1746 Russia had allied herself with Austria. Eventually a large army marched from Moscow to the Rhine, an event which was not without military significance, and in a manner preluded the great invasions of 1813–1814 and 1815. The general Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachenmarker) was signed on 18 October 1748.

Conclusion of the war

The War of Austrian Succession concluded with the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle . Maria Theresa and Austria survived status quo ante bellum, sacrificing only the territory of Silesia, which Austria conceded to Prussia. The end of the war also sparked the beginning of German dualism between Prussia and Austria, which would ultimately fuel German nationalism and the drive to unify Germany as a single entity.

General character of the war in Europe

The triumph of Prussia was in a great measure due to its fuller application of principles of tactics and discipline universally recognized though less universally enforced. The other powers reorganised their forces after the war, not so much on the Prussian model as on the basis of a stricter application of known general principles. Prussia, moreover, was far ahead of all the other continental powers in administration, and over Austria, in particular, its advantage in this matter was almost decisive. Added to this was the personal ascendancy of Frederick, as opposed to generals who were responsible for their men to their individual sovereigns.

The war, like other conflicts of the time, featured an extraordinary disparity between the end and the means. The political schemes to be executed by the French and other armies were as grandiose as any of modern times. Their execution, under the then conditions of time and space, invariably fell short of expectations, and the history of the war proves, as that of the Seven Years' War was to prove, that the small standing army of the 18th century could conquer by degrees, but could not deliver a decisive blow. Frederick alone, with a definite end and proportionate means to achieve it, succeeded completely. The French, in spite of their later victories, obtained so little of what they fought for that Parisians adopted the expression Bête comme la paix ("Stupid as the peace").

Even less was to be expected when the armies were composed of allied contingents, sent to the war each for a different object. The allied national armies of 1813 co-operated loyally, for they had much at stake and worked for a common object. Those of 1741 represented the divergent private interests of the several dynasties, and achieved nothing.

North America

The war was also conducted in North America and India. In North America the conflict was known in the British colonies as King George's War, and the most remarkable incident was the capture of the French Fortress Louisbourgmarker on Cape Breton Islandmarker (Île Royale) by a British expedition (April 29 – June 16, 1745) of colonial militia under Colonel William Pepperrell of Mainemarker (then part of Massachusettsmarker). Louisbourg was then regarded merely as a nest of privateers, but at the peace it was returned to France in exchange for the return of Madrasmarker, generating much anger in the British colonies.


The war marked the beginning of the power struggle between Britain and France in India and of European military ascendancy and political intervention in the subcontinent. Major hostilities began with the arrival of a naval squadron under Mahé de la Bourdonnais, carrying troops from France. In September 1746 Bourdonnais landed his troops near Madrasmarker and laid siege to the port. Although it was the main British settlement in the Carnatic, Madras was weakly fortified and had only a small garrison, reflecting the thoroughly commercial nature of the European presence in India hitherto. On 10 September, only six days after the arrival of the French force, Madras surrendered. The terms of the surrender agreed by Bourdonnais provided for the settlement to be ransomed back for a cash payment by the British East India Company. However, this concession was opposed by Dupleix, the governor general of the Indian possessions of the Compagnie des Indes. When Bourdonnais was forced to leave India in October after the devastation of his squadron by a cyclone Dupleix reneged on the agreement. The Nawab of the Carnatic Anwaruddin Muhammed Khan intervened in support of the British and advanced to retake Madras, but despite vast superiority in numbers his army was easily and bloodily crushed by the French, in the first demonstration of the gap in quality that had opened up between European and Indian armies.

The French now turned to the remaining British settlement in the Carnatic, Fort St Davidmarker at Cuddaloremarker, which was dangerously close to the main French settlement of Pondicherrymarker. The first French force sent against Cuddalore was surprised and defeated nearby by the forces of the nawab and the British garrison in December 1746. Early in 1747 a second expedition laid siege to Fort St David but withdrew on the arrival of a British naval squadron in March. A final attempt in June 1748 avoided the fort and attacked the weakly fortified town of Cuddalore itself, but was routed by the British garrison.

With the arrival of a naval squadron under Admiral Boscawen, carrying troops and artillery, the British went on the offensive, laying siege to Pondicherry. They enjoyed a considerable superiority in numbers over the defenders, but the settlement had been heavily fortified by Dupleix and after two months the siege was abandoned.

The peace settlement brought the return of Madras to the British company, exchanged for Louisbourg in Canada. However, the conflict between the two companies continued by proxy during the interval before the outbreak of the Seven Years War, with British and French forces fighting on behalf of rival claimants to the thrones of Hyderabad and the Carnatic.

