Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle temporarily ended the set of wars known collectively as the War of the Austrian Succession. Although it merely created a pause in the conflicts between France and England that lasted throughout the eighteenth century, the treaty is noteworthy as a signal of the waning power of the Holy Roman Empire.

Summary of Event

The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle brought to an end almost a decade of warfare between the major European nations. Battles in these wars were fought not only in Europe but also overseas in the Caribbean, North America, and India. Generally known as the War of the Austrian Succession, Austrian Succession, War of the (1740-1748) in reality the conflict began in the Caribbean with the War of Jenkins’s Ear, Jenkins’s Ear, War of (1739-1741)[Jenkinss Ear, War of] fought between the Spanish and the British over trading privileges. French ambitions contributed to the dispute, and the British-Spanish war, which broke out in 1739, was complicated the following year by the death of Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI. [kw]Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (Oct. 18, 1748) [kw]Aix-la-Chapelle, Treaty of (Oct. 18, 1748) Aix-la-Chapelle, Treaty of (1748)[Aix la Chapelle, Treaty of] Treaties;European [g]Germany;Oct. 18, 1748: Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle[1270] [g]France;Oct. 18, 1748: Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle[1270] [g]Prussia;Oct. 18, 1748: Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle[1270] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Oct. 18, 1748: Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle[1270] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Oct. 18, 1748: Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle[1270] Maria Theresa Frederick the Great Pelham, Henry Louis XV

Having no male heirs, Charles had attempted before his death to ensure the peaceful succession of his daughter, Maria Theresa, through the Pragmatic Sanction, Pragmatic Sanction Women;royal succession a diplomatic agreement to which many of the German states, including Prussia, were partners. However, Frederick the Great, who ascended the Prussian throne also in 1740 and believed a woman ruler was by definition a weak ruler, seized the opportunity to invade Austrian Silesia. The lure of Silesia’s coal resources and cloth trade were enough to make Frederick ignore Prussia’s commitment to the Pragmatic Sanction.

The subsequent conflict went through several stages in the years that followed. Maria Theresa was only twenty-three in 1740 and had no experience in the power politics of the era. Prussia’s territories were diverse, and its army was among Europe’s best despite Prussia’s small population. Initially, the French government of Louis XV gave diplomatic support to the Austrians, fearful of the ambitions of Frederick. Soon, however, France’s policy shifted against Austria, its traditional nemesis, and it formed a military alliance with Prussia. In 1742, Prussia itself switched sides: Maneuvering for diplomatic advantage, Frederick deserted France and signed a treaty with Austria, technically ending the War of the Austrian Succession with Frederick in possession of Silesia.

While Maria Theresa approved ceding Silesia to the Prussians, she demanded territorial compensation for its loss. When Prussia refused to give up any of its own territory in exchange for Silesia, the war continued. England then entered the war on Austria’s side, drawn in by its desire to oppose France. Indeed, British prime minister Henry Pelham halfheartedly but consistently pursued a policy of military intervention on the Continent in order to foil French political and territorial aspirations.

Frederick was adamantly opposed to Austrian compensation in Germany, and he was suspicious of the alliance between Britain and Austria. Frederick’s Prussian army thus invaded Bohemia in mid-1744, but the expected French support for the invasion did not materialize, and the Prussians were forced to retreat. Prussia itself was threatened with dismemberment in 1745, when Saxony joined Britain and Austria, and it seemed possible that Russia would join the alliance against Frederick as well. Prussia was victorious in a series of key battles, however, and in the 1745 Treaty of Dresden, Dresden, Treaty of (1745) Austria again conceded Silesia to Prussia. Despite these victories, though, Prussia’s economy was in shambles, and Frederick left the war, again deserting his French ally.

War persisted in Italy, where Austria confronted the Bourbon armies of France and Spain. To the north, in Flanders, France focused its energies against England, its traditional enemy. By 1747, almost all of the Austrian Netherlands Austrian Netherlands Netherlands;Austrian was under French control, and French armies threatened the neighboring United Provinces. Dutch resistance was compromised by a lack of significant military resources, as well as the provinces’ desire to stay aloof from continental wars in order to maintain their commercial position as a leader in international trade. Fortunately for the Dutch, the French economy was also suffering from France’s widespread military commitments.

In addition to its Italian and Dutch campaigns, France had commitments in locales far from the battlefields of Europe, notably in Canada and India. On the high seas, the British navy was more than a match for the French, who resorted to using privateers but still had little success in reducing British trade. Conversely, the French West Indies sugar colonies were near collapse because the war prevented the colonies from importing sufficient new slaves and food supplies from across the Atlantic. By 1748, all parties in the conflict had finally had enough, and an agreement was made to terminate hostilities in all theaters of the war and make peace.

