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Potato War

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Potato War

War of the Bavarian Succession

A company medic treats Frederick the Great's wound
Date July 1778 – May 1779
Location Bohemia and Silesia
Result Treaty of Teschen, 13 May 1779
Bavaria's previous territorial boundaries restored to Charles IV Theodore; Austria kept the Innviertel; Bavarian inheritance secured for the Palatine and Zweibrücken branches of the family, and in 1795 passed to the brother of Charles August.
Habsburg Monarchy Archduchy of Austria  Kingdom of Prussia
 Electorate of Saxony
Template:Country data Electorate of Bavaria
Commanders and leaders
Joseph, Archduke of Austria, King of the Germans
Count Franz Moritz von Lacy
Baron Ernst Gideon von Laudon
Kingdom of Prussia Frederick II
Kingdom of PrussiaPrince Henry of Prussia
180,000–190,000 160,000 Prussians and Saxons
Casualties and losses
~10,000 Austrians (majority by disease, illness) ~10,000 Prussian (majority by disease, illness)

A SaxonPrussian alliance fought the War of the Bavarian Succession (July 1778 – 21 May 1779) against the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy to prevent the Habsburgs from acquiring the Electorate of Bavaria. Although the war consisted of only a few minor skirmishes, thousands of soldiers died from disease and starvation, earning the conflict the name Kartoffelkrieg (Potato War) in Prussia and Saxony; in Habsburg Austria, it was sometimes called the Zwetschgenrummel (Plum Fuss).

On 30 December 1777, Maximilian Joseph, the last of the junior line of Wittelsbach, died of smallpox, leaving no children. Charles IV Theodore, a scion of a senior branch of the House of Wittelsbach, held the closest claim of kinship, but he also had no legitimate children to succeed him. His cousin, Charles II August, Duke of Zweibrücken, therefore had a legitimate legal claim as Charles Theodore's heir presumptive. Across Bavaria's southern border, Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, coveted the Bavarian territory and had married Maximilian Joseph's sister Maria Josepha in 1765 to strengthen any claim he could extend. His agreement with the heir, Charles Theodore, to partition the territory neglected any claims of the heir presumptive, Charles August.

Acquiring territory in the German-speaking states was an essential part of Joseph's policy to expand his family's influence in Central Europe. For Frederick II of Prussia, Joseph's claim threatened the Hohenzollern ascendancy in German politics, but he questioned whether he should preserve the status quo through war or through diplomacy. Empress Maria Theresa, who co-ruled with Joseph, considered any conflict over the Bavarian electorate not worth bloodshed, and neither Maria Theresa nor Frederick saw any point in pursuing hostilities. Joseph would not drop his claim despite his mother's contrary insistence. Frederick Augustus I of Saxony wanted to preserve the territorial integrity of the Duchy for his brother-in-law, Charles August, and had no interest in seeing the Habsburgs acquire additional territory on his southern and western borders. France became involved to maintain the balance of power. Finally, Catherine II of Russia's threat to intervene on the side of Prussia with 50,000 Russian troops forced Joseph to reconsider his position. With Catherine's assistance, he and Frederick negotiated a solution to the problem of the Bavarian succession with the Treaty of Teschen, signed on 13 May 1779.

For some historians, the War of the Bavarian Succession was the last of the old-style Cabinet Wars (Kabinettskriege) of the Ancien Régime in which troops maneuvered while diplomats traveled between capitals to resolve their monarchs' complaints. The subsequent French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars differed in scope, strategy, organization and tactics. Historians of 19th-century and 20th-century Germany have also found the roots of German dualism in this brief war.


Imperial competition

In 1713, Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor, established a line of succession that gave precedence to his own daughters over the daughters of his brother. To protect the Habsburg inheritance, he coerced, cajoled, and persuaded the crowned heads of Europe to accept the Pragmatic Sanction. In this agreement, they acknowledged any of his legitimate daughters as the rightful Queen of Bohemia, Hungary and Croatia, and Archduchess of Austria – a break from the tradition of male succession.[1]

