The Seven Years’ War Explained in Brief

Commonly described as the world’s true first world war, the Seven Years’ War pitted colossal European kingdoms against one another from 1756 to 1763. The war involved three main empires – Great Britain, France and Spain – vying for imperial supremacy and maritime dominance. In turn, these nations were aided by a host of other European kingdoms and countries. Here is everything that you need to know about the Seven Years’ War.

When was the war fought?

The Seven Years’ War was a series of intermittent battles that spanned from 1756 to 1763.

Who were the belligerents?

The combatants were primarily Great Britain, France and Spain. The three countries had varying levels of support from several European nations.

Britain had Prussia, Hanover and Portugal as allies. France, on the other hand, had the support of Spain, Russia, Sweden, Austria, and Saxony.

In which places was the war primarily fought?

Seven Years' War

Seven Years’ War – Areas of Combat and Belligerents. | Image –

The Seven Years’ War was a truly global war in the sense that it was fought on five different continents – North America and the Caribbean, Europe, Africa (West African coast of Senegal), South America, and the Indian sub-continent. North America and the Caribbean saw the bulk of hostilities.

In Europe, Britain shored up support for the Kingdom of Prussia, who was by then in bitter battle with Austria, an ally of France.

What was the Seven Years’ War all about?

Both France and Great Britain were in a bitter struggle to establish greater footing in North America. Basically, the two imperial countries, backed up by their respective allies, fought for colonial, maritime and trade supremacy.

Britain and the American colonies had grown envious of the lucrative trade France enjoyed with the Native Americans on its vast territories.

On the other hand, France was harboring immense hatred and envy towards British maritime dominance and trading routes.

Another issue, although not so huge, was religion. Predominantly Protestant Britain was pitted against Catholic Spain and France.

Why is the war sometimes called the “French and Indian War”?

In North America, the Seven Years’ War was also known as the French and Indian War. The reason why the name had “Indian” in it was because the Native Americans partook in the war. Native American tribe like the Iroquois supported Great Britain. On the opposing side, Natives from the Algonquian tribes formed an alliance with the French. Both countries also had their respective colonial militia supporting them.

The French were primarily based in the Northern and Eastern parts of North America – that is Canada and the Louisiana Territory. On the contrary, the British occupied the 13 American colonies to the west. The name “French and Indian War” originated from the American colonies. They viewed both the French and the Indians as enemies, hence the name “French and Indian War”.  Additionally, from North Americans’ perspective, the war kicked off in 1754.

The Seven Years’ War’s Origin Story

The Seven Years’ War was the birth child of sporadic warfare between Britain and France. Its origin story dates back to the latter part of the 17th century. Bloodshed began around 1688, during the reign of King William. For the next few years, 1688 to 1699, France and Great Britain locked horns.

The next severe battles were fought during the reign of Queen Anne of Great Britain. This particular war occurred for about eleven years, from 1702 to 1713. After this, Europe experienced relative peace for the next 30 years.

During the reign of King George II, a third major battle ensued between the France and Great Britain. This war lasted from 1744 to 1748.

In 1754, Britain and France were again locked in a bitter tussle. The dispute came as a result of both countries claiming sole ownership rights to Ohio Valley. The French went ahead to stake their claim by building some installments and structures on the valley. Angered by this move, the colonial governor of Virginia dispatched a group of soldiers to the valley. The militia was led by Colonel George Washington. It is believed that Washington’s men fired the first shots. His soldiers ambushed a group of French soldiers. The French were able to repel the attacks.

Shortly after this skirmish, British government sent Major-General Edward Braddock and two regiments to the American colonies in 1755. Braddock was tasked to attack some very key French forts and positions along the border of Nova Scotia, the Ohio River and Lake Champlain.

The French, under the command of Baron Armand Dieskau, responded by sending forces to shore up support at Louisbourg and Canada. After a several clashes, Braddock’s army was vanquished by a group of French and Native Indian forces. This officially kicked started the Seven Years’ War.

1756 to 1758

France sent several troops from Europe. These troops were under the command of Marquis de Montcalm. They arrived in April, 1756. Shortly after the arrival of French troops, Britain declared war on France.

