Many wars throughout history changed borders, ways of life, social structure, religion, and ruling dynasties. Every war changed something, but very few wars influenced the future as much as the Seven Years’ War (1754/1756-1763).

This war started in 1754 as another war between Great Britain and France in the North American colonies, but in 1756, most of Europe was at war. From some irrelevant incidents to the full-scale war on four continents, the Seven Years’ War was the war that resolved at least three global conflicts. Other nations like Prussia, Austria, Russia, Sweden, and Spain aligned around Britain or France, and everybody had their own goals.

After the Treaty of Paris, European borders remained almost intact, but it was a different story for America. The most important consequence was the usurpation of the balance of power between European superpowers. That is much more influential than any border change. But could the Seven Years’ War be regarded as a World War of the 18th century?

Rise of Europe

After the 15th century, Europe started the Age of Exploration. After the initial leadership from Portugal and Spain, England and France soon emerged as two great colonial powers. France owned Western Africa, Madagascar, parts of Southeast Asia, Caribbean islands, and vast territories in today’s USA and Canada. England had a huge colonial empire, which included India, Australia, and colonies on the North American Atlantic coast.

A detailed map depicting the European colonization of North America around the year 1750. It shows various territories marked in different colors to represent the colonial powers: purple for French territories, red for British, yellow for Spanish, and green for areas ceded by France to Britain after the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Contested territories are also indicated. The map includes notable settlements, dates of colonization, and geographical features such as rivers and mountain ranges. Key locations and historical claims, such as New France, Louisiana, the Viceroyalty of New Spain, and British colonies along the eastern coast, are clearly marked. Additionally, the map outlines the shifting power dynamics and territorial changes in the wake of the Treaty of Utrecht.
Map showing European colonization in North America from the 1490s to the 1750s, including power shifts post the Treaty of Utrecht, 1713, World History Encyclopedia

French and Indian War

Great Britain and France had dozens of small wars in North America, which involved many natives on both sides. When the French established Louisiana, British colonists began encroaching on its borders, as it hindered the growth of their own colonies.

In the mid-18th century, France had around 90,000 colonists and Britain 2 million. The French were much more aggressive since 1753, which resulted in a response from the British and Iroquois. The main obstacle to peace was the disputed border around the river Ohio. One of the main protagonists on the British side was a young officer, George Washington. His failed expedition led to the beginning of a war in the colonies.

Both parties wanted to keep the conflict confined to America, yet both sought victory, leading them to dispatch additional forces to America. In June 1755, the French won an important battle near the Duquesne fortress. Great Britain invested even more in the war, but the French had more success by 1756. In that year, everything changed. That’s because of the events in Europe, where there were many more interested parties.

An illustration from the French and Indian War, showing a scene of collaboration between European soldiers and Native American warriors. The European soldiers, dressed in blue uniforms with red accents and black tricorne hats, are firing their muskets. Beside them, two Native American allies, wearing traditional clothing with feathered headbands, are poised with weapons ready. They are all in a forest setting, indicative of the guerilla-style warfare common in the conflict. The scene captures the alliance between French troops and various Native American tribes during the war, which was part of the larger Seven Years' War.
French and Indian War, Encyclopædia Britannica

Diplomacy in Europe

From their early development, Great Britain and France were rivals, waging at least one war per century, yet their rivalry wasn’t the only one in Europe.

At the end of the 17th century, Prussia and its army started to conquer surrounding territories. By the mid-18th century, Austria and Prussia became fearsome enemies for the hegemony of the German people. Especially after the War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748) when Prussia annexed Silesia from Austria. Austria couldn’t deal with it and started planning to take Silesia back.

That led Austria to create new diplomatic relations with surrounding nations, especially with the ones surrounding Prussia. Britain made the situation even more dangerous by paying Russia for the protection of Hanover in January of 1756. In 1714, the Hanoverian dynasty started ruling over Britain and also Hanover. 

Ever since the losing of Silesia, the Austrian chancellor, Count Kaunitz, tried to ally with Louis XV of France. His attempts were futile up until the moment when Prussia made a crucial mistake. Prussian King Frederick the Great wasn’t happy with the French defensive strategy in the war in America, and he sought help from Great Britain.

The Treaty of Westminster marked the beginning of the Diplomatic revolution. Now, Prussia and Britain signed a neutrality agreement, actually an alliance. Louis XV was furious, and this treaty threw him into the arms of Austria. By May, Austria and France signed the Defence Treaty of Versailles against any European nation. 

Russian Empress Elizabeth was also angry at Britain. She thought the Westminster Treaty opened the door to the East for Prussia. Russian diplomatic relations with Austria and France immediately improved. 

Surrounded by enemies, Prussia’s Frederick sought security measures. He wrote to Austrian Empress Maria Theresa, requesting her assurance against aggression. Receiving no response, he opted for a preemptive strike, thereby activating various defensive agreements and treaties. Consequently, on May 17th, 1756, a global conflict among superpowers was ignited.

A locator map showing the global alliances before the start of the Seven Years' War in the mid-1750s. The countries are color-coded according to their alliances: blue represents Great Britain, Prussia, Portugal, and their allies, while green indicates France, Spain, Austria, Russia, Sweden, and their allies. The map provides a simplified view of the geopolitical landscape at the time, highlighting the widespread nature of the conflict that would soon ensue.
Locator map of the competing sides of the Seven Years War before the outset of the war (mid-1750s). Blue: Great Britain, Prussia, Portugal, with allies. Green: France, Spain, Austria, Russia, Sweden with allies, Wikimedia Commons

Seven Years’ War in Europe

Although two opposing alliances existed in the Seven Years’ War, all nations had one pivotal enemy. Great Britain and France mostly fought each other, and the same applied to Prussia and Austria. On the other side, Russia also attacked Prussia, and Spain later waged war against Great Britain. 

