War of the Austrian Succession

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Austrian Succession, War of the

Austrian Succession, War of the, 1740–48, general European war.

Causes of the War

The war broke out when, on the strength of the pragmatic sanction of 1713, the Austrian archduchess Maria Theresa succeeded her father, Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, as ruler of the Hapsburg lands. The elector of Bavaria, Charles Albert, advanced counterclaims to the succession while Philip V of Spain and Augustus III of Poland and Saxony advanced weak claims of their own. Frederick II of Prussia, on even less tenable grounds claimed part of the province of Silesia.

First Silesian War

Frederick II began the war by invading and rapidly occupying Silesia. His cynical offer of support to Maria Theresa if she would cede the province was rejected. Victorious at Mollwitz (1741), Frederick obtained the alliance of France, Spain, Bavaria, and Saxony. Charles Albert of Bavaria, who was promised the imperial election, advanced on Vienna. In Oct., 1741, however, Prussia agreed to a truce in exchange for most of Silesia. This armistice was soon broken but gave the Austrians an opportunity to regroup their forces. The French were unwilling to permit the Bavarians too much power and ordered them to attack Bohemia, which was relatively unimportant, instead of Vienna. Joined by France and Saxony, Bavaria took Prague (Nov., 1741), and Charles Albert was elected emperor as Charles VII.

Meanwhile, Maria Theresa had obtained full support from the Hungarian diet and the promise of aid from Great Britain, which had been at war with Spain since 1739 (see Jenkins's Ear, War of). Early in 1742 Austrian troops overran Bavaria and laid siege to Prague, and in July, Maria Theresa made peace with Prussia by ceding most of Silesia (Treaty of Berlin). Thus ended this conflict, often called the First Silesian War. Saxony also made peace and joined Austria as an ally in 1743. The epic retreat from Prague of the French under Marshal Belle-Isle (winter, 1742–43) was followed by the victory of George II of Britain over the French at Dettingen (1743).

Second Silesian War

In 1744 Frederick II, fearing the rising power of Austria, started the Second Silesian War by invading Bohemia; he was soon expelled by Austrian and Saxon forces. On the death (1745) of Emperor Charles VII, Bavaria, once more overrun by Austrian troops, was forced out of the war. These Austrian successes were balanced by the great French victory (1745) of Fontenoy, where Maurice de Saxe defeated the British. Anxious for peace, George II concluded (1745) the Convention of Hanover with Frederick II, who promised to support the imperial candidacy of Maria Theresa's husband (shortly afterward elected as Francis I) in return for her cession of Silesia guaranteed by Europe. Defeated at Hohenfriedberg and at Kesselsdorf, Maria Theresa accepted the compromise in the Treaty of Dresden with Prussia (Dec., 1745).

The war continued in N Italy, in the Low Countries, in North America (see French and Indian Wars), and in India. The chief belligerents (Austria, Britain, Holland, and Sardinia on the one side, France and Spain on the other) grew weary of the conflict. Although Maria Theresa secured (1748) the alliance of Russia, the other nations were determined to restore peace, and late in 1748 the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (see Aix-la-Chapelle, Treaty of, (2)) was signed. Prussia gained Silesia and thus emerged as a major European power; the Hapsburgs thenceforth looked to the east for resources to develop their state.


See biography by E. Crankshaw, Maria Theresa (1970); C. A. Macartney, Maria Theresa and the House of Austria (1969).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Austrian Succession, War of the


waged by European powers between 1740 and 1748. By the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713, issued by Emperor Charles VI and recognized by most European states, the vast holdings of the Austrian Hapsburgs—Austria, Bohemia. Hungary, the southern Netherlands, and lands in Italy—were to remain undivided and pass to Charles’ daughter, Maria Theresa. However, after the death of Charles VI in October 1740, Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony, and Spain, with the support of France, began to dispute the inheritance rights of Maria Theresa. On Dec. 16, 1740, Frederick II’s Prussian troops invaded Silesia, which belonged to the Hapsburgs. A coalition made up of France, Prussia. Bavaria, and Spain, which Saxony and Piedmont also joined, attempted to divide Austrian holdings and weaken the Hapsburg monarchy. Great Britain and the United Provinces (the Dutch Republic), France’s commercial rivals, supported Austria; Russia, which was disturbed by the growing strength of Prussia, also aided Austria later on. In addition to Austro-French and Anglo-French antagonisms, which had continued to intensify after the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–14), the main reasons for the War of the Austrian Succession included the aggressive aspirations of Prussia, which was growing in strength, and its rivalry with Austria in central Europe.

