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Second Silesian War

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The Second Silesian War (German: Zweiter Schlesischer Krieg) was a conflict between Prussia and Austria lasting from 1744 to 1745,[1] which confirmed Prussia's control of the region of Silesia. The war was fought mainly in Silesia, Bohemia, and Upper Saxony and formed one theatre of the wider War of the Austrian Succession. It was the second in a series of three Silesian Wars fought between Frederick the Great's Prussia and Maria Theresa's Austria in the mid-18th century, all three of which ended in Prussian control of Silesia.

This conflict can be viewed as a continuation of the First Silesian War, which had ended only two years earlier. After the Treaty of Berlin ended hostilities between Austria and Prussia in 1742, the Habsburg Monarchy's fortunes improved greatly in the continuing War of the Austrian Succession. As Austria expanded its alliances with the 1743 Treaty of Worms, Prussia entered a renewed alliance with Austria's enemies in the League of Frankfurt and rejoined the war, hoping to prevent a resurgent Austria from taking back Silesia.

The war began with a Prussian invasion of Habsburg Bohemia in mid 1744, and it ended in a Prussian victory with the 1745 Treaty of Dresden, which confirmed Prussian control of Silesia. Continuing conflict over Silesia would draw Austria and Prussia into a Third Silesian War a decade later. The Second Silesian War repeated the defeat of the Habsburg Monarchy by a lesser German power and contributed to the Austria–Prussia rivalry that would shape German politics for more than a century.

Context and causes[edit]

First Silesian War[edit]

Maria Theresa of Austria c. 1744, by Martin van Meytens

Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI died in 1740 without a male heir; he was succeeded by his eldest daughter, who became ruler of the Archduchy of Austria, as well as of the Bohemian and Hungarian lands within the Habsburg Monarchy, as Archduchess Maria Theresa.[2] During Emperor Charles VI's lifetime, this female succession was generally acknowledged by the imperial states, but when he died it was promptly contested by several parties.[3] The newly crowned King Frederick II of Prussia took this Austrian succession crisis as an opportunity to press his dynasty's territorial claims in the Habsburg crown land of Silesia, invading in December 1740 and beginning the First Silesian War.[4]

After early Prussian successes, other powers were emboldened to attack the beleaguered Habsburg realm, widening the conflict into what became the War of the Austrian Succession.[5] Prussia, France, Spain, Bavaria and others formed an alliance known as the League of Nymphenburg to support each other's efforts to seize Habsburg territory and Bavaria's bid for the imperial election. The allies invaded on multiple fronts in the summer of 1741, soon occupying Austrian Tyrol, Upper Austria and Bohemia, even threatening Vienna.[6] Faced with a potential war of partition, Austria negotiated a secret armistice with Prussia in October and redeployed its forces to face its other enemies.[7]

Prussian forces resumed offensive operations in December, invading Moravia and blocking an Austrian drive toward Prague in early 1742.[8] Elector Charles Albert of Bavaria won the 1742 Imperial election and became Holy Roman Emperor.[9] In July 1742 Prussia and Austria made a separate peace in the Treaty of Berlin, under which Austria conceded the majority of Silesia to Prussia in return for Prussia's neutrality in the continuing War of the Austrian Succession.[10] In late 1742, while Prussia enjoyed the restored peace and worked to assimilate Silesia into its administration and economy,[11] Austria fought on against Bavaria and France, reversing its losses from 1741.[12]

By the summer of 1743 Austria recovered control of Bohemia, drove the French back across the Rhine into Alsace, and occupied Bavaria, exiling the Bavarian Emperor Charles Albert to Frankfurt.[12] Prussia's withdrawal from the War of the Austrian Succession under a separate peace embittered its erstwhile allies,[13] and the diplomatic position shifted in Austria's favor.[14] By early 1744, both Prussia and Austria had negotiated new alliances and were preparing for renewed conflict over Silesia.[15]

