Seven Years' War

Seven Years' War
Seven Years' War
Benjamin West 005.jpg
The Death of General Wolfe (1771) by Benjamin West, depicting the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.
Date 1756–1763
Location Europe, Africa, India, North America, South America, the Philippine Islands
Restoration of pre-war boundaries and conditions in Europe. Colonial possessions changed worldwide between Britain, France, and Spain.
 Great Britain
Province of Hanover Hanover
Flagge Herzogtum Braunschweig.svg Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel
 Iroquois Confederacy
Portugal Portugal
Hesse Hesse-Kassel
Holy Roman Empire Austria
Russia Russia
Spain Spain
Sweden Sweden
Mughal Empire Bengal Subah
Commanders and leaders
Kingdom of Prussia Frederick II

Kingdom of Great Britain William Pitt
Kingdom of Great Britain Marquess of Granby
Kingdom of Great Britain Robert Clive
Kingdom of Great Britain Jeffery Amherst
Province of Hanover Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick
Portugal William, Count of Lippe

Kingdom of France Louis XV

Habsburg Monarchy Charles, Prince of Lorraine
Habsburg Monarchy Leopold, Count von Daun

Russian Empire Count Pyotr Saltykov

Electorate of Saxony Frederick Augustus II

The Seven Years' War was a global military war between 1754[1] and 1763, involving most of the great powers of the time and affecting Europe, North America, Central America, the West African coast, India, and the Philippines. In the historiography of some countries, the war is alternatively named after combats in the respective theaters: the French and Indian War (North America, 1756–63), Pomeranian War (Sweden and Prussia, 1757–62), Third Carnatic War (Indian subcontinent, 1757–63), and Third Silesian War (Prussia and Austria, 1756–63).

The war was driven by the antagonism between Great Britain (in personal union with Hanover) and the Bourbons (in France and Spain), resulting from overlapping interests in their colonial and trade empires, and by the antagonism between the Hohenzollerns (in Prussia) and Habsburgs (Holy Roman Emperors and archdukes in Austria), resulting from territorial and hegemonial conflicts in the Holy Roman Empire. The Diplomatic Revolution established an Anglo-Prussian camp, allied with some smaller German states and later Portugal, as well as an Austro-French camp, allied with Sweden, Saxony and later Spain. The Russian Empire left its offensive alliance with the Habsburgs on the succession of Peter III, and like Sweden concluded a separate peace with Prussia in 1762. The war ended with the peace treaties of Paris (Bourbon France and Spain, Great Britain) and of Hubertusburg (Hohenzollerns, Habsburgs, Saxon elector) in 1763. The war was characterized by sieges and arson of towns as well as open battles involving extremely heavy losses; overall, some 900,000 to 1,400,000 people died.

Great Britain expelled her Bourbon rivals in the contested overseas territories, gaining the bulk of New France, Spanish Florida, some Caribbean islands, Senegal and superiority over the French outposts on the Indian subcontinent. The native American tribes were excluded from the peace settlement, and were unable to return to their former status after the resulting Pontiac's rebellion. In Europe, Frederick II of Prussia failed to complete a preemptive strike against Austria, and his numerically superior opponents repulsed and nearly annihilated his forces at Kunersdorf. Frederick however recovered, regained ground and managed to avoid any concessions in Hubertusburg, where the status quo ante bellum was restored. William Pitt's saying that "America was won in Germany" referred to the Prussian war effort, which enabled Great Britain to keep her continental commitment limited and focus on her "blue water policy," successfully establishing naval supremacy. French and allied forces were able to occupy Prussian and Hanoveranian territories up to East Frisia. French ambitions to invade Britain and to continue with their guerre de course were thwarted by a British naval blockade, which also impaired French supply routes to the colonies. The involvement of Portugal, Spain and Sweden did not return them to their former status as great powers. Spain's short intervention resulted in the loss of Florida, though she gained French Louisiana west of the Mississippi in exchange and Britain returned Cuba as well as the Philippines.



In Canada, France, and the United Kingdom, the name Seven Years' War is used to describe the North American conflict as well as the European and Asian conflicts, as the name Nine Years' War was already taken.[2]

In the United States, however, the North American portion of the war, which started in 1754, is popularly known as the French and Indian War.[3] Many scholars and professional historians in America, such as Fred Anderson, however, follow the example of their colleagues in other countries and refer to the conflict as the "Seven Years' War," regardless of the theatre.