The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle ending the War of the Austrian Succession was the result of extensive negotiations between France and Britain. Ironically, Austria, the “victim” of the Prussian invasion of Silesia that had supposedly caused the war, was effectively excluded from the treaty process and deserted by its British ally. After years of conflict, France was no longer primarily concerned with opposing Austria on the Continent and gaining territory at the latter’s expense. Instead, the French simply wished to regain the territories they had lost to Britain overseas and end the British naval blockade that was damaging their colonies. To contain the threat posed to their position in Europe by an Austro-British alliance, the French cleverly made a separate peace with England, thereby effectively severing the alliance.

The treaty restored the world to a state quite close to the one it had been in before the conflict broke out in 1739 and 1740. Most of the territories conquered during the war were returned to their original holders. Madras in India was returned to Britain and Louisbourg in Canada was given back to France. The Austrian Netherlands, seized by France, were returned to Austria—an unpopular decision in France. Spain, France’s Bourbon ally, reaffirmed British slave-trading rights in the West Indies, the so-called asiento de negros Asiento de negros (slave trade license) (“Negroes’ contract”), which had been awarded to Britain in the Treaty of Utrecht Utrecht, Treaty of (1713) in 1713. France also formally recognized Britain’s Protestant Hanover Dynasty, finally rejecting the claims of the exiled Catholic Stuarts, who had been harbored in France since they were driven from England in the Glorious Revolution of 1688-1689.

Austria was the chief loser in the war. Although protesting that the treaty had been agreed to without its participation, Austria reluctantly accepted the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. In it, Maria Theresa was forced to surrender the Italian duchies of Guastalla, Parma, and Piacenza to Bourbon Spain and, most significant, to once more cede Silesia to Prussia. Frederick left the conflict in 1745 because of Prussia’s economic exhaustion and was not a party to the treaty, but Prussia proved to be the victor in the peace. In gaining Silesia with its cloth and iron resources, Prussia achieved what has been called the most significant permanent conquest of territory in Western Europe since the Renaissance, ensuring the rise of Prussia to great power status.

Without Silesia, Austria’s claim to hegemony in the Holy Roman Empire was finished, and the Habsburg concerns shifted from the Rhine River to the east, where the Austrian Empire would become the major power in east-central and south-central Europe. The worldwide struggle between France and Britain over empire and commerce was not resolved, however. During the war, the British government had focused upon maintaining a continental strategy against France by allying with Austria and the Dutch republic. The Dutch proved a weak partner, and the Austrians were little better. Britain’s William Pitt the Elder and others had urged a “blue water” strategy, but it took another war for that recommendation to be implemented and for France to be forced to abandon much of its non-European empire.

Significance

Although it was Napoleon I who officially abolished the Holy Roman Empire in 1803, it was Frederick the Great who truly destroyed the empire, treating the emperors as the equals of kings, rather than their superiors. With the destruction of the hierarchy of deference to its traditional Habsburg rulers, Germany became merely several hundred largely independent entities. Later, Voltaire, the French philosophe, was to make the now-famous comment that the Holy Roman Empire had become neither holy nor Roman nor an empire.

The 1748 Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle proved to be only a brief pause in a longer conflict. The French diplomat, the comte de St. Severin, implied that the treaty did end the conflict, a belief echoed by the Austrian chancellor, Count Wenzel Anton von Kaunitz. Kaunitz, Wenzel Anton von In 1756, however, war broke out again, accompanied by a diplomatic revolution that brought Habsburg Austria into league with Bourbon France and czarist Russia, while Britain joined Prussia. This revolution was engineered by Austria’s Kaunitz, whose goal was to reclaim Silesia, destroy Prussia, and restore Austria to its rightful place as the leader of the German states. In that he failed, for Frederick the Great held on to Silesia, but in the ensuing Seven Years’ War, the conflict between Britain and France led to French defeat in Canada and India and the establishment of the first British Empire.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Browning, Reed S. The War of the Austrian Succession. London: Macmillan, 1995. An excellent narrative, including a discussion of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dorn, Walter L. Competition for Empire, 1740-1763. New York: Harper & Row, 1940. A volume in the Rise of Modern Europe series, this remains a classic account of the mid-eighteenth century conflicts.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Showalter, Dennis. The Wars of Frederick the Great. New York: Longman, 1996. A comprehensive analysis of Frederick’s military and diplomatic policies.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Thackeray, Frank W., and John E. Finding, eds. Events that Changed the World in the Eighteenth Century. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998. Includes a chapter on the wars and diplomacy of the mid-century, including the War of the Austrian Succession.

War of the Spanish Succession

Founding of Louisbourg

Treaty of Utrecht

War of Jenkins’s Ear

Accession of Frederick the Great

Maria Theresa Succeeds to the Austrian Throne

War of the Austrian Succession

Jacobite Rebellion

Carnatic Wars

French and Indian War

Seven Years’ War

Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Eighteenth Century</i>

Charles VI; Frederick the Great; Wenzel Anton von Kaunitz; Louis XV; Maria Theresa; Henry Pelham; William Pitt the Elder; Voltaire. Aix-la-Chapelle, Treaty of (1748)[Aix la Chapelle, Treaty of] Treaties;European

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