The Seven Years War: The First World War and Its
By Nick Fattizzo
Setting the Scene
The Seven Years War was partially caused by issues lingering from the War of Austrian
Succession. The War of Austrian Succession started when powers in Europe, notably France
and Prussia challenged the power of the Habsburg-ruled Holy Roman by claiming that Maria
Theresa, the heir apparent to the Holy Roman Empire could not rule since she was a woman.
Austria, Great Britain, Hanover, and Russia fought France, Prussia, Spain, and Bavaria. The
war had no clear victor as Maria Theresa became confirmed as ruler of the Holy Roman Empire
but the Prussians led by Frederick the Great seized Silesia. Tensions remained high amongst
the powers of Europe as little of the other conflicts between the powers were resolved. The War
of Austrian Succession led to a reshuffling of alliances. Austria who previously supported Great
Britain now allied themselves with their ancient enemy France. Prussia ditched France to ally
themselves with Great Britain. In this tense climate, Prussia established itself as a significant
power. The older powers in Central Europe, Mostly Austria and to a lesser extent the Holy
Roman Empire viewed the new nation as a serious threat. In North America, tensions existed
between the British with their thirteen colonies and France with their Trans-Mississippi Valley
and Canadian holdings. The populous thirteen colonies experienced overcrowding and as a
result, Great Britain sought to gain new territories for the colonies. The British set their sights on
the sparsely populated but vast land owned by the French. In India, France and Great Britain
sought to gain control and influence over India to further enlarge their budding overseas empire;
these circumstances led to the Seven Years War.
Outbreak Of The 7 Years War
The Outbreak of War in Europe occurred when Prussia invaded and seized Saxony. The
moment Austria lost Silesia, they immediately thought about how to exact their revenge. Austria
made preparations for war in 1756. Prussia knew Austria was planning an attack so Frederick
decided on a preemptive attack. The well-oiled Prussian Army took Saxony with relative ease.
Prussia’s conquest of Saxony prompted outrage from many European powers. It seemed that
Prussia invaded a sovereign and neutral country unprovoked. As a result, the great powers of
Europe mobilized their armies and declared war on their enemies. The outbreak of war for North
America occurred two years earlier in 1754. A young British Lt. Colonel named George
Washington (yes that George Washington) ambushed a small French force near modern-day
Pittsburgh. This event infuriated the French and was the very first fighting of the Seven Years
Most of the fighting in the war took place in Europe. Prussia essentially had to fight most of
Europe at once as the British provided little troops and instead subsidized the Prussian
government. To clarify, the Anglo-Prussian alliance had to fight Austria, the Holy Roman
Empire, France , Russia , Spain, and Sweden. However, France and Great Britain did most of
their fighting outside of Europe. In fact, France only fought Prussia in a few battles. France and
Great Britain’s main contribution was fighting each other around the globe, in North America,
West Africa, and India. The fighting in Europe started in 1756 and ended in 1763. As soon as
the war started, Prussia was surrounded by its enemies. Russia to the east, Sweden to the
north Austria to the south and France to the West.
This geographical situation put Prussia in an awkward situation for the entire war. As soon as
Prussia would neutralize one threat, a new threat from a new direction. In particular, Austria
and Russia threatened Prussia on a constant basis. Throughout the war, Prussia was
outnumbered in almost every battle. This did not stop the brilliant tactician Frederick the Great
from outmaneuvering and defeating Austrian and Russian armies that were much larger.
Prussia started off successfully seizing Saxony. However, the sheer numerical that Prussia had
taken its toll and by 1759 Prussia was in dire straits. Prussia continued to be battered by their
European enemies and Prussia began losing territory. In fact, Prussia saw their capital Berlin
fall into enemy hands twice. Over in North America, France started the war strongly seizing two
British forts. Part of France’s success was due to their allyship with the Iroquois confederation
and other Native Americans. France’s luck would soon run out as William Pitt took over control
of British actions in North America. Pitt organized a naval blockade of North America which
severely weakened France’s fighting ability. A decisive moment came when the British defeated
the French at the Battle of Quebec. This battle marked how France had quickly lost control of
the situation in North America. In India, the French allied themselves with the ruling Mughal
empire. These two nations allied to prevent encroachment from the British and their trading
companies. The battle of Plassey saw France lose a key ally in India and the capital of French
influence in India fell to the British. The French and British naval fleets fought battles off the
coast of West Africa. By 1762 Prussia seemed to be at the end of its rope. Prussia’s territory
was gradually enveloped by Austria and Russia. A Russian army was closing in on
Brandenburg and the war seemed almost over. But then suddenly a miracle happened. The
empress of Russia, Elizabeth died and was succeeded by Peter III. Peter, a life-long admirer of
Prussia, could not bear to destroy the country he had a fondness for. Peter pulled Russia out of
the territory they took from Prussia and negotiated a favorable treaty. Peter even sent a Russian
army to fight for the Prussians. This allowed Frederick to focus his full attention on Austria.
Prussia reconquered Saxony and pushed the Austrians back. At this time the powers of Europe
realized the war was right back where it started. It was time for the Seven Years War to end.