In French Canada, the conflict is sometimes referred to as La Guerre de la Conquête, meaning The War of the Conquest.[3]

The conflict in India is termed the Third Carnatic War while the fighting between Prussia and Austria is called the Third Silesian War.[3] In Swedish historiography, the name Pommerska kriget (Pomeranian War) is used,[3] as Swedish involvement was limited to Pomerania.

The war was described as the first "world war",[4] though this label was also given to various earlier conflicts such as the Eighty Years' War, the Thirty Years' War, the Spanish War of Succession and the Austrian War of Succession, and to later conflicts such as the Napoleonic Wars.[5] As a partially Anglo-French conflict involving developing empires, the war was one of the most significant phases of the 18th century Second Hundred Years' War.[6]


This war is often said to be a continuation of the War of the Austrian Succession that had lasted between 1740 and 1748, in which King Frederick II of Prussia, known as Frederick the Great, had gained the rich province of Silesia from Austria. Empress Maria Theresa of Austria had signed the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle only in order to gain time to rebuild her military forces and to forge new alliances, which she did with remarkable success. The political map of Europe had been redrawn in a few years as Austria abandoned its twenty-five year alliance with Britain. During the so-called Diplomatic Revolution of 1756, the centuries-old enemies of France, Austria, and Russia formed a single alliance against Prussia.

All the participants of the Seven Years' War.
  Great Britain, Prussia, Portugal, with allies
  France, Spain, Austria, Russia, Sweden with allies

Prussia's only major assistance came from Great Britain, their newfound allies, whose ruling dynasty saw its ancestral Hanoverian possession as being threatened by France. In many respects the two powers' forces complemented each other excellently. The British had the largest, most effective navy in the world, while Prussia had the most formidable land force on continental Europe, allowing Great Britain to focus its soldiers towards colonial expeditions. The British hoped that the new series of alliances that had been formed during the Diplomatic Revolution would allow peace to continue, but they in fact provided the catalyst for the eruption of war in 1756.

The Austrian army had undergone an overhaul according to the Prussian system. Maria Theresa, whose knowledge of military affairs shamed many of her generals, had pressed relentlessly for reform. Her interest in the welfare of the soldiers had gained her their undivided respect. Austria had suffered several humiliating defeats to Prussia in the previous war, and strongly dissatisfied with the limited help they had received from the British, they now saw France as the only ally who could help them retake Silesia and check Prussia's expansion.

The second cause for war arose from the heated colonial struggle between the British Empire and French Empire which, as they expanded, met and clashed with one another on two continents. Of particular dispute was control of the Ohio Country which was central to both countries' ambitions of further expansion and development in North America. The two countries had been in a de facto state of war since 1754, but these military clashes remained confined to the American theatre.


For much of the eighteenth century, France approached its wars in the same way: it would let its colonies defend themselves, sending them only small numbers of troops—or perhaps inexperienced soldiers—anticipating that fights for the colonies would likely be lost anyway. This strategy was to a degree forced upon France: geography coupled with the superiority of the British navy made it difficult for the French navy to provide significant supplies and support to French colonies. Similarly, several long land borders made an effective domestic army imperative for any ruler of France. Given these military necessities, the French government, unsurprisingly, based its strategy overwhelmingly on the army in Europe: it would keep most of its army on the European continent, hoping that such a force would be victorious closer to home. The plan was to fight to the end of the war and then, in treaty negotiations, to trade territorial acquisitions in Europe in order to regain overseas possessions lost. This approach did not serve France well in the war, as the colonies were indeed lost, but although much of the European war went well, by its end France had few counterbalancing European successes.

The British—by inclination as well as for pragmatic reasons—had tended to avoid large-scale commitments of troops on the Continent. They sought to offset the disadvantage this created in Europe by allying themselves with one or more Continental powers whose interests were antithetical to those of their enemies, particularly France. For the Seven Years' War, the British chose as their principal partner the greatest military strategist of the day, Frederick the Great, and his kingdom, Prussia, then the rising power in central Europe, and paid Frederick substantial subsidies to support his campaigns. In marked contrast to France, Britain strove to actively prosecute the war in the colonies, taking full advantage of its naval power. The British pursued a dual strategy of naval blockade and bombardment of enemy ports, and also utilized their ability to move troops by sea to the utmost. They would harass enemy shipping and attack enemy colonies, frequently using colonists from nearby British colonies in the effort.

The formal opening of hostilities in Europe was preceded by fighting in North America, where the westward expansion of the British colonies located along the eastern seaboard began to run afoul of French claims to the Mississippi valley in the late 1740s and early 1750s. In order to forestall the expansion of Virginia and Pennsylvania, in particular, the French built a line of forts in what is now western Pennsylvania in the mid-1750s, and British efforts to dislodge them led to conflicts generally considered to be part of the French and Indian War, as the Seven Years' War is known in the United States.