Holy Roman Emperors had been elected from the House of Habsburg for most of the previous three centuries. Charles VI arranged a marriage of his eldest daughter, Maria Theresa, to Francis of Lorraine. Francis relinquished the Duchy of Lorraine near France in exchange for the Grand Duchy of Tuscany near Austria to make himself a more appealing candidate for eventual election as Holy Roman Emperor.[2] On paper, many heads of state and, most importantly, the rulers of the German states of the Holy Roman Empire, accepted the Pragmatic Sanction and the idea of Francis as the next Holy Roman Emperor. Two key exceptions, the Duchy of Bavaria and Saxony, held important electoral votes and could impede or even block Francis's election.[3] When Charles died in 1740, his daughter, Maria Theresa, had to fight for her family's entitlements in Bohemia, Hungary and Croatia, and her husband faced competition in his election as the Holy Roman Emperor.[2]

Charles, Prince Elector and Duke of Bavaria, claimed the German territories of the Habsburg dynasty as a son-in-law of Joseph I, Holy Roman Emperor, and, furthermore, presented himself as Charles VI's legitimate Imperial successor. Charles of Bavaria's claim to the crown reflected the genealogical raison d'état. If women were going to inherit, he claimed, then he should be first in line: his wife, Maria Amalia, was the daughter of Joseph I. Both Charles VI and his predecessor Joseph I had died without sons. Charles of Bavaria suggested that the legitimate succession pass to Joseph's female children, rather than to the daughters of the younger brother, Charles VI.[4] For different reasons, Prussia, France, Spain and the Polish-Saxon monarchy supported Charles of Bavaria's claim to the Habsburg territory and the Imperial title and reneged on the Pragmatic Sanction.[5]

Charles of Bavaria needed military assistance to take the Imperial title by force and he secured this with the treaty of Nymphenburg (July 1741). During the subsequent War of the Austrian Succession, he successfully captured Prague, where he was crowned King of Bohemia. He invaded Upper Austria, planning to capture Vienna, but diplomatic exigencies complicated his plans. His French allies redirected their troops into Bohemia, where Frederick II of Prussia, himself newly king, had taken advantage of the chaos in Austria and Bavaria to annex Silesia.[6]

Charles' military options disappeared with the French. Adopting a new plan, he subverted the Imperial election. He sold the County of Glatz to Frederick of Prussia for a reduced price in exchange for Frederick's electoral vote. Charles' brother, Klemens August of Bavaria, archbishop and prince-elector of the Electorate of Cologne, voted for him in the Imperial election and personally crowned him on 12 February 1742 in the traditional ceremony in Frankfurt am Main. The next day, Charles' Bavarian capital city of Munich capitulated to the Austrians to avoid being plundered by Maria Theresa's troops. In the following weeks, her army overran most of Charles' territories, occupied Bavaria, and barred him from his ancestral lands and from Bohemia.[6]

Charles VII spent most of his three-year reign as Emperor residing in Frankfurt while Maria Theresa battled Prussia for her patrimony in Bohemia and Hungary. Frederick could not secure Bohemia for Charles, but he did manage to push the Austrians out of Bavaria. For the last three months of his short reign, the gout-ridden Charles lived in Munich, where he died in January 1745. His son, Maximilian III Joseph—known as Max Joseph—inherited his father's Electoral dignities, but not his father's Imperial ambition. With the Peace of Füssen (22 April 1745), Max Joseph promised to vote for Francis of Lorraine, Maria Theresa's husband, in the pending Imperial election. He also acknowledged the Pragmatic Sanction. In return, he obtained the restitution of his family's Electoral position and territories.[7] For his subjects, his negotiations ended five years of warfare and brought a generation of peace and relative prosperity that began with his father's death in 1745 and ended with his own in 1777.[8]


As the Duke of Bavaria, Max Joseph was the prince of one of the largest states in the German-speaking portion of the Holy Roman Empire. As a prince-elector, he stood in the highest rank of the Empire, with broad legal, economic, and judicial rights. As an elector, he was one of the men who selected the Holy Roman Emperor from a group of candidates.[9] He was the son of one Holy Roman Emperor (Charles VII), and the grandson of another (Joseph I). Despite the Peace of Füssen, any of his children could lay a claim to the Imperial title. When he died of smallpox on 30 December 1777, this genealogical claim became moot: he left no children to succeed him and several ambitious men prepared to carve his patrimony into pieces.[10]