Preparations for a second war[edit]

In September 1743 Austria, BritainHanover, and Savoy–Sardinia concluded a new alliance under the Treaty of Worms; Britain had previously recognized Prussia's acquisition of Silesia as the mediator of the Treaty of Berlin, but this new alliance made no mention of that guarantee.[14] Meanwhile, the Russo-Swedish War that had paralleled the First Silesian War ended in August 1743, freeing Russia to potentially take Austria's side in the ongoing succession war. That same summer, Empress Elizabeth of Russia appointed as chancellor Alexey Bestuzhev, a proponent of a pro-British and anti-French policy that entailed friendship to Austria and enmity to Prussia.[16] Prussia sought warmer relations with Russia and briefly won a minor defensive agreement, but Russia posed a growing threat to Prussia's eastern frontier.[17]

King Frederick apprehended that an irresistible anti-Prussian coalition might soon develop among Britain–Hanover, Saxony, Russia and Austria.[18] To prevent Austria from taking revenge at its convenience, when the war elsewhere was concluded, Frederick decided that Prussia must restore its French alliance, build an anti-Austrian coalition with as many other German princes as possible, and then strike first against Austria.[19] So, in late 1743 and early 1744, Prussia conducted negotiations with France, Bavaria and other German princes to build a coalition to support the Bavarian Emperor Charles Albert.[20]

On 22 May 1744, Prussia formed an alliance with Bavaria, Sweden, Hesse–Kassel and the Electoral Palatinate known as the League of Frankfurt, whose announced aim was to recover and defend the territories of Emperor Charles Albert, including Bohemia (where he had been proclaimed king in 1742).[21] A parallel treaty with France was concluded on 5 June, under which France committed to cooperate with Prussia in recovering control of Bohemia from Austria.[20] Prussia would lead this effort by invading Bohemia from the north, a service for which the Emperor committed to cede the portions of Bohemia northeast of the Elbe to Prussia.[22] Meanwhile, the main Austrian force under Prince Charles of Lorraine would be occupied by the French in Alsace, where the French would counterattack on the opposite front as Prince Charles's army was pulled in two directions.[23][24]

Maria Theresa, for her part, aimed at the same goals she had pursued from the beginning of the War of the Austrian Succession: first, she needed to compel a general recognition of the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713 and her right to rule the Habsburg lands; second, she wanted to achieve the election of her husband, Francis Stephen of Lorraine, as Holy Roman Emperor; third, she hoped to recover and preserve control of the contested Habsburg crown lands of Bohemia and Silesia.[20] As soon as the Franco–Bavarian threat from the west could be defeated, Austria intended to resume hostilities in Silesia and drive out the Prussians, restoring the borders of the territories Maria Theresa had inherited.[25][26] On 7 August, Prussia declared its intervention in the Austrian war on behalf of Emperor Charles Albert, and King Frederick led soldiers across the frontier into Bohemia on 15 August 1744, beginning the Second Silesian War.[23]


The Central European borders of Brandenburg–Prussia (blue) and the Habsburg Monarchy (red) after Prussia's seizure of Silesia in the First Silesian War

Bohemian campaign of 1744[edit]

In August 1744, the invading Prussian army, numbering around 70,000 men,[21] entered Bohemia in three parts: the eastern column, led by Count Kurt von Schwerin, advanced from Silesia through Glatz and across the Giant Mountains; the central column, led by Prince Leopold II of Anhalt-Dessau, marched through Saxony (with an order from the Emperor guaranteeing safe conduct), passing through Lusatia and advancing to Leitmeritz; the western column, led by King Frederick himself, advanced up the Elbe through Dresden and across the Ore Mountains to Leitmeritz.[27] After entering Bohemia, all three forces converged upon Prague by the beginning of September, surrounding and besieging the Bohemian capital. The city underwent a week of heavy artillery bombardment, eventually surrendering to the Prussians on 16 September.[23]

