Between the end of the War of the Austrian Succession in 1748 and the outbreak of the Seven Years' War in 1756, a true diplomatic revolution took place in Europe. Old alliances were broken and new and surprising ones created, thus totally reconfiguring the diplomatic landscape of the continent.
General situation between 1748 and 1756
In another article devoted to the War of the Austrian Succession, we have seen that the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle of 1748 did not include any definitive solution to the outstanding disputes between the major European countries. It can be said that this peace was not meant to end the war once and for all; but rather to put a momentarily stop to the military conflict. For instance, this treaty did not solve the problem of settlements and colonization between Great Britain and France and sporadic skirmishes and engagements continued to take place between these two powers. Similarly, Austria remained resentful for the loss of its rich province of Silesia and was already making preparation to get it back.
Between 1748 and 1756, Maria Theresa directed her attention to the regulation of the financial and economic affairs of her country; and to the introduction of modernization and reforms in the Austrian Army. Several camps were established in the various provinces of her kingdom to train soldiers. She personally followed and supervised the application of all these measures. A military academy was established in Vienna, bringing together the finest military trainers. The Austrian Army was also rebuilt on the Prussian model and soon reached degree of discipline which it had never attained before. The rebuilt Austrian army totalled more than 100,000 highly trained men.
Meanwhile, Frederick II of Prussia, who was still aspiring to expand his kingdom at the expense of the Austrian Empire, worked very hard to maintain the gains obtained during the War of the Austrian Succession, keeping in mind that the Austrian Government would never forgive him for the loss of its province of Silesia.
Therefore, during the period between 1748 and 1756, all major European powers initiated series of negotiations and alliances that brought about a radical change in the existing balance of power. These intense diplomatic negotiations became known as the Diplomatic Revolution” or “Renversement des Alliances” (reversal of alliances). Prince Wenzel Anton Kaunitz, the Austrian chancellor, soon realized after the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle the high price paid for the alliance with Great Britain, as it forced Austria under diplomatic pressure of its British allies to abandon the province of Silesia to Prussia and to cede Parma to Spain. These concessions of the Austrians had led to the strengthening of Prussia, which has become a new threat to Austria in Central Europe. This rise in power of Prussia was a clear danger to Austria but was in the best interest of Great Britain, which saw in Russia a new force to balance the power of France in Europe. The main interest of Great Britain in Europe was the defence and preservation of the Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg (aka Hanover, a personal possession of the British monarchs, against any possible aggression by France. After the War of the Austrian Succession, Great Britain no longer considered Austria as a force capable of opposing the French and was looking for an alternative ally to replace Austria. Great Britain found this ally in Frederick II, King of Prussia.
As Austria was preparing not only to regain Silesia, but to eliminate the power of Prussia and to transform it into a small and weak principality, Maria Theresa recognized that she could not recover Silesia without a strong ally to assist her. She also recognized the futility of her alliance with Great Britain, which would not be willing to fight a war for Austria.
As a result of this general situation, European countries entered into a series of talks who led to the signature of a set of treaties completely reshaping the former balance of European alliances.
Convention of Westminster (January 16, 1756)
On September 30 1755, Great Britain had concluded a secret alliance with Russia for the defence of the Electorate of Hanover against France and Prussia. By this secret treaty, Russia agreed to provide Great Britain with a force of 55,000 men for the defence of Hanover in return for financial retribution.
Frederick II felt threatened by a potential alliance between Great Britain, Russia and Austria. He contacted British diplomats to show his good faith in peace and to reassert that he had no views on the Electorate of Hanover. Thus began a series of negotiations between Prussia and Great Britain which led to the signature of the Treaty of Westminster on January 16, 1756. By this treaty, both sides agreed that Great Britain would not assist Austria in the event of renewed conflict over Silesia in exchange Prussia agreed to protect the Electorate of Hanover against any French attack. As requested by Prussia, Great Britain put pressure on Russia to prevent any aggression against Prussia. Frederick as well as British diplomats explained that this treaty was a reaction to their anger at the sight of France and Austria abandoning their former allies.
