The Diplomatic Revolution 1756

The alliances formed as a result of the Diplomatic Revolution.
The alliances formed as a result of the Diplomatic Revolution. Artemis Dread/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

A system of alliances between the ‘Great Powers’ of Europe had survived the wars of the Spanish and Austrian succession in the first half of the eighteenth century, but the French-Indian War forced a change. In the old system Britain was allied with Austria, who was allied with Russia, while France was allied with Prussia. However, Austria was chaffing at this alliance after the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle had ended the War of the Austrian Succession in 1748, because Austria had wanted to recover the rich region of Silesia, which Prussia retained. Austria therefore began slowly, tentatively, talking with France.

Emerging Tensions

As tensions between England and France mounted in North America in the 1750s, and as war in the colonies seemed certain, Britain signed an alliance with Russia and upped the subsidies it was sending into mainland Europe to encourage other loosely allied, but smaller, nations to recruit troops. Russia was paid to keep an army on standby near Prussia. However, these payments were criticized in the British parliament, who disliked spending so much on defending Hanover, from where the current royal house of Britain had come, and which they wanted to protect.

All Change

Then, a curious thing happened. Frederick II of Prussia, later to earn the nickname ‘the Great,’ was afraid of Russia and the British aid to her and decided that his current alliances weren’t good enough. He thus entered into discussion with Britain, and on January 16, 1756, they signed the Convention of Westminster, pledging aid to each other should ‘Germany’—which included Hanover and Prussia—be attacked or “distressed.” There were to be no subsidies, a most agreeable situation for Britain.

Austria, angry at Britain for allying with an enemy, followed up its initial talks with France by entering into a full alliance, and France dropped its links with Prussia. This was codified in the Convention of Versailles on May 1st, 1756. Both Prussia and Austria were to remain neutral if Britain and France warred, as politicians in both nations feared would happen. This sudden change of alliances has been called the ‘Diplomatic Revolution.’

Consequences: War

The system—and peace—looked secure to some: Prussia could not attack Austria now that the latter was allied with the greatest land power on the continent, and while Austria did not have Silesia, she was safe from further Prussian landgrabs. Meanwhile, Britain and France could engage in the colonial war which had already started without any engagements in Europe, and certainly not in Hanover. But the system reckoned without the ambitions of Frederick II of Prussia, and by the end of 1756, the continent was plunged into the Seven Years War.