The British Prime Minister, the Duke of Newcastle, remained optimistic that war could be prevented from breaking out in Europe by the new series of alliances.[7] However a large French force was assembled at Toulon, and the French opened the campaign against the British by an attack on Minorca in the Mediterranean. A British attempt at relief was foiled at the Battle of Minorca and the island was captured on 28 June (for which Admiral Byng was court-martialed and executed).[8] War between Britain and France had been formally declared on 18 May[9] nearly two years after the first fighting had broken out in the Ohio Country.

Battle of Lobositz. Austria: blue; Prussia: red.

Having received reports of the clashes in North America, and having secured the support of Great Britain with an Anglo-Prussian alliance, Frederick II of Prussia crossed the border of Saxony on 29 August 1756, one of the small German states in league with Austria. He intended this as a bold pre-emption of an anticipated Austro-French invasion of Silesia. The Saxon and Austrian armies were unprepared, and their forces were scattered. At the Battle of Lobositz, King Frederick prevented the isolated Saxon army from being reinforced by an Austrian army under General Browne. The Prussians then overran the Electorate, resulting in the Prussian occupation of Saxony and the surrender of the Saxon Army at Pirna in October 1756 which was then forcibly incorporated into the Prussian forces. The attack on the neutral Electorate of Saxony caused outrage across Europe and led to the strengthening of the anti-Prussian coalition.[10] The only significant Austrian success was the partial occupation of Silesia.

Britain had been surprised by the sudden Prussian offensive, but now began shipping supplies and money to their allies. A combined German force was organised under the Duke of Cumberland to protect Hanover from a French invasion. The British attempted to persuade the Dutch Republic to join the alliance, but the request was rejected as the Dutch wished to remain fully neutral.[11] Despite the huge disparity in numbers, the year had been a successful one for the Prussian-led forces on the continent, in contrast to disappointing British campaigns in North America.


Battle of Leuthen by Carl Röchling

In early 1757, Frederick II again took the initiative by marching into the Kingdom of Bohemia, hoping to inflict a decisive defeat on the Austrian forces. After the bloody Battle of Prague, the Prussians laid siege to the city, but had to lift the siege after a major Austrian counter-attack and Frederick's first defeat at the Battle of Kolin. That summer, the Russians had invaded East Prussia and defeated a smaller Prussian force in the fiercely contested Battle of Gross-Jägersdorf. Further defeats followed. Frederick was forced to break off his invasion of Bohemia, and withdraw back into Prussian-controlled territory.[12]

Things were looking very grim for Prussia at this time, with the Austrians mobilising to attack Prussian-controlled soil and a French army under Soubise approaching from the west. In November and December the whole situation in Germany was reversed. Frederick devastated first Soubise's French force at the Battle of Rossbach and then routed a vastly superior Austrian force at the Battle of Leuthen. With these great victories, Frederick once again established himself as Europe's finest general and his men as Europe's finest soldiers. In spite of these successes, the Prussians were now facing the prospect of four major powers attacking on four fronts (France from the West, Austria from the South, Russia from the East and Sweden from the North). Meanwhile a combined force from smaller German states, such as Bavaria, had established under Austrian leadership—and this threatened Prussian control of Saxony.

This problem was compounded when the main Hanoverian army under Cumberland was defeated at the Battle of Hastenbeck and then forced to surrender entirely at the Convention of Klosterzeven following a French Invasion of Hanover.[13] The Convention removed Hanover and Brunswick from the war, leaving the Western approach to Prussian territory extremely vulnerable. Frederick sent urgent requests to Britain for more substantial assistance, as he was now without any military support for his forces in Germany.[14]

The British had suffered further defeats in North America, particularly at Fort William Henry. At home however stability had been established. Since 1756, successive governments led by Newcastle and William Pitt had both fallen. In August 1757, the two men agreed to a political partnership and formed a coalition government which gave new, firmer direction to the British war effort. The new strategy emphasised both Newcastle's commitment to British involvement on the European continent particularly in defence of Germany and William Pitt's determination to use British naval power to launch expeditions to seize French colonies around the globe. The "dual strategy" would dominate British policy for the next five years.