The Sulzbach branch of the Wittelsbach family inherited the Duchy of Bavaria. In this line, the 55-year-old Charles IV Theodore, the Duke of Berg-Jülich, held the first claim. Unfortunately for Charles Theodore, he was already the Elector Palatine. By the terms of the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, he had to cede the Palatine Electorate to his own heir before he could claim the Bavarian Electorate. He was not eager to do so, even though Bavaria was larger and more important. He preferred living in the Palatinate, with its salubrious climate and compatible social scene. He patronized the arts, and had developed in Mannheim, his capital city, an array of theaters and museums at tremendous cost to his subjects. He hosted Voltaire at one of his many palaces. During the visit, he had enticed Voltaire's secretary, the Florentine noble, Cosimo Alessandro Collini (1727–1806), into his own employment, considered a coup in some of the Enlightenment circles.[11] Thomas Carlyle referred to Charles Theodore as a "poor idle creature, of purely egoistical, ornamental, dilettante nature; sunk in theatricals, [and] bastard children".[12] The French foreign minister, Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes, who knew him, described Charles Theodore's foibles more forcefully:

Although by nature intelligent, he [Charles Theodore] has never succeeded in ruling by himself; he has always been governed by his ministers or by his father-confessor or (for a time) by the [E]lectress [his wife]. This conduct has increased his natural weakness and apathy to such a degree that for a long time he has had no opinions save those inspired in him by his entourage. The void which this indolence has left in his soul is filled with the amusements of the hunt and of music and by secret liaisons, for which His Electoral Majesty has at all times had a particular penchant.[13]

The Electress had provided him with a son, who had immediately died, but Charles Theodore's particular penchant for secret liaisons, most of whom were French actresses that he had raised to the status of countess, had produced several natural children. By the time of Max Joseph's death, he had legitimated seven of the males of his various alliances, and was considering the legitimation of two more.[14] With this host of male offspring, although Charles Theodore certainly wished to acquire more territory, he needed territory that he could bequeath through his testament, rather than territory encumbered by a legal entailment that could only pass to a legitimate child.[15]


Joseph, Archduke of Austria, King of the Romans, and co-ruler with his mother, Empress Maria Theresa, coveted Bavaria. The lessons his mother had learned in the War of the Austrian Succession had not been lost on him. The House of Habsburg-Lorraine sought a wider sphere of influence in the German-speaking parts of the Holy Roman Empire.[16] Without this, the family could not count on the election of their chosen male candidate as emperor, nor could the family count on an uncontested succession in the Habsburg territories of Bohemia, Hungary and Croatia. For most of Joseph's adult life, he sought to strengthen his family's influence in German-speaking lands. For him, this meant the acquisition of German lands, not lands in the eastern region of the Habsburg empire, even such strategic territories as Bukovina.[17]

Joseph married Max Joseph's sister, Maria Josepha, in 1765, hoping he could claim the Bavarian Electorate for his offspring. After two years of unhappy marriage, Maria Josepha died without issue. When Max Joseph died ten years later, Joseph could only present a weak legal claim to Lower Bavaria through a dubious and ancient grant made by the Emperor Sigismund to the House of Habsburg in 1425.[17] Knowing its poor legal grounds, Joseph negotiated a secret agreement with Charles Theodore shortly after Max Joseph's death. In this agreement (3 January 1778), Charles Theodore ceded Lower Bavaria to Austria in exchange for uncontested succession to the remainder of the duchy.[18] Charles Theodore also hoped to acquire from Joseph some unencumbered parts of the Austrian Netherlands and parts of Anterior Austria that he could bequeath to his bastards, but this was not written into the agreement and Joseph was not a particularly generous man. Furthermore, the agreement entirely ignored the interests of Charles Theodore's own heir presumptive, Charles II August, of the House of Palatinate-Zweibrücken-Birkenfeld.[19] Charles August was the presumptive heir of Charles Theodore's domains and titles. He had a clear and direct interest in the disposition of the Bavarian duchy, especially in its territorial integrity.[20]

Heir presumptive

Unbeknownst to either Charles Theodore or Joseph, a widow—historians are uncertain which widow—opened secret negotiations with Prussia to secure the eventual succession of Charles August. Some historians maintain the active negotiator was Max Joseph's widow, Maria Anna Sophia of Saxony. Others assert it was not Max Joseph's widow but Max Joseph's sister, who was also Charles August's mother-in-law. This widow, Maria Antonia of Bavaria, was the mother of the reigning Elector of Saxony. Ernest Henderson even maintained she was the "only manly one among the many Wittelsbach parties" involved in the issue.[21]

