In 1740 the House of Habsburg, one of the dominant royal dynasties of Europe for the preceeding three centuries, was on its last legs. Forty years earlier the senior Spanish line of the family had inbred itself out of existence, leading to a disputed session and more than a decade of conflict that involved almost the whole of Europe. Now, with that bloodshed still within living memory, history looked set to repeat itself. This time, however, the focus was on the dynastic Habsburg lands in Austria and Central Europe which were ruled by the junior family line. The Holy Roman Emperor and ruler of these territories, Charles VI, had two daughters but no sons, leading to the inevitable question as to who could succeed him to lands and titles which had never and, according to some, could never be held by a woman.
It was Charles' death in 1740 and the succession of his eldest daughter Maria Theresa that triggered yet another round of conflict across Europe and North America. Maria Theresa's opponents fought on the principle that she was ineligible to succeed to her father's thrones. The reality, however, was that those opponents used it as a convenient excuse to challenge Habsburg power. The allied Bourbon kingdoms of France and Spain, ruled by Louis XV and his uncle Philip V respectively, were only too keen to expand their influence on the continent at the expense of the old enemy. The conflict also marked the arrival of Prussia on the European stage and established the reputation of its King, Frederick the Great, as one of the great military geniuses of the era.
|Map showing the alliances and areas of fighting in Europe|
The War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748), as it came to be known, was actually made up of a series of more localised conflicts, several of which were already happening when the main wider war started and subsequently became a part of it. These included the Anglo-Spanish War (1739-1742), the War of Jenkins' Ear (1739-1748), King George's War and two of the three Silesian Wars (1740-1742 and 1744-1745). The Silesian Wars turned out to be one of the conflict's most interesting aspects, as Frederick the Great's modernised Prussian armies fought it out with Austria for control of the resource-rich province of Silesia. The rivalry between Prussia and Austria would evolve into a much longer struggle for dominance over the area that is now Germany.
At this point, before I go any further, I think that I should refer you to my previous post about the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) as it will provide you with an insight into the situation in Europe in the 18th Century and introduce you to some of the characters that reappear here, such as Charles VI, Philip V and Louis XV. The story of the War of the Austrian Succession begins, as I have said, with Charles VI who, in his younger days before becoming Emperor, had been the Habsburg candidate for the Spanish throne in that earlier conflict.
Charles and his allies ultimately failed to keep the Spanish crown in the Habsburg family and the death of his elder brother, Emperor Joseph I, without a male heir in 1711 meant that he unexpectedly became Holy Roman Emperor (in theory an elected office but, in practice, one which had been under the hereditary control of the Habsburgs since the 15th Century) and succeeded to the various family-held thrones and titles in Central Europe that were known collectively as the Habsburg Monarchy. These included Archduke of Austria, King of Hungary, King of Bohemia and King of Croatia.
Early on his his reign Charles, who been married for several years but had yet to have any children, was already becoming concerned about what might happen in the event of him dying without an heir. Joseph I had left behind two daughters who were theoretically barred from the succession by the Salic Law, an ancient legal precedent which prevented the inheritance of a throne or fief by a female. As time went on the possibility of the Habsburg Monarchy passing to a female became greater but steps had already been taken to prepare for such an eventuality. Back in 1703, during the reign of their father Leopold I, Joseph and Charles had agreed on the Mutual Pact of Succession, which granted legal succession rights to Joseph's daughters should the male line die out. As Joseph was the elder brother, his daughters were to take precedence over any daughters that Charles might yet still have.
Ten years later, with his brother now gone, Charles changed the law once again by passing the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713. The Pragmatic Sanction reaffirmed the right of a female to rule but, in a whopping case of double-standards, placed any future daughters of his own above his nieces in the line of succession. Despite the flagrant disregard that he had shown both for the previous agreement and for the senior line of succession, Charles initially had no problem with getting both the constituent parts of his empire and the other countries of Europe to accept the changes. In 1717 Charles' wife gave birth to their daughter Maria Theresa who, under the terms of the Pragmatic Sanction, became heiress presumptive to the Habsburg territories.
|Maria Theresa of Austria|
Charles VI might well have worked hard to prepare his territories for a female ruler but he did little to prepare his daughter for the job. Most likely this was because he felt that preparing Maria Theresa to rule could be taken as evidence that he was not going to have a son and that the female succession was a certainty. As a result, Maria Theresa was not given any kind of education in the difficult art that was governing the vast and diverse Habsburg territories. She was not shown state documents, was not allowed to attend meetings and was never even introduced to any ministers or political figures. When her father died in 1740, the naive 23-year-old suddenly found herself in the middle of a political storm as, for the second time in half a century, all Hell broke loose in Europe over the issue of the Habsburg succession.
The Female Succession and Opposition
On the death of Charles VI on October 20th 1740, Maria Theresa succeeded him as Archduchess of Austria, Duchess of Parma and Queen of Hungary, Bohemia and Croatia. The constituent peoples of the Habsburg Monarchy accepted and supported her as their ruler but it did not take long for some the other European powers to change their tune and suddenly argue that she was not entitled to her thrones after all. France, Spain, Prussia, Bavaria and Saxony led the opposition to Maria Theresa's succession while Great Britain and the Netherlands, motivated primarily by their traditional aminosity towards France, supported her.
