Seven Years' War

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This article is about the European mid-18th-century war. For other wars of the same name, see Seven Years' War (disambiguation).
Seven Years' War
Seven Years' War Collage.jpg
Clockwise from top left: The Battle of Plassey (23 June 1757) ; The Battle of Carillon (6–8 July 1758) ; The Battle of Zorndorf (25 August 1758) ; The Battle of Kunersdorf (12 August 1759).
Date 1754/1756–1763
Location Europe, North America, South America, Africa, Asia

British-Prussian Coalition victory:

• Rise of Britain as the foremost world power
• Prussia's emergence as a European great power
• The first steps of France's eventual decline


Status quo ante bellum in Europe. Transfer of colonial possessions between Great Britain, France, and Spain.

Commanders and leaders

Kingdom of Great Britain George II (until 1760)

Kingdom of Great Britain George III (from 1760)

Kingdom of Prussia Frederick II

Province of Hanover Duke Ferdinand

King Joseph I

Kingdom of France King Louis XV

Habsburg Monarchy Empress Maria Theresa

Russian Empire Empress Elizabeth (until 1762)
Russian Empire Emperor Peter III (from 1762)

Sweden King Adolph Frederick

Spain King Charles III

Electorate of Saxony Augustus III

Alam of the Mughal Empire.svg Alamgir II (to 1759)
Alam of the Mughal Empire.svg Shah Alam II (from 1759)

The Seven Years' War was fought between 1755 and 1764, the main conflict occurring in the seven-year period from 1756 to 1763. It involved most of the great powers of the time and affected Europe, North America, Central America, West Africa, India, and the Philippines. Considered as the greatest European war since the Thirty Years War of the 17th-century, it once again split Europe into two coalitions, each led by Great Britain and France, respectively. For the first time, aiming to curtail Britain and Prussia's ever-growing power, France formed a grand coalition of her own.

In the historiography of some countries, the war is named after combatants in its respective theatres: the French and Indian War in the United States. In French-speaking Canada, it is known as the War of the Conquest, while it is called the Seven Years' War in English-speaking Canada (North America, 1754–1763), Pomeranian War (with Sweden and Prussia, 1757–1762), Third Carnatic War (on the Indian subcontinent, 1757–1763), and Third Silesian War (with Prussia and Austria, 1756–1763).

Conflict between Great Britain and France broke out in 1754–1755 when the British attacked disputed French positions in North America and seized hundreds of French merchant ships. Meanwhile, rising power Prussia was struggling with Austria for dominance within and outside the Holy Roman Empire in central Europe. In 1756, the major powers "switched partners".

Realizing that war was imminent, Prussia preemptively struck Saxony and quickly overran them. The result caused great uproar across Europe. Because of Prussia's alliance with Britain, Austria sought to recapture Silesia which was lost in the previous war by forming an alliance with France. The Anglo-Prussian alliance was joined by smaller German states (especially Hanover). Sweden, fearing Prussia's expansionist tendencies, went to war in 1757 to protect her Baltic dominions, seeing the chance that all Europe virtually opposed Frederick. Spain, bound by the Pacte de Famille, intervened on behalf of France and jointly launched a disastrous invasion of Portugal in 1762. The Russian Empire was originally aligned with Austria, fearing Prussia's ambition on the Commonwealth, but switched sides upon the succession of Tsar Peter III in 1762. The taxation needed for war caused the Russian people considerable hardship, being added to the taxation of salt and alcohol begun by Empress Elizabeth in 1759 to complete her addition to the Winter Palace. Like Sweden, Russia concluded a separate peace with Prussia.

The war ended with the Treaty of Paris among France, Spain and Great Britain and the Treaty of Hubertusburg among Saxony, Austria and Prussia, in 1763. It was characterized in Europe by sieges and arson of towns as well as open battles with extremely heavy losses.

The war was successful for Great Britain, which gained the bulk of New France in North America, 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 settlement; as allies of France, it is unlikely that being a party to the treaty would have been beneficial to them. A subsequent conflict, known as Pontiac's War, was also unsuccessful in returning them to their pre-war status. In Europe the war began disastrously for Prussia, but a combination of good luck and successful strategy saw King Frederick the Great manage to retrieve the Prussian position and achieve the status quo ante bellum, and saw Prussia ascend as a new European great power. The involvement of Portugal, Spain and Sweden did not return them to their former status as great powers. While France was deprived of many of its colonies and saddled with heavy war debt, Spain lost Florida but gained French Louisiana and regained control of its colonies, e.g., Cuba and the Philippines, which had been captured by the British during the war. Witnessing the unprecedented rise of Britain, and being reduced to second-rate powers, the two Bourbon Powers were ready for revenge.

