The Seven Years' War was a world war that took place between 1754 and 1763 with the main conflict being in the seven-year period 1756–1763. It involved most of the great powers of the time and affected Europe, North America, Central America, the West African coast, India, and the Philippines. In the historiography of some countries, the war is alternatively named after combatants in the respective theatres: the French and Indian War (North America, 1754–63); Pomeranian War (with Sweden and Prussia, 1757–62); Third Carnatic War (on the Indian subcontinent, 1757–63); and Third Silesian War (with Prussia and Austria, 1756–63).
The war was driven by the antagonism between Great Britain (in personal royal union with the principality of Hanover in Germany) and the Bourbon Dynasty (in France and Spain), resulting from overlapping interests in their colonial and trade empires, and by the antagonism between the Hohenzollern Dynasty (in Prussia) and Habsburg Dynasty (with their Holy Roman Emperors and archdukes in Austria), resulting from territorial and hegemonial conflicts in the Holy Roman Empire. The Diplomatic Revolution established an Anglo-Prussian alliance, allied with some smaller German states and later Portugal, as well as an Austro-French camp, allied with Sweden, Saxony and later Spain. The Russian Empire left its offensive alliance with the Habsburgs upon the succession of Peter III in 1762, and like Sweden concluded a separate peace with Prussia. The war ended with the peace treaties of Paris (Bourbon France and Spain, and the Georgian/Hanoverian Dynasty in Great Britain) and of Hubertusburg (German Hohenzollerns, Habsburgs, Saxon elector) in 1763. The war was characterized in Europe by sieges and arson of towns as well as open battles involving extremely heavy losses; overall, some 900,000 to 1,400,000 people died.
Great Britain expelled its French and Spanish rivals in the contested overseas territories, gaining the bulk of New France in eastern Canada, Spanish Florida, some individual Caribbean islands in the West Indies, the colony of Senegal on the West African coast and superiority over the French trading outposts on the Indian subcontinent. The native American tribes were excluded from the peace settlement, and were unable to return to their former status after the resulting Indian Wars of Pontiac's Rebellion in the Ohio Country, west of the Appalachian Mountains in North America. In Europe, Frederick II ("the Great") of Prussia failed to complete a pre-emptive strike against Austria, and his forces were nearly annihilated by numerically superior opponents at the Battle of Kunersdorf. However, Frederick recovered, regained ground and managed to avoid any concessions in Hubertusburg, which remained status quo ante bellum. The British prime minister William Pitt (1st Earl of Chatham) said that "America was won in Germany" referring to the Prussian war effort, which enabled Great Britain to keep her continental commitments limited while focusing on her "blue water policy", successfully establishing naval supremacy elsewhere. French and allied forces were able to occupy Prussian and Hanoverian territories up to East Frisia. But French ambitions to invade Britain in 1759 and to continue with their guerre de course were thwarted by a British Royal Navy blockade, which also impaired French nautical supply routes to her colonies. The involvement of Portugal, Spain and Sweden did not return them to their former status as Great Powers. Spain's short intervention practically resumed to the defeated invasion of Portugal (1762). Its net result was the loss of Florida, though it gained the former French Louisiana in North America, west of the Mississippi, in exchange. Besides, Britain returned the western portion of the Spanish island of Cuba and the occupied portion of the main island of Luzon with the city of Manila in the Spanish colony of the Philippine Islands off eastern Asia.
Nomenclature[edit | edit source]
In Canada, France, and the United Kingdom, the name Seven Years' War is used to describe the North American conflict which began and originated much earlier in 1754 as well as the European and Asian conflicts which began in 1756, as the name Nine Years' War was already taken previously by historians to describe an earlier conflict. In the United States, however, the North American portion of the war is popularly known as the French and Indian War. Many scholars and professional historians in America, such as Fred Anderson, however, follow the example of their colleagues in other countries and refer to the conflict as The Seven Years' War, regardless of the theatre. In French Canada, the conflict is sometimes referred to as La Guerre de la Conquête (War of the Conquest).
The conflict in India is termed the Third Carnatic War while the fighting between Prussia and Austria is called the Third Silesian War. In Swedish historiography, the name Pommerska kriget (Pomeranian War) is used, as Swedish involvement was limited to Pomerania in northern central Germany.
The war was described as the first "world war", although this label was also given to various earlier conflicts such as the Eighty Years' War, the Thirty Years' War, the War of the Spanish Succession and the War of the Austrian Succession, and to later conflicts such as the Napoleonic Wars. The Anglo-French portion of the world-wide conflict, involving both empires, was one of the most significant phases of the Second Hundred Years' War, which is a name occasionally used by some historians to describe the continuous level of world-wide conflict over the entire 18th century, compared to the more famous and compact religious struggle of the 17th century.