Maria Theresa's acsession also raised the big question as to who would next occupy the Imperial throne. All the previous Holy Roman Emperors had been male and the position remained subject to Salic Law. Maria Theresa had already concurred that she had no chance whatsoever of being allowed to stand for the office in her own right, even if she was a Habsburg. Instead she had put forward her husband, Francis Stephen of Lorraine, Grand Duke of Tuscany as a candidate. Charles VI had persuaded most of the German states within the Holy Roman Empire to accept the Pragmatic Sanction and to support the candidacy of Francis Stephen but again it did not take long for opponents to appear once Charles was dead. One such opponent who fancied himself for the title of Emperor was Charles Albert, the Wittelsbach Elector of Bavaria and husband of Maria Amalia, the younger of Joseph I's daughters. Joseph's elder daughter, Maria Josepha was married to another of Maria Theresa's opponents, Frederick Augustus II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland.
The Saxon and Bavarian Electors may well have been the most vocal opponents of Maria Theresa and the Pragmatic Sanction. She had, after all, supplanted their wives in the Habsburg order of succession. The first person to open full hostilities against her, however, was Frederick II, who held the Electorate of Brandenburg as a constituent part of his wider realm, the Kingdom of Prussia. The enlightened and cultured Frederick, who had only been on the throne of Prussia since May that year, was the leader of a small but well-organised country which was on the verge of becoming a major international power. His motivations for opposing Maria Theresa were numerous, the main one being that he wished to unite his scattered territories in northern Germany by acquiring the intervening lands and forming a single contiguous Prussian state. He also harboured a deep resentment of the Habsburgs and the immense influence that they held over the German states and partly blamed them for his miserable and repressed early life, throughout which he had suffered constantly at the hands of his bullying pro-Habsburg father, Frederick William I.
First Silesian Campaign (1740-1742)
In late 1740, with the Austrians distracted by the political fallout resulting from Maria Theresa's succession, Frederick II decided to take advantage of the situation by attacking the neighbouring Habsburg province of Silesia, which was abundant in natural resources and rich in mineral wealth. His excuse for doing so was a questionable interpretation of a 200-year-old treaty, which had promised the Silesian duchy of Brieg to the Hohenzollerns of Brandenburg (the Prussian ruling dynasty) in the event of the ruling Piast dynasty dying out, which it had done back in 1675. Using this as a convenient pretext, Frederick's armies in Brandenburg crossed the River Oder and invaded Silesia on December 16th 1740.
|Frederick II "the Great" of Prussia|
At this time few of the other European powers took Prussia seriously as a military power. Although the Prussian army had taken part in the recent War of the Polish Succession (1733-1738), it had not been allowed to fight because the Austrians did not trust Frederick William I. This lack of activity had given Frederick William, known as "the Soldier King", a chance to create a highly efficient state bureaucracy and, more importantly, develop his beloved army into a well-drilled, well-trained, well-organised and well-equipped fighting force. The Prussian cavalry and artillery remained fairly average compared with the rest of Europe but the infantry, consisting of full-time professional soldiers, were arguably the best that the continent had to offer. Frederick William's efforts ensured that the army was ready to move almost as soon as his son Frederick came to the throne, allowing the latter to launch a lightning fast campaign against the Habsburgs when they were at their weakest.
All these factors ensured that Frederick II's invasion of Silesia was a complete and resounding success. The lack of a formal declaration of war meant that the Austrians were caught by surprise. There was no time for Maria Theresa to raise an army by traditional means and the handful of Austrian garrisons in the province could do little to resist the relentless Prussian advance. The Austrians decided to pull back to the mountain frontier of Bohemia and Moravia to the south, allowing the Prussians to overrun Silesia in less than two months. The Austrians rallied when the new campaigning season began the following Spring but the Prussian victory at the Battle of Mollwitz in April 1741 effectively confirmed Frederick's conquest. That conquest was legally recognised by the Treaty of Breslau, which was signed in June 1742. The acquisition of Silesia almost doubled Prussia's population and greatly increased its industrial capacity for the small price of having to treat the local population fairly, which the benevolent Frederick duly did.
Bohemian Campaign and Imperial Election (1741-1742)
As the Silesian campaign was going on, Maria Theresa's other opponents made their move. In 1741 King Louis XV of France sent an army to join with that of the Bavarian Elector Charles Albert, which was on the River Danube preparing to advance on the Austrian capital, Vienna. The Franco-Bavarian army began the march but the arrival of the Saxon army prompted a change of plan. They instead turned north into Bohemia, and launched a three-pronged assault on Prague. The French advanced via Amberg and Pilsen, the Bavarians via Budweis and the Saxons via the valley of the River Elbe.