In late 1757, thanks to the Prussian victories at Rossbach and Leuthen, the situation appeared to have swung in Frederick's favour and the sudden decision of the Russian Empire to withdraw its troops from East Prussia offered further relief. Frederick calculating that no further Russian advance was likely until 1758, then moved the bulk of his eastern forces to Pomerania to repel a Swedish invasion. Within a short period they had driven the Swedes back, occupied most of Swedish Pomerania and blockaded its capital Stralsund. George II of Great Britain, on the advice of his British ministers, revoked the convention of Klosterzeven and Hanover re-entered the war.[15] Over the winter the new commander of the Hanoverian forces, Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick, regrouped his army and launched a series of offensives that drove the French back across the River Rhine.


Battle of Zorndorf in August 1758 where Russian and Prussian armies suffered heavy casualties and both claimed a victory.

In early 1758, Frederick launched an invasion of Moravia, and laid siege to Olomouc. Following the Battle of Domstadtl, Frederick broke off the siege and withdrew from Moravia. It marked the end of his final attempt to launch a major invasion of Austrian territory.[16] East Prussia had been occupied by Russian forces over the winter, and would remain under their control until 1762, although Frederick did not see the Russians as an immediate threat and instead entertained hopes of first fighting a decisive battle against Austria that would knock them out of the war.

In April 1758, the British concluded the Anglo-Prussian Convention with Frederick, in which they committed to pay him an annual subsidy of £670,000. Britain also dispatched a force of 9,000 troops to reinforce Ferdinand's Hanoverian army, the first British troop commitment on the continent and a reversal in the policy of Pitt who had previously opposed such a move. Ferdinand had succeeded in driving the French from Hanover and Westphalia and re-captured the port of Emden in March 1758, before crossing the Rhine with his own forces which caused alarm in France. Despite Ferdinand's victory over the French at the Battle of Krefeld and the brief occupation of Düsseldorf, he was then forced to withdraw across the Rhine by successful manoeuvring by larger French forces.[17]

By this point Frederick had grown increasingly concerned about the Russian advance from the east and marched to counter it. In August 1758, at the Battle of Zorndorf a Prussian army of 35,000 men under Frederick fought to a standstill a Russian army of 43,000 commanded by Count Fermor. Although both sides suffered heavy casualties and the Russians withdrew from the field in good order, Frederick claimed a victory.[18] In the undecided Battle of Tornow on 25 September, a Swedish army repulsed six assaults by a Prussian army, but did not push home an attempt to move on Berlin following the Battle of Fehrbellin.

Operations of Russian army from Polish-Lithuanian territory during Seven Years' War 1756–1763. The green arrows are Russian movements, and green circles are Russian bases

The back-and-forth nature of the war continued as on 14 October, Marshal Daun's Austrians surprised the main Prussian army at the Battle of Hochkirch in Saxony. Frederick lost much of his artillery but retreated in good order, helped by the densely wooded landscape. The Austrians had ultimately made little progress in the campaign in Saxony despite Hochkirch and had failed to achieve a decisive breakthrough. After a thwarted attempt to take Dresden, Daun's troops were forced to withdraw to Austrian territory for the winter, so that Saxony remained under Prussian occupation.[19]

In France, 1758 had been a disappointing year and in the wake of this a new Chief Minister, the Duc de Choiseul was appointed. Choiseul planned to end the war in 1759 by making strong attacks on Britain and Hanover.


The year 1759 saw some severe Prussian defeats. At the Battle of Kay, or Paltzig, the Russian Count Saltykov with 47,000 Russians defeated 26,000 Prussian troops commanded by General Carl Heinrich von Wedel. Though the Hanoverians defeated an army of 60,000 French at Minden, Austrian general Daun forced the surrender of an entire Prussian corps of 13,000 men in the Battle of Maxen. Frederick himself lost half his army in the Battle of Kunersdorf, the worst defeat in his military career, and one that drove him to the brink of abdication and suicide. The disaster resulted partly from his misjudgment of the Russians, who had already demonstrated their strength at Zorndorf and at Gross-Jägersdorf.

The French planned to invade the British Isles during 1759 by accumulating troops near the mouth of the Loire and concentrating their Brest and Toulon fleets. However, two sea defeats prevented this. In August, the Mediterranean fleet under Jean-François de La Clue-Sabran was scattered by a larger British fleet under Edward Boscawen at the Battle of Lagos. In the Battle of Quiberon Bay on 20 November, the British admiral Edward Hawke with 23 ships of the line caught the French Brest fleet with 21 ships of the line under Marshal de Conflans and sank, captured or forced aground many of them, putting an end to the French plans.

