The Seven Years War
The first true World War. Cause and effects!
The History of Western Civilization II
What would the state of the free world be today if the alliance of the war of the Austrian Succession had not reversed in the Seven Years War?Would we speak French, still be New England, or perhaps New Spain? The fact is that while we may not know for certain that todays world would be different, you can rest assured that the Seven Years War set the tone in Europe, and more importantly in North America for the next half century.
The history of the 18th century in Europe was always uncertain. In fact, the history of Europe will show that the fate of the continent, perhaps even the world, was always on the brink. Nations constantly were maneuvering for the upper hand looking to the highest bidder to choose sides with.The war of the Spanish Succession and the war of the Austrian Succession will show us that this new world war would be no different. The degree of uncertainty on the continent in 1755 is unparalleled. Russia, Bohemia, and even France and England could have swung in either direction. In fact France and England did change loyalties if you will between the Treaty of Aix-la-chapelle and Fredericks invasion of Bohemia in 1756. Maria Theresa, although agreed to the aforementioned treaty to end the war of her accession, would always seek revenge on Frederick for the humiliation he had inflicted on her.
If these loyalties or interests I should say hadnt changed, what would the effect on the world be today? Would you or I be speaking some other language? French perhaps?
The Enlightened Despots, Frederick? Was he? Maria Theresa? Hardly, Catherine had absolutely no impact whatsoever, and William Pitt, while he was an effective military strategist, was no despot, and surely not enlightened. Louis the XV, who was led around by the nose by Mme de Pompadour, was as ineffective as all the Kings of France would be after his grandfather.
Britain obtained Prussia as her ally, but you might ask, why? Surely you cant fuel Fredericks massive army any more? Pitt the Elder argued though that while true Prussias army was unmatched in these days, they had no Navy, and therefore was no threat to the isles. Besides they could defend Hanover as Brittaiinias ally, to let England deal with her main concern, colonization. While the Hanoverian kings were by no means brilliant or very effective furthermore, it was parliament that realized the importance of her colonies, especially in the New World.
The treaty of Westminster sealed the deal between both England and Prussia. Fredericks hopes were that this would deter Russia from getting involved, and the Brits trusted Frederick in return to protect Hanover.
Frederick successfully insulted many of the rulers of Europe of his day.The first three whores of Europe is the name he gave to Maria Theresa, Elizaveta Petrovna, and Mme. De Pompadour. Surrounded by enemies on all sides one would think to have a bit more taste.Will Durant put it best when he said, It is comforting to know that even the Great can be foolish now and then. (Rousseau and Revolution. 43) King Augustus III of Saxony, Elector of Poland, which happened to split the mainland of Prussia down the middle, and also happened to be quite catholic, thought of Frederick as an insolent infidel. Nonetheless, Frederick would have none of this. Quite arrogant, or maybe only confident in his army, knowing all the time that Maria was just maneuvering and waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike back and regain Silesia, whose loyalties mostly lie with Austria.While Maria claimed that she would honor the Treaty of Dresden, it was clear to Frederick that all of Europe was taking sides. In order to protect his western front, Frederick invaded Saxony. Thus began the war. (On the European front)
Frederick won the first few battles of the war, but the overwhelming number and strength of the allied forces of Europe were too much. The English hadnt been much help to the cause thus far and until the reinstatement of Pitt, it looked as though Fredericks fate was sealed. How can any army so greatly outmatched in size, have lasted as long?
Outmatched and attacked on all sides, the tide of the war looked as though it was turning in favor of the allies. Frederick and his army was worn and ragged in less than one year of fighting. Although he was successful in the first few campaigns, the lack of English support (in manpower), left Frederick alone and outnumbered nearly four to one. Frederick was deeply depressed during this period and thought that perhaps it was all for not. He actually even contemplated suicide at times and went so far as to write to his favorite sister, whom he loved deeply, to tell her of his wishing.However, at Rossbach, in 1757, his ingenious victory impressed nearly the entire civilized world. Pitt was reinstated as head of the military, and finally England stood firmly behind Frederick, at least monetarily.The war in Europe went on for another four grueling years and every time it seemed as though Frederick was done for, he would somehow catch a lucky break. He thought on suicide on more than one occasion.
Louis the XV had had just about enough of the as well. Realizing that he was losing the battle for colonial supremacy, he looked and urged for a treaty to be signed.Frederick was in dire straits(Brassey 877), in 1762, when luck finally came his way. The empress czarina Elizabeth who detested Frederick died.(no luck of hers) Her nephew, Peter III, then ascended the throne. Peter, who was an admirer of Fredericks, quickly signed for peace, and ceded all that Russia had gained from the war. He even devoted his army to Frederick, who thought him silly. He was deposed of shortly after and murdered by the nobles who were aided by the soon to be great Catherine. Without the Russians constantly attacking from the north, the Austrian army could no longer hope to hold off Frederick. On 16 February 1763, at Hubertsburg, Maria Theresa signed a treaty recognizing Prussias right to Silesia ending the Seven Years War in Europe.
