Political Consequences of the Seven Years War

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Introduction

The Seven Years' War had very important political consequences, particularly for many European countries, and for the rest of the world in general. In fact the huge efforts invested in this war by some European undermined their overall capacity. This was the case with France and Spain. However, the war increased the prestige of Prussia and Russia who emerged of the conflict as important and influential powers in the European political and military affairs. The war also brought huge changes on the world map and on the mutual spheres of influence of the colonial powers, Great Britain coming out with the lion's share by far.

Description

It can be said that Great Britain was the greatest winner of the Seven Years' War. It had emerged from the war with the largest colonial empire in the world and had extended its territory on three continents: North America, Asia, and Africa.

France had been forced to cede to Great Britain almost all its colonies in North America. Furthermore, with the end of French influence in India, Great Britain had become the sole colonial power to control the Indian sub-continent. The British then started to progressively extend their influence in this region of the world at the expense of local Indian princes. It even gained complete control of India at the end of the XIXth century.

In Africa, Great Britain obtained some French colonies on the Sénégal River. This gave the British a foothold on the continent for further expansion.

Finally, Great Britain came out of this war with the most powerful navy of the world. The isolated island in the Atlantic Ocean had been transformed from a small kingdom into a global the Empire on which the sun never set.

Despite the magnitude of the gains made by Britain during this war, economic problems, especially war debt, led to the deterioration of its relations with its North American colonies. Ultimately, these troubles led to the American Revolution (1775-1784) who saw the British colonies of America acquire their independence as the United States of America.

However, if Great Britain was the greatest winner of the war, France was surely the biggest loser of it. Indeed, it had ceded almost all its colonies in North America and Africa and lost prestige and influence in India. Thus, the end of this war also marked the end of the first French colonial empire.

As France lost its military edge after all its defeats, it also suffered a devastating impact on its national political life. The wars of Louis XIV had established supremacy of the French monarchy in Europe. However, the reign of Louis XV saw a constant degradation of this supremacy. His rule was mired in corruption and he had no interest nor ability for political or military affairs. During this war the French monarchy suffered many defeats and could not recover from this blow in the next decades. Furthermore this war demonstrated to the French people that they were ruled by a corrupted system of autocracy and by a privileged nobility who lived at their expense.

The continuous borrowing of the French monarchy to cover the military expenses of the Seven Year's War and of its participation in the American Revolution led the kingdom to the brink of bankruptcy. Attempts were made to restrict the absolute power of the king and to simplify the administrative system but they all failed due to the resistance of the monarchy. Louis XVI was finally obliged to assemble the Estates-General on May 5 1789. This was the spark igniting the French Revolution, one of the most prominent historical events ever witnessed by Europe and the world because it was a major turning point in the evolution of political systems and economic and social development not only in France, but also in the whole of Europe and eventually across for several decades.

For its part, Prussia had survived the war and had even managed to keep Silesia despite the enormous difficulties it faced. Frederick II had become a popular hero and Prussia had asserted its status as a major continental military power and had become one of the most important European countries, even competing with Austria for influence at the Diet of the Holy Roman Empire.

Nevertheless, from a territorial point of view, Prussia still remained a rather small kingdom compared to Austria, France and Russia. It still needed to expand its territory to compete economically and demographically with such major powers. Frederick II had resolved to gain such territories at the expense of Poland, one of the largest kingdoms of Europe at the time. The population of this country was of various nationalities and religions and its nobility had the privilege to elect its king, These elections were often the cause of chaos and ruins and the Polish nobility was unable to protect the country from these periodic crisis. In system of election had become a convenient way for other European powers to intervene in the affairs of Poland. In October 1763, the unrest caused by the death of King Augustus III of Poland led to the intervention of several neighbouring European countries, notably Austria, Prussia and Russia. In 1770, Frederick II proposed a plan to divide Poland with Russia and Austria. This plan was implemented in 1772 and has been known as the “First Partition of Poland”. By this agreement, Frederick acquired most of Polish Royal Prussia, including Ermland, thus linking his estates of East Prussia and Brandenburg. Prussia also annexed northern areas of Greater Poland along the Noteć River (the Netze District), and northern Kuyavia to the exception of the cities of Danzig (present-day Gdańsk) and Thorn (present-day Toruń). In 1773, the territories annexed by Prussia became a new province called West Prussia. Overall, Prussia gained 36,000 km² and about 600,000 people.

As for Austria, the war put an end to its claims on Silesia despite the thousands of lives lots and the huge amount of money invested for its recovery. Austria was forced to accept the peace in order to face the threat of the Ottoman Empire on its eastern borders in the Balkans. After the war, Austria gradually lost its political leadership of Holy Roman Empire, the various German principalities acquiring more autonomy. In fact, Frederick II considered Maria Theresa as Archduchess of Austria and Queen of Hungary but not as Empress of the Holy Roman Empire. After the hostilities, Maria Theresa conducted internal reforms and changed her foreign policy, abandoning the idea to recover Silesia in order to preserve peace. She also manoeuvred to eventually place her son Joseph on the throne of the Holy Roman Empire. In the Treaty of Hubertusburg, Frederick II had pledged to support his candidacy for the Imperial throne. Indeed, Joseph II became Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire on August 18 1765.

Maria Theresa also took part in the First Partition of Poland where she received Zator and Auschwitz (present-day Oświęcim), part of Little Poland embracing parts of the counties of Kraków and Sandomierz (with the rich salt mines of Bochnia and Wieliczka), and the whole of Galicia, less the city of Kraków. She had decided to take part to the partition when she realized that Russia and Prussia intended to proceed with or without her consent. Maria Theresa also strengthened the authority of the Habsburg. She retained effective power in Austria even after the accession of Joseph II to the throne and continued to manage affairs of state until her death in 1780.

Before the Seven Years' War, Russia had been living in semi-isolation from Europe, technically lagging behind other European countries. This war was an occasion for Russia to interact more narrowly with other European powers and introduce more Western traits in its social and political life. The Russian government introduced many reforms and modernized the country. The Russian army had amply proven its military ability during the war, managing to defeat the Prussian army on several occasions,

After the end of the war, the Russian government redirected its attention against Ottoman possessions in the Balkans. Thanks to the reforms introduced in the Russian army during the Seven Years' War, Russia achieved several important victories over the Ottomans. These successes against the Ottomans propelled Russia to a very important position among other European powers. Since this period, it continued to play a central role in the great political and military relations in Europe until the present time.

References

Farr, E. and H. Nolan: The History of England, London, 1860, Vol. 2

Fisher: History of Europe in the Modern Age (1789-1950), translated by Ahmed Naguib Hashim and Wadih Hyena, Cairo, 1993

Hazen, Charles D.: Modern Europe, New York, 1920

Ismet Zainab Rashid: The Modern History of Europe in the Nineteenth Century, Cairo.

New, Alfred H.: The History of Austria from the Earliest Ages to the Present Time, London

Acknowledgements

Abbass Hassan Obbaiss, a historian from Babylon in Iraq, for the initial version of this article