At first there was little the Austrians could do as the majority of their forces were preoccupied with Frederick II and the Prussians in Silesia. They did have an army in Bohemia, commanded by Maria Theresa's husband Francis Stephen, but it was not going to last long on its own against this massive assault. They were eventually able to free up another army in October when the Austrian general Wilhelm Reinhard von Neipperg made a curious agreement with Frederick at the Silesian town of Neisse. The two agreed that Neipperg would abandon Neisse to the Prussians (after the two sides staged a mock siege) and take his army out of the province to where it could be better used against the enemy armies menacing Bohemia. The Austrian cause was also helped by the Hungarians, who demonstrated their firm loyalty to Maria Theresa by supplying a valuable force of conscripted light infantry.
As Neipperg brought his army south from Silesia, Field Marshal Khevenhüller collected together a fresh army at Vienna in preparation for a Winter offensive campaign against the French, Saxon and Bavarian armies in Bohemia. They were also planning to attack Bavaria itself, which was defended only by token forces. Yet again, however, it was their enemies that struck first. On November 26th 1741 the French army captured Prague, taking the Bohemian capital before Francis Stephen could arrive in time to save it. Elector Charles Albert, who was already styling himself as Archduke of Austria, was crowned as King of Bohemia in Prague on December 9th, taking this critical province of the Habsburg Monarchy out of Maria Theresa's hands. He also declared his intention to stand against Francis Stephen in the upcoming Imperial election.
|Charles Albert, Elector of Bavaria|
The election was not due to take place for almost two months and the rest of December consisted mainly of indecisive skirmishes. It was not until December 27th that major hostilities resumed. The Austrians under Khevenhüller went on the offensive, first driving back the Bavarians at Linz and then marking the new year by pressing on into Bavaria itself. Charles Albert was not available to defend his ancestral homeland as the Imperial election was now imminent and all his attentions were focused on that. On January 24th 1742 the eyes of Europe were on the Free Imperial City of Frankfurt, where the Electors of the Holy Roman Empire gathered to choose their new Emperor, a position which had now been vacant for well over a year. With the candidates being Francis Stephen (House of Lorraine) and Charles Albert (House of Wittelsbach), this would be the first election since 1410 in which a non-Habsburg Emperor would be chosen.
Under normal circumstances there would have been nine Electors, six secular (the rulers of Brandenburg, Bavaria, Saxony, Hanover, Bohemia and the Palatinate) and three ecclesiastical (the Archbishops of Cologne, Trier and Mainz). On this occasion, however, there were only eight due to Charles Albert's seizure of the Bohemian crown. Maria Theresa still claimed the throne of Bohemia and her right to vote in the election but Charles Albert succeeded in having her excluded from voting. The electoral rights of Bohemia were subsequently suspended until the thorny issue could be resolved. The remaining eight Electors were:
- Philipp Karl von Eltz-Kempernich, Elector of Mainz
- Franz Georg von Schönborn-Buchheim, Elector of Trier
- Clemens August of Bavaria, Elector of Cologne
- Charles Albert, Elector of Bavaria (also King of Bohemia)
- Frederick Augustus II, Elector of Saxony (also King of Poland)
- Frederick II, Elector of Brandenburg (also King of Prussia)
- George II, Elector of Hanover (also King of Great Britain)
- Charles III Philip, Elector Palatine
In the years before his death, Emperor Charles VI had tried to secure the Imperial succession for his son-in-law Francis Stephen. Charles Albert opposed this on the grounds that his wife had a senior Habsburg claim to that of Maria Theresa and that he himself was descended from a previous Habsburg Emperor (Ferdinand II). Francis Stephen had nevertheless appeared to be the likely winner initially but his case fell apart after Charles VI died and the French, whose influence was inevitably crucial, opted to support Charles Albert's claim. There was also the problem of Frederick II, who refused to pledge his vote to Francis Stephen unless his wife recognised the Prussian conquest of Silesia (the Treaty of Breslau was not signed until June that year), which Maria Theresa refused to do.
When the vote came, Charles Albert, as Elector of Bavaria, obviously voted for himself. He had support from the two other Wittelsbach Electors; Archbishop Clemens August of Cologne and Charles III Philip of the Palatinate. Francis Stephen had the support of George II and the Archbishops of Trier and Mainz. With both candidates on three votes each, the election was deadlocked and everything depended on the Electors of Brandenburg and Saxony who, despite being allies of Charles Albert, were initially reluctant to commit to either man. In the end the vote was decided by the French, who used their immense diplomatic weight to ensure that the last two votes went to Charles Albert. Francis Stephen's supporters conceeded defeat and Charles Albert was formally elected as Emperor Charles VII. Maria Theresa never accepted the legitimacy of the result.
On February 12th 1742, Charles VII was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in Frankfurt but his celebrations would turn out to be short-lived. Unbeknownst to him at the time (remember that news travelled slowly back then), that day was also the day that the Bavarian capital, Munich, surrendered to the Austrians who were now running around his homeland unopposed. The French under the elderly Duc de Broglie retained a precarious hold over Bohemia but they continued to be shadowed by the army of Francis Stephen. Frederick II launched a diversionary invasion of Moravia at the request of Charles but he was reluctant to commit to anything that went beyond the interests of his own kingdom. His signing of the Treaty of Breslau removed Prussia from the war for the time being, leaving him satisfied with his Silesian acquisitions.
