War of the Austrian Succession Part 1

Alan Cai

October 14, 2022

The War of the Austrian Succession was one of many large-scale European conflicts fought during the eighteenth century. As the global population rebounded in the centuries following the medieval ages, explicitly following the end of the bubonic plague, European armies also saw a significant uptick in size and capability. With a stable food supply, rich religious fervor, and an ever-increasing sense of nationalism, the 17th and 18th centuries were notable for the ever-changing shifts in the balance of power in Europe, as well as in European colonies around the globe. This article and its sequels aim to dive into one of these wars; the War of the Austrian Succession.

The Habsburg(alternatively written as Hapsburg) Monarchy was the ruling family of Austria and its dominions from the early fifteenth century to the end of the First World War. Throughout waxing and waning periods of power and influence, the Habsburgs have occasionally occupied the throne of the Holy Roman Empire, Bohemia, and other nearby territories. During this era, it was not uncommon for one monarch to be the ruler of several kingdoms, a privilege that finds its only remnant in the English Monarchy in the present day.

The War of the Austrian Succession stems from a major turning point during the Habsburg dynasty. Emperor Charles VI spent much of his career fighting for the passage of his Pragmatic Sanction of 1713. The resolution, signed by nearly all of the major European powers at the time, accepted Charles’s request for the acceptance of a female heir in the case that a male heir was not produced. The sanction was approved with several harsh terms placed on the Austrians. The sanction eventually went into effect after Charles VI passed without a male heir. Maria Theresa, Charles VI’s daughter, ascended to the throne as Archduchess of Austria and inherited most of Charles’s other titles with the notable exception of Holy Roman Empress, of which she was crowned at a later date). Upon her ascension, Prussia, led by Frederick II(referred to by later generations as Frederick the Great), immediately withdrew from the agreement and invaded Silesia, a large Austrian territory in present-day Poland. The region of Silesia held strategic importance due to its use as a buffer between the larger European powers. Soon after, France, Spain, Bavaria, and Sweden, along with some neighboring smaller kingdoms, joined Prussia in reneging the Pragmatic Sanction and declared war on Austria. Subsequently, Great Britain, Russia, Hanover, and other signatories joined Austria’s defense.

Motives for the War of the Austrian Succession, specifically supporting or denying Maria Theresa’s claim to the Habsburg crown, extended further than merely the multilateral pact itself. The next part of this series will further expound on that topic.