Austrian Succession War (1740-1748)

Frederick II of Prussia

The Austrian Succession War

Karl VI realised the lack of a male heir to the throne was a threat to the unity of the Habsburg Empire and in 1713 promulgated the ‘Pragmatic Sanction’ to allow his daughter Maria Theresia to inherit the Habsburg Lands.
Austria had to pay a high price to the other European powers for their approval of the Pragmatic Sanction, and this led to the abandonment of many centralising reforms. However, on Karl’s death, the treaty failed to prevent the War of the Austrian Succession from breaking out. In fact the treaty turned out to be nothing more than a worthless piece of paper, and it made Maria Theresia an instrument of Europe’s politics.

In 1736 Maria Theresia married Franz Stephan von Lothringen.
The French objected to the union of Lorraine (Lothringen) with the Habsburg lands, forcing Franz Stephan to exchange his Duchy for the right of succession to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.

The Austrian Succession War (1740-48) broke out shortly after Maria Theresia ascended the throne because of the refusal of the neighbouring powers to accept the principals of the Pragmatic Sanction (Treaty) of 1713.

Financially the Habsburg Empire was in a very poor state, but never-the-less, after the invasion of Silesia (Schlesien), one of Austria’s wealthiest provinces, Maria Theresia refused to negotiate with Friedrich II of Prussia.
Prussia occupied Silesia in 1740, and within a year an alliance of Bavarian, Saxon and French troops, under the command of Karl Albrecht of Bavaria, also captured Prague.


Karl Albrecht - Emperor Karl VII


Karl Albrecht was crowned King of Bohemia and elected Holy Roman Emperor in 1742.

Maria Theresia needed all of her diplomatic skills to make an appeal to the Hungarians for troops and support for her cause.

Maria Theresia's skilled advisors helped her to confront and face down the opposition of the Austrian nobility.
She drastically reduced the powers of various dominions that had been responsible for the financial crisis within the Empire and abolished tax exemptions held by the powerful landowners.

The Austrian army regained control of Prague, and Maria Theresia was crowned Queen of Bohemia in the spring of 1743.

Austria and her British allies also managed to make important military gains in Central Europe, and when Karl Albrecht unexpectedly died in January 1745 his son negotiated a peace treaty with Austria and promised to endorse the Habsburg candidature for Emperor.

Maria Theresia supported her husband Franz Stephan’s election as Holy Roman Emperor in October 1745.

In the west, the War of Succession had reached a military stalemate and negotiations finally led to the Peace Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748.
This treaty led to the loss of Silesia to Prussia and was a tremendous blow to the Habsburg Empire. Never-the-less Maria Theresia began the modernisation of the army. Her new chancellor, Kaunitz, supported her determination to recover Silesia from Prussia.

Due to the assistance Maria Theresia had received from the Hungarian nobles, Austria had emerged with most of her Empire intact.

Austria soon realised that the costly war against France had done more to help the British colonial interests in North America than its own interests in Central Europe.

Austria abandoned the partnership with Britain in favour of an alliance with France and Russia.

This forced Britain, Austria’s ‘old ally’, to leave the alliance and to link with Prussia in order to protect Britain’s interests in Hanover against the French.

This reversal of alliances was sealed by the marriage of Maria Theresia’s youngest daughter Marie Antoinette to the future Louis XVI of France.

In 1756 Maria Theresia started a full-scale war against Prussia with the intention of regaining the lost provinces.


Maria Theresia