Charles August was no great admirer of Joseph's. As a younger man, he had sought the hand of Joseph's sister, Archduchess Maria Amalia. She had been quite content to take him, but Joseph and their mother insisted she marry instead the better connected Duke of Parma.[22] After this disappointment, Charles August married Maria Amalia of Saxony in 1774; she was the daughter of the Elector Christian (d. 1765) and his wife Maria Antonia, Max Joseph's sister. In 1769, the reigning elector, Frederick Augustus I of Saxony, had married Charles August's sister. Charles August, sometimes called duc de Deux-Ponts (a French translation of Zweibrücken, or two bridges), was a French client and could theoretically draw on French support for his claim. However, he had especially good relations with the Saxon Electors: both his mother- and brother-in-law wanted to ensure that Maria Amalia's husband received his rightful inheritance.[20]


Interested parties

Prussia also expressed interest in the disposition of the duchy. Count Karl-Wilhelm Finck von Finckenstein, First Minister (or prime minister) for Frederick the Great, believed that any Austrian acquisition in Bavaria would shift the balance of power in the Holy Roman Empire, diminishing Prussia's influence.[23] Prussia's recent gains had been hard-won. Thirty years earlier, Frederick had engaged in protracted wars in Silesia and Bohemia, resulting in Prussia's annexation of most of Silesia. In the Silesian wars and the Seven Years' War, he had earned a new, if grudging, respect for his kingdom's military and diplomatic prowess from the European power-states of France, Russia, Britain and Austria.[24] To protect Prussia's status and territory, Finck and Frederick constructed an alliance with the Electorate of Saxony, ostensibly to defend the rights of Charles II August, Duke of Zweibrücken, Charles Theodore's heir presumptive.[23]

Although equally interested in maintaining its influence among the German states, France had a double problem. As a supporter of the rebellious British colonies in North America, it was in France's interest to avoid a continental engagement. France could do more damage to the British in North America than in Europe.[23] The diplomatic realignment in 1756 had overthrown 200 years of French foreign policy that united the French Crown and the French populace against the House of Habsburg, arguably bringing to France massive territorial gains in repeated wars with Habsburg Austria and Habsburg Spain.[25] A reversal of this policy in 1756 tied French foreign policy in Europe to Vienna. Despite this restructuring, there existed in the French Court at Versailles, and in France generally, a strong anti-Austrian sentiment.[23] The Diplomatic Revolution of 1756, sealed in 1770 with the personal union (the diplomatic term for marriage) of Louis, the Dauphin of Viennois, and the Austrian Archduchess Marie Antoinette, was considered both a political and matrimonial mésalliance in the eyes of many Frenchmen. It flew in the face of 200 years of French foreign policy, in which the central axiom "had been hostility to the House of Habsburg."[25] The French foreign minister, Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes, maintained deep-seated hostility to the Austrians that pre-dated the alliance of 1756. He had not approved of the shift of France's traditional bonds, and considered the Austrians untrustworthy. He managed to extricate France from immediate military obligations to Austria by 1778.[23]

Tensions rise

In January 1778, tensions began to rise. On 3 January, a few days after Max Joseph's death, the ducal Equerry proclaimed Charles Theodore as Duke. Dragoons rode through the streets of Munich, some banging drums and some blowing trumpets, and others shouting, "Long Live our Elector Charles Theodore."[26] According to the 3 January agreement between Joseph and Charles Theodore, 15,000 Austrian troops occupied Mindelheim, ultimately more territory than had been granted to Joseph. Charles Theodore, who had dreamed of rebuilding the Burgundian empire, realized that Joseph was not seriously planning to exchange a portion of Bavaria, or even all of it, for the entirety of the Austrian Netherlands. At best, he might acquire a few portions of it, perhaps Hainaut or Guelders, Luxembourg, Limburg, or various dispersed possessions in Anterior Austria, most of which lay in southwestern Germany.[27]