The Seven Years' War is retrospectively regarded as one of the first true world wars, having taken place almost 160 years before what is commonly known as World War I.


The conflict in India is termed the Third Carnatic War, while the fighting between Prussia and Austria is called the Third Silesian War.[1] The English-speaking British colonies in North America (present-day United States and Canada, where fighting actually began almost two years before that in Europe) fought what is known as the French and Indian War. Swedish historiography uses the name Pommerska kriget (Pomeranian War), as Swedish involvement was limited to Pomerania in northern central Germany.[1]

The war has been described as the first "world war",[2] although this label was also given to various earlier conflicts like 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 like the Napoleonic Wars, termed the Second Hundred Years' War in order to describe the almost continuous level of world-wide conflict during the entire 18th century, different from the more famous and compact struggle of the 14th century.[3]


Further information: Diplomatic Revolution

In Europe[edit]

All the participants of the Seven Years' War.
  Great Britain, Prussia, Portugal, with allies
  France, Spain, Austria, Russia, Sweden with allies

In the War of the Austrian Succession,[4] which had lasted from 1740 to 1748, King Frederick II of Prussia, known as Frederick the Great, had seized the prosperous 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 forge new alliances, which she did with remarkable success. In 1756 Austria was making military preparations for war with Prussia and pursuing an alliance with Russia for this purpose. The Austrian army had been overhauled 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.[5] Her interest in the welfare of the soldiers had gained her their unqualified respect. Austria had suffered several humiliating defeats by Prussia in the previous war, and, strongly dissatisfied with the limited help she had received from the British, Maria Theresa now saw Russia and France as allies who could help her retake Silesia and check Prussia's expansion.[6]

Prussia's only major assistance came from Great Britain, her new-found 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.

In North America[edit]

A Map of the British and French settlements in North America in 1750, before the French and Indian War (1754 to 1763), that was part of the Seven Years' War.

The boundary between British and French possessions in North America was largely undefined in the 1750s. France had long claimed the entire Mississippi River valley. This was disputed by Britain. In the early 1750s the French began constructing a chain of forts in the Ohio River Valley to assert their claim and shield the Native American population from increasing British influence.

The British settlers along the coast were upset that French troops would now be close to the western borders of their colonies. They felt the French would encourage their tribal allies among the North American natives to attack them. 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.[7]

The most important French fort planned was intended to occupy a position at "the Forks" where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers meet to form the Ohio River (present day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). Peaceful British attempts to halt this fort construction were unsuccessful, and the French proceeded to build the fort they named Fort Duquesne. British colonial militia from Virginia were then sent to drive them out. Led by George Washington, they ambushed a small French force at Jumonville Glen on 28 May 1754 killing ten, including commander Jumonville.[8] The French retaliated by attacking Washington's army at Fort Necessity on 3 July 1754 and forced Washington to surrender.[9]

News of this arrived in Europe, where Britain and France unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate a solution. The two nations eventually dispatched regular troops to North America to enforce their claims. The first British action was the assault on Acadia on 16 June 1755 in the Battle of Fort Beauséjour,[10] which was immediately followed by their expulsion of the Acadians.[11] In July British Major General Edward Braddock led about 2,000 army troops and provincial militia on an expedition to retake Fort Duquesne, but the expedition ended in disastrous defeat.[12] In further action, Admiral Edward Boscawen fired on the French ship Alcide on 8 June 1755, capturing her and two troop ships. In September 1755, French and British troops met in the inconclusive Battle of Lake George.[13]

The British also harassed French shipping beginning in August 1755, seizing hundreds of ships and capturing thousands of merchant seamen while the two nations were nominally at peace. Incensed, France prepared to attack Minorca and Hanover, whose elector was also the King of Great Britain. Britain concluded a treaty whereby Prussia agreed to protect Hanover. In response France concluded an alliance with Austria, its long-time enemy, an event known as the Diplomatic Revolution.


