The First Silesian War

Frederick II the Great
Frederick II the Great

The First Silesian War was really the first stage of the War of the Austrian Succession. The causes of the war were that Maria Theresa, the archduchess, would inherit the lands of her father Emperor Charles VI, and that her husband, Francis I, the Duke of Lorraine, would be crowned as Holy Roman Emperor. At the Pragmatic Sanction Charles Albert, the Elector of Bavaria, was opposed to the succession because he believed that he should have the territory. He had the support of France, Austria's enemy. At the same time,  Augustus III, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony advanced his own claim to Silesia. Both rulers were married to Hapsburgs. Even King Philip V of Spain claimed Silesia because the Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperor Charles V had been king of Spain. Frederick II of Prussia(Frederick the Great), wanted Silesia and invaded it, justifying it by unsettled dynastic claims. This event sparked the First Silesian War.

Frederick II offered to support Maria Theresa for the inheritor of her father's possessions if she would cede Silesia to him. Obviously, Maria Theresa refused. Frederick easily occupied Silesia in December of 1740. However, the Austrians were not going to accept the Prussian control and planned an invasion. On April 10, 1741, at the Battle of Mollwitz, the two sides met. This was the first decisive battle that Frederick II fought since he did not want to risk many decisive battles. However, Frederick succeeded in this battle. The Prussian cavalry was attacked first and since they were outnumbered and were of lower quality, they were defeated. The Prussian left flank was now open to attack. Field Marshall Schwerin told Frederick II to leave the battlefield, and he did. Frederick II had personally fought with the Prussian cavalry and was nearly captured by the Austrian Hussars. Surprisingly, the infantry won the day. Since Frederick II left the battlefield, there was much speculation on his courage. Nontheless, the victory allowed the Prussians to claim Silesia as their own.

Allied with the Prussians, Augustus III who was the Duke of Saxony and the King of Poland invaded Bohemia in 1741. At first, the Austrians could not resist the sudden invasion. Soon enough they got more troops and defeated the Saxons. The Saxons negotiated peace and withdrew.

Charles Albert had wanted to become the Holy Roman Emperor at the Pragmatic Sanction. He portrayed himself as the archduke of Austria and was soon crownedat Frankfurt as Holy Roman Emperor Charles VII and the King of Bohemia in 1741. However, the Emperor would have little power in the upcoming years.

Prussia's other allies, the French, Bavarians, and Saxons had taken Prague, the capital city of Bohemia on November 26, 1741. Not only did the Austrians face this situation in Bohemia, but they also faced a new threat in Italy. The Neapolitans and Spanish had taken possession of all lands up to Modena, were outmaneuvered and defeated by the Austrian Count Traun.

With everybody allied against Austria, the situation looked grim. To get new troops, Maria Theresa pleaded to the nobles of Hungary who sent many light infantry regiments because Maria promised immunity from taxes. She had also signed an armistice with Prussia. However, the truce was to be short-lived. Frederick II was already rebuilding his cavalry units that had been lost at Mollwitz and was even making them more efficient than his infantry. The Holy Roman Emperor Charles VII now had many Austrians on his lands. He asked the Prussians to create a diversion by invading Moravia and thus the invasion happened.  The Prussians invaded with the French under de Broglie, Bavarians, and Saxons on opposite sides. Frederick II did not move against the Austrian Prince Charles but instead moved to take over cities in Moravia. Prince Charles, Maria Theresa's brother-in-law, faced Frederick II at Chotusitz. The first stage of the battle featured the Austrian cavalry charged into the Prussian infantry and cavalry. The Prussians were slowly forced back into the center of Chotusitz. The Austrians moved in and on the way were burning houses. Now fierce hand-to-hand combat took place between the burning buildings. The Prussian cavalry had regrouped and now counterattacked from behind. Meanwhile, Frederick had held his right wing of infantry back and ordered them to fight when the battleground was cleared of smoke and fire. Within a few minutes the infantry charged and the Austrians were defeated. However, Frederick II said that he did not pursue the beaten Austrians because he did not want to humiliate Maria Theresa any further. Now Frederick II had proven himself as a courageous leader. The First Silesian War ended with Frederick and Maria Theresa signing two treaties at Breslau and at Berlin. Maria ceded to Frederick Upper and Lower Silesia and the county of Glatz. Frederick would also have to remove himself from the alliance against Austria. Frederick did this because he did not have the troops to wage another war and his treasury was almost empty.


[1] Frederick the Great: Prussian Warrior and Statesman by Louis Leo, Snyder

[2] Encyclopedia Britannica

[3] Encarta Encylcopedia

[4] The Battles That changed History by Geoffrey Regan