The Rule of Ranging trilogy begins at a time when diplomatic maneuvers warranted by colonial, territorial, and economic aspirations led to the reversal of traditional European alliances that guaranteed peace for years and set the stage for Seven Years’ War, or the French And Indian War as it is known in the US.
Untested new alliances failed to create a deterrence effect in Europe while fight over colonial trade and territorial ambitions in North America set the ground for the possible conflict. The British and the French fight in America over colonial expansion and trading rights left no space for conciliation and the war in North America began a month before the first salvo was fired by Prussian ruler Fredrick II in Europe.
The War of Austrian Succession that began after Maria Theresa’s accession to Vienna and ended with the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748 severely dented the dominance of Austria in Europe. In the next six years, Empress Maria Theresa assisted by her able minister Kaunitz led Austria to a path of recovery and set sight on defeating Prussia. Kaunitz ended the 25-year-old alliance with the Great Britain and turned to France following British overtures to Prussia.
The Westminster Convention of January 1756 assured Prussia of British neutrality over conflict with Austria. Frederick of Prussia found the British subsidies more attractive than an alliance with the French, who sought to have their own sphere of influence in Europe. The financial help, according to his estimates, was an essential factor in helping the tiny Prussia fight wars against Austrian and Prussian empire. The British were eager to protect their Hanoverian possessions in Germany while countering the French and Russian influence. They considered individual alliances as a mean to stop war in Europe.
The French battling the British over colonial expansion in North America and India cemented an alliance with Austria in May 1756. The First Treaty of Versailles mandated both to support one another with a 24,000-strong force during conflict with a third power. A year later, the Second Treaty of Versailles was signed obliging France to give 12 million livres to Austria and support it with an army of 129,000 troops for the reoccupation of Silesia. Austria agreed to give France the Austrian Netherlands.
Frederick the Great of Prussia, facing the specter of a life and death struggle in the face of a European alliance, launched a pre-emptive strike on Saxony in June 1756. The English signed a treaty with Prussia in 1758 to support their only continental ally against the offensive alliance of France, Austria, Russia, Lombardy, Spain, and Sweden and pop up its war treasury.
France, with an ambition for more colonial possessions and larger trade share, was impatient to dominate North America. The French saw a big fortune in the fur trade and control of the fertile land in the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys. They also positioned themselves strongly on the St. Lawrence basin and sought to create fortifications on the north-south axis. The British found themselves restricted to the land between the French controlled areas and the Atlantic Ocean with no scope for westward colonial expansion or trade.
Demanding the right to free expansion, British colonizers push for rival claims that threatened the French aspiration to expand beyond Canada in the north and the Mississippi basin in the south. Competing ambitions leave no space to compromise and the European war provided the much-needed excuse for a military solution.
The French assembled a huge force in Toulon with the specific aim to occupy key colonial trade routes. Prime Minister William Pitt, on the other hand, readily recognized the gains from an inevitable war against the French in North America and invested heavily in strengthening colonial armies visualizing an expanded war.
Unable to override the British Navy, the French contemplated for direct action in North America. A single head presiding over all colonial possessions gave them an opportunity for swift mobilization and action against British colonizers divided into 13 colonial settlements each with its own army. The Marquis de Montcalm, the colonial head, also won over support from the Algonquian and other native tribes eager to expel the British settlers from their land.
European conflict and skirmishes over the disputed Fort Duquesne in the Ohio Valley throughout 1755 provided an opportunity to launch a full-scale war. Army regulars from France under commands of veterans general arrived in Canada in May 1756 and days later the British formally declared war on the French. With Seven Year’s War started in Europe in June, the war in America became a part of it.
(Image credits: Barry Lyndon by Stanley Kubrick, 1975)