Frederick left a modest garrison in Prague and quickly marched on to the south, occupying Tabor, Budweis and Frauenberg.[28] As expected, this new threat drew the Austrian army under Prince Charles back from Alsace through Bavaria; the French, however, failed to harass and disrupt the Austrian redeployment as they had promised,[24] owing in part to King Louis XV's falling seriously ill while overseeing the defense at Metz.[21] Consequently, Prince Charles's army was able to return to Bohemia quickly, in good order and at full strength, though it was forced to abandon control of Alsace and Bavaria.[29] Austrian diplomats also persuaded Saxony to change to the Austrian side and defend Bohemia against Prussia.[27] By early October, the Austrians were advancing through southwestern Bohemia toward Prague, while a Saxon army marched from the northwest to support them.[30]

Learning of the Austrians' rapid approach and unexpected strength, Frederick began pulling his forces back from southeastern Bohemia to face the oncoming Austrians. The Prussians' supplies ran low in the hostile province, and Frederick tried repeatedly to force a decisive engagement, but Austrian commander Otto Ferdinand von Traun maneuvered away from all Prussian advances while continually harassing the invaders' supply lines. By early November, the Prussians were forced to retreat to Prague and the Elbe, and after some weeks of maneuver an Austrian–Saxon force crossed the Elbe on 19 November.[30] At this point the Prussians abandoned Prague and gave up Bohemia for lost, retreating in poor morale into Upper Silesia, which they defended against Austrian incursions through the winter.[31]

Early 1745: Bavarian defeat[edit]

Frederick Augustus II of Saxony and Poland, by Louis de Silvestre

On 8 January 1745, Austria concluded the Treaty of Warsaw, which established a new "Quadruple Alliance" among Austria, Britain–Hanover, Saxony, and the Dutch Republic, aimed at opposing the League of Frankfurt and defending the traditional borders of the Habsburg Monarchy.[32] Prince-Elector Frederick Augustus II of Saxony committed to contribute troops to the cause, while the British and Dutch would provide financial subsidies but no armed forces. This public defensive alliance was soon followed by a secret offensive alliance between Austria and Saxony, signed 18 May in Leipzig, which envisioned a territorial partition of Prussia.[33] Meanwhile, as Austrian forces withdrew from Bavaria to respond to the Prussian invasion of Bohemia, Emperor Charles Albert had recovered control of his capital at Munich; not long after relocating there, however, the Emperor died on 20 January, destroying the rationale behind King Frederick's alliance.[31] These events combined to produce a major shift in the direction of the war in Germany.[34]

With Prussia's forces driven out of Bohemia, Austria renewed its offensive against Bavaria in March 1745, swiftly overrunning the defenses that had been reestablished there during the winter. On 15 April, the Austrians under Count Batthyány decisively defeated the Franco-Bavarian army at the Battle of Pfaffenhofen and drove the allied forces entirely out of Bavaria.[33] After this defeat, Maximilian III of Bavaria (the son of the late Emperor Charles Albert) made peace with Maria Theresa by the Treaty of Füssen on 22 April.[35] In the treaty, Maximilian abandoned his father's claims on Austrian lands and promised to support Francis Stephen of Lorraine in the forthcoming imperial election; in return, Maria Theresa retroactively recognized Charles Albert's legitimacy as Holy Roman Emperor. This closed the Bavarian theater of the War of the Austrian Succession, allowing Austria to concentrate its forces on the remaining fronts in Silesia, Italy, and the Netherlands.[33]

Mid 1745: Battles of Hohenfriedberg and Soor[edit]

Prussian grenadiers overrunning Saxon forces during the Battle of Hohenfriedberg, as depicted by Carl Röchling