Background[edit | edit source]
This war is often said to be a continuation of the War of the Austrian Succession which had lasted from 1740 to 1748, in which King Frederick II of Prussia, known as Frederick the Great, had seized the rich province of Silesia from Austria. Empress Maria Theresa of Austria had signed the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748 in order to gain time to rebuild her military forces and to forge new alliances, which she did with remarkable success. The political map of Europe had been redrawn in a few years as Austria abandoned its twenty-five-year alliance with Britain. During the so‑called Diplomatic Revolution of 1756, the centuries-old enemies: France, Austria and Russia, formed a single alliance against Prussia.
Prussia's only major assistance came from Great Britain, her newfound ally, whose reigning dynasty saw its ancestral Hanoverian possessions in Germany being threatened by France. In many respects the two allied powers' forces complemented each other excellently. The British had the largest, most effective navy in the world, while Prussia had the most formidable land force in continental Europe. This allowed Britain to focus its military resources on colonial expeditions. The British had hoped that the new series of alliances formed during the Diplomatic Revolution would maintain the peace, but, in fact, they proved the catalyst for the eruption of hostilities in Europe in 1756.
The Austrian army had undergone an overhaul along the lines of the Prussian system. Maria Theresa, whose knowledge of military affairs might have shamed many of her generals, had pressed relentlessly for reform. Her interest in the welfare of the soldiers had gained her their unqualified respect. Austria had suffered several humiliating defeats to Prussia in the previous war, and, strongly dissatisfied with the limited help she had received from the British, now saw France as the only ally who could help her retake Silesia and check Prussia's expansion.
A further cause for war arose from the heated colonial struggle between the British Empire and French Empire which, as they both expanded, met and clashed with one another on two continents. The formal opening of hostilities in Europe was preceded by fighting in North America, where the westward expansion of the British colonies located along the eastern seaboard began to run afoul of French claims to the Mississippi valley in the late 1740s and early 1750s. In order to forestall the expansion of Virginia and Pennsylvania, in particular, the French built a line of forts in what is now western Pennsylvania in the mid-1750s. British efforts to dislodge them led to conflicts generally considered to be part of the French and Indian War, in which fighting began two years before the onset of hostilities in Europe.
Strategies[edit | edit source]
For much of the eighteenth century, France approached its wars in the same way. It would let its colonies defend themselves, or would offer only minimal help (sending them only limited numbers of troops or inexperienced soldiers), anticipating that fights for the colonies would likely be lost anyway. This strategy was to a degree forced upon France: geography, coupled with the superiority of the British navy, made it difficult for the French navy to provide significant supplies and support to French colonies. Similarly, several long land borders made an effective domestic army imperative for any ruler of France. Given these military necessities, the French government, unsurprisingly, based its strategy overwhelmingly on the army in Europe: it would keep most of its army on the European continent, hoping that such a force would be victorious closer to home. The plan was to fight to the end of hostilities and then, in treaty negotiations, to trade territorial acquisitions in Europe in order to regain lost overseas possessions. This approach did not serve France well in the war, as the colonies were indeed lost, but although much of the European war went well, by its end France had few counterbalancing European successes.
The British—by inclination as well as for pragmatic reasons—had tended to avoid large-scale commitments of troops on the Continent. They sought to offset the disadvantage this created in Europe by allying themselves with one or more Continental powers whose interests were antithetical to those of their enemies, particularly France.:15–16 For the Seven Years' War, the British chose as their principal partner the greatest military strategist of the day, Frederick the Great, and his kingdom, Prussia, then the rising power in central Europe, and paid Frederick substantial subsidies to support his campaigns.:106 In marked contrast to France, Britain strove to actively prosecute the war in the colonies, taking full advantage of its naval power. :64–66 The British pursued a dual strategy of naval blockade and bombardment of enemy ports, and also utilised their ability to move troops by sea to the utmost. They would harass enemy shipping and attack enemy colonies, frequently using colonists from nearby British colonies in the effort.
The Russians and the Austrians were determined to reduce the power of Prussia, the new threat on their doorstep. Along with France, plans were advanced in 1756 for mutual defense and an attack by Austria and Russia on Prussia, subsidized by France.
Europe[edit | edit source]
1756[edit | edit source]
The British Prime Minister, the Duke of Newcastle, remained optimistic that war could be prevented from breaking out in Europe by the new series of alliances. However a large French force was assembled at Toulon, and the French opened the campaign against the British by an attack on Minorca in the Mediterranean. A British attempt at relief was foiled at the Battle of Minorca and the island was captured on 28 June (for which Admiral Byng was court-martialed and executed). War between Britain and France had been formally declared on 18 May nearly two years after the first fighting had broken out in the Ohio Country.
Having received reports of the clashes in North America, and having secured the support of Great Britain with an Anglo-Prussian alliance, Frederick II of Prussia crossed the border of Saxony on 29 August 1756, one of the small German states in league with Austria. He intended this as a bold pre-emption of an anticipated Austro-French invasion of Silesia. Frederick II had three goals for his new war on Austria. First, Frederick would seize Saxony and eliminate the country as a threat to Prussia. Frederick could then use the Saxon army and the Saxon treasury to aid the Prussian war effort. Frederick's second goal was to advance his army into Bohemia where he might set up winter quarters for his army at Austria's expense. Thirdly, Frederick wanted to invade Moravia from Silesia, seize the fortress at Olműtz and advance on Vienna and force an ending to the war.