Naval operations

The naval operations of this war were entangled with the War of Jenkins' Ear, which broke out in 1739 in consequence of the long disputes between Britain and Spain over their conflicting claims in America. The British navy was at its lowest point of energy and efficiency after the long administration of Sir Robert Walpole, while the French and Spanish were even weaker and the naval struggle produced little in the way of concrete results.

The war was remarkable for the prominence of privateering on both sides. It was carried on by the Spaniards in the West Indies with great success, and actively at home. The French were no less active in all seas. Mahé de la Bourdonnais's attack on Madras partook largely of the nature of a privateering venture. The British retaliated with vigour. The total number of captures by French and Spanish corsair was in all probability larger than the list of British - as the French wit Voltaire drolly put it upon hearing his government's boast, namely, that more British merchants were taken because there were many more British merchant ships to take; but partly also because the British government had not yet begun to enforce the use of convoy so strictly as it did in later times.

The West Indies

War on Spain was declared by Great Britain on 23 October 1739, which has become known as the War of Jenkins' Ear. A plan was laid for combined operations against the Spanish colonies from east and west. One force, military and naval, was to assault them from the West Indiesmarker under Admiral Edward Vernon. Another, to be commanded by Commodore George Anson, afterwards Lord Anson, was to round Cape Hornmarker and to fall upon the Pacific coast of Latin America. Delays, bad preparations, dockyard corruption, and the squabbles of the naval and military officers concerned caused the failure of a hopeful scheme. On 21 November 1739 Admiral Vernon did however succeed in capturing the ill-defended Spanish harbour of Porto Bellomarker in present-day Panamamarker. When Vernon had been joined by Sir Chaloner Ogle with naval reinforcements and a strong body of troops, an attack was made on Cartagena in what is now Colombiamarker (March 9 - April 24, 1741). The delay had given the Spanish admiral, Don Blas de Lezo (1687–1741), time to prepare, and the siege failed with a dreadful loss of life to the assailants.

The war in the West Indies, after two other unsuccessful attacks had been made on Spanish territory, died down and did not revive till 1748. The expedition under Anson sailed late, was very ill-provided, and less strong than had been intended. It consisted of six ships and left Britain on 18 September 1740. Anson returned alone with his flagship the Centurion on 15 June 1744. The other vessels had either failed to round the Horn or had been lost. But Anson had harried the coast of Chilemarker and Perumarker and had captured a Spanish galleon of immense value near the Philippinesmarker. His cruise was a great feat of resolution and endurance.

The last naval operations of the war took place in the West Indies, where the Spaniards, who had for a time been treated as a negligible quantity, were attacked on the coast of Cubamarker by a British squadron under Sir Charles Knowles. They had a naval force under Admiral Reggio at Havanamarker. Each side was at once anxious to cover its own trade, and to intercept that of the other. Capture was rendered particularly desirable to the British by the fact that the Spanish homeward-bound convoy would be laden with the bullion sent from the American mines. In the course of the movement of each to protect its trade, the two squadrons met on 1 October 1748 in the Bahama Channel. The action was indecisive when compared with the successes of British fleets in later days, but the advantage lay with Sir Charles Knowles. He was prevented from following it up by the speedy receipt of the news that peace had been made in Europe by the powers, who were all in various degrees exhausted.

The Mediterranean

While Anson was pursuing his voyage round the world, Spain was mainly intent on the Italian policy of the king. A squadron was fitted out at Cádizmarker to convey troops to Italy. It was watched by the British admiral Nicholas Haddock. When the blockading squadron was forced off by want of provisions, the Spanish admiral Don Juan José Navarro put to sea. He was followed, but when the British force came in sight of him Navarro had been joined by a French squadron under de Court (December 1741). The French admiral announced that he would support the Spaniards if they were attacked and Haddock retired. France and Great Britain were not yet openly at war, but both were engaged in the struggle in Germany—Great Britain as the ally of the Queen of Hungary, Maria Theresa; France as the supporter of the Bavarian claimant of the empire. Navarro and de Court went on to Toulonmarker, where they remained till February 1744. A British fleet watched them, under the command of Admiral Richard Lestock, till Sir Thomas Mathews was sent out as commander-in-chief and as Minister to the Court of Turinmarker.

