Silesian Wars

Silesian Wars

The Silesian Wars were a series of wars between Prussia and Austria (and their changing allies) for control of Silesia. They formed parts of the larger War of the Austrian Succession and Seven Years' War.

First Silesian War (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 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 of 1717 the Emperor’s own eldest daughter was born and on his death in 1740, she duly succeeded to the thrones of lands within the Habsburg Monarchy as the Queen Maria Theresa.

During the emperor’s lifetime the Pragmatic Sanction was generally acknowledged by the German states: following his death it was promptly contested both by Frederick II, the new king of Prussia and by Bavaria's king, Charles Albert. The Bavarian king launched a claim to the imperial throne and to the Habsburg territories while Prussia demanded Silesia and a part of the Habsburg territories for itself.

Frederick II of Prussia based his demands on a breach of the 1537 Treaty of Schwiebus whereby the Silesian princedoms of Liegnitz, Wohlau and Brieg were to pass to Brandenburg on the extinction of the Piast dynasty. In 1675, with the death of George William of Legnica the Piast line had died out: at that time no attempt had been made to implement these old treaty provisions, and the Prussian Elector (ruler) had been persuaded to renounce the claim in return for a payment.

Sixty-five years on, an extensive alliance formed in support of Prussia’s newly asserted claims on Silesia. Prussia was supported by France, Bavaria, and Sweden 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 Russians along with the maritime powers, the Dutch and the British/Hanoverians whose imperial aspirations beyond Europe always inclined them to join available eighteenth century European wars on the anti-French side.


After a 2-month campaign, Prussian forces occupied Silesia, which belonged to the Bohemian Crown of the Habsburg possessions. In 1741 the Prussians defeated the Austrians in the Battle of Mollwitz near Brieg. In the Peace of Breslau 1742 most of Silesia was ceded to Prussia and was organized into the Silesian province.

The southern portion of Silesia (with Jägerndorf/Karniow, Troppau and Teschen) remained under Habsburg control and was called Bohemian Silesia, and after 1849 Austrian Silesia. Small portions of Polish Silesia (Oświęcim, Zator, Żywiec and Siewierz) were not involved in this war.

Peace of Breslau 1742

Map of Silesia (see map on right) as divided between Prussia, Bohemia-Austria and Poland after the Peace of Breslau of 1742, which ended the first Silesian War

* The red line shows the historical boundaries of Silesia that were stable for some 1000 years.
* The grey area shows the major part of Silesia acquired by Prussia from Austria-Bohemia in the Peace of Wrocław (1742), as a result of the First Silesian War;
* The yellow area shows the remainder of Bohemian-Austrian Silesia. It was called Bohemian Silesia up to 1849, and then Austrian Silesia. The map show the cities of Opava, Krnov and Cieszyn;
* The Red/Orange area shows Polish Silesia: the duchies of Oświęcim and Zator, with Biała, later Bielsko-Biała - all shown on the map; and the duchy of Siewierz.

Second Silesian War (1744-1745)

The Second Silesian War took place from 1744 to 1745. The Austrians had lost Silesia to Prussia in the Battle of Mollwitz. This was the time when the Austrians, under the command of Field Marshal Otto Ferdinand von Abensberg und Traun, made the attempt to gain control of Silesia once again. The Prussians were again led by King Frederick II. The battle of Hohenfriedeberg on June 4, 1744 was fought through a “series of separate actions, with each part of the Prussian army fighting its own uncoordinated battle. Because the Saxons and Austrians were unable to support each other during the battle they “Allowed the Prussians time to recover from their own tactical lapses and win a victory that was significant enough to give the battle’s name to one of Germany’s greatest marches” (Showalter, 84). After the Prussian victory, Frederick did not pursue the opposing armies. In the battle of Soor on September 29, 1745, Frederick's Prussians faced an Austrian army led by Prince Charles Alexander of Lorraine with 39,000 men. Frederick tried to obtain Graner-Koppe from Prince Charles where the Prussians met with cannon fire. The Prussians won after a closely-fought battle consisting of a series of attacks and regimental fighting. (Showalter, 86). As soon as Frederick was sure the war was over the Empress of Austria, Maria Theresa, had not given up. “She became even more determined to put Prussia in its proper place by force of arms” (Showalter, 86). Seeking peace with France and Russia, she hoped to beat Prussia and gain control of Silesia once again. Frederick was informed of her movements to regain control and “responded with a pre-emptive strike” (Showalter, 86). This was known as the battle of Kesselsdorf which was in fact won by the Prussian general Leopold I, Prince of Anhalt-Dessau; the Austrians were led by Frederick Augustus Rutowsky.

The signing of the Treaty of Dresden on December 25, 1745 ended the Second Silesian War between Austria, Saxony, and Prussia. Maria Theresa recognized Frederick the Great’s “sovereignty over Silesia in return for Prussian recognition of Francis as Holy Roman Emperor” (Showalter, 88).

References:Citino, Robert . The German Way of War. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas , 2005.Craig, Gordon. The Politics of the Prussian Army. New York : Oxford University Press, 1955. Showalter, Dennis. The Wars of Frederick the Great. New York: Longman Group Limited , 1996.

Third Silesian War (1756-1763)

This was a part of the all European Seven Years' War; Austria tried to get back Silesia for the second time, but was abandoned by her ally Russia. Prussia then confirmed her Silesian possessions for the next 150 years.

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