British Involvement (1743)
1743 began disastrously for Charles VII as it became increasingly obvious that the anti-Habsburg coalition was not working well. The French and Bavarian commanders were bickering and Austrian armies under Khevenhüller, Prince Charles Alexander of Lorraine and Prince Lobkowitz of Bohemia were wreaking havoc in Bavaria. On May 9th the Bavarians were defeated at Braunau am Inn, further compounding the Emperor's problems. The next challenge he had to deal with was the arrival of an Anglo-Austrian-Hanoverian army commanded by King George II. This army had been assembled on the lower Rhine and was now advancing south towards the Main and Neckar rivers.
|George II of Great Britain|
The British army had not fought a major war in Europe for twenty years and successive governments had failed to keep it properly maintained. George II had pushed to have reforms instigated within the army, desiring greater professionalism and promotion by merit rather than by sale of commissions, but his efforts had been either thwarted or ignored by his ministers, whose power was increasing at the expense of the monarchy during this period. The British army in the 1740s might well have been somewhat rusty but the great victories of Marlborough in the War of the Spanish Succession were still fresh in the memory and the French in particular were not going to take any chances. A French army under the Duc de Noailles was scratched together in central Germany to deal with George's force.
By now, de Broglie's army was in full retreat and Bavaria's strong-points continued to surrender one-after-another to the Austrians, who were also able to recapture Bohemia following the French withdrawal. By the time de Noailles' army came into contact with that of George II, the French and Bavarians had been pushed back almost to the River Rhine. The encounter on June 27th 1743, the Battle of Dettingen, is a significant event in British history because it would turn out to be the last time that a British monarch led an army in battle. George was initially outsmarted by his French opponent, who trapped the British, Austrians and Hanoverians near Aschaffenburg by blocking the defile (gorge) formed by the Spessart hills and the River Main and then surrounded them. George's army forced its way through the defile and broke out of the encirclement, inflicting heavy losses on the French.
Dettingen was added as yet another name on the list of unlikely British victories. George's son Prince William, Duke of Cumberland fought with distinction was was wounded in the leg by a musket ball. His actions earned him a fearsome military reputation and a promotion to Lieutenant General. Another British soldier who won major plaudits was Lieutenant James Wolfe, whose regiment (the 12th Regiment of Foot) was in the thick of the fighting. Wolfe would go on to become one of the best-known British generals of the 18th Century, largely thanks to the instrumental role he played in the seizure of Canada from the French during the Seven Years War (1756-1763). He died in 1759 during the successful British assault against Quebec.
Following their defeat at Dettingen, the French retreated from Germany and took up defensive positions on the west side of the Rhine, preparing to defend their homeland from invasion. The Austrian army of Prince Charles Alexander tried unsuccessfully to cross the river at Breisgau while George II moved north to Worms where he hoped to divert the attentions of the French. With the allies unable to force a crossing and the 1743 campaigning season drawing to a close, Prince Charles Alexander decided to abandon the fight for the time being and move his army into Winter quarters. George took his men to the Austrian Netherlands (modern Belgium), where they would be in the best position to deal with the French army that was assembling close to the frontier there should it move.
By the end of 1743 France, Spain and Bavaria were still opposed to Maria Theresa despite the Austrians having asserted their dominance in Germany. Saxony had changed sides that year and joined the pro-Habsburg alliance alongside Austria, Great Britain, Hanover, the Netherlands and Sardinia. Sweden and Russia had also been involved as part of their ongoing struggle for dominance in Northern and Eastern Europe (the Russians were supportive of Maria Theresa and the Swedes were fighting at the request of the French in order to keep the Russians distracted) but the Peace of Åbo, signed in August 1743, removed both countries from the equation. Prussia's position had become increasingly less clear, with Frederick II still opposed to Maria Theresa but no longer commited militarily to the conflict.
French and Second Silesian Campaigns (1744-1745)
Before 1744 France had been involved in the fighting primarily as an auxiliary partner in the anti-Habsburg alliance and was officially at war only with Great Britain. French officers and men had fought under the banners and colours of other nations such as Bavaria. That situation changed in 1744 when Louis XV secretly concluded a new alliance with Frederick II of Prussia, who had been greatly concerned by the Austrian successes of 1742 and 1743. In April the French declared war on Austria and Sardinia, thereby committing themselves fully to the conflict. Their first move was to plan an invasion of Great Britain in support of James Francis Edward Stuart, the Catholic Jacobite pretender to the British throne. An invasion fleet was assembled at Dunkirk but England was seemingly once again saved by the "Protestant Wind" which had blown away the Spanish Armada in 1588 and assisted the crossing of William of Orange a century later. The violent storms smashed the French fleet and the invasion had to be called off.