Accordingly, leaving Field Marshal Count Kurt von Schwerin in Silesia with 25,000 soldiers to guard against any incursions from Moravia or Hungary, and leaving Field Marshal Hans von Lehwaldt in East Prussia to guard against any Russian invasion from the east, Frederick set off with his army for Saxony. The Prussian army marched toward Saxony in three columns. On the right was a column of about 15,000 men under the command of Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick. On the left was a column containing 18,000 men under the command of the Duke of Bruswick-Bevern. In the centre was Frederick II, himself, accompanied by Field Marshal James Keith commanding a corps of 30,000 troops. Ferdinand of Brunswick was to close in on the town of Chemnitz. The Duke of Brunswick-Bevern was to transverse Lusatia to close in on Bautzen. Meanwhile, Frederick and Field Marshal Keith would make for Dresden.
The Saxon and Austrian armies were unprepared, and their forces were scattered. Frederick occupied Dresden with little or no opposition from the Saxons. At the Battle of Lobositz on 1 October 1756, King Frederick prevented the isolated Saxon army from being reinforced by an Austrian army under General Browne The Prussians then overran the Electorate, resulting in the Prussian occupation of Saxony and the surrender of the Saxon Army at Pirna in October 1756 which was then forcibly incorporated into the Prussian forces. The attack on the neutral Electorate of Saxony caused outrage across Europe and led to the strengthening of the anti-Prussian coalition. The only significant Austrian success was the partial occupation of Silesia.
Britain had been surprised by the sudden Prussian offensive, but now began shipping supplies and ₤670,000 (equivalent to ₤89 million in 2019) to her new ally—Prussia. A combined German (Hanoverian) force was organised by the British under the Duke of Cumberland to protect Hanover from a French invasion. The British attempted to persuade the Dutch Republic to join the alliance, but the request was rejected as the Dutch wished to remain fully neutral. Despite the huge disparity in numbers, the year had been a successful one for the Prussian-led forces on the continent, in contrast to disappointing British campaigns in North America.
1757[edit | edit source]
In early 1757, Frederick II again took the initiative by marching into the Kingdom of Bohemia, hoping to inflict a decisive defeat on the Austrian forces. After winning the bloody Battle of Prague on 6 May 1757, in which both forces suffered major casualties, the Prussians forced the Austrian forces back into the fortifications of Prague. The Prussian army then laid siege to the city. Following the battle at Prague, Frederick took 5,000 troops from the siege at Prague and sent them to reinforce the 19,000-man army under the Duke of Brunswick-Bevern at Kolin in Bohemia. This army easily pushed the light Austrian army under General Nádasdy back from its positions at Gang and Kuttenmen in Bohemia to more secure positions. Nádasdy's retreat caused Marshal Daun to also retreat with his much larger Austrian army toward Deutsch-Brod to protect his now exposed position. On 16 June 1757, General Daun marched to the north-west to outflank the Prussian left. Frederick then, in turn, marched north-west on 17 June 1757 so as to outflank Daun's Austrian army. However, Daun learned of Frederick's manoeuvre and during the night of 17–18 June 1757, Daun turned his army to face Fredericks new position. On the morning of 18 June 1757 a fog settled in over the battleground. Thus Frederick remained ignorant of Daun's manoeuvre during the night. Only at 6 am when General Zieten was leading the advance guard through the town of Planjan did the Prussians learn of the true position of the Austrian army. Frederick II was at the front on his army's left wing. The Prussian left wing was strong and this was where Frederick wished to start his attack on the Austrians. The Prussians attacked in the early afternoon of 18 June 1757. However, Frederick learned that the Austrians attacked his right wing. Frederick drew troops from his left wing to shore up his right and to fill a gap in his front which developed when Major General Manstein led his troops out to attack some Croatian forces in a corn field ahead of Frederick's line. This so depleted the troops in Frederick's left wing that he was forced to call off the attack and go over to the defensive on his left wing. Still this was not enough and the Prussian left and centre began to crumble.
Thus, Frederick was defeated at the Battle of Kolin. It was his first military defeat. Not only did the lack of forces defeat Frederick at Kolin, but the losses to his army suffered in the Battle of Kolin forced Frederick to lift the siege of Prague and withdraw from Bohemia altogether.
Later that summer, the Russians had invaded Memel with 75,000 troops. Memel had one of the strongest fortresses in Prussia. However, after five days of artillery bombardment the Russian army was able to storm the fortress. The Russians then used Memel as a base to invade East Prussia and defeated a smaller Prussian force in the fiercely contested Battle of Gross-Jägersdorf on 30 August 1757. Further defeats followed. Not only was Frederick forced to break off his invasion of Bohemia, but now he was forced to withdraw further back into Prussian-controlled territory. Frederick's defeats on the battlefield brought still more opportunist nations into the war. Sweden declared war on Prussia and invaded Pomerania with just 17,000 men. Sweden felt that this small army was all that was needed to occupy Pomerania and felt that the Swedish army would not need to engage in any fighting with the Prussians because the Prussians had their hands full with the war on so many other fronts.
