War of the Austrian Succession

Reed S. Browning

in Military History

ISBN: 9780199791279
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:
War of the Austrian Succession

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Broadly speaking, the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–1748) pitted Austria and Britain against a coalition of France, Spain, and (for the years 1740–1742 and 1744–1745) Prussia. Piedmont-Sardinia and the Dutch Republic played lesser roles on the Anglo-Austrian side. Russia entered the war on the same side just before it ended. The belligerence began in late 1740 when Prussia unexpectedly sent its army into the rich Austrian province of Silesia with the aim of seizing it. It ended in the fall of 1748 when exhaustion in all camps, as complemented by a set of mutual military standoffs, allowed diplomats to craft the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. Although it was a European-wide belligerence, the war is best understood as an interrelated set of three coinciding conflicts. The first conflict pitted Prussia against Austria. Prussia won this contention, and the Treaty of Dresden (1745), which allowed Prussia to leave the broader war, transferred control of Silesia from Vienna to Berlin. The treaty also opened up a century during which Prussia and Austria vied for dominance in Germany, a rivalry that did not end until the era of Bismarck. The second conflict pitted Habsburg Austria against the Bourbon powers of France and Spain. In this contention France had the broad goal of weakening Austria in Germany, while Spain had the focused goal of securing territory in Italy for a Spanish prince. The peace treaty gave little to France but allowed Spain a modest victory. The third conflict pitted Britain against France for imperial supremacy. More than the other two, this rivalry had world-historical significance, and it demonstrated the peculiar advantages that flowed to London by virtue of its powerful navy. The war, fought in four theaters, has proved difficult for historians to assess because it was marked by an irregular ebb and flow of military successes and failures in all of them. Only toward the end, when France won clear dominance on land by conquering the Austrian Netherlands while Britain won even greater dominance at sea by crushing the Bourbon navies, did two balanced and competing successes allow peace negotiations to reach fruition. Meanwhile, a series of national revolts in smaller states demonstrated that belligerence was shredding traditional patterns of political loyalty. Two military commanders stood out above all others: Frederick II “the Great” of Prussia and Maurice of Saxony commanding for France. Although Frederick now has the greater reputation, Maurice was the more successful of the two in this war.

Article.  10741 words. 

Subjects: Military History ; Pre-20th Century Warfare ; First World War ; Second World War ; Post-WW2 Military History

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