The Great European Powers Begin The Seven Years’ War

Today on May 17, 1756, the bloody Seven Years War broke out as tensions between the Great Powers of Europe reached a boiling point.

The Seven Years War was a global conflict that involved all of the European superpowers. As the name suggests, the war lasted for a total of seven years from 1756 to 1763. Historians generally consider it to be the first ‘world war’ with some calling it “World War Zero.” The main theatres of battle spanned five continents across Europe, the Americas, West Africa, India, and Southeast Asia. The war split Europe into two main coalitions. The first group, led by Great Britain, included Prussia, Portugal, Hanover, and a few other smaller states. Britain was also supported by the Thirteen Colonies and the Iroquois Confederacy in North America. While the second coalition was headed by France alongside the Holy Roman Empire, Austria, Saxony, Spain, Sweden, and the Russian Empire.

The Seven Years War was essentially an amalgamation of two pre-existing conflicts. The first centered on Britain’s century-long struggle with France and Spain over its colonial possessions around the world. The second conflict centered on Frederick the Great’s struggle against his long-time enemies of Austria and Russia. On August 26, 1756, Prussian forces preemptively invaded Austria’s ally Saxony, fearing the Russians would use it as a military base. Frederick won two impressive victories at the battles of Rossbach and Leuthen but incurred massive casualties by the end of the war. Prussia survived the war after benefiting from both good fortune and a politically divided enemy.

On May 17, 1756, the British Parliament formally declared war on France; however, the declaration was two years after skirmishes initially broke out between the two sides in the Ohio Valley. Britain achieved a stunning series of maritime victories, giving them control over vast new territory. The Royal Navy ultimately established itself as an unstoppable machine, capable of ruling the high seas for over a century to come.

Despite mobilizing more than a million soldiers, France ultimately lost the Seven Years War to the Anglo-Prussian alliance. In North America, Britain gained control over critical French holdings, including Louisbourg (1758), Québec (1759), and Montreal (1760). Spain transferred control of Florida to Britain while France ceded Louisiana and all of its territory west of the Mississippi to Spain. The British Empire further gained territory in Guadeloupe (1759), Martinique (1762), and Havana (1762) in the West Indies. In 1762, they also conquered Manila in the Philippines and solidified their grip over India. In Europe, the Seven Years War largely resulted in status quo ante bellum (the Latin phrase meaning "the state existing before the war").

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