For much of the eighteenth century, France approached its wars in the same way. It would let colonies defend themselves or would offer only minimal help (sending them limited numbers of troops or inexperienced soldiers), anticipating that fights for the colonies would most likely be lost anyway.[14] 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.[15] Similarly, several long land borders made an effective domestic army imperative for any French ruler.[16] 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 continent, hoping for victories closer to home.[16] The plan was to fight to the end of hostilities and then, in treaty negotiations, to trade territorial acquisitions in Europe to regain lost overseas possessions. This approach did not succeed, as the colonies were indeed lost. Much of the European war went well. By its end, however, France had few counterbalancing European successes.[17]

Leibgarde battalion at Kolin, 1757

The British—by inclination as well as for practical reasons—had tended to avoid large-scale commitments of troops on the Continent.[18] They sought to offset the disadvantage of this in Europe by allying themselves with one or more Continental powers whose interests were antithetical to those of their enemies, particularly France.[19]:15–16 By subsidising the armies of continental allies, Britain could turn London's enormous financial power to military advantage. In the Seven Years' War, the British chose as their principal partner the greatest military strategist of the day, Frederick the Great of Prussia, then the rising power in central Europe, and paid Frederick substantial subsidies for his campaigns.[19]:106 This was accomplished in the Diplomatic Revolution of 1756, in which Britain ended its long-standing alliance with Austria in favor of Prussia, leaving Austria to side with France. In marked contrast to France, Britain strove to prosecute the war actively in the colonies, taking full advantage of its naval power.[20] [21]:64–66 The British pursued a dual strategy – naval blockade and bombardment of enemy ports, and rapid movement of troops by sea.[22] They harassed enemy shipping and attacked 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, they agreed in 1756 to mutual defense and an attack by Austria and Russia on Prussia, subsidized by France.[23]



The British Prime Minister, the Duke of Newcastle, was optimistic that the new series of alliances could prevent war from breaking out in Europe.[24] 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).[25] War between Britain and France had been formally declared on 18 May[26] nearly two years after fighting had broken out in the Ohio Country.

Battle of Lobositz. Austria: blue; Prussia: red.

Frederick II of Prussia had received reports of the clashes in North America and had formed an alliance with Great Britain. On 29 August 1756, he led Prussian troops across the border of Saxony, 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. He had three goals in his new war on Austria. First, he would seize Saxony and eliminate it as a threat to Prussia, then using the Saxon army and treasury to aid the Prussian war effort. His second goal was to advance into Bohemia where he might set up winter quarters at Austria's expense. Thirdly, he wanted to invade Moravia from Silesia, seize the fortress at Olműtz, and advance on Vienna to force an end to the war.[27]

Accordingly, leaving Field Marshal Count Kurt von Schwerin in Silesia with 25,000 soldiers to guard against incursions from Moravia or Hungary, and leaving Field Marshal Hans von Lehwaldt in East Prussia to guard against Russian invasion from the east, Frederick set off with his army for Saxony. The Prussian army marched 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 of 18,000 men under the command of the Duke of Brunswick-Bevern. In the centre was Frederick II, himself with Field Marshal James Keith commanding a corps of 30,000 troops.[27] Ferdinand of Brunswick was to close in on the town of Chemnitz. The Duke of Brunswick-Bevern was to traverse 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.[28] At the Battle of Lobositz on 1 October 1756, Frederick prevented the isolated Saxon army from being reinforced by an Austrian army under General Browne.[29] The Prussians then occupied Saxony; after the Siege of Pirna, the Saxon army surrendered in October 1756, and was forcibly incorporated into the Prussian army. The attack on neutral Saxony caused outrage across Europe and led to the strengthening of the anti-Prussian coalition.[30] The only significant Austrian success was the partial occupation of Silesia. Far from being easy, Frederick's early successes proved indecisive and very costly for Prussia's smaller army. This led him to remark that he did not fight the same Austrians as he had during the previous war.[31]

Britain had been surprised by the sudden Prussian offensive but now began shipping supplies and ₤670,000 (equivalent to ₤89 million in 2014) to her new ally.[32] A combined German (Hanoverian) force was organised by the British under the Duke of Cumberland to protect Hanover from French invasion.[33] 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.[34] Despite the huge disparity in numbers, the year had been successful for the Prussian-led forces on the continent, in contrast to disappointing British campaigns in North America.


