|A depiction of the Battle of Warburg, 1760|
The Seven Years' War was a key war in shaping the world in which we live in today. For one, it has been seen as the first truly world war - Winston Churchill's A History of the English Speaking Peoples goes as far as to call it the First World War and some historians refer to it as World War Zero. American readers would likely know this war by another name - the French-Indian War. What is now Canada and the United States proved instrumental in both causing the war and making them the centre of world politics. From the Seven Years' War Britain and Prussia emerged as great powers, British rule in India became established, and the seeds of the formation of the United States were planted. Events in the Americas greatly linked to the events of Europe which linked to events in India, Africa and the Philippines. We also see a bit of a conundrum in how long the war was. From official declaration of war to the peace treaties the war lasted just under seven years (six years and eight months), fighting broke out in America in 1754, and some historians place it as an extension of earlier wars. I will warn people now; I am not a military historian so I'll be focusing less on battles as I won't be able to properly describe them.
|A map of the Five Nations in modern New York and Pennsylvania|
Some historians, such as Fred Anderson, place more emphasis on the American origins whereas others, like Franz Szabo, place more emphasis on Europe. Thanks to how intertwined European and American affairs were during this war both are technically correct. In this section we'll look at the background of the war in Europe, the Americas, and India. We'll first look at the Americas. Since the start of the 1600s England (after 1707 Britain) and France had established colonies in North America and the Caribbean and by 1750 they started becoming prosperous. Of course sugar, tobacco, indigo, and coffee plantations in the Caribbean based on slavery made a fortune so until the 1700s London viewed its colonies in what is now the US as a bit of a backwater wilderness. However, thanks to the Navigation Acts of 1651, 1660, and 1663, which prevented non-English shipping to the colonies, they became a thriving market for English/British exports causing the population to boom from 234,000 in 1700 to 1,206,000 in 1750 (of which 242,000 were slaves). For this Britain needed a big navy to protect their maritime merchants. Meanwhile, French colonies in the Caribbean, like Martinique and Saint-Domingue, prospered and they took advantage of their position on the mainland by controlling the Mississippi through New Orleans. French Canada was not prosperous, called a 'barren frontier', but was kept as described by Admiral Roland-Michel Barren, comte de la Galissoniere, who argued that France needed to keep Canada to limit British expansion which would give their enemy an economic advantage. Finally we have the Native Americans. European settlers and traders confronted various Native American peoples including the Iroquois Five Nations, (composed of the Mohawk, Oneida, Seneca, Onondaga, and Cayuga) which became the Six Nations when joined by the Tuscarora. Europeans traded weapons with the Five Nations in return for crops, fish, and pelts where in the mid-1600s the Nations waged a vicious and bloody war of conquest to get access to more land. The Hurons, Eries, and Neutrals were dispersed from the Great Lakes and the Ohio Valley of Monongahela, Shawnee and other residents so they could have greater access to resources. The Five Nations, and other Native Americans, when they could would pit English and French colonies against one another profiting as the two went to war although at times it did backfire, especially when Anglophile, Francophile and Neutral factions threatened to tear the confederacy apart in 1701.
|Frederick II of Prussia|
Meanwhile, in Europe the Anglo-French rivalry wove into geopolitics. After 1661 Bourbon France under Louis XIV became the most important continental power challenging their Habsburg opponents in Austria and Spain. The Nine Years' War (1688-97), War of Spanish Succession (1701-14) and War of Austrian Succession (1740-8) had been waged over the Bourbon-Habsburg rivalry which brought in wider states, including Britain. Until just before the Seven Years' War Britain had allied itself to Austria against their mutual rival of France as argued by the Duke of Newcastle in 1743; he argued Britain had to intervene on the continent as if France managed to dominate the continent it would manage to gain the economic and naval might to threaten Britain. Of course there were other intermittent wars which also affected India and America. Times were changing. Ostensibly dynastic wars soon developed other factors - for example thanks to the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) Britain placed economy and strategy over land grabs gaining land in Canada, and the strategic ports of Gibraltar and Minorca. The rise of Prussia in Germany is part of this. Frederick II of Prussia (r.1740-86), later called 'the Great' by nationalists, built upon the military and economic reforms of his father allowing the small state of Prussia to soon become a dominant power in Europe. Taking advantage of the disputed succession of Austria's Maria Theresa he invaded Austria to seize the wealthy lands of Silesia which he kept after the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748). Similarly Russia trying to be closer to its western neighbours started intervening more and more.