Things were looking very grim for Prussia at this time, with the Austrians mobilising to attack Prussian-controlled soil and a French army under Soubise approaching from the west. However, in November and December of 1757, the whole situation in Germany was reversed. First, Frederick devastated Prince Soubise's French force at the Battle of Rossbach on 5 November 1757 and then routed a vastly superior Austrian force at the Battle of Leuthen on 5 December 1757 With these victories, Frederick once again established himself as Europe's premier general and his men as Europe's most accomplished soldiers. In spite of these successes, the Prussians were now facing the prospect of four major powers attacking on four fronts (France from the West, Austria from the South, Russia from the East and Sweden from the North). Meanwhile a combined force from a number of smaller German states such as Bavaria had been established under Austrian leadership, thus threatening Prussian control of Saxony.
This problem was compounded when the main Hanoverian army under Cumberland was defeated at the Battle of Hastenbeck and then forced to surrender entirely at the Convention of Klosterzeven following a French Invasion of Hanover. The Convention removed Hanover and Brunswick from the war, leaving the Western approach to Prussian territory extremely vulnerable. Frederick sent urgent requests to Britain for more substantial assistance, as he was now without any outside military support for his forces in Germany.
The British had suffered further defeats in North America, particularly at Fort William Henry. At home, however, stability had been established. Since 1756, successive governments led by Newcastle and William Pitt had both fallen. In August 1757, the two men agreed to a political partnership and formed a coalition government which gave new, firmer direction to the British war effort. The new strategy emphasised both Newcastle's commitment to British involvement on the European continent, particularly in defence of Germany, and William Pitt's determination to use British naval power to launch expeditions to seize French colonies around the globe. This "dual strategy" would dominate British policy for the next five years.
Although in late 1757, thanks to the Prussian victories at Rossbach and Leuthen, the situation appeared to have swung in Frederick's favour, it was the decision of the Russian Empire to withdraw its troops from East Prussia that dramatically altered the situation for Frederick.
Calculating that no further Russian advance was likely until 1758, Frederick moved the bulk of his eastern forces to Pomerania under the command of Marshal Lehwaldt where they were to repel the Swedish invasion. In short order, the Prussian army drove the Swedes back and occupied most of Swedish Pomerania and blockaded its capital Stralsund. George II of Great Britain, on the advice of his British ministers, revoked the Convention of Klosterzeven and Hanover reentered the war. Over the winter the new commander of the Hanoverian forces, Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick, regrouped his army and launched a series of offensives that drove the French back across the River Rhine.
Between 10 and 17 October 1757, a Hungarian general, Count András Hadik, serving in the Austrian army, executed what may be the most famous hussar action in history. When the Prussian King Frederick was marching south with his powerful armies, the Hungarian general unexpectedly swung his 5,000 force of mostly hussars around the Prussians and occupied part of their capital—Berlin for one night. The city was spared for a negotiated ransom of 200,000 thalers. When King Frederick heard about this shameful occupation of Berlin, he immediately sent a larger force to free the city. Hadik rode out of the city with his Hussars safely reached the Austrian lines. Subsequently, Hadik was promoted to the rank of Marshal in the Austrian army.
1758[edit | edit source]
In early 1758, Frederick launched an invasion of Moravia, and laid siege to Olomouc. Following an Austrian victory at the Battle of Domstadtl which wiped out a supply convoy destined for the Prussians besieging Olomouc, Frederick broke off the siege and withdrew from Moravia. It marked the end of his final attempt to launch a major invasion of Austrian territory. East Prussia had been occupied by Russian forces over the winter, and would remain under their control until 1762, although Frederick did not see the Russians as an immediate threat and instead entertained hopes of first fighting a decisive battle against Austria that would knock her out of the war.
In April 1758, the British concluded the Anglo-Prussian Convention with Frederick, in which they committed to pay him an annual subsidy of £670,000. Britain also dispatched a force of 9,000 troops to reinforce Ferdinand's Hanoverian army, the first British troop commitment on the continent and a reversal in the policy of Pitt who had previously opposed such a move. Ferdinand had succeeded in driving the French from Hanover and Westphalia and re-captured the port of Emden in March 1758, before crossing the Rhine with his own forces which caused alarm in France. Despite Ferdinand's victory over the French at the Battle of Krefeld and the brief occupation of Düsseldorf, he was then forced to withdraw across the Rhine by successful manoeuvring by larger French forces.