1760 brought even more disasters to the Prussians. The Prussian general Fouqué was defeated in the Battle of Landshut. The French captured Marburg, and the Swedes part of Brandenburg-Prussian Pomerania. The Hanoverians were victorious over the French at the Battle of Warburg, their continued success preventing France from sending troops to aid the Austrians against Prussia in the east. Despite this the Austrians, under the command of General Laudon captured Glatz (now Kłodzko) in Silesia. In the Battle of Liegnitz Frederick scored a victory despite being outnumbered three to one. The Russians under General Saltykov and Austrians under General Lacy briefly occupied his capital, Berlin, in October. The end of that year saw Frederick once more victorious, defeating the able Daun in the Battle of Torgau, but he suffered heavy casualties and the Austrians retreated in good order.


Siege of Kolberg (1761)

Prussia began the 1761 campaign with just 100,000 available troops, many of them new recruits.[20] 1762 brought two new countries into the war. Britain declared war against Spain on 4 January 1762; Spain reacted by issuing their own declaration of war against Britain on 18 January.[21] Portugal followed by joining the war on Britain's side. Spain, aided by the French, launched an invasion of Portugal and succeeded in capturing Almeida. The arrival of British reinforcements stalled a further Spanish advance, and the Battle of Valencia de Alcántara saw British-Portuguese forces overrun a major Spanish supply base.

At the Battle of Villinghausen, Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick defeated a 92,000-man French army. The Russians under Zakhar Chernyshev and Pyotr Rumyantsev stormed Kolberg in Pomerania, while the Austrians captured Schweidnitz. The loss of Kolberg had seen Prussia lose its last port on the Baltic Sea.[22] In Britain, it was speculated that a total Prussian collapse was now imminent.

Britain now threatened to withdraw its subsidies if Prussia didn't seriously consider offering to make concessions to secure peace. As the Prussian armies had dwindled to just 60,000 men Frederick's survival was severely threatened. Then on 5 January 1762 the Russian Empress Elizabeth died. Her Prussophile successor, Peter III, at once recalled Russian armies from Berlin (see: the Treaty of Saint Petersburg (1762)) and mediated Frederick's truce with Sweden. This turn of events has become known as the miracle of the House of Brandenburg. In the aftermath, Frederick was able to drive the Austrians from Silesia in the Battle of Freiberg (29 October 1762), while his Brunswick allies captured the key town of Göttingen and compounded it by taking Cassel.

The long British naval blockade of French ports had sapped the morale of the French populace. France continue to collapse yet further when news of a faliure at the Battle of Signal Hill in Newfoundland reached Paris.[23] Feelers for peace were soon extended to the British.


By 1763 Frederick had Silesia under his control and had occupied parts of Austria. The British subsidies had been withdrawn by the new Prime Minister Lord Bute, and the Russian Emperor had been overthrown by his wife Catherine the Great who now switched Russian support back to Austria and launched fresh attacks on Prussia. Austria, however, had been weakened from the war and like most participants they were facing a severe financial crisis. In 1763 a peace settlement was reached at the Treaty of Hubertusburg ending the war in central Europe.

British amphibious "descents"

Great Britain planned a "descent" (an amphibious demonstration or raid) on Rochefort, a joint operation to overrun the town and burn the shipping in the Charente. The expedition set out on 8 September 1757, Sir John Mordaunt commanding the troops and Sir Edward Hawke the fleet. On 23 September, the Isle d'Aix was taken, but due to dithering by military staff such time was lost that Rochefort became unassailable,[24] and the expedition abandoned the Isle d'Aix, returning to Great Britain on 1 October.

William Pitt, lauded British leader during the war, confirming Britain's status as the world's dominant colonial power

Despite the operational failure and debated strategic success of the descent on Rochefort, William Pitt—who saw purpose in this type of asymmetric enterprise—prepared to continue such operations.[24] An army was assembled under the command of Charles Spencer, 3rd Duke of Marlborough; he was aided by Lord George Sackville. The naval escorts for the expedition were commanded by Anson, Hawke, and Howe. The army landed on 5 June 1758 at Cancalle Bay, proceeded to St. Malo, and burned the shipping in the harbor; the arrival of French relief forces caused the British to avoid a siege, and the troops re-embarked. An attack on Havre de Grace was called off, and the fleet sailed on to Cherbourg; but the weather being bad and provisions low, that too was abandoned, and the expedition returned, having damaged French privateering and provided a further strategic demonstration against the French coast.

Pitt now prepared to send troops into Germany; and both Marlborough and Sackville, disgusted by what they perceived as the futility of the "descents", obtained commissions in that army. The elderly General Bligh was appointed to command a new "descent", escorted by Howe. The campaign began propitiously with the Raid on Cherbourg. With the support of the navy to bombard Cherbourg and cover their landing, the army drove off the French force detailed to oppose their landing, captured Cherbourg, and destroyed its fortifications, docks, and shipping.