Finally we have India. After the death of Mughal emperor Aurangazeb in 1707, which you can read about here, the Mughals started going into a decline. Parts of the empire fell to the rising power of the Marathas, Mysore and other powers, over-taxation caused uprisings, and decentralised rule started to tear apart the empire. Local rulers named nawabs were increasingly granted by Aurangazeb the ability to be 'tax farmers' where they would collect taxes on behalf of the empire and they would get to keep some of the revenue raised via this. As a result over-taxation happened as some nawabs chose to profit by raising taxes to raise their profit. However, some, like the nawabs of Bengal and Oudh, eventually stopped paying taxes to the central government becoming de facto independent from the Mughals. Since the 1500s Europeans had formed the East Indian Trading Companies to trade in Asia and established fortified settlements, called factories, in India (and other areas) to trade. Among these was Pondicherry for France, Goa for Portugal and Surat for Britain. With the decline of Mughal rule Companies had to rely on their own armies to protect themselves and actively court local merchants - in the case of Bengal Jagat Sen and Omi Chand.
Now that we've looked at the very extensive background we can finally look at the origins of the war. Originally only the European aspects were discussed but since the 1960s the American have started to be seen as being just as, or even more, important as the European origins. The focal point of this was the Ohio Valley. In the early-1740s the wealthy Penn family, of whom Pennsylvania is named after, made a deal with the Six Nations which deprived the Delawares of two-thirds of their land and opened up the region for colonial settlers. At the same time France, wanting to solidify its connection to the Canadian colonies started building forts along the Ohio River which alarmed the British who feared that the French presence would influence Native Americans to attack the settlers. There were few French settlers while instead most were traders so posed far less a threat to their land compared to their Anglo counterparts. Furthermore, religion intervened. French Jesuit missionaries had converted some tribes to Catholicism making them more disposed to be sympathetic to the French compared to the Protestant settlers. Things came to ahead when France, despite threats from Britain, built Fort Duquesne where the Allegheny and Monongehala Rivers met. A colonial militia led by the young George Washington in retaliation attacked a small French force at Jumonville Glen in May 1754 killing ten, including the commander Jumonville, causing a French retaliatory attack on Fort Necessity forcing Washington to surrender. As this was eighteenth-century diplomacy negotiation involved sending more troops to the colonies where in June 1755 the British attacked the French in Canada and then proceeded to expel the Acadians. The following month one of the most famous battle took place during the war. A force of 2,000 British troops under Edward Braddock, with a young Washington, marched to take Fort Duquesne but were ambushed by French and their Native American allies wiping out the force with Braddock even being killed. For two years massacres, atrocities, and battles took place. Hundreds of settlers were killed, around 5,000 Acadians eventually were expelled, British ships attacked the French in the Mediterranean and British forts fell in northern New York.
As this was happening a 'Diplomatic Revolution' was being organised in Europe. As argued by Franz Szabo victory over Austria had inflated Frederick II's ego while Britain disappointed Maria Theresa by allowing the Habsburgs to lose many key lands. Frederick wanted to continue war against Austria and possibly conquer Hanover but doing so would draw in Britain as through a series of events, which deserves to be talked about by itself, George of Hanover was also George II of Britain. Frederick was unsure if France would be a willing ally as they had been during the War of Austrian Succession as another victory had the potential of making Prussia a big enough power to challenge France. The states of Europe took notice of events in North America and saw a new Anglo-French war was brewing. By 1756 Britain no longer saw Austria as a strong enough to challenge France and George II always preferred Hanover to Britain and believed that Austria was unable to defend his German kingdom. The rising power of Prussia could serve as a good alternative and an alliance was made in the 1756 Westminster Convention formalised in a proper alliance two years later. Seeing this Maria Theresa sent her foreign minister, Count Wenzel Anton von Kaunitz, to approach France who agreed to an alliance with the 1756 Treaty of Versailles as France now viewed the rising Prussia as a bigger threat to them. Hearing about the anti-Prussian alliance and bolstered by the British alliance Frederick invaded Saxony officially starting the Seven Years' War. Doing so, however, enraged Europe who saw it as an unprovoked attack allowing Tsarina Elizabeth of Russia to enter an alliance with France and Austria sending 80,000 to her new allies.