At the onset of the war, France appeared to be firm control of the war. They inflicted several damages on British forces. Several British forts fell at the hands of French forces. British fort at Oswego, close to Lake Ontario, fell in 1756. Similarly, Fort William Henry capitulated in 1757.

The French had the greater number of Native Indians supporting them. American colonies and their frontiers endured numerous attacks from Canadian and Aboriginal fighters. Britain intervened by sending 20,000 troops to protect the American colonies. They also erected blockades on the French ports.

1758 to 1762

Seven Years' War

Seven Years’ War

As the war drew into its latter years, events started to go in favor of Great Britain. The British forces were rejuvenated by then Prime Minister William Pitt, the Elder. Britain went into the offensive and inflicted immense casualties on France.

Several French territories in North America, the Caribbean, and India capitulated under the British might. French forts such as Frontenac and Duquesne fell to the British. For example, Louisbourg fell in 1758.

In 1759, Québec – France’s prized territory in North America – was captured by Britain. Québec was overrun by 9000 British forces under the command of Major-General James Wolfe. The city capitulated in the famous Battle of the Plains of Abraham on September 13, 1759. Major-General James Wolfe successfully defeated his French counterpart, Marquis de Montcalm. The two commanders did not make it out alive of the battle.

Also in 1759, Guadeloupe as well as several small Caribbean territories belonging to France fell. Shortly after that, on September 8, 1760, Montréal was overrun as well.

What territories did Britain and her allies conquer?

Britain defeated the French in so many of their territories – North America, the Caribbean, French Installations in India, French territories in West Africa – Senegal. France and Spain lost territories in Manila and Havana (Cuba) respectively.

How many people died?

It’s been estimated that close to a million people died during the Seven Years’ War. France and Austria suffered the biggest number of casualties.

Peace Talks and the Treaty of Paris (1763)

Paris Treaty 1763

A map showing the resolutions made during the Paris Treaty of 1763

By 1762, it had become apparently clear that France and Spain, as well their allies, were losing the war. They reached out to Britain and initiated a peace talk.

Britain had also grown weary of the war. Unlike his predecessor George II, British monarch George III and his Prime Minister Lord Bute equally wanted to bring hostilities to an end. The war had become a huge financial drain on the British, even though they were wining.

After 7 years of intense fighting, the three major sides – Britain, France, and Spain – brought hostilities to an end in the Treaty of Paris on February 10, 1763.

Per the treaty signed, Britain got New France (Canada), Dominica, Grenada, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Tobago. France also gave up the eastern half of French Louisiana (from the Mississippi River to the Appalachian Mountains). In exchange for Havana (Cuba), Britain received Florida from Spain.

Compared to the areas that Great Britain captured, France’s spoils from the war was quite minimal. France could only manage to hold onto some islands in the Caribbean, a few business installations in India, and territories off the West African coast. Spain, an ally of France, was allowed to retain the western half of French Louisiana, Manila in the Philippines, and Havana (Cuba).

Early on, in 1762, France ceded the Louisiana territory to Spain. This deal (Treaty of Fontainebleau  in 1762) was done in secret. It only came to light in 1764.

What happened after the Peace Treaty of 1763?

The Seven Years’ War ended in France getting kicked out of North America. As a result of this, the American colonies were emboldened to take on their own masters – Britain. The French Foreign Minister Choiseul even predicted that the American colonies would sooner or later revolt against the British crown. Britain failed to take the prediction of Choiseul seriously.

Shortly after the Peace Treaty of 1763, George III issued out a Royal Proclamation in October, 1763. The proclamation forbade American colonies from venturing westward into Native American territories. The idea behind the Proclamation of 1763 was to ensure that Great Britain would not get sucked into another war with the Native Americans.

The Proclamation Line, which was established as a result of the Royal Proclamation, as well as Britain’s excessive and intolerable tax on the American colonies, infuriated the colonists. In the end, the American colonies revolted and declared themselves independent in 1776, 13 years after the end of the Seven Years’ War.

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