Having made peace with Bavaria, in late April Austria prepared for a more determined invasion of Silesia, moving the army of Charles of Lorraine into Moravia, while a Saxon army organized near Leipzig. Frederick abandoned the mountainous southern tip of Upper Silesia to the Austrian vanguard of pandurs,[36] concentrating his defenses around the town of Frankenstein in the valley of the Eastern Neisse.[37] Meanwhile, Leopold I of Anhalt-Dessau was put in command of a smaller force in Brandenburg to prevent a Saxon invasion. At the end of May, the Austrian–Saxon force crossed through the Giant Mountains and camped around the Silesian village of Hohenfriedberg, where Frederick staged a surprise attack on the morning of 4 June.[36] The ensuing Battle of Hohenfriedberg ended in a major Prussian victory, sending Prince Charles's army retreating in disarray back into the mountains they had just crossed.[38]

Austria's reversal at Hohenfriedberg removed any immediate prospect of recovering Silesia.[39] The Prussians followed the retreating Austrian–Saxon army into Bohemia, harassing its rear as far as Königgrätz, where the two forces camped on opposite sides of the Elbe. The armies faced off but fought little during the summer, while Frederick pursued a peace agreement that would again guarantee his control of Silesia.[40] Britain's willingness to subsidize Austria's war against Prussia was greatly reduced by the outbreak of a new Jacobite uprising, and on 26 August Britain and Prussia agreed to the Convention of Hanover, in which both sides recognized each other's German possessions (including Prussian Silesia), and Prussia committed not to seek territorial gains in Bohemia or Saxony in any eventual peace agreement.[41]

On the Austrian side, Maria Theresa negotiated through the summer with the German prince-electors to make her husband Holy Roman Emperor, now that the Bavarian emperor had died.[40] The 1745 Imperial election was held on 13 September in Frankfurt, where Francis Stephen of Lorraine was indeed named Emperor Francis I (despite dissenting votes from Prussia and the Palatinate), achieving one of Maria Theresa's major goals in the war.[32] Meanwhile, supplies had run low in the Prussian camp in Bohemia, and Prussia's forces were gradually pushed back by Austrian probes.[40] On 29 September, Prince Charles's army staged a surprise attack on Frederick's camp near the village of Soor; the resulting Battle of Soor ended in a solid Prussian victory, despite the Austrian surprise and superior numbers.[38][35] However, the Prussian's supplies were exhausted, and they withdrew again into Upper Silesia for the winter, driving out the Austrian light troops that had entered the region ahead of Prince Charles's main force.[42]

Late 1745: Battles of Hennersdorf and Kesselsdorf[edit]

Frederick the Great of Prussia in 1745, by Antoine Pesne

Prussia and Britain hoped that the Austrian defeats at Hohenfreidberg and Soor would persuade Austria to come to terms and concentrate its efforts against France, but Maria Theresa was resolved to fight on. On 29 August Austria and Saxony had agreed on a more offensive alliance against Prussia,[43] and in early November they began a new advance from multiple quarters toward Brandenburg.[38][35] Prince Charles's Austrian army marched north from Bohemia toward Lusatia, while the main Saxon army under Frederick Augustus Rutowsky prepared to attack from western Saxony, hoping together to seize Berlin and end the war outright. On 8 November, however, King Frederick was informed of these movements and ordered Leopold I to prepare his troops in western Brandenburg, while Frederick himself departed for Lower Silesia to gather forces to meet Charles's advance.[44]

Prussian forces quietly paralleled Prince Charles's march through Lusatia, until the Austrians had come nearly to the Brandenburg border. There, on 23 November Frederick launched a successful surprise attack on Charles's camp at Katholisch Hennersdorf; this Battle of Hennersdorf ended with the Saxon elements of the allied army destroyed and the larger Austrian force confused and scattered. Charles and his remnants were forced to retreat back into central Saxony and Bohemia, leaving Lusatia under Prussian control.[45] Meanwhile, Leopold I's army advanced into western Saxony on 29 November against minimal resistance, progressing as far as Leipzig by the next day and occupying that city. From there, his army and Frederick's converged toward Dresden in early December.[44]