Course of the War
|The Battle of Prague|
In this section I'll briefly go over the land and naval battles. Prussia managed to get off to an early lead defeating the Saxon army at the Battle of Lobositz in October 1756 before it could be reinforced by the Austrians and quickly managed to occupy Saxony. Things weren't going as well for Britain. The Battle of Minorca saw the French navy defeating the British and the island fell so the angry British decided to court-martial and execute Admiral John Byng who lost the island. In America more and more forts were captured by the French and their Native American allies. Much more tribes allied to France over Britain for the earlier mentioned reasons, hence why it is called the French-Indian War in the US. Frederick, however, would also start seeing defeat. His own indecision had allowed the Austrians to occupy some of Silesia, and a year later despite winning the bloody Battle of Prague he was roundly defeated as he tried to siege the city while also fighting an Austrian counterattack. In the summer of 1757 Russia took Prussia's key fort in Memel and used it to attack the centre of the kingdom but its own logistics prevented it from doing too much damage. Seeing this Sweden intervened to take Prussian Pomerania, (which is why it is called the Pomeranian War in Sweden), and a Hungarian general, Andras Hadik, defeated Frederick even briefly occupying Berlin. Two British governments, the Duke of Newcastle and William Pitt, fell due to setbacks in America, such as the fall of Fort William Henry, forming a new coalition government which combined the two prime minister's tactics. By 1759 the French-Austrian-Russian alliance was succeeding so much that France even managed to formulate a plan to invade Britain! However, the strength of the British navy prevented this. The British navy managed to destroy the French fleets at the Battle of Lagos and Quiberon Bay scuppering these plans and allowed Britain to blockade French ports. From 1759 to 1763 the war in Europe was largely at a stalemate. Frederick's prestige had been shattered, especially by the Russians, and had only been saved by poor Russian logistics and the destroyed economies of France and Austria. In 1762 Elizabeth of Russia died and her son Peter, who loved Prussia, mediated a peace including Sweden and even placed some of his troops under Frederick's control. However, the following year Peter was ousted in a coup led by his wife, Catherine the Great, who took Russia out of the war. The war in Europe was reaching a stalemate with the combatants slipping to bankruptcy and deaths in the hundreds of thousands. However, the war was instead won outside of Europe.
I want to talk about India separately so I'll discuss the course of the war in the Americas, Africa, and Asia instead. British prime minister William Pitt believed, quite rightly, that the war would be won in the colonies over the Duke of Newcastle's plan to focus on propping up Prussia. It turned out both tactics was needed as shown in his quote by an American contemporary 'The great object of the nation is the American war...the probability of our succeeding in our main point is...much increased by the part the French take in the affairs of Germany, which turns their attention, as well as their money, from their marine, and...making expeditions to our Colonies.' French troops in America were led by the Marquis de Montcalm who managed to thrash the British, with his Native American allies, in the first half of the war capturing Fort William Henry in 1757 and Fort Carillon in 1758. However, despite this Montcalm was unable to prevent the capture of several key forts including Frontenac and finally Duquense and 1759 proved to be disastrous for the French. Under generals James Wolfe and James Murray Louisbourg and Fort Niagara fell to the British opening the way to Quebec which fell in September. At the Battle of the Plains of Abraham the British defeated the French and Six Nations despite the death of Wolfe during the battle with Montcalm also dying a day later from his wounds. Montreal was captured shortly after and the Six Nations in 1760 opted to sign a peace treaty with Britain. When Spain entered the war Britain managed to capture both Cuba and the Philippines, as well as Gaudeloupe in 1759. We also have the African front. In 1758 at the request of traders Pitt sent a fleet capturing the fort of Saint Louis in Senegal which they expanded upon later.