See also: Pomeranian War

In early 1757, Frederick II again took the initiative by marching into the Kingdom of Bohemia, hoping to inflict a decisive defeat on Austrian forces. After winning the bloody Battle of Prague on 6 May 1757, in which both forces suffered major casualties, the Prussians forced the Austrians back into the fortifications of Prague. The Prussian army then laid siege to the city.[35] 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.[36] Austrian Marshal Daun arrived too late to participate in the battle of Prague, but picked up 16,000 men who had escaped from the battle. With this army he slowly moved to relieve Prague. The Prussian army was too weak to simultaneously besiege Prague and keep Daun away, and Frederick was forced to attack prepared positions. The resulting Battle of Kolin was a sharp defeat for Frederick, his first military defeat. His losses further forced him to lift the siege and withdraw from Bohemia altogether.[37]

Later that summer, the Russians 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 it.[38] 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. However, it was not yet able to take Könisberg and retreated soon afterward. Still, it was a new threat to Prussia. Not only was Frederick forced to break off his invasion of Bohemia, he was now forced to withdraw further into Prussian-controlled territory.[39] His defeats on the battlefield brought still more opportunist nations into the war. Sweden declared war on Prussia and invaded Pomerania with 17,000 men.[38] Sweden felt this small army was all that was needed to occupy Pomerania and felt the Swedish army would not need to engage with the Prussians because the Prussians were occupied on so many other fronts.

Contemporary painting of the Battle of Rossbach

Things were looking grim for Prussia now, 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[40] and then routed a vastly superior Austrian force at the Battle of Leuthen on 5 December 1757[41] 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 this, 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 forced to surrender entirely at the Convention of Klosterzeven following a French Invasion of Hanover.[42] 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.[43]

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, occupied most of Swedish Pomerania, and blockaded its capital Stralsund.[44] George II of Great Britain, on the advice of his British ministers, revoked the Convention of Klosterzeven, and Hanover reentered the war.[45] 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.[46] 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 fallen. In August 1757, the two men agreed to a political partnership and formed a coalition government that gave new, firmer direction to the war effort. The new strategy emphasised both Newcastle's commitment to British involvement on the Continent, particularly in defence of Germany, and William Pitt's determination to use naval power to seize French colonies around the globe. This "dual strategy" would dominate British policy for the next five years.

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 force of 5,000, mostly hussars, around the Prussians and occupied part of their capital, Berlin, for one night.[47] The city was spared for a negotiated ransom of 200,000 thalers.[47] When Frederick heard about this humiliating occupation, he immediately sent a larger force to free the city. Hadik, however, left the city with his Hussars and safely reached the Austrian lines. Subsequently, Hadik was promoted to the rank of Marshal in the Austrian army.


In early 1758, Frederick launched an invasion of Moravia, and laid siege to Olmütz (now Olomouc, Czech Republic).[48] Following an Austrian victory at the Battle of Domstadtl that wiped out a supply convoy destined for Olmütz, 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.[49] 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 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. 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 compelled by the successful manoeuvering of larger French forces to withdraw across the Rhine.[50]

Battle of Krefeld – a map of the area in The Gentleman's Magazine

By this point Frederick was increasingly concerned by the Russian advance from the east and marched to counter it. Just east of the Oder in Brandenburg-Neumark, at the Battle of Zorndorf (now Sarbinowo, Poland), a Prussian army of 35,000 men under Frederick on Aug. 25, 1758, fought a Russian army of 43,000 commanded by Count William Fermor.[51] Both sides suffered heavy casualties – the Prussians 12,800, the Russians 18,000 – the Russians withdrew, and Frederick claimed victory.[52] In the undecided Battle of Tornow on 25 September, a Swedish army repulsed six assaults by a Prussian army but did not push on Berlin following the Battle of Fehrbellin.[53]

Operations of Russian army from Polish-Lithuanian territory during Seven Years' War, 1756–1763. The green arrows are Russian movements and the green circles are Russian bases.

The war was continuing indecisively when on 14 October Marshal Daun's Austrians surprised the main Prussian army at the Battle of Hochkirch in Saxony.[54] Frederick lost much of his artillery but retreated in good order, helped by dense woods. 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.[55] At the same time, the Russians failed in an attempt to take Kolberg in Pomerania (now Kołobrzeg, Poland) from the Prussians.[56]

In France, 1758 had been disappointing, 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.