Frederick's force attempted to come between the Saxon capital and Prince Charles's Austrians, while Leopold's army advanced directly upon Rutowsky's Saxons, who were entrenched beside the village of Kesselsdorf.[46] On 15 December Leopold's force attacked and destroyed Rutowsky's army in the Battle of Kesselsdorf, opening the way to Dresden, as Prince Charles and the remaining Saxon soldiers retreated through the Ore Mountains into Bohemia.[32] The Prussians occupied Dresden on 18 December,[47] after which King Frederick once again sent envoys to Maria Theresa and Frederick Augustus II to make peace.[48]

Treaty of Dresden[edit]

Austrian and Saxon delegates and British mediators joined the Prussians in Dresden, where they quickly negotiated a peace treaty. Under the resulting agreement, Maria Theresa recognized Frederick's sovereignty over Silesia and Glatz, while Frederick acknowledged Francis I as Holy Roman Emperor and again committed to remain neutral for the remainder of the War of the Austrian Succession.[32] For its part in the Austrian alliance, Saxony was compelled to pay one million rixdollars in reparations to Prussia. The region's border were thus confirmed at status quo ante bellum, which had been Prussia's principal goal.[48] This Treaty of Dresden was signed on 25 December 1745, ending the Second Silesian War between Austria, Saxony, and Prussia.[47]


Europe in the years after the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748), with Brandenburg–Prussia in violet and the Habsburg Monarchy in gold

The Second Silesian War ended in a Prussian victory; Prussia defended its control of Silesia, and the Prussian intervention in Bohemia seriously impeded the Austrian war effort against France. However, by again making a separate peace while the French continued to fight the wider War of the Austrian Succession, Frederick turned the sentiment of the French court further against him.[49] The Treaty of Dresden also deepened Austria and Saxony's hostility toward Prussia, leading them into the anti-Prussian alliance that would spark the Third Silesian War in the following decade.[1]


By again defeating Austria, Prussia confirmed its acquisition of Silesia, a densely industrialized region (for the time period) with a large population and substantial tax yields.[50] The small kingdom's unexpected victories over the Habsburg Monarchy marked the beginning of Prussia's rise toward the status of a European great power, as it began to leave German rivals such as Bavaria and Saxony behind.[51] His series of military victories in 1745 won Frederick general acclaim as a brilliant military commander; it was at the end of this war that he began to be spoken of as "Frederick the Great."[52]

However, this success planted the seeds of future difficulties. Prussia's seizure of Silesia made Austria into a lasting and determined enemy, beginning the Austria–Prussia rivalry that would come to dominate German politics over the next century.[53] King Frederick's repeated withdrawal from his alliances in the War of the Austrian Succession deepened the French royal court's distrust of him, contributing to France's eventual realignment toward Austria in the Diplomatic Revolution of the 1750s; France would later oppose Prussia in the Third Silesian War.[54]


The Second Silesian War was a disappointment for Austria, whose armed forces had proven surprisingly ineffective against smaller Prussian armies in 1745. Maria Theresa refused to accept the loss of Silesia; when the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle finally ended the War of the Austrian Succession in 1748, her government refused to sign the agreement because it guaranteed Prussian sovereignty in the conquered province. Instead, she began a general reform of Austria's military and a review of its diplomatic policy, all aimed at eventually recovering Silesia and relegating Prussia to the status of a lesser power.[55] This policy eventually led to the formation of a broad anti-Prussian alliance among Austria, France and Russia, followed by the outbreak of the Third Silesian War and the wider Seven Years' War in 1756.[1]