India and the Seven Years' War
|The Battle of Plassey|
In India the Seven Years' War has been known as the Third Carnatic War, the earlier two had been fought between the British East Indian Company (EIC) and the French Compagnie des Indes and had saw Robert Clive become influential for fighting in the wars. The EIC in Kalikata, (Calcutta), had been reinforcing their factory in case of French attack which made the nawab of Bengal, Siraj ud Daula, fearful. The EIC's connection to the wealthy merchants Jagat Seth and Omi Chand in accompaniment with their own might made the nawab fearful that they were working to undermine his rule. When the EIC continued fortifying Fort William Siraj attacked and local Indian troops deserted leading to the fort's capture in June 1756. What happened next has gone down in infamy from the account of the civilian commander John Zephaniah Howell. We know very little about the 'Black Hole of Calcutta' as it was soon exaggerated to justify war in India. Possibly between 64 and 68 soldiers were kept overnight in a 4.3m x 5.5m room, although Howell and some later historians argued that Siraj did not order and may not have known about the imprisonment. The next day thanks to heat and suffocation only around 23 survived. Stories soon were spread exaggerating the numbers and claiming that women and children had also been captured. It gave easy justification for the EIC to send Robert Clive from Madras (modern Chennai) to retake Calcutta and defeat Siraj. They met at the Battle of Plassey in 1757 but Crispin Bates has argued it is a bit of a stretch to call it a battle. Our earlier mentioned merchants disliked Siraj's high taxes and had made money with their EIC connections so decided to make the battle easier. They bribed a major general, Mir Jaffar, into switching sides and he did marching his troops to join Clive. As a result in a battle with over 60,000 combatants only 522 people died. Strangely the Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah I, was pleased; he had been angry that Siraj had been stopped sending tax payments which limited attempts at reform. When the war ended in 1765 the EIC was given to them to rule over. After Plassey the EIC and their allies turned on the other Europeans in India, i.e. the French, and roundly defeated them.
Economies and Logistics
The Seven Years' War has been viewed as one of the first 'modern' wars in which the global economy and logistics had to be taken into account. For example, the Russians had failed to reform their supply lines and logistics of such a large army, the Russian army was often twice the size of that of Frederick, since their earlier war with the Ottoman Empire. This meant that although they could take Memel they were unable to properly enter Prussian lands giving Frederick time to breathe. The way the war was thought out also hinged on how they could utilise the economies and resources of their own states and hamper that of their opponents. In 1746 Frederick wrote in General Principles of War that if one wanted to succeed it was legitimate and just to coerce peoples in occupied lands into helping the war effort. Franz Szabo even uses the term 'merciless fiscal exploitation of Saxony' to describe his actions after taking Dresden where 5 million Talers of the 6 million Talers of Saxony's annual taxation went to funding Frederick's war. By the end of the war 50 million was extracted from Saxony. Britain and France were the ones fighting on all fronts so had to balance both. Hence why Britain had to balance Pitt's colonial war and Newcastle's continental one. Small contingents were sent to aid Prussia and after 1758 over £670,000 a year (£91.5 million in 2017's money) was sent to fund the Prussian war. A big part in why it is seen that the Anglo-Prussian (and later Portuguese) alliance won was due to Britain shattering the French and Spanish economy. Capturing the very rich island of Cuba and the Philippines allowed Britain to claim their wealth for itself, Saint Louis allowed Britain to have greater profits from the slave trade, and the seizing of India gave them very lucrative benefits from India trade. Even the conquer of Canada involved breaking of economic access to Quebec. Britain was also very aggressive in attacking neutral ships trading with France, as the Dutch learned, which became a policy they used until the Napoleonic Wars, and British blockades of French ports strangled the economy further.
Why did Britain manage to do this though? Paul Kennedy has written extensively on this and has placed great emphasis on geopolitics and pre-war economics. Kennedy has argued that it is very difficult for a state to be both a continental and a world power. Although a world power France being on the continent meant that it shared land borders with its enemies which needed defending. Protecting the main base took precedence over defending America and India. In contrast Britain had the luxury of being an island offering a natural defence as a naval invasion was far more difficult although not impossible, in 1745 France (and to an extent Spain) helped Jacobite rebels invade Britain. Due to this Britain could focus far more on being a world power - a mentality which can be seen today if you look at the discourse of some of the right-wing supporters of Brexit. Events before 1754 allowed Britain to truly be a world power instead of a continental one. As mentioned earlier Britain had used its colonies to be a market for exports and was eager to take part in the Triangular Trade (slaves from Africa to the Americas whose goods were sold in Britain and the money was then used to buy more slaves). In order to make sure this trade was protected a large navy was needed. Ironic though considering how there were only a few key naval battles during the Seven Years' War and even then Britain lost one, the Battle of Minorca.