The year 1759 saw several Prussian defeats. At the Battle of Kay, or Paltzig, the Russian Count Saltykov with 47,000 Russians defeated 26,000 Prussians 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 in the Battle of Maxen. Frederick himself lost half his army in the Battle of Kunersdorf (now Kunowice Poland), the worst defeat in his military career and one that drove him to the brink of abdication and thoughts of suicide. The disaster resulted partly from his misjudgment of the Russians, who had already demonstrated their strength at Zorndorf and at Gross-Jägersdorf (now Motornoye, Russia), and partly from good cooperation between the Russian and Austrian forces.

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 many of them aground, putting an end to the French plans.

The year 1760 brought yet more Prussian disasters. The general Fouqué was defeated by the Austrians in the Battle of Landshut. The French captured Marburg, and the Swedes part of 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, Poland) in Silesia. In the Battle of Liegnitz Frederick scored a strong victory despite being outnumbered three to one. The Russians under General Saltykov and Austrians under General Lacy briefly occupied his capital, Berlin, in October, but could not hold it for long. The end of that year saw Frederick once more victorious, defeating the able Daun in the Battle of Torgau; but he suffered very heavy casualties, and the Austrians retreated in good order.

Meanwhile, after the battle of Kunersdorf, the Russian army was mostly inactive. At Liegnitz (now Legnica, Poland), it arrived too late to participate in the battle. They made two attempts to storm the fortress of Kolberg, but neither succeeded. The tenacious resistance of Kolberg allowed Frederick to focus on the Austrians instead of having to split his forces.


Prussia began the 1761 campaign with just 100,000 available troops, many of them new recruits, and its situation seemed desperate.[57] However, the Austrian and Russian forces were also heavily depleted and could not launch a major offensive.

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.[58] 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 guerrillas and practicing a scorched earth strategy,[59][60][61] chased the greatly reduced Franco-Spanish army back to Spain,[62][63][64] recovering almost all the lost towns, among them the Spanish headquarters in Castelo Branco full of wounded and sick that had been left behind.[65]

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, forces under Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick defeated a 92,000-man French army.

On the eastern front, progress was very slow. The Russian army was heavily dependent upon its main magazines in Poland, and the Prussian army launched several successful raids against them. One of them, led by general Platen in September resulted in the loss of 2,000 Russians, mostly captured, and the destruction of 5,000 wagons.[66] Deprived of men, the Prussians had to resort to this new sort of warfare, raiding, to delay the advance of their enemies. Nonetheless, at the end of the year, they suffered two critical setbacks. 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.[67] In Britain, it was speculated that a total Prussian collapse was now imminent.

Britain now threatened to withdraw its subsidies if Prussia didn't consider offering 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. Frederick was then able to muster a larger army of 120,000 men and concentrate it against Austria.[66] He drove them from much of Saxony, while his brother Henry won a victory in Silesia in the Battle of Freiberg (29 October 1762). At the same time, his Brunswick allies captured the key town of Göttingen and compounded this by taking Cassel.

Meanwhile, 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.[68]


Further information: Treaty of Hubertusburg and Treaty of Paris

By 1763, the war in Central Europe was essentially a stalemate. Frederick had retaken most of Silesia and Saxony but not the latter's capital, Dresden. His financial situation was not dire, but his kingdom was devastated and his army severely weakened. His manpower had dramatically decreased, and he had lost so many effective officers and generals that a new offensive was perhaps impossible.[31] British subsidies had been stopped by the new Prime Minister Lord Bute, and the Russian Emperor had been overthrown by his wife, Catherine, who now switched Russian support back to Austria and launched fresh attacks on Prussia. Austria, however, like most participants, was facing a severe financial crisis and had to decrease the size of its army, something which greatly affected its offensive power.[31] Indeed, after having effectively sustained a long war, its administration was in disarray.[69] By that time, it still held Dresden, the southeastern parts of Saxony, the county of Glatz, and southern Silesia, but the prospect of victory was dim without Russian support. In 1763 a peace settlement was reached at the Treaty of Hubertusburg, ending the war in central Europe.

British amphibious "descents"[edit]

Further information: Raid on Rochefort

Great Britain planned a "descent" (an amphibious demonstration or raid) on Rochefort, a joint operation to overrun the town and burn 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 military staff dithered and lost so much time that Rochefort became unassailable.[70] The expedition abandoned the Isle d'Aix, returning to Great Britain on 1 October.

Under William Pitt's leadership, Britain's position as the leading colonial power was confirmed by the Seven Years' War.

