War of The Bavarian Succession - Long-term Effect: The Rise of German Dualism

Long-term Effect: The Rise of German Dualism

Joseph understood the problems facing his multi-ethnic patrimony and the ambivalent position the Austrians held in the Holy Roman Empire. Although the Habsburgs and their successor house of Habsburg-Lorraine had, with two exceptions, held the position of Emperor since the early 15th century, the basis of 18th-century Habsburg power lay not in the Holy Roman Empire itself, but in Habsburg territories in Eastern Europe, where the family had vast domains, the Italian peninsula, and the Lowlands. For Joseph or his successors to wield influence in the German-speaking states, they needed to acquire additional German-speaking territories. Acquisition of Central European territories with German-speaking subjects would strengthen the Austrian position in the Holy Roman Empire. As far as Joseph was concerned, only this could shift the center of the Habsburg empire into German-speaking Central Europe. This agenda made dispensable both the Austrian Netherlands—Habsburg territories which lay furthest west—and Galicia—Habsburg territories which lay furthest east. It also made the reacquisition of German-speaking Silesia and acquisition of new territories in Bavaria essential.

By the late 1770s, Joseph also faced important diplomatic obstacles in consolidating Habsburg influence in central Europe. When the British had been Austria's allies, Austria could count on British support in its wars, but Britain was now allied with Prussia. In the Diplomatic Revolution of 1756, the French replaced the British as Austria's ally, but they were fickle, as Joseph discovered when Charles Gravier extricated Versailes from its obligations. Russia, which also had been an important Austrian ally for most of the Seven Years War, sought opportunities for expansion at the expense of its weak neighbors. In 1778, that meant Poland and the Ottoman Empire, but Joseph fully understood the danger of appearing weak in Russia's eyes: Habsburg lands could be carved off easily by the cagey Catherine's diplomatic knife. For Joseph, Frederick of Prussia was the enemy, as he had been throughout the reigns of Theresa and Franz before him, when the Prussian state's emergence as a player on the European stage had occurred at Habsburg expense, first with the loss of Silesia, and later in the 1750s and 1760s. Joseph sought to unify the different portions of his realm, not the German states as a whole, and to establish Habsburg hegemony in German-speaking central Europe beginning with the partition of Bavaria.

The broad geographic outlines of European states changed rapidly in the last 50 years of the century, with partitions of Poland and territorial exchanges through conquest and diplomacy. Rulers sought to centralize their control over their domains and create well-defined borders within which their writ was law. For Joseph, the acquisition of Bavaria, or at least parts of it, would link Habsburg territories in Bohemia with those in the Tyrol, and partially compensate Austria for its loss of Silesia. The Bavarian succession crisis provided Joseph with a viable opportunity to consolidate his influence in the Central European states, to bolster his financially strapped government with much-needed revenue, and to strengthen his army with German-speaking conscripts. Supremacy in the German states was worth a war. For Frederick, the preservation of Charles August's inheritance was not worth a war. Frederick had had sufficient war in the first years of his reign, and in its last 20 years, he sought to preserve the status quo, not to enter into risky adventures that might upset it. If he had to withdraw from engagement with Joseph's army, such a sacrifice was a temporary measure. Warfare was only one means of diplomacy, and he could employ others in this contest with Austria. The Austro-Prussian dualism that dominated the next century's unification movement rumbled ominously in the War of the Bavarian Succession.

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