The troops were re-embarked and the fleet moved them to the Bay of St. Lunaire in Brittany where, on 3 September, they were landed to again operate against St. Malo; however, this action proved impractical. Worsening weather forced the two armies to separate: the ships sailed for the safer anchorage of St. Cast, while the army proceeded overland. The tardiness of Bligh in moving his forces allowed a French force of 10,000 men from Brest to catch up with him and open fire on the re-embarkation troops. A rear-guard of 1,400 under General Dury held off the French while the rest of the army embarked; they could not be saved, 750, including Dury, were killed and the rest captured.


The colonial conflict mainly between France and Britain occurred in India, North America, Europe, the Caribbean isles, the Philippines and coastal Africa. During the course of the war, Great Britain gained enormous areas of land and influence at the expense of the French.

Great Britain lost Minorca in the Mediterranean to the French in 1756 but captured the French colonies in Senegal on the African continent in 1758. The British Royal Navy captured the French sugar colonies of Guadeloupe in 1759 and Martinique in 1762, as well as the Spanish cities of Havana in Cuba, and Manila in the Philippines, both prominent Spanish colonial cities.

North America

French and British positions during the first four years of the war.

The campaign began with an attack led by George Washington, then a lieutenant colonel in the British colonial militia Virginia Regiment, at Jumonville Glen in 1754. The British attacked with bayonets the 31 French-Canadians sleeping in the early morning hours. Ten were killed, including commander Jumonville, whose brother pursued Washington. The latter surrendered at the Battle of Fort Necessity.[25] Both France and Britain then sent troops in strength to North America. In June of 1755, British Major General Edward Braddock led about 2,000 army troops and provincial militia on an expedition to take Fort Duquesne but the expedition was a disaster. In a second British act of aggression, Admiral Edward Boscawen fired on the French ship Alcide on 8 June 1755, capturing her and two troop ships. The British harassed French shipping throughout 1755, seizing ships and capturing seamen. In September 1755, French and British troops met in the inconclusive Battle of Lake George.

The third British act of aggression was the assault on Acadia in the Battle of Beausejour, which was immediately followed by their expulsion of the Acadians. These acts of aggression contributed to the formal declarations of war in spring 1756.[26]

During the war, the Seven Nations of Canada were allied with the French; they were Native American groups living in the Laurentian valley. Throughout New England, New York and the Northwest, Native American tribes formed differing alliances with the major protagonists, with many siding with the French. They hoped to push out the British colonial settlers for good. The Iroquois, dominant in what is now Upstate New York, sided with the British but did not play a large role in the war.

In 1756 and 1757 the French won major victories at Oswego and Fort William Henry, although the latter win was tainted when France's native allies broke the terms of capitulation and attacked the retreating British column, slaughtering wounded soldiers and taking captives. French naval deployments in 1757 also successfully defended the key fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island, securing the approaches to Quebec.

William Pitt's focus on the colonies for the 1758 campaign paid off with the taking of Louisbourg after French reinforcements were blocked by the Battle of Cartagena, and the successful capture of Fort Duquesne and Fort Frontenac. The British also continued the process of deporting the Acadian population with a wave of major operations against Île Saint-Jean (present-day Prince Edward Island), the St. John River valley, and the Petitcodiac River valley. The British successes were overshadowed by their embarrassing defeat in the Battle of Carillon, in which 4,000 French troops repulsed 16,000 British troops.

All of Britain's campaigns against New France succeeded in 1759, part of what became known as an Annus Mirabilis. Fort Niagara and Fort Carillon fell to sizable British forces, cutting off French frontier forts further west. On 13 September 1759, following a three-month siege of Quebec, General James Wolfe defeated the French at the Plains of Abraham outside the city. The French staged a counteroffensive in the spring of 1760, with some success in a victory at the Battle of Sainte-Foy, but failed to retake Quebec due to a lack of naval support. French forces retreated to Montreal, where on 8 September they surrendered in the face of overwhelming British numerical superiority. This defeat has had serious ramifications in Canada to this day. The Quebec sovereignty movement sees this as their nation's defining moment.

