War of the Bavarian Succession


May 23, 2022

The War of the Bavarian Succession (July 1778 - May 1779) was a conflict between the Habsburg monarchy and a Prussian-Saxon alliance, aimed at preventing the Habsburgs from acquiring the Duchy of Bavaria. The war saw no battle beyond a few minor skirmishes, but caused significant casualties, including thousands of soldiers who died of disease and starvation. Reflecting the frustration of the soldier in search of food, the conflict was called, in Prussia and Saxony, the Potato War (Kartoffelkrieg). On December 30, 1777, Maximilian III Joseph of Bavaria, the last representative of the younger branch of the Wittelsbachs, died of smallpox, without issue. Charles-Theodore of Bavaria, a descendant of the elder branch of the Wittelsbachs, claims the relationship, but he too has no children to succeed him. His cousin, Charles II Augustus of Palatinate-Deux-Ponts can therefore legitimately claim to be the crown prince. Beyond the southern Bavarian border, Joseph II of the Holy Roman Empire, who covets Bavarian territory, had married Maximilian Joseph's sister in 1765 to bolster any claims he might make. However, his agreement with the heir, Charles-Theodore, to share the Bavarian territory had not taken into account the new demands of the heir apparent, Charles Augustus. The acquisition of territory in the German-speaking states was an important part of Joseph of Austria's policy to expand his family's influence in Central Europe. For Frederick II of Prussia, Joseph's claim threatened the ascendancy of the Hohenzollerns in their German politics, but he was hesitant about his policy intended to maintain the status quo through war or diplomacy. Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, who co-reigned with Joseph, considered that a conflict with the Electorate of Bavaria was not worth it. Indeed, neither Marie-Thérèse nor Frédéric saw any interest in continuing the hostilities. But Joseph did not want to give up on his request, despite his mother's insistence. Frederick Augustus I of Saxony, on the other hand, wanted to preserve the territorial integrity of the duchy for Charles Augustus, and had no interest in seeing the Habsburgs acquire additional territory on their southern and western border. France, meanwhile, began to get involved in maintaining the balance of power. Eventually, Catherine II of Russia threatened to intervene on the side of Prussia with 50,000 men, thus forcing Joseph to reconsider his position. With Catherine's mediation, he and Frederick negotiated a solution to the problem of the Bavarian succession with the Treaty of Teschen, signed in May 1779. For some historians, the War of the Bavarian Succession was the last Cabinet War, where troops maneuvered while diplomats traveled from capital to capital to settle the problems of their monarchs. Subsequently, the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars would differ in their scopes, strategies, organizations as well as tactics. Moreover, German historians of the 19th and 20th centuries also found in this short war the roots of German dualism.


Imperial Competition

In 1713, Charles VI of the Holy Empire persuaded the crowned heads of Europe to accept the Pragmatic Sanction. In this agreement, they accepted that the emperor's legitimate daughters would become queens of Bohemia, Hungary and Croatia as well as archduchesses of Austria, which represented an evolution in the tradition of male succession. The Emperor of the Holy Empire was traditionally elected in the House of Habsburgs for three centuries.