Seven Years' War (1756-1763)

Seven Years' War (1756-1763)

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The Seven Years' War (1756-1763) is a conflict between Prussia, Great Britain and Hanover, in a coalition of Austria, Saxony, France, Russia, Sweden and Spain. France, which fought "for the King of Prussia" during the War of the Austrian Succession, which ended in 1748, takes up arms against England, a great maritime power. This first "world war" which takes place in Europe and on all the seas of the globe, from the Antilles to the Indies, begins with the successes of Montcalm in Canada before turning into a fiasco. At the end of this conflict, the France of Louis XV will lose almost all of its first colonial empire.

The Seven Years' War, the world's first conflict

The peace established at the end of the War of the Austrian Succession had left all the belligerents unsatisfied. Austria dreams of revenge on Prussia and of taking back Silesia from her. France, which had not benefited from this conflict, is still under pressure from England in its colonies. Faced with this threat, Choiseul, one of the few in France to have a world view of diplomatic issues, pushes France to reverse alliances, and to come closer to Austria. In London, the English counterpart of Choiseul, William Pitt, supports an aggressive colonial expansion policy and defends an uncompromising position vis-à-vis France.

The colonial rivalries between France and England were such that, in 1755, the English boarded several hundred French merchant ships and in 1756 allied themselves with the Prussia of Frederick II, while Louis XV signed the same year with Marie -Thérèse of Austria the Treaty of Versailles. It was the start of the Seven Years' War which was to take place on two fronts: in Germany and overseas.

In Europe, Prussia wins

In Europe, Frederick the Great took the offensive in August 1756, invaded Saxony (October 1756) and Bohemia (spring 1757), but was defeated by Daun in Kolin (June 18, 1757) and had to evacuate Bohemia, while the Russians invaded East Prussia. However, the King of Prussia won three great victories: over the French at Rossbach (November 5, 1757), over the Austrians at Leuthen (December 5, 1757) and over the Russians at Zomdorf (August 25, 1758).

Overwhelmed by the numerical superiority of his opponents, Frederick was however defeated by the Austro-Russians at Kunersdorf (August 12, 1759) and, despite his victory at Torgau (November 3, 1760), he found himself in an almost desperate situation when he was saved by the death of Czarina Elisabeth, early 1762: the new Czar, Peter III, of German origin and great admirer of Frederick II, hastened to sign peace with Prussia (May 5, 1762), and Sweden followed his example . By his victory at Burkersdorf (July 21), Frederick succeeded in reconquering almost entirely Silesia.

Towards the English victory overseas

At sea and in the colonies, the war had started annoyingly for the English (occupation of Port-Mahon, in the Balearics, by the Duke of Richelieu, 1756). But from 1757, England, under the leadership of the first Pitt, experienced a powerful national leap. France then gets bogged down in a conflict that is going very badly. The French troops suffer defeat after defeat: after retaking Menorca, invaded by the French, the English fleet cuts France off from its colonies. In Canada, Montcalm, after having experienced some success, lost the Saint-Laurent valley, then Quebec, and was killed at the battle of Abraham (1759); Montreal capitulates (1760). The British are masters of all French Canada.

In India, Dupleix, governor of Chandernagor, previously consolidated the French positions with the local princes by exchanging military protection between commercial privileges granted to the Compagnie des lies. He first fought effectively the English, the fleet of La Bourdonnais succeeding in seizing Madras in 1746; but Dupleix was recalled in 1754, and the French troops commanded by Thomas Lally, Baron de Tollendal, in difficulty, were forced to capitulate in Pondicherry (1762).

However, the Duke of Choiseul, head of French foreign policy, succeeded in bringing Spain into the coalition by concluding the Bourbon Family Pact, and England, worried, preferred not to push its advantages any further.

End of the Seven Years' War: the Treaty of Paris

We must resign ourselves to negotiation. By the Treaty of Paris (February 1763), France left to England its colonies in North America (Canada, part of Louisiana) and the Antilles, its possessions in Senegal, and compensated Spain by ceding it the rest of Louisiana. France keeps Martinique, Guadeloupe and Saint-Domingue, but only keeps five defenseless counters in India (Pondichéry, Chandernagor, Karikal, Mahé and Yanaon). The English now have a free hand.

Curiously, the loss of the first colonial empire which notably ensured the prosperity of the Atlantic ports (Bordeaux, La Rochelle, Nantes) left indifferent the great majority of the French elites of the 18th century. Voltaire, badly inspired, will thus evoke with contempt the "few acres of snow" (speaking of lost Canada). Yet it was the outcome of this war that would allow the British thalassocracy to firmly establish its economic and political domination over the world for a long time to come.

On February 15, the Treaty of Hubertsburg was signed in Saxony. This agreement confirmed the stranglehold of Prussia over Silesia and confirmed it in its role as a great power in Europe.


- The Seven Years' War: Naval, political and diplomatic history, by Jonathan R. Dull, Jean-Yves Guioma. The Perseids, 2009.

- The Seven Years' War in New France, by Laurent Veyssière and Bertrand Fonck. Pups, 2011.

- The Seven Years' War (1756-1763), the first world conflict. Monthly War & History, October 2014

Video: The Seven Years War 1756 - 1763 by Will Durant


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