Had England not won the French and Indian War, which was the name of the Seven Years War in North America, the continent might well have been divvied into three parts, New France, New Spain, and of course New England. Would the course of history in North America as we know it today be the same?Britain on the other hand was mainly interested in its colonies in the Americas. Their contributions to Frederick were mainly funds. They were looking out for their economic well being and for that, would prove all too important. The French on the other hand, was too caught up in the war on the European front, and put faith in the fact that they were allied with the Algonquin Indians. This would prove their economic undoing for the next century.
The importance of the European conflict would plays a second fiddle with regards to importance to historians today. The war for supremacy on the North American continent, however, was for Britain, a vital victory, and plunged them into an economic bliss. They ruled the high seas and because of this were unchallenged in the trade market, (esp. in slaves, and rum). Had they donated too much time, money or manpower to the struggle for Europe, the French would have likely remained dominant in America. The nobles knew this all too well. The only problem was convincing Pitt. When Pitt came to lead the royal army along with the colonist militia, the tide of the French and Indian war turned for good.His leadership and generalship would prove invaluable to the British cause in North America. Lets face it, the English were by no means concerned about the affairs of Europe, lest Hanover be protected. They needed access to the lush Ohio Valley in order to expand their colonies, not to mention their Gross National Product.
Wrote Voltaire upon the outbreak of the Seven Years War, These two nations have gone to war over a few acres of snow in Canada, and in it they have spent a great deal more than Canada is worth. (Leckie 271)Again upon hearing afterwards that Canada was no longer French but British, he said to Louis, After all sire, what have we lost- a few acres of snow? Poor Voltaire, Im sure he was trying hard to console Louis. (Or the usual royal hiney kissing) Either he was naive or just ignorant of how important North America was to France. Up to his neck in his fathers debt, Louis was sinking in a river of IOUs. The colonies, and Canada were far more important, a quite a bit more than a few acres of snow. This was the most important event to occur in eighteenth century North America. (Anderson XV)Could it be that the American Revolution is not the most important event of this era? Many will argue no.
On June 8 1755, the two mother countries formally entered the squabble of colonial superiority when Captain Howe intercepted two French ships en route to Quebec with two battalions of troops. According to Captain Hocquart, of the Alcide, when he asked if we were at peace of war, the reply came from Howe, La paix, La paix. Seconds later fire from the British ship Dunkirk overcame the two weaker vessels. They all surrendered. This was the real start of the Seven Years War.
She sent a hundred thousand troops to help Maria but could spare only twelve hundred for the New World. (Leckie 297) Mme De Pompadours feelings were hurt too bad by Frederick to back down now. Louis, although hesitant, listened to her as always. Had Louis any inkling of the importance of New France, he would have set his nitwit mistress straight and sent sufficient troops to the New World. If this had happened, the fate of North America would no doubt be in question. Instead of sending off hundreds of thousands of Frenchmen to be slaughtered by Frederick, for no gain at all, they might have suppressed the British expansion in North America. The colonies showed no sign of unity, and were being soundly driven back until Pitt took charge. This happened only when Frederick staggered from the bloody grips of defeat to turn the tide in the war. Only when England saw gain for herself did she start listening to Pitt. Had the British regulars met a more formidable French army, (Instead of fighting off the Indians), it would have been nearly too much to overcome.
The British had defeated the French in Europe, in the Atlantic at Quiberon bay, in the war for India, and after victories at Duquesne (later named Fort Pitt, Pittsburgh), and Quebec on the Plains of Abraham, had undoubtedly won the war for world supremacy. France, accepting defeat from all sides, was forced later to sign the Treaty of Paris to finally end the Seven Years War. France was left in shambles. The country was financially a wreck, in an economic crises that led to the French Revolution a mere three decades away.
There were many players in this true global war. Volumes could, and have been written on the war for Empire. What ifs could be pondered from here to eternity on the decisions and outcomes of many particulars of the war. Should France have remained loyal to the treaty ending the War of the Austrian Succession she would have been allied to Frederick instead of her ancient foe Austria. England would most likely have focused more on the European front for the sake of Hanover no doubt, leaving the fate of America to Spain and France. The American Revolution no doubt would have ever came about, and you and I may be French. All theories I know, but admittedly an argument can be made.
The fundamental struggle not merely for the Ohio and Mississippi valley regions, but for Canada the Caribbean, India, nay the entire extra-European world was underway. (Kennedy 111) The war did pave the way for Britain to climb the ladder of Empire in the world. They emerged from the war masters of the sea, and ready to cash in. Britain would be well repaid for the protection of the colonies shortly. The economic strain of the war had to be paid by someone. We will later find that the newly liberated colonials would have none of that.
The war would lead Prussia to the forefront on the European continent, however Britain clearly gained much more than any other did. France would not recover, and Louis knew all too well what lay in store when he said After me, the deluge.
1.Anderson, FredCrucible of War, The Seven Years War and the fate of Empire in British North America.Random House: New York, NY 2000
2. Durant, Will and ArielRousseau and Revolution The Story of Civilization.Simon and Schuster: New York, NY 1967
3.Kennedy, PaulThe Rise and Fall of the Great Powers Random House: New York, NY 1987
4.Leckie, RobertA Few Acres of Snow, The Saga of the French and Indian Wars. John Wiley & Sons: New York, NY 1999
5.Margiotta, Franklin D., Ed.Brasseys Encyclopedia of Military History and Biography, Washington: Brasseys, Inc. 1994