The main theaters of military action were central Europe (Bohemia, Bavaria, and Saxony), the Austrian Netherlands, and northern Italy. In addition, Britain was at war with France and Spain on the seas as well as in the colonies (the Anglo-Spanish colonial trade war had begun in 1739).

The War of the Austrian Succession began unsuccessfully for Austria. As early as January 1741, Prussian troops occupied almost all of Silesia. The Prussians inflicted a crushing defeat on the Austrian troops on Apr. 10, 1741, at Mollwitz. In the summer of 1741 the French army under Marshal C. Belle-Isle, along with Bavarian and Saxon troops, invaded Upper Austria and then Bohemia, occupying Prague in November 1741. The Bavarian elector, Charles Albert (the protégé of France), was declared king of Bohemia in December 1741 and in January 1742 was chosen emperor of the Holy Roman Empire under the name of Charles VII (1742–45). Another French army, under Marshal Maillebois, invaded the Austrian Netherlands. In November 1741 the Spanish began military actions against the Austrians in northern Italy. On Oct. 9, 1741, Austria concluded a truce with Prussia in which it promised to give the latter Lower Silesia. The truce permitted Austrian troops to move on the offensive against the Bavarian forces and occupy Munich. However, as early as December 1741, Prussia violated the truce and renewed military actions. Its army invaded Bohemia and on May 17, 1742, routed the Austrians at Czaslau, which forced Austria to conclude a peace treaty with Prussia on July 28, 1742, whereby it ceded nearly all of Silesia to Prussia. This concluded the so-called First Silesian War (1740–42).

The military initiative passed to Austria and its allies in the middle of 1742. Toward the end of that year, the Austrian army drove the French and Bavarian forces out of Bohemia. Austrian forces won victories over the Spanish in Italy; meanwhile, a British and Dutch army defeated the French at Dettingen, on the Main River, on June 27, 1743. By 1744 the French had been cleared from the right bank of the Rhine River, and Austro-British forces entered Alsace.

In the summer of 1744, Frederick II, without declaring war, invaded Saxony, which had concluded a defensive alliance with Austria in 1743, and Bohemia, occupying Prague in September 1744. He defeated Austro-Saxon forces at Hohenfriedberg on June 4, 1745, at Hennersdorf on November 23, and at Kesselsdorf near Dresden on December 15. On December 18 he occupied Dresden, the capital of Saxony. Fearing only that Russia, which had concentrated forces in Courland, would enter the war, Frederick II signed the Peace of Dresden of 1745 with Austria and Saxony on December 25. By the treaty Austria agreed that Prussia would retain Silesia in exchange for the recognition of Maria Theresa’s husband, Francis Stephen of Lorraine, as emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. This concluded the so-called Second Silesian War (1744–45).

The main military theater in the last years of the war was the Austrian Netherlands, where a French army commanded by Maurice de Saxe defeated Austrian and British forces at Fontenoy (May 11, 1745), Rocour (Oct. 11, 1746), and Laufeld (July 2, 1747) and seized a number of fortresses, including Antwerp and Mons. Russia joined the Austro-British coalition in 1746–47; in January 1748 a Russian corps entered Germany. Fearing Russian troops would reach the Rhine, France agreed to peace negotiations.

By the Peace of Aachen of 1748 (the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle), the Hapsburgs retained the major portion of their holdings. The Pragmatic Sanction and the rights of Maria Theresa were recognized, but at the same time the conditions of the Peace of Dresden, which gave most of Silesia to Prussia, were confirmed. The peace treaty did not resolve the antagonisms between the European powers; it was essentially only a respite between the War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years’ War of 1756–63.


Solov’ev, S. M. “Politika Rossii vo vremia voiny za Avstr. nasledstvo.” Zhurnal ministerstva narodnogo prosveshcheniia, 1867, vol. 135, no. 9.
Österreichischer Erbfolgekrieg, 1740–1748, vols. 1–9. Vienna, 1896–1914.
Die Kriege Friedrichs des Grofen 1740–1763, vol. 1. Edited by von Ritter Hoen, Berlin, 1907.
Weil, H. La guerre de la succession d’Autriche (1740–1748), vols. 1–6. Paris, 1897–1913.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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