War of the Austrian Succession | The Canadian Encyclopedia


War of the Austrian Succession

The War of the Austrian Succession (1740–48) included conflict in Europe, North America and India. The military operations in North America are known as King George's War (1744–48).

Port of Louisbourg
View of Louisbourg from a warship, as it would have appeared in 1744 (artwork by Lewis Parker).

Causes, Alliances and Theatres

The immediate cause of the war was the death in 1740 of Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor and ruler of the Austrian Habsburg monarchy. His eldest daughter, Maria Theresa, assumed the throne but her succession was challenged by France, Prussia, Bavaria and Spain. Maria Theresa was supported by Britain, Hanover and the Dutch Republic.

The War of the Austrian Succession included the First and Second Silesian Wars in central Europe and a separate conflict between Britain and Spain — the so-called War of Jenkins's Ear, which began in 1739 and was eventually subsumed by the larger war.

The imperial and commercial rivalry between Britain and France played an important role in the war. The two powers struggled for control of North America in what is known as King George’s War (1744–48). Britain and France also clashed in India in the First Carnatic War (1746–48).

Britain vs. France

The war proved a disaster for both Britain and France. A British army was soundly defeated by the French on 11 May 1745 at Fontenoy, Flanders [Belgium], and driven off the continent. French maritime trade was eventually ruined by the Royal Navy.

In North America, Canadian war parties ravaged British frontier settlements in Nova Scotia, New York and New England. A combined British-New England expedition captured Louisbourg in June, but the Anglo-American force was no more able to conquer New France than the Canadians were able to conquer New England.

Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle

In May–June 1748 the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle ended the war but settled nothing. Britain returned Louisbourg to France in exchange for Madras, India, which French forces had captured during the war. The Netherlands were ceded to Austria, and Silesia to Prussia.

The powers were all dissatisfied with their respective allies, and so made changes. On the eve of the Seven Years' War, Prussia was allied with Britain, while Austria was allied with France.