With his invasion plans for Great Britain now quite literally in pieces, Louis XV turned his attention to the land war and the army of George II in the neighbouring Austrian Netherlands. He personally led an army of 90,000 men into Flanders, quickly capturing the towns of Menin and Ypres. The army of the Duc de Coigny was still holding its defensive positions west of the Rhine, facing Prince Charles Alexander's Austrians, while a third French army under the Prince of Conti was sent south to assist the Spanish on their campaigns in Italy (see below).
|Louis XV of France|
The French campaign plan was then knocked into a cocked hat when, in the late Spring in 1744, Prince Charles Alexander suddenly advanced, crossing the Rhine at Philippsburg on July 1st. He then broke through and captured the defensive positions in eastern France known as the Lines of Weissenburg, cutting de Coigny off from the province of Alsace. De Coigny's forces were caught off-guard but eventually rallied and launched a counter-attack, breaking through the Austrian lines at Weissenburg and reaching Strasbourg. Despite having regained some semblance of control over the situation, the French were now in serious danger of invasion and Louis XV was therefore obliged to abandon his campaign in the Austrian Netherlands. In August Louis' army left the Low Countries and moved south to support de Coigny in Alsace and Lorraine.
As Louis was moving south, Frederick II brought Prussia back into the conflict and reopened hostilities against Austria, whose resources were now almost wholly committed against the French. Frederick launched a three-pronged assault against the sparsely-defended Bohemia, attacking via Saxony, Lusatia and Silesia. On September 8th, after a brief six-day siege, the Austrian garrison of Prague surrendered. The Prussian advance southwards continued but Maria Theresa held her nerve. The people of Hungary came through for her once again by providing more armed volunteers to defend Vienna while Austrian diplomats worked hard to ensure that the flighty Saxons would not defect yet again and return to the opposing camp. Over in France, Louis XV had been struck down by illness at the fortress town of Metz. The King's poor health meant that the French were unlikely to do anything major in the near future so Prince Charles Alexander disengaged his army from Lorraine and headed east to confront Frederick. The French stayed put, as predicted, with only the Bavarian army of Field Marshal Friedrich Heinrich von Seckendorff following the Austrians.
For the first time in the conflict (and his reign) Frederick was placed in a very difficult position. The Prussian army held Bohemia but was now vulnerable to a combined assault from the Austrians and their Saxon allies. Marshal Traun, a veteran Austrian commander, kept Frederick pinned down while the Hungarian reservists kept up the pressure with a series of minor victories. Once Prince Charles Alexander arrived with the main Austrian army, the Prussian position became untenable. Prague was recaptured and Frederick was forced to abandon Bohemia completely. The Prussians retreated into Silesia, closely followed by the Austrians who, despite having the advantage of momentum, were unable to press on into Silesia itself. The only piece of good news for the enemies of Austria was that Louis XV had recovered from his illness by the end of the year and, after capturing Freiburg, continued his campaign of conquest in the Austrian Netherlands.
Franco/Prussian Ascendancy and Second Imperial Election (1745)
1745 began with the formation of a pro-Habsburg Quadruple Alliance involving Austria, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Saxony. That alliance was agreed in Warsaw on January 8th but a far more crucial event took place twelve days later. On January 20th the Emperor Charles VII died after a reign of just three years, submitting the Imperial throne to another election and providing a golden opportunity for Maria Theresa to re-establish Austrian dominance over the German states. Charles' son and successor in Bavaria, Elector Maximilian III Joseph declined to stand as a candidate and thereby effectively opened the door for Francis Stephen, who was determined to make it second time lucky.
Relinquishing their claim to the Imperial throne initially did little to ease the pressure on the Wittelsbach family. The Bavarian army was caught in its Winter quarters by the Austrians and subsequently forced to give up vast swathes of home territory once again. The decisive Austrian victory at the Battle of Pfaffenhoffen on April 15th forced the Bavarians to surrender Munich for a second time. The two sides agreed to peace terms seven days later, which led to the Austrians withdrawing from Bavaria in exchange for Maximilian III Joseph's support for Francis Stephen's Imperial candidacy. The withdrawal of Bavaria from the war coupled with the impending takeover of the Holy Roman Empire by the pro-Habsburg camp left Frederick II's Prussia isolated. Frederick could not and did not expect any help from his ally Louis XV, whose efforts were still fully focused in the Austrian Netherlands.
The French campaign, led by Louis and the effective (German-born) Marshal of France, Maurice de Saxe was at last beginning to see positive results for them. The French inflicted a major defeat on the Duke of Cumberland's Anglo-Hanoverian-Dutch-Austrian army at Fontenoy on May 11th, allowing them to quickly capture Tournai and several Flemish towns such as Ghent, Bruges, Oudenarde and Dendermonde. The ports of Ostend and Nieuwpoort also fell to the French after Cumberland and his British troops returned home to deal with an unexpected crisis.