Frederick the Great of Prussia attacked first and sent the Prussian army to Saxony. There, he wins against Austria and captures Dresden. The same year, the French army captured Spanish island Menorca from Great Britain. War initiatives shifted many times. The Prussian army won and lost many battles but had more tough than good luck.

In the summer of 1757, after a lost battle, Prussia had to withdraw from the Czech, and Great Britain lost control over Hanover due to the French attack. By September, Russians entered East Prussia, and the Austrian army briefly conquered the Prussian capital Berlin.

During the winter, the Prussian army recovered and, after two pivotal victories in the battles of Rossbach and Leuthen, once again regained control over Silesia, Moravia, and Bohemia. Prussia almost single-handedly waged war in Europe, but Great Britain sent large amounts of money in order to help the Prussian war effort. Great Britain had other plans for its army.

A historical painting depicting Frederick the Great at the Battle of Zorndorf in 1758. The scene shows the chaos of battle with Prussian soldiers and cavalry engaged in combat. Frederick the Great is prominently featured, likely commanding his troops amidst the fray. Fallen soldiers and the smoke of gunfire fill the battlefield, capturing the intensity and turmoil of the conflict.
Frederick the Great at the Battle of Zorndorf (1758), Wikimedia Commons

North American Front

After initial French success, Great Britain soon gained control over North America. And ever since 1758, there were only British victories. In that year, British forces conquered the cities of Duquesne and Louisbourg, along with Fort Oswego. In the following year, a long-standing British colonial dream was fulfilled, when Officer James Wolfe, alongside his army, conquered Quebec. 

There were so many victories that the famous writer Horace Walpole said, “Our bells are worn threadbare with ringing for victories.” As a cherry on top, field marshal Jeffrey Amherst subjugated Montreal. Montreal was the most essential French colonial city in Canada. Canada became British, and there was nothing that the French army or navy could do about it.

A painting titled "The Death of General Wolfe" by Benjamin West. It depicts the mortal wounding of British General James Wolfe during the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759. The scene is highly dramatized, with Wolfe lying in the arms of his soldiers, his face illuminated and serene despite the chaos of battle around him. A Native American warrior sits pensively to the side, while in the background, the smoke of battle obscures the skies and the distant view of ships indicates the larger military engagement. The painting is an iconic representation of heroism and sacrifice in war.
The Death of General Wolfe by Benjamin West, 1770, Wikimedia Commons

Prussia on the Verge of Collapsing

The situation for Great Britain and its allies in Europe was far from ideal. Despite successfully expelling the French army from Hanover, significant portions of Prussia remained under enemy control.

After 1758 and the victory in the battle of Zorndorf, Prussia couldn’t win any influential combat against Russia. Although they were winning against Austria, losses against Russia shifted the power balance against Prussia. The situation went from bad to worse when Russians entered and burned Berlin in 1760. Spain joining the war essentially didn’t change anything.

Who knows what could have happened to Prussia if Russian Empress Elizabeth didn’t pass away in 1762? British subsidies stopped, and Prussia was on the verge of collapsing. However, the new Russian Emperor Peter III liked Prussia more than his own country and returned all the territories in the peace treaty in 1762. He briefly changed sides, but his death prevented a complete Prussian victory. His wife, Catherine the Great, played some role in his early demise.

Austria couldn’t return control over Silesia without Russian help, and the French budget couldn’t take any more defeats from the English navy. It was a time for peace.

Peace Treaty

Since Russia entered a new development phase with Catherine the Great and retreated from the war, no one could achieve total victory. All sides got exhausted and, in early 1763, decided to sign two separate peace treaties. The only true winner was Great Britain.

The Treaty of Hubertusburg ended hostilities between Prussia and Austria without border changes. Prussia kept Silesia. France, Spain, and England signed the Treaty of Paris, ending the war. 

Seeking a lasting peace, Great Britain adopted a generous stance during the negotiations. Great Britain returned some territories to France, and France and Spain returned all occupied provinces to Great Britain. Great Britain kept Canada, a large part of French Louisiana and Spanish Florida. 

Since that moment, Great Britain was the only considerable force on the North American mainland. What Great Britain didn’t know is that the Paris Peace Treaty marked the beginning of the end of British North America.

A color-coded map showing the territorial claims in North America following the Treaty of Paris in 1763. The map highlights British claims in yellow, French claims in red, Spanish claims in green, and Russian claims in purple. It indicates key locations such as the Hudson's Bay Company territory, Quebec, Louisiana, New Spain, and the British Colonies. The Proclamation Line of 1763 is also marked, delineating the boundary beyond which British colonists were prohibited to settle, in an attempt to stabilize relations with Native American peoples.
Map of British territories in North America following the Treaty of Paris in 1763


The Seven Years’ War marks a pivotal moment in European history, and its impact is even more significant in the history of North America. Three major outcomes helped to shape the future even today, two and a half centuries after the Treaty of Paris. First, it marked the rise of Prussia as a power in Europe, which ended with forming a unified German nation in 1871. Second, this war confirmed Russia as a nation of pivotal importance for the balance of power in Europe. Before 1756, many still regarded Russia as an Eastern nation with a massive army but undeveloped technology and without influence on Europe. 

Last but probably most important, Great Britain took complete control over North America and unwillingly laid the foundation for creating the United States of America. So, in some ways, the Seven Years’ War can be regarded as a World war, not only by the number of nations and armies involved but also as a war with the most significant consequences and impact on the future.