By this point Frederick had grown increasingly concerned about the Russian advance from the east and marched to counter it. On 25 August 1758, at the Battle of Zorndorf a Prussian army of 35,000 men under Frederick fought to a standstill a Russian army of 43,000 commanded by Count Fermor. Although both sides suffered heavy casualties and the Russians withdrew from the field in good order, Frederick claimed a victory. In the undecided Battle of Tornow on 25 September, a Swedish army repulsed six assaults by a Prussian army, but did not push home an attempt to move on Berlin following the Battle of Fehrbellin.
The back-and-forth nature of the war continued as on 14 October, Marshal Daun's Austrians surprised the main Prussian army at the Battle of Hochkirch in Saxony. Frederick lost much of his artillery but retreated in good order, helped by the densely wooded landscape. The Austrians had ultimately made little progress in the campaign in Saxony despite Hochkirch and had failed to achieve a decisive breakthrough. After a thwarted attempt to take Dresden, Daun's troops were forced to withdraw to Austrian territory for the winter, so that Saxony remained under Prussian occupation.
In France, 1758 had been a disappointing year and in the wake of this a new Chief Minister, the Duc de Choiseul was appointed. Choiseul planned to end the war in 1759 by making strong attacks on Britain and Hanover.
1759–60[edit | edit source]
The year 1759 saw some severe Prussian defeats. At the Battle of Kay, or Paltzig, the Russian Count Saltykov with 47,000 Russians defeated 26,000 Prussian troops commanded by General Carl Heinrich von Wedel. Though the Hanoverians defeated an army of 60,000 French at Minden, Austrian general Daun forced the surrender of an entire Prussian corps of 13,000 men in the Battle of Maxen. Frederick himself lost half his army in the Battle of Kunersdorf, the worst defeat in his military career, and one that drove him to the brink of abdication and suicide. The disaster resulted partly from his misjudgment of the Russians, who had already demonstrated their strength at Zorndorf and at Gross-Jägersdorf.
The French planned to invade the British Isles during 1759 by accumulating troops near the mouth of the Loire and concentrating their Brest and Toulon fleets. However, two sea defeats prevented this. In August, the Mediterranean fleet under Jean-François de La Clue-Sabran was scattered by a larger British fleet under Edward Boscawen at the Battle of Lagos. In the Battle of Quiberon Bay on 20 November, the British admiral Edward Hawke with 23 ships of the line caught the French Brest fleet with 21 ships of the line under Marshal de Conflans and sank, captured or forced aground many of them, putting an end to the French plans.
1760 brought even more disasters to the Prussians. The Prussian general Fouqué was defeated in the Battle of Landshut. The French captured Marburg, and the Swedes part of Brandenburg-Prussian Pomerania. The Hanoverians were victorious over the French at the Battle of Warburg, their continued success preventing France from sending troops to aid the Austrians against Prussia in the east. Despite this the Austrians, under the command of General Laudon captured Glatz (now Kłodzko) in Silesia. In the Battle of Liegnitz Frederick scored a victory despite being outnumbered three to one. The Russians under General Saltykov and Austrians under General Lacy briefly occupied his capital, Berlin, in October. The end of that year saw Frederick once more victorious, defeating the able Daun in the Battle of Torgau, but he suffered heavy casualties and the Austrians retreated in good order.
1761–62[edit | edit source]
Prussia began the 1761 campaign with just 100,000 available troops, many of them new recruits. 1762 brought two new countries into the war. Britain declared war against Spain on 4 January 1762; Spain reacted by issuing their own declaration of war against Britain on 18 January. Portugal followed by joining the war on Britain's side. Spain, aided by the French, launched an invasion of Portugal and succeeded in capturing Almeida. The arrival of British reinforcements stalled a further Spanish advance, and the Battle of Valencia de Alcántara saw British-Portuguese forces overrun a major Spanish supply base. The invaders were stopped on the heights in front of Abrantes (called the pass to Lisbon) where the Anglo-Portuguese were entrenched. Eventually the Anglo-Portuguese army, aided by the guerrillas and practicing a scorched earth strategy, chased the then hugely reduced Franco-Spanish army back to Spain, recovering almost all the lost towns, among them the Spanish headquarters in Castelo Branco full of wounded and sick that had been left behind.
In February 1761 Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick surprised French troops at Langensalza, and then advanced to besiege Cassel in March. He was forced to lift the siege and retreat after French forces regrouped and captured several thousand of his men at the Battle of Grünberg. At the Battle of Villinghausen, Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick defeated a 92,000-man French army. The Russians under Zakhar Chernyshev and Pyotr Rumyantsev stormed Kolberg in Pomerania, while the Austrians captured Schweidnitz. The loss of Kolberg cost Prussia its last port on the Baltic Sea. In Britain, it was speculated that a total Prussian collapse was now imminent.
Britain now threatened to withdraw its subsidies if Prussia didn't seriously consider offering to make concessions to secure peace. As the Prussian armies had dwindled to just 60,000 men Frederick's survival was severely threatened. Then on 5 January 1762 the Russian Empress Elizabeth died. Her Prussophile successor, Peter III, at once recalled Russian armies from Berlin (see: the Treaty of Saint Petersburg (1762)) and mediated Frederick's truce with Sweden. This turn of events has become known as the miracle of the House of Brandenburg. In the aftermath, Frederick was able to drive the Austrians from Silesia in the Battle of Freiberg (29 October 1762), while his Brunswick allies captured the key town of Göttingen and compounded it by taking Cassel.
