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Seven Years' War, 1756-63

With renewed conflict between Britain and France in the Ohio Valley in 1754, Austria's Maria Theresa saw opportunity to undo Prussia's taking Silesia from her in 1741. She was looking forward to reestablishing Habsburg leadership in German affairs. Her government told the British that it would support them if they would support her against Prussia. Then she was shaken by learning of Britain's agreement with Prussia's Frederick the Great. Her foreign minister urged her to forget the 250-year-old feud between the Bourbons of France and her Habsburg family and to ally with France.

Wielding some power in France was Madame Pompadour. She was the official chief mistress of King Louis XV (r. 1715-74), and she exercised political influence. She sent Frederick greetings through Voltaire. Frederick and Voltaire had a falling out. Voltaire returned to France, described Frederick as a homosexual and told Madame Pompadour that Frederick had responded to her greeting by saying "I don't know this woman." Following this, France followed the thinking of Austria's foreign minister. It signed an alliance with Austria: the first Treaty of Versailles. The Treaty recognized that Austria was to remain neutral regarding France's war against Britain, and it recognized that France was to accept Austria’s attack against Prussia. The Empress of Russia since 1741, Elizabeth Petrovna, (daughter of Peter the Great), allied herself with Madame Pompadour and Maria Theresa, and the alliance became known as the League of the Three Petticoats.

Frederick did not want war, but to defend himself he moved first. He sent 11,000 men to Pomerania to guard against Sweden joining the war to take back that area, and he sent 26,000 men to his frontier with Russia. Then, on August 29, 1756, with an army of 70,000, he moved against Saxony — Saxony having conspired with the League of Three Petticoats. Frederick and his army took the Saxon capital of Dresden on September 10. Defeated Saxons were ordered into Frederick's army (a forced recruitment typical of those times). Various prince-electors in the Holy Roman Empire disliked Frederick's moves and joined the alliance against him.

On May 17, 1757, a Russian army of 85,000 advanced against Frederick's territory at Königsberg in East Prussia. And that spring the French crossed the Rhine River and attacked Hanover, the territory of Frederick's ally, King George II. In November, Frederick defeated a French army at Rossbach, just south of Leipzig in Saxony, and a month later he defeated the Austrians at Leuthen, in Silesia.

With Frederick surrounded by enemies, Britain began giving more aid to Frederick. In August 1759, at the Battle of Kunersdorf, Frederick lost half of his force of 43,000 men against a combined force of Russians and Austrians, who together lost 15,700. Fortunately for Frederick, however, the Russians and Austrians failed to pursue Frederick's defeated force.

By 1760, all of the belligerents were tired of war — except perhaps the British, who were winning against the French in the Americas. In October, while Frederick and his army were under pressure in Saxony, a combined force of Russians and Austrians occupied and looted Berlin. Then, hearing that Fredrick and his army were on their way, they fled. Also in October, George II died. Britain's new king, George III, cared little about Hanover, and Britain's subsidies to Frederick were discontinued.

Late in 1760, Frederick was drawn into battle against the Austrians in Saxony, at Torgau, where he won the battle but lost 30 percent of his force of 44,000. In 1761 the British defeated the French in India, while France's army in Germany was occasionally confronting the enemy and gaining nothing. That year, Frederick was moving rapidly between the Russians and Austrians, striking here and there, trying to keep the Russian and Austrian armies from joining. By the end of 1761, Frederick was exhausted. He withdrew into an entrenched camp in Silesia, where his enemies refused to risk an attack.

On January 5, Empress Elizabeth Petrovna died (age 52). She was succeeded by a nephew, Peter III, who had been reared outside Russia, saw himself as German, disliked Russia and was a great admirer of Frederick. On February 23 he declared an end to the war against Frederick. On June 28 a conspiracy and military coup overthrew Peter III. Peter was killed, perhaps murdered as a part of the conspiracy that put his hostile wife Catherine on the throne, and regarding the Seven Years' War, the new empress, Catherine II, declared Russia's neutrality. Frederick's Prussia was to be described as having been saved by its army and by Russia's withdrawal from the war.

Suffering from the loss of Russia as an ally, receiving little help from France, her military exhausted, and without money, Maria Theresa was ready for negotiations. She saw no hope of defeating Frederick and sent him representatives to discuss an end to the war. Her move to get back Silesia had been a distaster. According to Wikipedia, her attempt to get back Silesia resulted in "Austria" having 32,622 killed in action, 93,404 dead from wounds and disease, and 19,592 missing, to say nothing of misplaced energy and wealth — for nothing.

Fredrich suffered seven years of war and it miseries defending his realm. He wanted peace. So too did France's government, which was deeply in debt. And Britain's successes did not prevent it from leaving King George III's government with a crippling war debt, and it also wanted the war to end. On February 10, 1763, Britain, Spain and France signed the Treaty of Paris. Britain gained all French territory east of the Mississippi River. French territory west of the Mississippi were to become Spanish, including the port of New Orleans. Spain would continue to rule Cuba in exchange for Florida going to the British. France was to regain Caribbean islands lost to the British forces during the war. (France had also lost its African colony by the Senegal River to the British, and it had agreed to pull out of India.) The British Government promised to allow French Canadians to freely practice their Catholicism and promised the French fishing rights off Newfoundland.

The war had ended with Britain dominating the network of world trade, but circumstances arising from the war was contributing to new attitudes among its colonists that were detrimental to King George's rule there. And like previous treaties, the Treaty of Paris would have only a temporary impact regarding peace. It would not deter the French and Spanish from aiding what would be called the American Revolution. The French would supply the colonist rebels with guns and gunpowder. French volunteers would join the ranks of the colonist revolutionaries, and France would become militarily involved.

CONTINUE READING: American Revolution: to 1776, Division and First Shots

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