Peace and Aftermath
|The expansion of British land in the US, the pinky colour is what they gained after the Treaty of Paris|
Four peace treaties were signed ending the war: St Petersburg, Hamburg, Paris, and Hubertursburg. The first two, signed 1762, established status quo peace with Sweden and Russia. The other two were signed in 1763 and decided to go to pre-war borders in Europe. Thanks to Hubertursburg Prussia did manage to get Saxony and Austria to drop claims to Silesia but the real changes came thanks to the Treaty of Paris. Areas seized by Spain and France were returned to Britain and Portugal who returned the Indian factories, Guadeloupe, the Philippines, Cuba, Goree, and several Caribbean islands. Britain kept French Canada, Tobago, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Dominica, and Florida. France also lost its land in what is now the continental US. Half of French Louisiana had been given to Spain the year before and the rest, from the Mississippi to the Appalachians, was given to Britain. However, France was just glad to keep the wealthy Guadeloupe and Voltaire dismissed Canada as 'A few acres of snow'.
The Seven Years' War proved to be the most influential war until the First World War. Prussia had managed to establish itself as a continental power managing to survive an onslaught from France, Austria, Russia, and Sweden and thanks to Frederick managed to bounce back thanks to his immigration policies and agrarian reforms. Despite this Prussia would take a century to return to such military strength; in 1806 Prussia was defeated by Napoleon's army of French peasants at the Battle of Jena. Despite this Prussia soon became the state to imitate. The war did influence attempts to reform the Russian and French militaries to reform themselves with Russia replacing France as the key figure in Polish affairs. Over the next thirty years Russia and Prussia, and to an extent Austria, successfully divided up Poland with no interference from France. Britain came to be a great power. Before that it had been seen as second to Spain and France but thanks to the Seven Years' War the British economic and naval might made it a major player in world affairs. Thanks to the Treaty of Paris France agreed to not intervene with British client states in India giving them free reign to establish their own hegemony in India. One could become very rich via the EIC, so much so that it caused a moral panic in Britain, as it was believed that 'nabobs' like Robert Clive could use their wealth to lead a decadent life. EIC officials, and Clive was no exception, soon became as corrupt and brutal as their Indian predecessors - in 1770 misrule allowed a famine in Bengal to kill a third of the population. For a time when the Mughal emperor was captured the EIC used this to establish their rule in the north and eventually conquered the south.
Finally we have events in America. Initially the colonialists had welcomed victory and had expressed their love for the British. It was not uncommon for colonial elites, like Elijah Boardmen of Massachusetts, to make themselves appear like their British counterparts like modelling their homes to resemble the landed gentry, sent their sons to London for study, and Washington even had a coat of arms made! Up until the American Revolution colonialists glamorised the Seven Years' War and some of the major images associated with the war comes from this period. Many of the expelled Acadians went on to settle in Louisiana which explains the remaining strong French aspects of Cajun culture. Tensions remained high though with the Native Americans who were some of the worst affected by the result of the war. With the French out of America they lost a bulwark against Anglo-American encroachment and soon clashes between settlers and Native Americans broke out with the 1763 Pontiac's Rebellion and an attack on Detroit by Ottawas, Hurons and others the same year. This would soon pave way for genocide and displacement which would characterise the late-eighteenth century and the nineteenth. Britain, like other combatants, were bankrupted by the war. At home and America the government raised taxes causing grievances for the colonists. Various other laws, such as emancipation for Catholics and the quartering of soldiers, upset the colonists further. As a result, these all came together resulting in the American Revolution.
As we've looked over today the Seven Years' War went on to shape the world we live in. Caused by politics and economics over dynastic struggles it showed a shift away from the wars of the early modern world and that of the modern. It went on to shape the major factors which would shape the modern world which would last until the Second World War: wars which covered the entire world, the importance of the Americas, British world hegemony, Prussian hegemony in Europe, and British conquest of India. The Seven Years' War, despite not being nearly as destructive or encompassing, was truly the First World War.
Thank you for reading. The next World History post will look at the American Revolution. The sources I have used are as follows:
-Daniel Baugh, The Global Seven Years' War, 1754-1763: Britain and France in a Great Power Contest, (London: Routledge, 2011)
- Patrice Louis-René Higonnet, 'The Origins of the Seven Years' War', The Journal of Modern History, 40:1, (1968), pp.57-90
-Crispin Bates, Subalterns and the Raj: South Asia since 1600, (London: Routledge, 2007)
-M.S. Anderson, Europe in the Eighteenth Century, 1713-1783, Third Edition, (London: Longman, 1987)
-Franz Szabo, The Seven Years' War in Europe, 1756-1763, (Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2008)
-Fred Anderson, Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766, (New York, NY: Alfred Knopf, 2000)
-Eric Foner, Give me Liberty! An American History, Fourth Edition, (New York, NY: W.W. Norton, 2014)
-Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000, (New York, NY: Vintage, 1989)