That crisis was, of course, the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. The uprising, the last serious effort by the exiled House of Stuart to regain their lost British thrones from the Hanoverians, was instigated and supported by the French (albeit rather half-heartedly due to their continental commitments) in order to keep the British distracted and leave them unopposed in the Low Countries. The ageing "Old Pretender", James Francis Edward Stuart opted not to lead the uprising himself and instead sent his son, Charles Edward Stuart. "Bonnie Prince Charlie" and his token French forces landed in Scotland on July 23rd, immediately attracting the support of several Highland clans. Attempts to strangle the insurrection at birth by local forces loyal to the Hanoverian British government were rebuffed and, on November 8th, Charles led his Jacobite army on an invasion of England. Within a month they were at Derby and London was in a state of panic.
|Charles Edward Stuart|
At the end of 1745 Hanoverian Britain teetered on the brink of what seemed like an imminent Catholic Stuart restoration but in the end it never came. Soon after arriving at Derby, Charles' nerve broke and, on the advice of his commanders, abandoned plans for a march on London (which would have meant having to get past George II's army at Finchley) and took his ragtag forces back north into Scotland. Cumberland's army harassed the Jacobites and chased them all the way up to Inverness. On April 16th 1746 Charles was decisively beaten by "Butcher Cumberland" at the Battle of Culloden and the uprising came to an end. The Stuart pretender scuttled off back to Europe empty-handed and the Scottish clans would be brutally punished for their trouble but their combined efforts had worked out well for the French, who were by then in almost total control of the Austrian Netherlands.
Rewind now back to May 1745. Just as the French were following up their great victory at Fontenoy, Frederick II took to the field, duelling methodically with Prince Charles Alexander's Austrians, who were still trying to recapture Silesia, in the valley of the River Elbe and in Silesia itself.The Prussian victory at the Battle of Hohenfriedberg in June led to a decision by Charles Alexander to withdraw his shattered forces into the nearby mountains. Hohenfriedberg was one of Frederick's most famous victories and was not long afterwards that the name "Frederick the Great" was being used for the first time.
The fighting between Prussia and Austria rumbled on throughout the Summer as the date of the Imperial election, set for September, drew nearer. Questions were being raised over a potential agreement between Frederick II and the British while French and Austrian armies jockeyed for influence in the area of central Germany around Frankfurt, where the election was once again to be held. The Austrians under Marshal Traun won that struggle and there was nothing to stop the election of Francis Stephen as Holy Roman Emperor Francis I, which took place on September 13th. The entire Habsburg legacy of Charles VI was now firmly in the hands of Maria Theresa (she had regained the throne of Bohemia following Charles VII's death) and her husband, just as the former Emperor had intended.
|Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor|
After a small amount of diplomatic prodding from London, Frederick II agreed to recognise Francis I as Emperor but Maria Theresa continued to antagonise the Prussians by refusing to drop her claim to Silesia. Fighting broke out yet again as an Austro-Saxon army under Prince Charles Alexander clashed with the Prussians at the Battle of Soor in Bohemia on September 30th. This was another Prussian victory despite initial uncertainties and was another classic example of boldness and tenacity displayed on the battlefield by Frederick and his men. The Austrians refused to give up, however, and soon they and their Saxon allies had reformed for an assault towards the Prussian capital, Berlin.
Frederick responded to this danger by quickly marching west from Silesia and headed for Dresden, the capital of Saxony, quickly racking up a string of minor victories and forcing the Austrians to cancel their attack on Berlin. The Saxons under Frederick Augustus Rotowsky moved into a defensive position near Dresden but they and their Austrian allied were routed by the Prussian army of Leopold I, Prince of Anhalt-Dessau at the Battle of Kesselsdorf on December 14th. With this defeat Maria Theresa at least bowed to the inevitable and signed the Peace of Dresden on Christmas Day. Under the terms of the peace, Frederick II re-affirmed his recognition of Francis I as Emperor but was allowed to keep Silesia as per the terms of the 1742 Treaty of Breslau.
Fighting in Italy (1741-1747)
The fighting on the Italian peninsula and around the Mediterranean was dominated largely by the Spanish and was initially motivated by territorial disputes which had not been sufficiently dealt with at the end of the War of the Spanish Succession. At the end of that conflict, the French Bourbon Prince, Philip, Duke of Anjou was recognised as King Philip V of Spain, handing him the crown which had been bequeathed to him by the last Habsburg King of Spain, Charles II. Spain's territories in continental Europe were redistributed amongst the other powers after the war, with Austria receiving the lion's share. Under the terms of the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, the formerly-Spanish Italian territories of Milan, Naples and Sardina went to Austria while Sicily went to the Duchy of Savoy. In 1720 Austria formally exchanged Sardinia for Sicily, much to the Duke of Savoy's annoyance.
|Philip V of Spain|
Austria held on to Naples and Sicily until 1734, when both kingdoms were reconquered by the Spanish under Philip V's son Charles, Duke of Parma during the War of the Polish Succession, in which Spain had supported its Bourbon ally France against Austria. The Duke subsequently became King Charles VII of Naples and King Charles V of Sicily. Charles had eventually managed to make peace with Austria just before the death of the Emperor Charles VI in 1740 and had wanted to keep his territories neutral in any future conflict but his father's loyalty to France and steadfast opposition to Maria Theresa's succession meant that he could not stay out of the struggle for long.
The conflict in Italy began in 1741 when a combined army of Spaniards and Neapolitans (people from Naples) assembled in the northern part of the Kingdom of Naples for an assault against the Duchy of Milan, which was still controlled by the Austrian Habsburgs. They advanced north towards the lands of one of their allies, the Duke of Modena but were outsmarted by the Austrians under Marshal Traun. Traun captured Modena and the Duke was forced to make peace, denying Philip and Charles a vital ally in the region. For the rest of 1741 and 1742 they were unable to make any headway against the Austrians in northern Italy. The arrival of a diversionary British force in Naples forced Charles to withdraw his troops for homeland defence, leaving the Spanish to continue the struggle on their own. Philip sent another army into the area from the north via the territory of his ally France, which was not yet involved in the Italian fighting, but this also failed to crack Traun's forces.
