The New Student's Reference Work/Seven Years' War

Seven Years' War (1756-63). A struggle in Europe, which had far-reaching results, between Prussia under Frederick the Great and a confederacy of European powers, consisting mainly of Austria under Empress Maria Theresa, Russia, Saxony, Sweden and France. The immediate object of the war was to enable Austria to regain possession of Silesia, duchies which had in 1740 been seized by Frederick, and this precipitated a strife known as the Seven Years' War or the third Silesian War. With Prussia was allied England under George II, who sought thus to secure his Hanoverian possessions against France, and between which and the English there had been a growing ill-feeling in consequence of rivalry in the American colonies and in India. On the part of the confederacy of Austria, Russia and France the feeling that led to the war was European jealousy of the growing power of Prussia, whose prestige had been greatly raised by the genius of Frederick. On the outbreak of the war he made himself master of Saxony by the defeat of the Austrians at Lobositz (October, 1756), temporarily invaded Bohemia, and again inflicted defeat upon the Austrians (at Prague, May, 1757), followed by victories later in the year over the French and Austrians at Rossbach and over the Austrians alone at Leuthen (December, 1757). Through varying fortune Frederick's military genius enabled him in the two ensuing years to wrest victories from the Russians at Zorndorf and from the French at Minden, though his capital was taken by the Russians and was subjected to three days' plunder. In 1761 the English, owing to the death of George II, withdrew their subsidies to Prussia; but Frederick's straits were somewhat relieved in the following year, when Elizabeth of Russia died and Peter III, her successor, in his few months' reign made peace with Prussia. Sweden and France fell away from the alliance, and at Hubertusburg, Austria, too weak to carry on the war alone, made peace with Prussia, Feb. 15, 1763, and Silesia was confirmed as a possession of Frederick.

Aside from European complications, there was at this time, between England and France, cause enough for war in the friction between the two nations, owing to their rivalries in India and in North America and to the desire of both to settle who should be master of these vast domains. France had colonized Canada and Louisiana, while England had established colonies along that part of the Atlantic coast which separated the French settlements. To connect the latter and to exclude England from the great fur-trade of the interior, France erected military posts from Niagara River to the mouth of the Mississippi. This was naturally resented by England and her colonies, and precipitated a conflict in the Ohio Valley and on the St. Lawrence, which had its fateful issue in the conquest of Quebec and the surrender of Canada to Britain. In India English prowess met with like good fortune. The East India Company had founded settlements for trade, which gave promise of extending to an empire; but France, jealous of her hereditary rival, endeavored to snatch the prize. Dupleix, the French governor of Pondicherry, captured Madras, and by intriguing with the native princes attempted to make French power supreme over the country. In this ambitious scheme he was checkmated by Lord Clive, who from a clerkship in the East India Company rose to be one of the greatest of English generals and the savior of India. Clive captured Arcot, and in 1757, when the sovereignty of Bengal was in peril, he won a great victory over the native insurgents at Plassey, which made Bengal a British province, saved the English residents from massacre, and, in spite of the atrocity of the Black Hole at Calcutta, laid the foundations of British rule in India. The war, which raised Prussia to the front rank among European powers and developed England's colonial empire, was marked by naval victories which fell to the English, as the affairs at Louisbourg, Lagos and Quiberon Bay. Consult Carlyle's Frederick the Great; lives of William Pitt, General Wolfe and Lord Clive; and Parkman's Montcalm and Wolfe. See French and Indian War.