Despite the debatable strategic success and the operational failure of the descent on Rochefort, William Pitt—who saw purpose in this type of asymmetric enterprise—prepared to continue such operations.[70] 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 prolonged siege to capture it, instead attacked the nearby port of St. Servan. It burned shipping in the harbor, roughly 80 French privateers and merchantmen, as well as four warships which were under construction.[71] The force then re-embarked under threat of the arrival of French relief forces. An attack on Havre de Grace was called off, and the fleet sailed on to Cherbourg; the weather being bad and provisions low, that too was abandoned, and the expedition returned having damaged French privateering and provided 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. Covered by naval bombardment, 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 moved to the Bay of St. Lunaire in Brittany where, on 3 September, they were landed to 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 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.


The colonial conflict mainly between France and Britain took place in India, North America, Europe, the Caribbean isles, the Philippines, and coastal Africa. Over the course of the war, Great Britain gained enormous areas of land and influence at the expense of the French.

Great Britain lost Minorca in the Mediterranean to the French in 1756 but captured the French colonies in Senegal in 1758. The British Royal Navy took 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 until their agreed upon withdrawal at the war's end.

North America[edit]

Main article: French and Indian War
French and British positions during the first four years of the war.
■ ◘ British territory, forts and settlements
■ ◘ French territory, forts and settlements

During the war, the Seven Nations of Canada were allied with the French. These were Native Canadians of the Laurentian valley—the Algonquin, the Abenaki, the Huron, and others. Although the Algonquin tribes and the Seven Nations were not directly concerned with the fate of the Ohio River Valley, they had been victims of the Iroquois Confederation. The Iroquois had encroached on Algonquin territory and pushed the Algonquins west beyond Lake Michigan.[72] Therefore, 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. 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 captured forts Oswego[73] and William Henry from the British.[74] The latter victory was marred when France's native allies broke the terms of capitulation and attacked the retreating British column, which was under French guard, slaughtering and scalping soldiers and taking captive many men, women and children while the French refused to protect their captives.[75] French naval deployments in 1757 also successfully defended the key Fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island, securing the seaward approaches to Quebec.[76]

British Prime Minister William Pitt's focus on the colonies for the 1758 campaign paid off with the taking of Louisbourg after French reinforcements were blocked by British naval victory in the Battle of Cartagena and in the successful capture of Fort Duquesne[77] and Fort Frontenac.[78] 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 celebration of these successes was dampened by their embarrassing defeat in the Battle of Carillon (Ticonderoga), in which 4,000 French troops repulsed 16,000 British.

All of Britain's campaigns against New France succeeded in 1759, part of what became known as an Annus Mirabilis. Fort Niagara[79] and Fort Carillon[80] 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,[81] General James Wolfe defeated the French on the Plains of Abraham[82] outside the city. The French staged a counteroffensive in the spring of 1760, with initial success at the Battle of Sainte-Foy,[83] but they were unable to retake Quebec, due to British naval superiority following the battle of Neuville. The French forces retreated to Montreal, where on 8 September they surrendered to overwhelming British numerical superiority.

The Death of General Wolfe (1771), on the Plains of Abraham, near Quebec (Benjamin West).

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.[84]

In 1762, towards 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. Although 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 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, the 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, Benjamin West's The Death of General Wolfe, James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans), maps and other printed materials, which testify to how this event held the imagination of the British and North American public long after Wolfe's death in 1759.[85]

The bombardment of Morro Castle on Havana, 1763

South America[edit]

In South America (1763), the Portuguese conquered from Spain most of the Rio Negro valley,[86][87] and beat off a Spanish attack on Mato Grosso (in the Guaporé River).[88][89]

Between September 1762 and April 1763, Spanish forces led by don Pedro Antonio de Cevallos, Governor of Buenos Aires (and later first Viceroy of the Rio de la Plata) undertook a campaign against the Portuguese in Uruguay and South Brazil. The Spaniards conquered the Portuguese territories of Colonia do Sacramento and Rio Grande de São Pedro and forced the Portuguese to surrender and retreat.

Under the Treaty of Paris (1763), Spain had to return to Portugal the colony of Sacramento, while the vast and rich territory of the so-called “Continent of S. Peter” (the present day Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul) would be retaken from the Spanish army during the undeclared Hispano-Portuguese war of 1763–1777.[90][91][92][93]

As consequence of the war the Valdivian Fort System, a Spanish defensive complex in southern Chile, was updated and reinforced[by whom?] from 1764 onwards.[94]

Mughal Empire[edit]

Main article: Third Carnatic War

In India the outbreak of the Seven Years' War in Europe renewed the long running conflict between French and British trading companies 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.