By 1743 Sardinia, which was fearful of a Spanish invasion had joined the war on the Austrian side. The Spanish in northern Italy finally achieved a victory against Traun at Campo Santo on February 8th only to be driven back six months later by newly arrived Austrian and German forces under the command of the Fürst von Lobkowitz. The Spanish withdrawal south to Remini was a setback for them but it gained plaudits from observers for being well-ordered, with the Genevan philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau praising it as "the finest military manoeuvre of the whole century". Meanwhile the French entered the fighting in the region by attempting to intervene in the conflict between Spain and the Alpine Italian state of Piedmont. The French incursion was unexpectedly beaten off at the Battle of Casteldelfino in October.
1744 was the year that the Italian campaigns began to take on a much greater significance. Philip V and Louis XV had come up with a monumental war strategy which involved linking up the French army in southeastern France with the Spanish one in northern Italy. The support of the Genoese Republic practically gave the French an open road into Italy but it was the Austrians, anticipating the Franco-Spanish plan, who moved first. Lobkowitz pushed the Comte de Gage's Spanish forces even further south, driving them through the Papal States towards the Neapolitan frontier. King Charles of Naples and Sicily, having spent the last two years safeguarding his own territory, resumed the offensive and joined de Gage at the Battle of Velletri on August 12th. Lobkowitz was defeated in that encounter and he took his remaining forces north to assist the Piedmontese against a renewed French invasion led by the Prince of Conti. As de Gage went north in pursuit of Lobkowitz, Charles once again went back to Naples.
|Charles VII and V of Naples and Sicily|
The fighting in the Alpine regions during 1744 was a series of hotly-contested affairs but the French and Spanish nevertheless failed to achieve the link-up that they had desired. The Prince of Conti's French forces achieved a series of stunning successes against the local pro-Habsburg commander, Charles III Emmanuel, King of Sardina and Duke of Savoy, culminating in the victory at the Battle of Madonna dell'Olmo near the Piedmontese fortress of Cuneo on September 30th. Conti was not able Cuneo itself, however, and he was forced to return to his Winter quarters in France as the campaigning season drew to a close.
1745 was a year of major success for the anti-Habsburg coalition and it began with the signing of a secret treaty that formally aligned the Genoese Republic with France, Spain and Naples. The Austrians were disorganised due to a change in command necessitated by Marshal Traun's transfer to Germany, allowing their enemies to advance quickly and achieve the long-awaited link up in northern Italy. By the middle of July the Franco Spanish armies of de Gages, advancing north from Modena, and the Marquis de Maillebois, advancing along the Italian Riviera from the west, had joined together between the Scrivia and Tarano rivers in the Po Valley, creating a formiddable combined force of over 80,000 men. A march from their to Piacenza drew the Austrians away from their Sardianian allies, paving the way for the latter to be set upon and decisively beaten at the Battle at Bassignano on September 27th. Following their victory, the Franco-Spanish army quickly moved to capture the towns of Alessandria, Valenza and Casale Monferrato.
The French and Spanish had gained a major advantage against the Austrians in northern Italy but the complicated nature of local politics coupled with the playing out of events elsewhere meant that they could not press it home. The peace signed between Maria Theresa and Frederick II in late 1745 freed up additional Austrian forces which immediately moved south through the Tyrol to Italy. The French and Spanish were still in their Winter quarters when the Austrians attacked in early 1746. This assault initiated a series of attacked by the Austrian commander, Maximilian Ulysses Count Browne, that split up the concentrated Franco-Spanish army into smaller ones. The French under De Maillebois fell back to cover the Italian Riviera while the Spanish tried to counter against Browne's heavily-reinforced army, only for them to fail and subsequently take up a defensive position at Piacenza.
The Franco-Spanish overall commander in Italy was Philip V's son Philip, Duke of Parma (younger brother of Charles of Naples). Parma demanded that de Maillebois come to his aid, which the French commander duly did. Thanks to an effective forced-march, the French and Spanish were able to link up once again but both the Austrians and the Sardinians were bearing down on their position. On June 16th 1746 the two sides clashed in a mammoth struggle at the Battle of Piacenza. De Maillebois' army fought magnificently but Parma was well aware of the impending enemy victory and ordered them to withdraw. the French broke off the engagement and retreated to Genoa, eluding the clutches of the pursuing Austrians and Sardinians. Less than a month later some major bad news from home reached the Spanish. Philip V had died on July 9th and his successor was his mentally unbalanced son Ferdinand VI. The future of Spain and its war effort was now looking less than certain, and her Habsburg enemies were on the ascendancy.