While Charles Theodore's dream of a Burgundian renaissance receded, Joseph continued on his course to annex part of Bavaria. The widow—Max Joseph's widow or the mother-in-law or both—petitioned Prussia on behalf of Charles II August. Frederick's envoys to the heir presumptive convinced the slighted prince to lodge protests with the Imperial Diet in Regensburg.[28] Joseph's troops remained in portions of Bavaria, even establishing an Austrian administration at Straubing, precipitating a diplomatic crisis.[23] Austrian occupation of Bavaria was unacceptable to Charles August's champion, Frederick.[24] Prussian troops mobilized near Prussia's border with Bohemia, reminiscent of the invasion in 1740, which was unacceptable to Joseph. Meanwhile, the French wriggled out of their diplomatic obligations to Austria, telling Joseph that there would be no military support from Paris for a war against Prussia.[23] Britain, Prussia's strongest ally, was already mired in a war in North America. Prussia's other ally, Saxony, aligned by two marriages with Charles August, was strategically prepared for war against Austria and ready to contribute 20,000 troops.[29] Watching from Moscow, Catherine II of Russia was willing to mop up the spoils of war for her own empire, but did not want to get involved in another costly European conflict.[30]

For four months, negotiators shuttled between Vienna and Berlin, Dresden and Regensburg, and Zweibrücken Munich and Mannheim.[24] By early spring 1778, Austria and Prussia faced each other with armies several times the size of their forces during the Seven Years' War and their confrontation had the potential to explode into another European-wide war.[31]


When it became clear that other monarchs of Europe were not going to acquiesce to a de facto partition of Bavaria, Joseph and his foreign minister, Anton, Count von Kaunitz, scoured the Habsburg realm for troops and concentrated 600 guns and an 180,000–190,000-man Austrian army in Bohemia, Moravia, and Austrian Silesia. This army amounted to most of Austria's 200,000 effectives, leaving much of the Habsburg border regions with the Ottoman Empire under-guarded.[32] On 6 April 1778, Frederick of Prussia established his army of 80,000 men on the Prussian border with Bohemia, near Neisse, Schweidnitz, and the County of Glatz,[24] which Frederick had acquired from the Wittelsbach contender in 1741, in exchange for his electoral support of Charles VII.[33] At Glatz, Frederick completed his preparations for invasion: he gathered supplies, arranged a line of march, brought up his artillery and drilled his soldiers. His younger brother, Prince Henry, formed a second army of 75,000–100,000 men to the north and west, in Saxony. In April, Frederick and Joseph officially joined their armies in the field, and diplomatic negotiations ended.[24]

First skirmish

In early July 1778, the Prussian General Johann Jakob von Wunsch (1717–1788) crossed into Bohemia near the fortified town of Náchod with several hundred men. The local garrison, commanded by Friedrich Joseph, Freiherr (Baron) von Nauendorf, then a mere Rittmeister (Captain of Cavalry), included only 50 Hussars. Despite the poor numerical odds, Nauendorf and his 50 Hussars sallied out to engage Wunsch's men. When his small force encountered Wunsch's, which was more than triple its size, Nauendorf greeted the Prussians as friends; by the time the Prussians were close enough to realize the allegiance of the Hussars, Nauendorf and his small band had acquired the upper hand.[34] Wunsch withdrew. The next day, Nauendorf was promoted to major.[34] The news of Nauendorf's successful encounter with Wunsch pleased Joseph enormously. In a letter to her son, the Empress Maria Theresa wrote: "They say you were so pleased with Nauendorf, a rookie from Carlstadt or Hungary, who killed seven men, that you gave him 12 ducats."[35]


A few days after Wunsch's encounter with Nauendorf, Frederick and his 80,000 troops entered Bohemia. They occupied Náchod, but advanced no further. The Habsburg army with its 600 guns stood on the heights of the Elbe river. Joseph exercised nominal command, and Count Franz Moritz von Lacy held actual command.[36] Lacy had served under Marshal Daun during the Seven Years' War, and knew his military business. He established the Austrian army on the most defensible position available. Centered at Jaroměř,[37] a triple line of redoubts extended 15 kilometers (9.3 mi) southwest along the river to Königgrätz. The Austrians also augmented this defensive line with their 600 artillery.[38]

