Monday, 7 April 2014

War of the Austrian Succession

The War of the Austrian Succession 1740 - 1748

Europe in 1740 on the eve of the War of the Austrian Succession.  Red areas are ruled by members of the Bourbon family whilst blue areas are ruled by the Habsburgs.  The Holy Roman Empire is ruled over by a Habsburg emperor but the individual members do not necessarily have any allegiance to the Habsburgs but are supposed to be loyal to the emperor.  The Habsburgs hold onto the Imperial throne as long as they have a male heir.
Right, where to begin with this one!  I thought a brief explanation of this most complicated of wars would be useful before putting on the first of the battles involving the Army of the Pragmatic Sanction so I shall try and explain the political situation of Europe in 1740.

The Reason for War

Europe is dominated by two loose dynastic camps; the Bourbons and the Habsburgs.  Both are driven to increase and maintain their own power and prestige whilst limiting and reducing that of their competitor.  In addition are other other powers like Britain, which wants a stable Europe whilst it develops it's overseas empire and Prussia which wants to increase its power in Germany; but they operate within a Europe dominated by this Bourbon/Habsburg power struggle.

At the end of the Austro-Turkish war in 1739 (remember Banja Luka) the Habsburgs look weak but the emperor's position is maintained through prestige.  Unfortunately in 1740 he dies and his heir is a woman, Maria Theresa!  He has spent the previous 20 years getting the whole of Europe to sign up to the Pragmatic Sanction which would secure his daughter's succession.  Everyone, for a price, has signed up but with the Habsburg state looking weak and no-one really taking the Pragmatic Sanction seriously there is a sharp intake of breath as all the European states wait to see what happens next.

Enter Frederick (the not yet great) king of Prussia.  He has just ascended to the throne on the death of his father and at 28 he is looking to cut a dash on the European scene.  He offers to protect Maria Theresa's inheritance by invading Silesia, her richest province, and guaranteeing its security by incorporating it within Prussia!  Maria Theresa, angry that an elector of the Holy Roman Empire would go back on his agreements with her father, cobbles together an army under Marshal Neipperg (whom she has released from prison for his disastrous performance against the Turks - and whom we meet again at Dettingen) and is promptly beaten by the Prussians.

At that point all Maria Theresa's enemies sense that the Habsburg state is about to collapse and make their demands.  The Bavarian elector, who is married to the daughter of the previous emporer claims he has a stronger right to the imperial dignity.  Crucially, the French see this as a chance to destroy the Habsburgs once and for all and Louis XV backs the Bavarian claim.  Saxony sees an opportunity to gain territory and joins the alliance, and so does Frederick keen to support an Emperor who will legitimise his robbery of Silesia.  At the same time Bourbon Spain sees a chance to expand it's power in Italy and sends an army to seize chunks of Habsburg territory.

It doesn't look good for Maria Theresa.  However, she does have an ally in George II King of Great Britain and Elector of Hannover.  As Elector he hates Prussia and sees it as a threat to Hannover's position within the Empire.  As King he is already at war with Spain in a colonial conflict in the Americas, and he is fearful that a Spanish/French Bourbon compact would threaten Britain's increasingly dominant overseas power.  Britain, therefore, patches together an alliance of German princelings and fields an auxiliary army called the Army of the Pragmatic Sanction to defend Maria Theresa.  Thus, we begin here with our first battle, Dettingen.

I hope this helps set the scene.  I will post some more entries outlining the topography of the conflict and the main personalities involved.  If you find this helpful let me know.


1 comment:

mark said...

Even though I like the chocolate biscuit, I'm rooting for Maria (anything to put one over the French, Vive la revolution !!!)