Sporadic manifestations of hostility between the French and British took place in different seas, but avowed war did not begin till the French government issued its declaration of 30 March, to which Great Britain replied on 31 March. This formality had been preceded by French preparations for the invasion of England, and by the Battle of Toulonmarker between the British and a Franco-Spanish fleet. On 11 February a most confused battle was fought, in which the van and centre of the British fleet was engaged with the Spanish rear and centre of the allies. Lestock, who was on the worst possible terms with his superior, took no part in the action. Mathews fought with spirit but in a disorderly way, breaking the formation of his fleet, and showing no power of direction. The mismanagement of the British fleet in the battle, by arousing deep anger among the people, led to a drastic reform of the British navy which bore its first fruits before the war ended.

Northern waters

The French scheme to invade Britain was arranged in combination with the Jacobite leaders, and soldiers were to be transported from Dunkirkmarker. In February 1744, a French fleet of twenty sail of the line entered the English Channelmarker under de Roquefeuil, before the British force under Admiral John Norris was ready to oppose him. But the French force was ill-equipped, the admiral was nervous, his mind dwelt on all the misfortunes which might possibly happen, and the weather was bad. De Roquefeuil came up almost as far as The Downsmarker, where he learnt that Sir John Norris was at hand with twenty-five sail of the line, and thereupon precipitately retreated. The military expedition prepared at Dunkirk to cross under cover of De Roquefeuil's fleet naturally did not start. The utter weakness of the French at sea, due to long neglect of the fleet and the bankrupt state of the treasury, was shown during the Jacobite rising of 1745, when France made no attempt to profit by the distress of the British government.

The Dutch, having by this time joined Great Britain, made a serious addition to the naval power opposed to France, though Holland was compelled by the necessity for maintaining an army in Flanders to play a very subordinate part at sea. Not being stimulated by formidable attack, and having immediate interests both at home and in Germany, the British government was slow to make use of its latest naval strength. Spain, which could do nothing of an offensive character, was almost neglected. During 1745 the New Englandmarker expedition which took Louisburg (April 30 - June 16) was covered by a British naval force, but little else was accomplished by the naval efforts of any of the belligerents.

In 1746 a British combined naval and military expedition to the coast of France - the first of a long series of similar ventures which in the end were derided as "breaking windows with guineas" - was carried out during August and October. The aim was the capture of the French East India Company's dockyard at L'Orient, but it was not attained.

From 1747 until the close of the war in October 1748 the naval policy of the British government, without reaching a high level, was more energetic and coherent. A closer watch was kept on the French coast, and effectual means were taken to intercept communication between France and her American possessions. In the spring information was obtained that an important convoy for the East and West Indies was to sail from L'Orient. The convoy was intercepted by Anson on 3 May, and in the first Battle of Cape Finisterre his fourteen ships of the line wiped out the French escort of six ships of the line and three armed Indiamen, although in the meantime the merchant ships escaped.

On 14 October another French convoy, protected by a strong squadron, was intercepted by a well-appointed and well-directed squadron of superior numbers - the squadrons were respectively eight French and fourteen British - in the Bay of Biscaymarker. In the second Battle of Cape Finisterremarker which followed, the French admiral, Desherbiers de l'Etenduère (1681–1750), succeeded in covering the escape of most of the merchant ships, but Hawke's British squadron took six of his warships. Most of the merchantmen were later intercepted and captured in the West Indies. This disaster convinced the French government of its helplessness at sea, and it made no further effort.

The Indian Ocean

In the East Indies, attacks on French commerce by a British squadron under Curtis Barnett in 1745 led to the despatch of a French squadron commanded by Mahé de la Bourdonnais. After an inconclusive clash off Negapatnammarker in June 1746, Edward Peyton, Barnett's successor, withdrew to Bengal, leaving Bourdonnais unopposed on the Coromandel Coast. He landed troops near Madrasmarker and besieged the port by land and sea, forcing it to surrender on September 10, 1746. In October the French squadron was devastated by a cyclone, losing four ships of the line and suffering heavy damage to four more, and the surviving ships withdrew. French land forces went on to besiege the British settlement at Cuddaloremarker, but the eventual replacement of the negligent Peyton by Thomas Griffin resulted in the British squadron's belated return to action and the raising of the siege in March 1747. Despite the appearance of another French squadron, the arrival of British reinforcements under Edward Boscawen gave the British overwhelming dominance at sea, but the ensuing siege of Pondicherrymarker organised by Bosccawen was unsuccessful.


  1. also known as King George's War in North America, and incorporating the War of Jenkins' Ear with Spain
  2. Carlyle, Thomas, History of Friedrich II of Prussia V: Book XV Second Silesian War, Important Episode in the General European one. 15 August 1744-25 December 1745. Chapter 1: Section: Prince Karl gets across the Rhine (20 June-2 July 1744). (Project Gutenberg)

See also

Further reading

  • (Bibliography: pp. 403–431)

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