While the main Habsburg army faced Frederick at the Elbe, a smaller army under the command of Baron Ernst Gideon von Laudon guarded the passes from Saxony and Lusatia into Bohemia. Laudon was another battle-hardened and cagey commander with extensive field experience, but even he could not cover the long frontier completely. Shortly after Frederick crossed into Bohemia, Prince Henry, a brilliant strategist in his own right, maneuvered around Laudon's troops and entered Bohemia at Hainspach.[39] To avoid being flanked, Laudon withdrew across the Iser River, but by mid-August, the main Austrian army was in danger of being outflanked by Henry on its left wing. At its center and right, it faced a well-disciplined army commanded by Frederick, arguably the best general of the age.[40]

While his main army was entrenched on the heights above the Elbe, Joseph encouraged raids against the Prussian troops. On 7 August 1778, with two squadrons of his regiment, the intrepid "rookie", now Major Nauendorf, led a raid against a Prussian convoy at Bieberdorf in the County of Glatz. The surprised convoy surrendered and Nauendorf captured its officers, 110 men, 476 horses, 240 wagons of flour, and 13 transport wagons.[41] This kind of action characterized the entire war. There were no major battles. The war consisted of a series of raids and counter-raids during which the opposing sides lived off the country-side and tried to deny each other access to supplies and fodder.[42] Soldiers later said they spent more time foraging for food than they did fighting.[43]

The armies remained in their encampments for the campaign season while men and horses ate all the provisions and forage within miles.[24] Prince Henry wrote to his brother, suggesting they complete their operations by 22 August, at which time he estimated he would have exhausted local supplies of food for his men and fodder for his horses.[44] Frederick agreed. He laid plans to cross the Elbe and approach the Austrian force from the rear, but the more he examined the conditions of Joseph's entrenchments, the more he realized the campaign was already lost. Even if he and Henry executed simultaneous attacks on the Königgrätz heights, such a plan exposed Henry to a flanking attack from Laudon. A coordinated frontal and rear assault was also unlikely to succeed. If it did succeed, the Prussian losses would be unacceptable and would demolish his army's capacity to resist other invaders. From Frederick's perspective, the Russians and the Swedes were always ready to take advantage of any perceived Prussian weakness. The French also could not be trusted to keep their distance. For Frederick, it was a risk not worth taking. Despite this realization, the four armies—two Austrian, two Prussian—remained in place until September, eating as much of the country's resources as they could.[24]

The battle-less war was not without incident and these may have lost no luster in the telling. One story from the war captured the imagination of the historical painter Bernhard Rode. From their advantageous height by Königgrätz, the Austrians frequently bombarded the Prussian army encamped below them. On the same day that Frederick's doctors bled him, an Austrian cannonade grew so strong that Frederick rode out to observe the damage. During the ride, his vein opened. A company medic bound his wound (see painting by Bernhard Rohde in the Infobox).[45] In his less-than-complimentary history of Frederick the Great, the English historian Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) relayed the story of Frederick and a Croatian marksman. As Frederick was reconnoitering, Carlyle maintained, the King encountered the Croat taking aim at him. Reportedly, he wagged his finger at the man, as if to say, do not do that. The Croat thought better of shooting the King, and disappeared into the woods. Some reports maintained the Croat actually knelt before the king and kissed his hand.[46]

Nauendorf continued his raids, the soldiers foraged for food and dug up the local potato crop, and Joseph and Frederick glared at one another by Königgrätz. Maria Theresa had sent Kaunitz on a secret mission to Berlin to offer a truce. In a second trip, she offered a settlement, and finally wrote to Catherine in Russia to ask for assistance. When Joseph discovered his mother's maneuvering behind his back, he furiously offered to resign. His mother enlisted the assistance she needed. Catherine offered to mediate the dispute; if her assistance was unacceptable, she was willing to send 50,000 troops to augment the Prussian force. Frederick started to withdraw portions of his force in mid-September. In October, Joseph withdrew most of his army to the Bohemian border and Frederick withdrew his remaining troops into Prussia. Two small forces of hussars[47] and dragoons remained in Bohemia to provide a winter cordon; these forces allowed Joseph and Frederick to keep an eye on each other while their diplomats negotiated at Teschen.[24]

Winter actions

Appointed to be commander of the Austrian winter cordon, Dagobert Sigmund von Wurmser ordered a small assault column under the command of Colonel Wilhelm Klebeck to attack the village of Dittersbach.[Note 1] Klebeck led a column of Croats into the village. During the action, 400 Prussians were killed, another 400 made prisoner, and eight colors were captured.[48] Following his successes against the Prussians in 1778, Joseph awarded Wurmser the Knights Cross of the Military Order of Maria Theresa on 21 October 1778.[49]