A truce was soon negotiated and the status quo before the war became the new political
situation. Prussia ceded Saxony maintained control over Silesia and established itself as a
France ceded all of its North American territory east of the Mississippi river including Canada to
Great Britain Britain.
France lost all control of India and the British now had considerable influence in India. India
would become a British colony in 1858 and that groundwork was laid at the end of the Seven
Long Term Effects
The Seven Years War did not see a significant increase in territory change but had long-lasting
effects that contributed to the future world order.
Prussia was an upstart power in Europe and the Old Guard of European nations sought to push
Prussia back into obscurity and not a sovereign nation. Despite being considerably outmanned
and out-funded, Prussia staved off its enemies and confirmed its status as a power in Europe.
This was due to the keen leadership of Frederick the Great and when later leaders had to rule
Prussia, Prussia would fade and decline
Austria had the most to gain from a defeat of Prussia and since the Seven Years War cemented
Prussia as a European power, Austria suffered. Austria did not lose any territory but they failed
to neutralize the threat of Prussia. Prussia’s gain was Austria’s loss. Austria lost influence in the
German states and the declining Holy Roman Empire. However, Austria was able to maintain
the influence of the Habsburg dynasty and Austria did reconquer Saxony from Prussia albeit in
a weakened form.
Russia established itself as a first-rate power and a force to be reckoned within Europe.
Previously Russia was regarded as a weaker nation on the edge of Europe. During the war, the
Russians consistently troubled the Prussians beating them many times. The only reason why
Russia could not prevail was their poor supply chains and organizations. Russia’s military
performance caught the eye of many European countries and caused an increase in status.
Russia’s abrupt 180 during the war under Peter III led to the rise of Catherine the Great. Peter’s
policy towards Prussia prompted talks in Russia that Peter was weak and ineffective. The
aristocrats and Peter’s wife, Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst, plotted to overthrow Peter and install
Sophie as empress. Peter was arrested, forced to abdicate, and later died of a stroke although
some claim he was assassinated. Sophie took the name of Catherine and became one of
Russia’s greatest leaders.
France saw a blow in status after the war. The French fought on three different continents, lost
in two of them, and achieved one stalemate. France lost all of its territory in North America and
any influence they had in India. Ever since the two countries existed, Great Britain and France
fought each other for supremacy in Europe and the world. The Seven Years War was a
significant step in confirming that Great Britain would win the eternal struggle. These results and
developments prompted a military reform of France so when another conflict broke out, France
refused to make the same mistakes again. It was this military reform that formed the basis of the
formidable French military that controlled vast parts of Europe during the Napoleonic war.
However, the end of the war prompted some degree of unrest that would lead to the French
Revolution. The war was costly to France and new taxes had to be instituted. France’s shaky
financial situations was a significant cause of the French Revolution and that monetary unease
began as a result of the Seven Years War.
The nation most directly impacted by the Seven Years War was interestingly enough the nations
who did not do any fighting in Europe. Great Britain only funded Prussia and did not provide
troops. Great Britain fought around the world battling France. Great Britain took control of
France’s territory in North America. Britain was the undisputed dominant power in North
America. As mentioned earlier, France lost influence in the European pecking order since they
lost to Great Britain on two continents. At this time there were only three countries with
significant colonial empires which are empires composed of colonies. Spain, Great Britain, and
France. While France and Great Britain were heavyweights in Europe, Spain was not. As a
result, Spain was not a realistic candidate for the most powerful nation on earth. France and
Great Britain were the two nations who sought to be that dominant power. The Seven Years
War resolved this endless struggle in favor of the British. Great Britain controlled half of North
America, had considerable influence in India, and was the most powerful nation in Europe and
the wealthiest due to its mercantilist economic policy. The Seven Years War ensured that until
WWII Great Britain would be the most powerful nation on Earth and that the British would
influence and change the world more than any other nation in human history. Great Britain was
able to do this thanks to France’s weakened status after the Seven Years War. The Seven
Years War paved the way for British economic political and cultural dominance that defined
human history in the 19th century However, the Seven Years War was not necessarily a
positive event for Great Britain. The government went into huge amounts of debt trying to fund
their armies on several continents. Britain did control of Canada and Eastern North America, but
these new territories did not contain valuable resources or a vast population. As a result of the
war, the British government tottered towards bankruptcy. To try and pump funds into the
government, the British imposed new and higher taxes on their subjects in the thirteen colonies.
These taxes enraged the colonists as they felt they had no say on whether these taxes should
be implemented. Taxes that became infamous in the thirteen colonies such as the Stamp Act,
the Tea Act and the Townshend Act all came as a result of British efforts to pay off their debts
from the Seven Years War. These taxes provided the spark that would lead to the shot heard
around the world: the American Revolution. The Seven Years War led to the American
The Seven Years war was a conflict that involved the powers of Europe and started over three
things: Unresolved problems from the war of Austrian Succession, the diplomatic revolution of
1756, and Prussia’s sudden conquest of Saxony. The war involved European power, but
fighting took place on every continent except for Australia and Antarctica. The war was truly the
first world war. The Seven Years War had enormous consequences on history. The Seven
Years War led to the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and British global
dominance. The Seven Years War was one of the most influential conflicts in human history and
its consequences led to the world we live in today.