By September the Austrians were firmly in control of most of northern Italy, including the territory of the Republic of Genoa. Their attempts to press an assault into the Alps failed, however, and a revolt by the Genoese in December drove the Austrians off their territory within a week. The French resumed the offensive under the Duc de Belle-Isle in 1747 while their Austrian enemies attempted to recapture the city of Genoa. Genoa held out and was eventually relieved by the French although a corps led by de Belle-Isle's younger brother was destroyed on July 10th as it tried to pass through the heavily-fortified Exilles Pass in Piedmont. 5000 Frenchmen, including seven generals, died for less than 100 Piedmontese. As a result of their victory the Piedmontese defenders of the Exilles became the toast of Europe, with Frederick II declaring that he himself could become King of all Italy if he only had troops of their fighting calibre.
Following their failure to recapture Genoa, the Austrians retreated into Lombardy where they continued a low-key campaign against de Belle-Isle's French forces, who pursued them there, until the end of hostilities more than a year later.
Last Campaigns in Europe (1746-1748)
The last major campaigns in Europe during the War of the Austrian succession took place around the Low Countries as Louis XV and Marshal de Saxe challenged the Dutch, who had so far kept a low profile in the pro-Habsburg coalition. Russia had rejoined the conflict in support of Maria Theresa but it would take time for her troops to arrive and aid their allies in Western Europe. The withdrawal of the British army, necessitated by the Jacobite uprising, had left the Dutch and Austrians vulnerable against the French, who were now on a roll after their victory at Fontenoy. Brussels was captured in February 1746 and almost all the other major fortresses and towns in the Austrian Netherlands were under French control by the end of that year. The victory of de Saxe against Prince Charles Alexander's Austrians at the Battle of Roucoux on October 11th meant that the Dutch Republic itself was now in danger of invasion.
|Marshal Maurice de Saxe|
The Dutch tried desperately to negotiate for peace but the French were not interested, and de Saxe's invasion began in April 1747. Dutch strongholds on the frontier did not hold out for long against the onslaught and the French advance continued. The Duke of Cumberland returned from Britain to assist his Dutch counterpart William IV, Prince of Orange but the pair of them were beaten at the Battle of Lauffeld on July 2nd. Bergen op Zoom was besieged shortly afterwards, holding out until September when the town was stormed by the French. The last significant action of the campaign and the war was the French assualt against the town of Maastricht, which surrendered on May 7th 1748.
Despite the fact that the French were doing so well, events soon transpired which convinced Louis XV that the conflict had to be brought to an end. Chief among these events was the arrival of the Russians, whose immense military contribution to Maria Theresa's cause threatened to turn the tide of the war back against the French. As the Russian army reached the Rhine, having marched all the way from Moscow, the combatant powers on both sides began negotiating for a general peace. This was achieved with the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in Aachen on October 18th 1748. The War of the Austrian Succession, having dragged on for eight long years, was at last at an end.
Aftermath of Peace
As was often the case with the wars that took place in Europe during the 18th Century, the peace terms that ended the War of the Austrian succession did little more than reaffirm the political situation that had existed before the fighting started. Under the terms of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, Maria Theresa was allowed to remain in control of the Habsburg Monarchy territories and her husband Francis I was fully recognised as Holy Roman Emperor. Louis XV, keen to be perceived as a chivalrous and peaceful ruler, agreed to give back all the territory that France had conquered. This earned Louis the respect of the rest of Europe but made him deeply unpopular with his own people, who saw it as a betrayal of everything that they had fought for.
The only major change of territory that remained valid under the terms of the peace was that of Silesia, which was confirmed as now belonging to Frederick II's Prussia. The end of the War of the Austrian succession marked the beginning of the political phenomenon known as "German Dualism", by which Austria vied with Prussia for influence over the German States. Prussia, backed by its formiddable armed forces, would eventually win this struggle for dominance and would be the driving force behind the eventual unification of Germany into a single nation state in 1871.
In Southern Europe, the pre-war status quo between Spain and Austria was largely maintained for the time being, with the Italian duchies of Parma, Piacenza and Guastella being restored to the Spanish Bourbons. Charles of Naples and Sicily succeeded his imbecilic half-brother Ferdinand VI to the throne of Spain as Charles III in 1759, becoming Spain's first mentally-stable monarch for almost a century. Charles' son Ferdinand replaced his father as ruler of Naples and Sicily, which were united into a single state known as the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Those parts of southern Italy remained under Bourbon rule until the 1860s when Italy was unified into single state ruled by the Savoy monarchs of Piedmont-Sardinia.
Maria Theresa and Francis I continued to rule their territories more or less unmolested. Among their children were Marie Antoinette, the ill-fated consort of Louis XVI of France, and Joseph II, an enlightened despot who succeded his father as Holy Roman Emperor in 1765 and his mother as head of the Habsburg Monarchy in 1780. The direct line of the House of Habsburg technically became extinct upon Maria Theresa's death in 1780 and, under Joseph II was replaced by the Vaudemont branch of the House of Lorraine. In order to be kind to tradition and maintain a degree of continuity, the new dynasty styled itself as the House of Habsburg-Lorraine and was often still referred to informally as just Habsburg. They continued to occupy the Imperial throne until the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 and ruled the Habsburg Monarchy territories, known as the Austrian Empire from 1804 and Austria-Hungary from 1867, until they were overthrown at the end of the First World War.