Photographic book

The emergence of Prussia


Heidelberg
Heidelberg

Emperor Charles VI, anxious to keep Habsburg lands unified, issued the Pragmatic Sanction in 1713, declaring that his only child, Maria Theresa, should succeed him. When he died in 1740, the electors of Bavaria and Saxony rejected the Pragmatic Sanction on the grounds that they themselves had prior claims through their wives. Frederick II of Prussia offered his support to Maria Theresa in exchange for the rich province of Silesia. When she refused, Frederick promptly invaded Silesia, precipitating the War of the Austrian Succession. The Bavarians, Saxons, and French invaded Austria and Bohemia, while Britain, the Dutch Republic, and Russia came to the aid of Austria. Alarmed by Frederick’s military victories, Maria Theresa made peace with him in 1742, ceding Silesia. Austria and its allies then succeeded in driving the French from Bohemia and conquering Bavaria. By the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1745), Maria Theresa’s husband, Franz, Duke of Lorraine, was recognized as emperor, although it was she who actually ruled. In exchange, Maria Theresa returned Bavaria to the Wittelsbachs and allowed Prussia to keep Silesia.

The emergence of Prussia as a major power led to a radical shift of alliances and to new hostilities. Austria, determined to reconquer Silesia, made an alliance with Russia as well as its old rival France. Prussia, anticipating encirclement, struck first in 1756 by invading Saxony and Bohemia, thus beginning the Seven Years’ War. Despite good leadership, Frederick II found himself pressed by many enemies. He was conveniently rescued by the death of Elizabeth of Russia in 1761 and the succession of Peter III, who admired Frederick and immediately made peace with him. The exhausted French also wanted peace, and hostilities ended in 1763 with all territories restored to prewar status. Bitterly disappointed, Maria Theresa devoted herself to internal affairs.

She gradually reorganized the government and established uniform taxes, a customs union, and state-supported elementary schools. She encouraged commoners as well as nobles to take government and army positions. Pious, warmhearted, and tactful, she was an extremely popular monarch. Her idealistic son, Joseph, with whom she did not always agree, succeeded her in 1780. Joseph II strove impatiently to create an efficient, modern bureaucracy without regard for local customs or prejudices.

Both Prussia and Austria looked to the east for territorial expansion. Prussia had long been anxious to annex the Polish territory separating Brandenburg and Prussia. Austria, ever regretting the lost Silesia, also looked to Poland for compensation. Both countries feared the Russians, who were exercising greater and greater control over Poland, and who had deposed the Polish king in 1764. A weak Poland seemed ample excuse for intervention, and in 1772 Austria, Prussia, and Russia agreed to the first partition of Poland. This partition reduced Poland’s area by about one-quarter. In 1792 the Russians secretly organized a revolt within Poland that gave Russian and Prussian forces an excuse to occupy the country and further reduce Polish territory by about two-thirds. After another Polish attempt to regain territory in 1794, the remainder of the country was divided between Prussia, Austria, and Russia in 1795. "Germany" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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