The long British naval blockade of French ports had sapped the morale of the French populace. Morale declined further when news of defeat in the Battle of Signal Hill in Newfoundland reached Paris.
1763[edit | edit source]
By 1763 Frederick had Silesia under his control and had occupied parts of Austria. The British subsidies had been withdrawn by the new Prime Minister Lord Bute, and the Russian Emperor had been overthrown by his wife Catherine the Great who now switched Russian support back to Austria and launched fresh attacks on Prussia. Austria, however, had been weakened from the war and, like most participants, was facing a severe financial crisis. In 1763 a peace settlement was reached at the Treaty of Hubertusburg ending the war in central Europe.
British amphibious "descents"[edit | edit source]
Great Britain planned a "descent" (an amphibious demonstration or raid) on Rochefort, a joint operation to overrun the town and burn the shipping in the Charente. The expedition set out on 8 September 1757, Sir John Mordaunt commanding the troops and Sir Edward Hawke the fleet. On 23 September the Isle d'Aix was taken, but due to dithering by military staff such time was lost that Rochefort became unassailable, and the expedition abandoned the Isle d'Aix, returning to Great Britain on 1 October.
Despite the operational failure and debated strategic success of the descent on Rochefort, William Pitt—who saw purpose in this type of asymmetric enterprise—prepared to continue such operations. An army was assembled under the command of Charles Spencer, 3rd Duke of Marlborough; he was aided by Lord George Sackville. The naval squadron and transports for the expedition were commanded by Richard Howe. The army landed on 5 June 1758 at Cancalle Bay, proceeded to St. Malo, and finding that it would take a prolonged siege to capture it, instead attacked the nearby port of St. Servan, and burned the shipping in the harbor amounting to roughly 80 French privateers and merchantmen, as well as four warships which were under construction. The force then re-embarked under the threat of the arrival of French relief forces. An attack on Havre de Grace was called off, and the fleet sailed on to Cherbourg; but the weather being bad and provisions low, that too was abandoned, and the expedition returned, having damaged French privateering and provided a further strategic demonstration against the French coast.
Pitt now prepared to send troops into Germany; and both Marlborough and Sackville, disgusted by what they perceived as the futility of the "descents", obtained commissions in that army. The elderly General Bligh was appointed to command a new "descent", escorted by Howe. The campaign began propitiously with the Raid on Cherbourg. With the support of the navy to bombard Cherbourg and cover their landing, the army drove off the French force detailed to oppose their landing, captured Cherbourg, and destroyed its fortifications, docks, and shipping.
The troops were reembarked and the fleet moved them to the Bay of St. Lunaire in Brittany where, on 3 September, they were landed to again operate against St. Malo; however, this action proved impractical. Worsening weather forced the two armies to separate: the ships sailed for the safer anchorage of St. Cast, while the army proceeded overland. The tardiness of Bligh in moving his forces allowed a French force of 10,000 men from Brest to catch up with him and open fire on the reembarkation troops. A rear-guard of 1,400 under General Dury held off the French while the rest of the army embarked; they could not be saved, 750, including Dury, were killed and the rest captured.
Colonies[edit | edit source]
Great Britain lost Minorca in the Mediterranean to the French in 1756 but captured the French colonies in Senegal on the African continent in 1758. The British Royal Navy captured the French sugar colonies of Guadeloupe in 1759 and Martinique in 1762, as well as the Spanish cities of Havana in Cuba, and Manila in the Philippines, both prominent Spanish colonial cities. However expansion into the hinterlands of both cities met with stiff resistance. In the Philippines, the British were confined to Manila in a deteriorating military situation before their agreed upon withdrawal at the war's end.
North America[edit | edit source]
The campaign began with the French desire to keep control of the fur trade from the Ohio River Valley westward. Accordingly, the French sought to build a cordon of forts that extended from the Gulf of St Lawrence to the Mississippi River Delta. This line of forts was intended to delineate the eastern border of the French colony in North America—New France. The forts were meant to prevent any incursion by fur traders or settlers from the east—from the British colonies that had established themselves along the eastern coast of North America.
The British settlers along the coast, on the other hand, were upset that French troops would now be very close to the western borders of their English-speaking colonies. They felt the French would encourage their tribal allies among the North American natives to attack the British colonies. Also, the British settlers wanted access to the fertile land of the Ohio River Valley for the new settlers that were flooding into the British colonies seeking farm land. Thus the most important French fort being planned was the fort intended to occupy a position at "the Forks" where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers meet to form the Ohio River (present day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania).