Seeing French defeat, in 1760 the Seven Nations of Canada resigned from the war and negotiated the Treaty of Kahnawake with the British. Among its conditions was their unrestricted travel between Canada and New York, as the nations had extensive trade between Montreal and Albany, as well as populations living throughout the area.[27]

In 1762, toward the end of the war, French forces attacked St. John's, Newfoundland. If successful, the expedition would have strengthened France's hand at the negotiating table. Though they took St. John's and raided nearby settlements, the French forces were eventually defeated by British troops at the Battle of Signal Hill. This was the final battle of the war in North America, and it forced the French to surrender to the British under Lieutenant Colonel William Amherst. The victorious British now controlled all of eastern North America.

The history of the Seven Years' War, particularly the expulsion of the Acadians, siege of Quebec and the death of Wolfe, generated a vast number of ballads, broadsides, images (see Longfellow's Evangeline and "The Death of General Wolfe"; Wood), maps and other printed materials, which testify to how this event captured the imagination of the British public long after Wolfe's death in 1759.[28]


Lord Clive meeting with Mir Jafar at the Battle of Plassey in 1757, painted by Francis Hayman

In India the outbreak of the Seven Years' War in Europe resulted in a renewal of the long running conflict between French and British trading companies in the region for influence. The war spread beyond southern India and into Bengal, where British forces under Robert Clive recaptured Calcutta from the Nawab Siraj ud-Daulah, a French ally, and ousted him from his throne at the Battle of Plassey. In the same year the British also captured the French settlement in Bengal at Chandernagar.

However, the war was decided in the south. Although the French captured Cuddalore, their Siege of Madras failed, while the British commander Sir Eyre Coote decisively defeated the French under the Comte de Lally at the Battle of Wandiwash in 1760 and overran the French territory of the Northern Circars. The French capital of Pondicherry fell to the British in 1761; together with the fall of the lesser French settlements of Karikal and Mahé this effectively eliminated French power from India.

West Africa

In 1758 at the urging of an American merchant Thomas Cumming, Pitt dispatched an expedition to take the French settlement at Saint Louis. The British captured Senegal with ease in May 1758 and brought home large amounts of captured goods. The success of the mission convinced Pitt to launch two further expeditions to take the island of Gorée and the French trading post on the Gambia. The loss of these valuable colonies further weakened the French economy.


The Anglo-French hostilities were ended in 1763 by the Treaty of Paris, which involved a complex series of land exchanges, the most important being France's cession to Spain of Louisiana, and to Great Britain the rest of New France except for the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon. France was given the choice of retrieving either New France or its Caribbean island colonies of Guadeloupe and Martinique, and chose the latter to retain these lucrative sources of sugar,[29] writing off New France as an unproductive, costly territory.[30] France also returned Minorca to the British. Spain lost control of Florida to Great Britain, but received part of New Orleans and the Louisiana Territory west of the Mississippi River from the French. The exchanges suited the British as well, as their own Caribbean islands already supplied ample sugar, and with the acquisition of New France and Florida, they now controlled all of North America east of the Mississippi.

In India, the British retained the Northern Circars, but returned all the French trading ports. The treaty, however, required that the fortifications of these settlements must be destroyed and never rebuilt, while only minimal garrisons could be maintained there, thus rendering them worthless as military bases. Combined with the loss of France's ally in Bengal and the defection of Hyderabad to the British side as a result of the war, this effectively brought French power in India to an end, making way for British hegemony and eventual control of the subcontinent.

A battle during the Seven Years' War between British and Indians in North America

European boundaries were returned to their status quo ante bellum by the Treaty of Hubertusburg (February 1763). Prussia thus maintained its possession of Silesia, having survived the combined assault of three neighbours, each larger than itself. Prussia gained enormously in influence at the expense of the Holy Roman Empire. This increase in Prussian influence, it is argued, marks the beginning of the modern German state, an event at least as influential as the colonial empire Great Britain had gained. Others, including Fred Anderson, author of Crucible of War, believe the war was needless and overly costly.[31]

France's navy was crippled by the war. Only after an ambitious rebuilding program by France in combination with Spain was it again able to challenge Britain's command of the sea.[32]

However, the British government was close to bankruptcy, and Britain now faced the delicate task of pacifying its new French-Canadian subjects, as well as the many American Indian tribes who had supported France. George III's Proclamation of 1763, which forbade white settlement beyond the crest of the Appalachians, was intended to appease the latter, but led to considerable outrage in the Thirteen Colonies whose inhabitants were eager to acquire native lands. The Quebec Act of 1774, similarly intended to win over the loyalty of French Canadians, also spurred resentment among American colonists.[33] Victorious in 1763, Great Britain would soon face another military threat in North America—this time from its longtime subjects, who no longer had to fear a hostile neighboring power.

The Seven Years' War was the last major military conflict fought primarily on the European continent before the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars in 1792.