In the south, although the French captured Cuddalore, their siege of Madras failed, while the British commander Sir Eyre Coote decisively defeated 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 in India.[95]

West Africa[edit]

In 1758 at the urging of an American merchant, Thomas Cumming, Pitt dispatched an expedition to take the French settlement at Saint Louis. The British captured Senegal with ease in May 1758 and brought home large amounts of captured goods. This success convinced Pitt to launch two further expeditions to take the island of Gorée and the French trading post on the Gambia. The loss of these valuable colonies further weakened the French economy.


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,[96] writing off New France as an unproductive, costly territory.[97] France also returned Minorca to the British. Spain lost control of Florida to Great Britain, but it received from the French the Île d'Orléans and all of the former French holdings west of the Mississippi River. 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 (at least for about a dozen years, until the American Revolutionary War threatened their hegemony).

Historical re-enactment of the Battle of Warburg fought on 31 July 1760.

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 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 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, marking, it is argued, the beginning of the modern German state, an event at least as influential as the colonial empire Great Britain had gained. Fred Anderson, author of Crucible of War, and others, however, argue the war was needless and overly costly.[98] Prussian success came at the price of near-exhaustion, and Frederick II dedicated the postwar years to the reconstruction of his state.

Austria was not able to retake Silesia or make any significant territorial gain. However, it did prevent Prussia from invading parts of Saxony. More significantly, its military performance proved far better than during the War of the Austrian Succession and seemed to vindicate Maria Theresa's administrative and military reforms. Hence, Austria's prestige was restored in great part and the empire secured its position as a major player in the European system.[99] Also, by promising to vote for Joseph II in the Imperial elections, Frederick II accepted the Habsburg preeminence in the Holy Roman Empire. The survival of Prussia as a first-rate power and the enhanced prestige of its king and its army, however, was potentially damaging in the long run to its influence in Germany. The war also proved that Maria Theresa's reforms were still not enough to compete with Prussia : unlike its enemy, the Austrians went almost bankrupt at the end of war. Hence, she dedicated the next two decades to the consolidation of her administration.

France's navy was crippled by the war. Only after an ambitious rebuilding program in combination with Spain was France again able to challenge Britain's command of the sea.[100]

France and Spain both considered the treaty that ended the war as being closer to a temporary armistice rather than a genuine final settlement, and William Pitt described it as an "armed truce". Britain had customarily massively reduced the size of its armed forces during peace time, but during the 1760s a large military establishment was maintained—intended as a deterrent against France and Spain. The Bourbon powers both sent agents to examine Britain's defences believing that a successful Invasion of Britain was an essential part of any war of revenge.

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.[101] The act protected Catholic religion and French language, which enraged the Americans, but the Quebecois remained loyal and did not rebel. 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 war had also brought to an end the "Old System" of alliances in Europe,[102] In the years after the war, under the direction of Lord Sandwich, the British did try to re-establish this system but European states such as Austria, The Dutch Republic, Sweden, Denmark-Norway, Ottoman Empire, and Russia now saw Britain as a greater threat than France and did not join them, while the Prussians were angered by what they considered a British betrayal in 1762. Consequently, when the American War of Independence turned into a global war between 1778–83, Britain found itself opposed by a strong coalition of European powers, and lacking any substantial ally.

Cultural references[edit]

"It would require a greater philosopher and historian than I am to explain the causes of the famous Seven Years' War in which Europe was engaged; and, indeed, its origin has always appeared to me to be so complicated, and the books written about it so amazingly hard to understand, that I have seldom been much wiser at the end of a chapter than at the beginning, and so shall not trouble my reader with any personal disquisitions concerning the matter.[103] "

See also[edit]

Media related to Seven Years' War at Wikimedia Commons


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Primary sources[edit]

  • de Ligne, Prince Charles-Joseph, Mon Journal de la guerre de Sept Ans. Textes inédits introduits, établis et annotés par Jeroom Vercruysse et Bruno Colson (Paris, Editions Honoré Champion, 2008) (L'Âge des Lumières, 44).

Secondary sources[edit]

External links[edit]