The Iroquois Confederation represented a third force in the struggle over the Ohio River Valley. The Confederation was made up of five different Native American tribes—the Mohawks, the Oneidas, the Onondagas, the Cayugas and the Senecas. Later the Iroquois Confederation would become a "six nation confederation" with the addition of the Tuscaroras to the league. These tribes had traditionally been based in present day upstate New York, but years of intertribal peace from 1713 to 1744 had converted the confederation into a powerful organisation whose political influence extended over present-day Virginia, West Virginia and the Ohio River Valley and over the dependent tribes—the Delawares and the Shawnees who actually lived there.
However, by 1754 the Iroquois Confederation was being pressed hard by the influx of new settlers moving into their tribal lands. The very existence of these tribes on their own traditional lands was now being threatened. Accordingly, the Iroquois Confederation was seeking some independent and neutral way between the British and the French which would preserve their heritage. They called this strategy of playing the French and British interests off against one another "aggressive neutrality."
So the proposed French fort at the Forks at the head of the Ohio River set off concerns within three contesting groups of people. Whoever, controlled the Forks, held the key to the whole of the Ohio River Valley. Both the French and the British claimed the land in the disputed Ohio Valley. The British first tried to negotiate. They sent a delegation to the French to discourage the idea of building a fort at the Forks. When that failed the British sent a crew of soldiers and workers to the Forks to pre-empt the French by building a British fort on the location before the French. The French then attacked the British settlement of soldiers and workers and destroyed the works that the British started to build at the site. After evicting the British from the Forks, the French built their fort—Fort Duquesne—at the Forks. During an attack on the French led by George Washington, then a lieutenant colonel in the British colonial militia Virginia Regiment, at Jumonville Glen on 28 May 1754, the British attacked with bayonets the 31 French sleeping in the early morning hours. Ten were killed, including commander Jumonville, whose brother pursued Washington.
However, the French attacked Washington's army at Fort Necessity on 3 July 1754 and forced Washington to surrender at the conclusion of the Battle of Fort Necessity. As a sign that this small skirmish was becoming an ever-widening war, both France and Britain then sent troops in strength to North America. In June 1755, British Major General Edward Braddock led about 2,000 army troops and provincial militia on an expedition to retake Fort Duquesne but the expedition was a disaster. In further action, Admiral Edward Boscawen fired on the French ship Alcide on 8 June 1755, capturing her and two troop ships. The British harassed French shipping throughout 1755, seizing ships and capturing seamen. In September 1755, French and British troops met in the inconclusive Battle of Lake George.
The third British action was the assault on Acadia on 15 June 1755 in the Battle of Fort Beauséjour, which was immediately followed by their expulsion of the Acadians. These actions contributed to the formal declarations of war in spring 1756.
During the war, the Seven Nations of Canada were allied with the French; they were Native Canadian groups living in the Laurentian valley—the Algonquin, the Abenaki, the Huron and others. Although the Algonquin tribe and the Seven Nations were not directly concerned with the fate of the Ohio River Valley, they had been one of the victims of the Iroquois Confederation. The Iroquois had encroached on Algonquin territory and pushed the Algonquins west beyond Lake Michigan. Thus, the Algonquin and the Seven Nations were interested in fighting against the Iroquois. Throughout New England, New York and the North-west, Native American tribes formed differing alliances with the major belligerents, with many siding with the French. They hoped to push out the British colonial settlers for good. The Iroquois, dominant in what is now Upstate New York, sided with the British but did not play a large role in the war.
In 1756 and 1757 the French won major victories at Oswego and Fort William Henry. Although, the latter win was tainted when France's native allies broke the terms of capitulation and attacked the retreating British column, slaughtering wounded soldiers and taking captives. French naval deployments in 1757 also successfully defended the key fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island, securing the approaches to Quebec in Canada.
William Pitt's focus on the colonies for the 1758 campaign paid off with the taking of Louisbourg after French reinforcements were blocked by the Battle of Cartagena, and the successful capture of Fort Duquesne and Fort Frontenac. The British also continued the process of deporting the Acadian population with a wave of major operations against Île Saint-Jean (present-day Prince Edward Island), the St. John River valley, and the Petitcodiac River valley. The British successes were overshadowed by their embarrassing defeat in the Battle of Carillon, in which 4,000 French troops repulsed 16,000 British troops.
All of Britain's campaigns against New France succeeded in 1759, part of what became known as an Annus Mirabilis. Fort Niagara and Fort Carillon on 8 July 1758 fell to sizable British forces, cutting off French frontier forts further west. On 13 September 1759, following a three-month siege of Quebec, General James Wolfe defeated the French at the Plains of Abraham outside the city. The French staged a counteroffensive in the spring of 1760, with some success in a victory at the Battle of Sainte-Foy, but failed to retake Quebec due to a lack of naval support. French forces retreated to Montreal, where on 8 September they surrendered in the face of overwhelming British numerical superiority. This defeat has had serious ramifications in Canada to this day. The Quebec sovereignty movement sees this as their principle's defining moment.
