War of the Austrian Succession (1740–1748)

War of the Austrian Succession (1740–1748)

The War of the Austrian Succession was primarily between the Austrian Empire and Prussia, although several other European countries were eventually brought into the conflict. There were underlying causes that led to this renewal of European hostilities aside from the question of the Austrian succession.

The Treaty of Utrecht, which was signed in 1713 to end the War of the Spanish Succession (1702–13), did not settle the underlying problems between ambitious powers seeking to extend their influence in Europe and the world.

Before the War of the Austrian Succession began, British and Spanish antagonism was prominent in European society. The British were furious with the Spanish over the limited amount of trade the Asien to Privilege, which was signed in 1713, granted the British with Spanish colonies in the Americas.

British captains attempted to get around this agreement by resorting to smuggling, which resulted in the Captain Jenkins Incident. Captain Jenkins claimed he was captured by the Spanish, who cut off one of his ears, which he kept to show to the British parliament. The British government declared war on Spain in October 1739 and commenced hostilities against the Spanish fleet in the Caribbean, but they were defeated.

Despite hostilities between Spain and England, the immediate cause of the War of the Austrian Succession was the death of Charles VI of Austria in 1740, which gave his daughter, Maria Theresa, control over Austria.

When Maria came to the throne, the Austrian military and bureaucracy were in a weakened state. With regard to trade, Austria was a very weak country because its mercantile system was centered predominately on a rural base, which failed to generate a significant degree of revenue.

Austria had fought a bitter war against the Ottoman Empire that drained the treasury, leaving only 90,000 gulden for government spending. This war also angered many Hungarians since they were responsible for quartering the Empire’s soldiers.

This financial burden and discontent were domestic issues with which Maria Theresa was forced to deal when she assumed the throne in 1740. These problems created a great deal of instability in Austria, and many countries hoped to divide up Austrian territory for their own benefit.

An anti-Austrian coalition was formed, as neighboring countries were interested in seizing Austrian lands. This is evidenced by the fact that Prussia was interested in acquiring Silesia, France was interested in the Austrian Netherlands, Spain wanted to acquire more territory in Italy, and Piedmont-Sardinia wanted Milan.

Frederick the Great, the ambitious king of Prussia, struck quickly against the Austrians by sending troops into Silesia in December 1740. Frederick the Great attempted to turn Prussia into a powerful country through the creation of a strong military and a centralized government that could effectively generate revenue through taxation.

The Austrian government faced larger problems as the Bohemian nobles were unhappy with Habsburg rule and revolted since they wanted to be placed under the control of the elector of Bavaria.

At this point, war enveloped the European continent as British and Austrian governments sided together to counter the ambitious design of the French, Prussian, Bavarian, and Spanish governments. Many of the European countries became concerned about the balance of power since they did not want one country to become too powerful in Europe.

Prussian Invasion of Silesia

Prussian Invasion

With the Prussian invasion of Silesia and the revolt in Bohemia, Maria was forced to ask the Hungarian diet for assistance in 1741. The inability of the Austrians to repel the Prussian invasion forced Maria to assemble the Hungarian diet to acquire further assistance in the war effort.

The diet attempted to assert Hungarian interests over Austrian interests as it demanded the institution of better economic policies, an alteration in the coronation oath, and greater Hungarian control over the region.

Maria agreed to negotiate these terms, with the exception of the demand concerning the coronation oath, in order to acquire further Hungarian assistance in the war, but she refused to honor this agreement in its entirety.

As the war continued to deteriorate for the Austrians, Maria was forced to approach the diet again. She promised to give Hungarians greater control over the administration of Hungary, more Hungarian influence in regard to allocation of tax money, the selection of Hungarians to ecclesiastical offices in Hungary, and the promise to give more territory to Hungarian domains.

The members of the diet accepted this proposal and promised to provide the Austrian empress with at least 4 million gulden and a minimum of 60,000 troops. Despite the fact that Maria considered Hungarian opinion when creating government policies, she failed to implement most of the demands to which the Hungarians agreed.

The Hungarians also fell short on their promises regarding the number of troops they could offer to the service of the Crown, which helps to explain the poor performance of the Austrian war effort.

The Peace of Dresden, which was signed in 1745 between the Prussian and Austrian governments, confirmed Prussia’s control over Silesia. Despite the fact that Prussia and Austria negotiated a peace settlement the conflict still continued among the other European powers.

The British became involved in the war with the fear that the expansion of French influence on the European continent would affect Hanover. George II, who was king of England and elector of Hanover, led an army that defeated the French forces at Dettingen in June 1743, but the threat of an army led by Charles Edward Stuart, who was attempting to restore the Stuart dynasty to the throne of England, forced the British to recall a significant portion of their army back to England in 1745.

The invasion failed as Charles could not acquire enough support from the English population, forcing him to give up his march on the English capital.

The remains of the Stuart army were smashed by the duke of Cumberland at Culloden Moor in April 1746. Despite this success by the English at home, the recall of a major portion of the English army allowed the French to capture the Austrian Netherlands.

The war was also fought outside the European continent as the French and British combated with each other for a stronger position on the Indian subcontinent and in North America.

The French were able to launch a successful offensive against the British in India by capturing Madras from the British. The British were able to gain some ground on the French in North America as a coordinated attack by colonists from New England and the Royal Navy captured the French fortress of Louisburg.

The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which was signed in 1748, forced England to relinquish control of the fortress of Louisburg in Nova Scotia to the French and in exchange, the French returned the Austrian Netherlands to Austria and Madras to the English. Spain and Piedmont-Sardinia each gained territory as the Spanish acquired Parma, and Piedmont-Sardinia acquired some territory in Milan.

The War of the Austrian Succession was an important step in turning Prussia into a strong European power for the acquisition of Silesia increased the population of Prussia, provided Prussia with an abundant amount of coal and iron, and gave the Prussians a thriving textile industry.

Maria Theresa lost territory, but her husband was acknowledged by the German princes as the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Maria spent the rest of her reign attempting to reacquire Silesia from Frederick the Great as she centralized the Austrian administration and undertook reforms in the Austrian army and economic base to accomplish this goal.