War and Conflict

Renaissance and the Enlightenment

What was the Seven Years’ War?

It was a worldwide conflict that began in 1756 between Prussia and Austria, who fought over control of Germany—and over who would be the supreme power in Europe. Great Britain threw its support behind King Frederick II (the Great; 1712–1786) of Prussia. But by the following year Austria was supported not only by France, but also by Sweden, most of the German states, and, very importantly, Russia. (Spain joined the fighting on the side of Austria also, but it was not until late in the game—after 1762.) With such alliances forged among the European states, the conflict soon spilled over, manifesting itself in the colonies of North America and India, where the French and British fought each other for control.

In order to assert his authority in Europe, Prussia’s King Frederick had launched many military initiatives and was in a weakened state by the time his army faced the Austrians in 1756. He was spared certain defeat only by an event in Russia in 1762: Upon the death of Czarina Elizabeth Petrovna (1709–1762), who had feared King Frederick, Peter III (1728–1762) ascended the Russian throne. Peter, unlike his predecessor, held Frederick in high esteem, and he proceeded to withdraw Russia’s support from Austria and reach a peace agreement with Austria’s enemy, Prussia. He died that same year.

The Seven Years’ War ended the next year, on February 15, 1763, with the signing of a peace agreement in Saxony, Germany. The area that Austria had fought to control remained, for the most part, under Prussian rule, positioning Prussia as a leading European power. There were no other territorial changes in Europe as a result of the war. In North America and India, Britain emerged from the conflicts as the victor—and as the colonial power.


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