Cultural references

"It would require a greater philosopher and historian than I am to explain the causes of the famous Seven Years' War in which Europe was engaged; and, indeed, its origin has always appeared to me to be so complicated, and the books written about it so amazingly hard to understand, that I have seldom been much wiser at the end of a chapter than at the beginning, and so shall not trouble my reader with any personal disquisitions concerning the matter.[34]"

  • Stanley Kubrick's movie Barry Lyndon (1975) is based on the Thackeray novel.
  • The events in the early chapters of Voltaire's Candideare based on the Seven Years' War; according to Jean Starobinski, ("Voltaire's Double-Barreled Musket," in Blessings In Disguise, (California, 1993) p 85), all the atrocities described in Chapter 3 are true to life. At the time Candide was written, Voltaire was opposed to militarism, and the book's themes of disillusionment and suffering underscore this position.
  • The board games Friedrich and, more recently, Prussia's Defiant Stand and Clash of Monarchs are based on the events of the Seven Years' War.
  • The Grand strategy wargame Rise of Prussia covers the European campaigns of the Seven Years' War
  • The novel The Last of the Mohicans (1826) by James Fenimore Cooper and its subsequent adaptations are set in the Northern American Theatre of the Seven Years' War.
  • The Partisan in War (1789), a treatise on light infantry tactics written by Colonel Andreas Emmerich, is based on his experiences in the Seven Years' War.
  • The Seven Years' War is the central theme of G.E. Lessing's play Minna von Barnhelm.
  • Numerous towns and other places now in United States were named after Frederick the Great to commemorate the victorious conclusion of the war, including Frederick, Maryland and King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.
  • The fourth scenario of the second act in the RTS Age of Empires III is about this military conflict, with the player fighting along with the French and against the British.

See also

Media related to Seven Years' War at Wikimedia Commons


  1. ^ For purposes of this article, the war is considered to have begun in 1754—not in 1756, and to have lasted nine years—not seven. See the Nomenclature section of this article for more detailed information.
  2. ^ Heidler 2007 p. 28.
  3. ^ a b c d Füssel (2010), p.7
  4. ^ Bowen, HV (1998). War and British Society 1688–1815. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. p. 7. ISBN 0-521-57645-8. 
  5. ^ Füssel (2010), p.8
  6. ^ Tombs, Robert and Isabelle. That Sweet Enemy: The French and the British from the Sun King to the Present. London: William Heinemann, 2006.
  7. ^ Anderson p.129
  8. ^ Rodger pp. 265–67
  9. ^ Anderson p. 170
  10. ^ Dull p. 71
  11. ^ Carter pp. 84–102
  12. ^ Anderson p. 176
  13. ^ Anderson pp. 211–12
  14. ^ Anderson pp. 176–77
  15. ^ Anderson pp. 215–16
  16. ^ Szabo pp. 148–55
  17. ^ Szabo pp.179–82
  18. ^ Szabo pp. 162–69
  19. ^ Szabo pp. 195–202
  20. ^ Anderson p. 491
  21. ^ Fish 2003, p. 2
  22. ^ Anderson p. 492
  23. ^ Anderson p. 498
  24. ^ a b Julian Corbett, England in the Seven Years' War: A Study in Combined Strategy, 2 Vols., (London, 1918).
  25. ^ Anderson (2000), pp. 51–65.
  26. ^ Fowler, pp. 74–75, 98.
  27. ^ D. Peter MacLeod, "'Free and Open Roads': The Treaty of Kahnawake and the Control of Movement over the New York-Canadian Border during the Military Regime, 1760–1761," read at the Ottawa Legal History Group, 3 December 1992 (1992, 2001), accessed 31 January 2011
  28. ^ Virtual Vault: "Canadiana", Library and Archives Canada
  29. ^ The Canadian Encyclopedia, retrieved 17 June 2006.
  30. ^ E.g., Canada to Confederation p. 8: Barriers to Immigration, mentioning the mother country's image of New France as an "Arctic wasteland with wild animals and savage Indians".
  31. ^ According to Anderson, "Beyond the inevitable adjustments in the way diplomats would think of Prussia as a player in European politics, six years of heroic expenditure and savage bloodshed had accomplished precisely nothing." (p. 506)
  32. ^ Kennedy, Paul (1976) (book). The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery (new introduction ed.). London: Penguin Books. ISBN 0684146096. 
  33. ^ D. Peter MacLeod. Northern armageddon : the battle of the Plains of Abraham Vancouver : Douglas & McIntyre, 2008.
  34. ^ Thackeray 2001 p. 72


External links

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