In fact, Frederick II by his remarks and attitude had gradually arose the hostility and hatred of three of the most powerful women of Europe: Maria Theresa, empress of the Holy Roman Empire and queen of Austria; Elizabeth Petrovna, empress of Russia, which Frederick derided in harsh terms; and Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of Louis XV king of France, which held power and influence in the French government. While the Duke of Newcastle, the British prime minister, regularly exchanged greetings and gifts with these powerful women, Frederick II always despised and mocked them.
First Treaty of Versailles (May 1, 1756)
As a response to the Convention of Westminster, Maria Teresa worked towards a reconciliation with France, the traditional enemy of Austria. Her views were adopted by her Chancellor Kaunitz, a very capable man with great diplomatic skills, who conducted negotiations with France. He suggested Maria Theresa to befriend Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of Louis XV, who was very influential in the French government; and to entice her to a reconciliation between the two powers. Maria Theresa agreed reluctantly, the loss of Silesia made her give up her pride and she finally wrote a letter to Madame de Pompadour, called her “her dear friend”. Soon Madame de Pompadour became the main proponent of an alliance with Austria at the court in Versailles. She used her influence to oust all ministers unfavourable to Maria Teresa and to replace them with creatures who would support her opinion on the Austrian alliance.
In the meantime, tensions between France and Great Britain in North America has risen dramatically. This further encouraged France to enter into an alliance with Austria, especially when the alliance of Prussia with Great Britain became known. Intense negotiations between Cardinal Bernis and Prince Kaunitz led to the signature of the Treaty of Versailles between France and Austria on May 1, 1756. This treaty stipulated that Austria would remain neutral in the event of a war between France and Britain, and would not assist Great Britain in a conflict in the colonies. For its part, France would not attack Austria nor any of its provinces. Both powers also agreed to send 24,000 fighters to assist its ally in the event of an attack by a third country.
In other words, this treaty would lead to a chain reaction: if France invaded the Electorate of Hanover, Prussia would attack France and, in turn, this would allow Austria to advance into Silesia.
The negotiations had been conducted very secretly and the Austrian Government and even Emperor Francis I, Maria Theresa's husband, had no knowledge of them. When the treaty was presented to the Austrian government, the emperor tried to have it rejected. However, Maria Theresa argued that Great Britain had abandoned its alliance with Austria to the profit of Prussia. Not only did Maria Teresa strongly supported the new treaty but she worked hard towards a treaty between France and Russia. Indeed, the French court feared that a military campaign against Prussia would induce the Russians to occupy Poland, France having strong ties with Augustus III elector of Saxony and king of Poland.
After long negotiations who lasted until the end of 1756, France, Austria and Russia reached an agreement whereby France proposed an alternative to the British subsidies promised to Russia. For its part, Russia promised to move across Poland without causing any damage in case of an attack on East Prussia and Pomerania.
Second Treaty of Versailles (May 1, 1757)
On May 1, 1757, precisely one year after the signature of the first Treaty of Versailles, Austria and France formed an offensive alliance known as the Second Treaty of Versailles. France pledged to provide Austria with an annual aid of ten million florins and to engage a French army of 150,000 men in an attack against Prussia. In return, France would receive five counties of the Austrian Netherlands.
By then, European countries were clearly divided in two camps: on one side, France and its allies, Austria and Russia, later joined by Saxony, Sweden, and Spain; on the other side Great Britain, Prussia, and the Electorate of Hanover, later joined by Portugal.
Great Britain had hoped that the reconfiguration of alliances would prevent a new war in Europe but these new alliances rather led to the rapid outbreak of a new war which soon took global proportions and spread to different parts of the world. A war later known as the Seven Years War.
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Abbass Hassan Obbaiss, a historian from Babylon in Iraq, for the initial version of this article