The Seven Years War


  Most of the eighteenth century featured wars in Europe, as rulers came and went and tried to dominate other rulers. Nearly always the same countries were involved, and the Seven Years War was no exception: Prussia, Britain and Hanover (then a separate state) ranged up against Austria, France, Sweden, Spain and you guessed it – Russia. The date was 1756.

The problem was that the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748, concluding the War of the Austrian Succession) had not helped very much, because it left strong residues of colonial rivalry between Britain and France, and to this was added the constant struggle for supremacy between Austria and Prussia. To make things worse the same European powers were involved in a small war in North America! It would be safe to say that territory or religion were (and often are) the prime elements in all military conflicts either internally or between nations.

It seems that no side in this war was happy with any former allies it might have had. Prussia had signed the Treaty of Westminster (1756) with Britain; this enabled the formidable Maria Theresa of Austria and her minister von Kurnitz to forge an alliance with France later, in the two treaties of Versailles in 1756 and in 1757. Maria Theresa was also hand-in-hand with Elizabeth of Russia – another formidable woman.

The advantage lay at first with the French and Austrians, but then Pitt the Elder gained power in England (1757) and began prosecuting the war with renewed vim and vigour. Frederick II of Prussia (q.v.) then defeated the French decisively at the battle of Rossbach, and surged on to beat the Austrians at Leuthen. Frederick then became hard-pressed on all sides, but managed to beat the Russians at Zorndorf, while Frederick of Brunswick protected his western flank with his Anglo-Hanoverian troops.

Meanwhile on the other side of the Atlantic General Wolfe defeated the French at Quebec and captured it (1759). Montreal was taken in 1760. Back in Europe Ferdinand smashed the French army at Minden in Westphalia, while Admiral Hawke destroyed the French fleet at Quiberon Bay on the west coast of Brittany in north-western France. For the French it was disastrous, as they lost eleven ships and far too many sailors. The British lost two ships and scotched any possibility of a French invasion of Britain.

In India Robert Clive won control of Bengal at the battle of Plassey, while Admiral Boscawen attacked the French West Indies and did very well. In 1761 however Spain entered the war and the elder Pitt resigned. Elizabeth of Russia died which made the pressure less for Frederick, as Elizabeth’s successor Peter III reversed her policy.

By 1763 it appears that everyone was tired (of this war anyway) and ready for peace (which never lasted long). At the Treaty of Paris in 1763 Russia and Britain came out almost equal victors, though the treaty was signed only by Britain, France and Spain. Britain did not fully exploit her successes, as Pitt was gone and the new minister Bute was too anxious for peace to mind. Still, under the terms of the treaty Britain gained French Canada and all territory originally claimed by France east of the Mississippi. She also gained Senegal in West Africa and all Florida from Spain. The island of Minorca became British in exchange for Belle Isle; not bad going. France also had to hand over St. Vincent and Tobago, but managed to keep Guadeloupe and Martinique.

In India France retained her trading stations but lost her forts; Spain might have lost Florida but all French territory west of the Mississippi was ceded to her in compensation. Florida by the way was British until 1783. Even the Americans admit that Britain had become dominant in most oceans, and especially dominant off the east coast of North America, so the Earl of Bute did not do too badly after all.

About the Author:

‘Dean Swift’ is a pen name: the author has been a soldier; he has worked in sales, TV, the making of films, as a teacher of English and history and a journalist. He is married with three grown-up children. They live in Spain.

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