Franz A.J. Szabo. The Seven Years War in Europe, 1756-1763. Modern Wars in Perspective series. Harlow, England: Pearson/Longman, 2008. ISBN 978-0-582-29272-7. Notes. Maps. Chronology. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xxi, 512. $56.00.
Dr Franz A.J. Szabo, Professor of Austrian and Habsburg History at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, provides an outstanding study focused on the Seven Years War in Europe, leaving aside the Anglo-French naval and colonial aspects of the conflict. Professor Szabo is known for his Kaunitz and Enlightened Absolutism, 1753-1780 (1994). In the study under review, the author explores the Seven Years War from Frederick II of Prussia’s invasion of Saxony in August 1756 to the Peace of Hubertusburg in February 1763.
Historians say that the Seven Years War was a continuation of the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748). In 1756, the Diplomatic Revolution resulted in an Anglo-Prussian alliance against an Austro-Franco-Russian alliance. Shortly thereafter, Frederick II launched a preemptive strike against Saxony, an ally of Austria, to defend Prussia against the possible threat of Maria Theresa of Austria and Elizabeth I of Russia. This action began a protracted European war. While Britain and France fought for global power, Prussia fought to defend territorial conquests and maintain its recently gained status as a Great Power. Overseas conflict split the French war effort. France could only muster limited military moves against Prussia while the Austro-Franco-Russian alliance suffered from the lack of coordinated efforts, different objectives, tactical mistakes, and logistical problems during several years of conflict. These problems, along with the supposed military talent of Frederick II, allowed Prussia to survive a close conflict. “Frederick’s survival,” according to Szabo, “depended on his ability to take unexpected initiatives and to keep his enemies off balance” (p.425). He adds that, “the benefit of interior lines also made it easier for him to react quickly to specific threats, gave him shorter supply lines and allowed him to operate at cheaper cost than his enemies” (p.425). Even so, Prussia was a defeated power by 1761. And, then the “miracle” happened. Empress Elizabeth I of Russia died, and her heir, the pro-Prussian Peter III, dropped the Austrian alliance and established a Russo-Prussian alliance, saving Frederick II from a complete disaster. Prussia would keep Silesia and the illusion of Great Power status. “But it did so,” according to the author, “despite, rather than because of, the actions of its king” (p.426).
Szabo’s The Seven Years War in Europe, 1756-1763 is a valuable survey of the conflict, examining the politics, diplomacy, and warfare of the period. The author puts the accomplishments of Frederick the Great in a realistic light. Szabo is no hero worshipper of the Prussian monarch. He stresses a negative view of Frederick the Great, writing: “there was very little ‘honourable’ about Frederick in this war. Vengeful and ungracious in victory and self-pitying in defeat, he happily took credit for victories for which he was not primarily responsible, but invariably blamed defeats for which he was responsible on others” (p.427). The study joins other valuable military studies on the Seven Years War in Central Europe, including Christopher Duffy’s The Army of Frederick the Great (1974), The Army of Maria Theresa (1977), and Frederick the Great: A Military Life (1985), as well as Dennis Showalter’s The Wars of Frederick the Great (1995). The study is highly recommended for students and scholars interested in eighteenth-century warfare in Europe.
Dr William Young
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota