First Silesian War 1740-1742

[ 1740 - 1742 ]

The First Silesian War inaugurated, and is generally seen in the context of, the wider ranging War of the Austrian Succession. It owed its origins to the Pragmatic Sanction of 19 April 1713 whereby the Habsburg emperor Charles VI decreed the imperial succession arrangements as set out in his will, according precedence to his own daughters over the daughters of his (by now deceased) elder brother Joseph I. This proved prescient: in May 1717 the emperor’s own eldest daughter was born and on his death in 1740, she duly succeeded as Archduchess of Austria as well as to the thrones of the Bohemian and Hungarian lands within the Habsburg Monarchy as Queen Maria Theresa.

During the emperor’s lifetime the Pragmatic Sanction was generally acknowledged by the imperial states but when he died it was promptly contested both by the Hohenzollern scion Frederick II, who had just ascended the Prussian throne, and by the Wittelsbach elector Charles Albert of Bavaria. While Charles launched a claim to the imperial throne and the Habsburg territories, King Frederick II aimed at the annexation of Silesia, a Bohemian crown land since 1526.

Frederick based his demands on a 1537 inheritance treaty of the Silesian duke Frederick II of Legnica with the Hohenzollern elector Joachim II of Brandenburg, whereby the Silesian duchies of Legnica, Wolów and Brzeg were to pass to the Electorate of Brandenburg on the extinction of the Silesian Piasts. The Bohemian king Ferdinand of Habsburg, aware of the Hohenzollern ambitions, had immediately rejected the agreement; nevertheless in 1675 the "Great Elector" Frederick William of Brandenburg raised claim to the principalities, when with the death of Duke George William of Legnica the Piast line finally had died out. At that time no attempt had been made to implement these old treaty provisions, and when in the course of the 1685 Edict of Potsdam the Elector entered into an alliance with the Habsburg emperor Leopold I, he was persuaded to renounce his claims in return for the assignment of the Silesian Swiebodzin (Schwiebus) exclave and a payment. However, after the accession of Frederick William's son and successor Elector Frederick III of Brandenburg, the emperor in 1695 enforced the restitution of Swiebodzin, which allegedly only had been personally assigned to late Frederick William for life. Furious Frederick III in turn again insisted on the centuries-old Brandenburg claims to the Silesian Piast heritage.

Forty-five years on, an extensive alliance formed in support of Prussia’s newly asserted claims on Silesia. King Frederick II was supported by the electorates of Bavaria, Saxony and Cologne, as well as by the kingdoms of France, Spain, Sweden and Naples along with various smaller European powers. The shared objective within the alliance was the destruction or at least the diminution of the Habsburg Monarchy and of its dominant influence over the other German states. The Habsburgs found themselves supported by the Russian Empire along with the maritime powers, the Dutch and the British (in personal union with the Electorate of Hanover), whose imperial aspirations beyond Europe always inclined them to join available eighteenth-century European wars on the anti-French side. Britain and Austria were bound by the Anglo-Austrian Alliance which had existed since 1731.

Belligerents Initiation Date Termination Date
Prussia and Austria 1740 1742 View