  1. ^ a b c "Silesian Wars". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 4 August 2017.
  2. ^ Asprey (1986), p. 24
  3. ^ Clifford (1914), p. 3100
  4. ^ Clark (2006), p. 183
  5. ^ Clark (2006), pp. 193–194
  6. ^ Black (2002), pp. 102–103
  7. ^ Holborn (1982), p. 213
  8. ^ Carlyle (1858a). Chapter XIII — Battle of Chotusitz. Book XIII.
  9. ^ Fraser (2000), p. 106
  10. ^ Carlyle (1858a). Chapter XIV — Peace of Breslau. Book XIII.
  11. ^ Fraser (2000), pp. 130–131
  12. ^ a b Clifford (1914), p. 3103
  13. ^ Fraser (2000), pp. 135–136
  14. ^ a b Fraser (2000), p. 143
  15. ^ Fraser (2000), pp. 158–159
  16. ^ Wikisource Bain, Robert Nisbet (1911). "Bestuzhev-Ryumin, Alexius Petrovich, Count" . In Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  17. ^ Fraser (2000), p. 144
  18. ^ Fraser (2000), p. 148
  19. ^ Fraser (2000), pp. 152–153
  20. ^ a b c Carlyle (1858b). Chapter VII — Friedrich Makes Treaty With France; and Silently Gets Ready. Book XIV.
  21. ^ a b c Clifford (1914), p. 3104
  22. ^ Fraser (2000), p. 153, 159
  23. ^ a b c Carlyle (1858c). Chapter II — Friedrich Marches upon Prag, Captures Prag. Book XV.
  24. ^ a b Holborn (1982), p. 215
  25. ^ Asprey (1986), p. 290
  26. ^ Fraser (2000), p. 150
  27. ^ a b Browning (1993), p. 181
  28. ^ Asprey (1986), pp. 293–294
  29. ^ Carlyle (1858c). Chapter III — Friedrich, Diligent in His Bohemian Conquests, Unexpectedly Comes upon Prince Karl, with No French Attending Him. Book XV.
  30. ^ a b Carlyle (1858c). Chapter IV — Friedrich Reduced to Straits; Cannot Maintain His Moldau Conquests Against Prince Karl. Book XV.
  31. ^ a b Carlyle (1858c). Chapter V — Friedrich, under Difficulties, Prepares for a New Campaign. Book XV.
  32. ^ a b c d Clifford (1914), p. 3105
  33. ^ a b c Carlyle (1858c). Chapter VI — Valori Goes on an Electioneering Mission to Dresden. Book XV.
  34. ^ Simms (2008), pp. 336–37
  35. ^ a b c Holborn (1982), p. 216
  36. ^ a b Carlyle (1858c). Chapter IX — The Austrian–Saxon Army Invades Silesia, across the Mountains. Book XV.
  37. ^ Asprey (1986), p. 317
  38. ^ a b c Showalter (2012), pp. 84–88
  39. ^ Fraser (2000), p. 178
  40. ^ a b c Carlyle (1858c). Chapter XI — Camp of Chlum: Friedrich Cannot Achieve Peace. Book XV.
  41. ^ Fraser (2000), pp. 185–186
  42. ^ Carlyle (1858c). Chapter XII — Battle of Sohr. Book XV.
  43. ^ Fraser (2000), p. 186
  44. ^ a b Carlyle (1858c). Chapter XIII — Saxony and Austria Make a Surprising Last Attempt. Book XV.
  45. ^ Fraser (2000), p. 194
  46. ^ Carlyle (1858). Chapter XIV — Battle of Kesselsdorf. Book XV.
  47. ^ a b Fraser (2000), p. 196
  48. ^ a b Carlyle (1858). Chapter XV — Peace of Dresden: Friedrich Does March Home. Book XV.
  49. ^ Holborn (1982), pp. 213–215
  50. ^ Clark (2006), p. 192
  51. ^ Clark (2006), p. 196
  52. ^ Carlyle (1858d). Chapter I — Sans-Souci. Book XVI.
  53. ^ Clark (2006), p. 216
  54. ^ Clark (2006), pp. 210–211
  55. ^ Clark (2006), pp. 196–197


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