Seeing French defeat, in 1760 the Seven Nations of Canada resigned from the war and negotiated the Treaty of Kahnawake with the British. Among its conditions was their unrestricted travel between Canada and New York, as the nations had extensive trade between Montreal and Albany, as well as populations living throughout the area.
In 1762 toward the end of the war, French forces attacked St. John's, Newfoundland. If successful, the expedition would have strengthened France's hand at the negotiating table. Though they took St. John's and raided nearby settlements, the French forces were eventually defeated by British troops at the Battle of Signal Hill. This was the final battle of the war in North America, and it forced the French to surrender to the British under Lieutenant Colonel William Amherst. The victorious British now controlled all of eastern North America.
The history of the Seven Years' War in North America, particularly the expulsion of the Acadians, siege of Quebec, the death of Wolfe and the Battle of Fort William Henry, generated a vast number of ballads, broadsides, images, and novels (see Longfellow's Evangeline, The Death of General Wolfe; Wood, James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans), maps and other printed materials, which testify to how this event captured the imagination of the British and North American public long after Wolfe's death in 1759.
South America[edit | edit source]
Between September 1762 and April 1763, the Spanish forces led by Don Pedro Antonio de Cevallos, Governor of Buenos Aires, made a campaign against the Portuguese in South America. The Portuguese territories of Colonia do Sacramento and Rio Grande de São Pedro were conquered by the Spaniards and the Portuguese forces were forced to surrender and retreat. The Colonia of Sacramento and the near territories were under Spanish control until the Treaty of Paris (1763).
Mughal Empire[edit | edit source]
In India the outbreak of the Seven Years' War in Europe resulted in a renewal of the long running conflict between French and British trading companies in the region for influence. The war spread beyond southern India and into Bengal, where British forces under Robert Clive recaptured Calcutta from the Nawab Siraj ud-Daulah, a French ally, and ousted him from his throne at the Battle of Plassey in 1757. In the same year the British also captured the French settlement in Bengal at Chandernagar.
However, the war was decided in the south. Although the French captured Cuddalore, their siege of Madras failed, while the British commander Sir Eyre Coote decisively defeated the French under the Comte de Lally at the Battle of Wandiwash in 1760 and overran the French territory of the Northern Circars. The French capital of Pondicherry fell to the British in 1761; together with the fall of the lesser French settlements of Karikal and Mahé this effectively eliminated French power from India.
West Africa[edit | edit source]
Outcome[edit | edit source]
The Anglo-French hostilities were ended in 1763 by the Treaty of Paris, which involved a complex series of land exchanges, the most important being France's cession to Spain of Louisiana, and to Great Britain the rest of New France except for the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon. Faced with the choice of retrieving either New France or its Caribbean island colonies of Guadeloupe and Martinique, France chose the latter to retain these lucrative sources of sugar, writing off New France as an unproductive, costly territory. France also returned Minorca to the British. Spain lost control of Florida to Great Britain, but received part of New Orleans and the Louisiana Territory west of the Mississippi River from the French. The exchanges suited the British as well, as their own Caribbean islands already supplied ample sugar, and with the acquisition of New France and Florida, they now controlled all of North America east of the Mississippi.
In India, the British retained the Northern Circars, but returned all the French trading ports. The treaty, however, required that the fortifications of these settlements must be destroyed and never rebuilt, while only minimal garrisons could be maintained there, thus rendering them worthless as military bases. Combined with the loss of France's ally in Bengal and the defection of Hyderabad to the British side as a result of the war, this effectively brought French power in India to an end, making way for British hegemony and eventual control of the subcontinent.
European boundaries were returned to their status quo ante bellum by the Treaty of Hubertusburg (February 1763). Prussia thus maintained its possession of Silesia, having survived the combined assault of three neighbours, each larger than itself. Prussia gained enormously in influence at the expense of the Holy Roman Empire. This increase in Prussian influence, it is argued, marks the beginning of the modern German state, an event at least as influential as the colonial empire Great Britain had gained. Others, including Fred Anderson, author of Crucible of War, believe the war was needless and overly costly.
France's navy was crippled by the war. Only after an ambitious rebuilding programme by France in combination with Spain was it again able to challenge Britain's command of the sea.
However, the British government was close to bankruptcy, and Britain now faced the delicate task of pacifying its new French-Canadian subjects, as well as the many American Indian tribes who had supported France. George III's Proclamation of 1763, which forbade white settlement beyond the crest of the Appalachians, was intended to appease the latter, but led to considerable outrage in the Thirteen Colonies whose inhabitants were eager to acquire native lands. The Quebec Act of 1774, similarly intended to win over the loyalty of French Canadians, also spurred resentment among American colonists. Victorious in 1763, Great Britain would soon face another military threat in North America—this time from its longtime subjects, who no longer had to fear a hostile neighbouring power.
The Seven Years' War was the last major military conflict fought on the European continent before the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars in 1792.
Cultural references[edit | edit source]
See also[edit | edit source]
Footnotes[edit | edit source]
Bibliography[edit | edit source]
Primary sources[edit | edit source]
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