In another raid, in January 1779, Wurmser advanced into the County of Glatz in five columns, two of which, commanded by Major General Franz Joseph, Count Kinsky, surrounded Habelschwerdt on 17–18 January. While one column secured the approach, the other, under the leadership of Colonel Pallavicini,[Note 2] stormed the village and captured the Prince of Hessen-Philippsthal and 700 men, three cannon and seven colors. Wurmser himself led the third column in an assault on the so-called Swedish blockhouse at Oberschwedeldorf.[50] It and the village of Habelschwerdt were set on fire by howitzers. Major General Ludwig, Baron of Terzi (1730–1800), who was covering with the remaining two columns, threw back the enemy support and took 300 Prussian prisoners. Meanwhile, Wurmser maintained his position at the nearby villages of Rückerts and Reinerz.[40] His forward patrols reached the outskirts of Glatz, and patrolled much of the Silesian border with Prussia, near Schweidnitz.[48] Halberschwerdt and Oberschedeldorf were both destroyed.[51]

On 3 March 1779, Nauendorf raided Berbersdorf again with a large force of infantry and hussars and captured the entire Prussian garrison. Following this action, Joseph awarded him the Knight's Cross of the Military Order of Maria Theresa (19 May 1779).[41]


In the Treaty of Teschen (May 1779), Maria Theresa returned Lower Bavaria to Charles Theodore, but kept the so-called Innviertel, a 2,200-square-kilometer (850 sq mi) strip of land in the drainage basin of the Inn River. She and Joseph were surprised to find that the small territory had 120,000 inhabitants.[24] Saxony received a financial reward of six million gulden from the principal combatants[52] for its role in the intervention.[53]

The War of the Bavarian Succession was the last war for both Frederick and Maria Theresa, whose reigns began and ended with wars against one another.[54] Although they deployed armies three to four times the size of the armies of the Seven Years' War,[54] neither monarch used the entirety of the military force each had at his or her disposal, making this war-without-battles remarkable.[53] Despite the restraint of the monarchs, some early 19th-century casualty estimates suggest that tens of thousands died of starvation and hunger-related disease.[55] Carlyle's more moderate estimate lies at about 10,000 Prussians and probably another 10,000 Austrian dead.[56] Michael Hochedlinger assesses combined casualties at approximately 30,000,[57] Robert Kann gives no estimate of casualties, but suggests the primary causes of death were cholera and dysentery.[58] Gaston Bodart, whose 1915 work is still considered the authority on Austrian military losses, is specific: five Austrian generals (he does not name them), over 12,000 soldiers, and 74 officers died of disease. In minor actions and skirmishes, nine officers and 265 men were killed and four officers and 123 men were wounded, but not fatally. Sixty-two officers and 2,802 men were taken prisoner, and 137 men were missing. Over 3,000 Imperial soldiers deserted. Finally, 26 officers and 372 men were discharged with disabilities. Bodart also gives Prussian losses: one general killed (he does not say which), 87 officers and 3,364 men killed, wounded or captured. Overall, he assumes losses of ten percent of the fighting force.[59] Little has been discovered of civilian casualties, although certainly the civilians also suffered from starvation and diseases. There were other damages: for example, Habelschwerdt and one of its hamlets were destroyed by fire.[60]

Despite its short duration, the war itself cost Prussia 33 million florins.[55] For the Austrians, the cost was higher: 65 million florins, for a state with an annual revenue of 50 million florins.[61] Joseph himself described war as "a horrible thing ... the ruin of many innocent people."[62]

Change in warfare

This also was the last European war of the old style, in which armies maneuvered sedately at a distance while diplomats hustled between capitals to resolve their Majesties' differences. Given the length of time—six months—the cost in life and treasure was high. In light of the scale of warfare experienced in Europe less than a generation later in the French Revolutionary Wars, and shortly after, in the Napoleonic Wars, though, this six-month engagement seems mild.[63] Yet, while historians often dismissed it as the last of the archaic mode of Ancien Régime warfare, elements of the war foreshadowed conflicts to come: the sheer sizes of the armies deployed reflected emerging abilities and willingness to conscript, train, equip and field larger armies than had been done in previous generations.[64]

The war also reflected a new height in military spending, especially by the Habsburgs. After the Seven Years' War, the size of the Habsburg military shrank, from 201,311 men in arms in 1761 to 163,613 in 1775. In preparing for a second summer's campaign, Joseph's army grew from 195,108 effectives in the summer of 1778 to 308,555 men in arms in Spring 1779.[65] Habsburg military strength never dropped below 200,000 effectives between 1779 and 1792, when Austria entered the War of the First Coalition. Several times it surged above 300,000 men in arms, responding to needs on the borders with the Ottoman Empire or the revolt in the Austrian Netherlands. The military also underwent a massive organizational overhaul.[66]

In the vernacular, the Austrians called the war Zwetschgenrummel (Plum Fuss), and for the Prussians and Saxons, it was Kartoffelkrieg (Potato War). In the historiography of European warfare, historians almost always described the War of the Bavarian Succession "in dismissive or derisive terms [as] the apotheosis (or perhaps caricature) of old regime warfare," despite its grand name.[67] Some historians have maintained that the focus on the consumption of the produce of the land gave the war its popular name: the Potato War. Others suggest that the two armies lobbed potatoes instead of cannonballs or mortars.[68] A third theory maintains that the war acquired its popular name because it took place during the potato harvest.[69]

Resurgence of the problem

The underlying problem was not solved: Joseph's foreign policy dictated the expansion of Habsburg influence over German-speaking territories and only this, he believed, would counter Prussia's growing strength in Imperial affairs. In 1785, Joseph again sought to make territorial deals, again with Charles Theodore, and again offering to trade portions of Bavarian territory for portions of the Austrian Netherlands, a deal similar to the one that had failed in 1778. This time it would be a straight trade: territory for territory, not a partition.[70] Although the Austrian Netherlands was a wealthy territory, it was a thorn in Joseph's side, opposing his administrative and bureaucratic reforms and devouring military and administrative resources he desperately needed elsewhere in his realm.[71] Despite its problems, Joseph could not afford to give up the Netherlands entirely, so his efforts to negotiate a partial territorial exchange guaranteed him some of the financial benefits of both his Netherlands possessions and the Bavarian territories.[72] Even if he had to give up the Austrian Netherlands, it meant "the barter of an indefensible strategic position and ... an economic liability for a great territorial and political gain, adjacent to the monarchy."[58] Again, Charles II August, Duke of Zweibrücken, resented the possible loss of his Bavarian expectancy, and again, Frederick II offered aid. This time, no war developed, not even a Potato War. Instead, Frederick resorted to pressure politics. He founded the Fürstenbund, or the Union of Princes, comprising the influential princes of the northern German states, and these individuals jointly pressured Joseph to relinquish his ambitious plans. In 1799, the duchy passed to Maximilian IV Joseph, brother of Charles August, whose only child had died in 1784.[73]

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.[62] 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.[74]

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 Versailles 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.[74] 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.[75]

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.[76] 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.[77] 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.[78] The Austro-Prussian dualism that dominated the next century's unification movement rumbled ominously in the War of the Bavarian Succession.[79]





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Further reading

20th century
  • (German) Kotulla, Michael, "Bayerischer Erbfolgekrieg." (1778/79), In: Deutsche Verfassungsgeschichte vom Alten Reich bis Weimar (1495  – 1934). [Lehrbuch], Springer, Berlin: Heidelberg 2008, ISBN 978-3-540-48705-0.
  • (German) Ziechmann, Jürgen, Der Bayerische Erbfolge-Krieg 1778/1779 oder Der Kampf der messerscharfen Federn. Edition Ziechmann, Südmoslesfehn 2007,
  • (German) Groening, Monika . Karl Theodors stumme Revolution: Stephan Freiherr von Stengel, 1750–1822, und seine staats- und wirtschaftspolitischen Innovationen in Bayern, 1778-99. Obstadt-Weiher: Verlag regionalkultur, [2001].
  • (Russian) Nersesov, G.A. . Politika Rossii na Teshenskom kongresse: 1778–1779. No publication information.
  • Thomas, Marvin Jr. Karl Theodor and the Bavarian Succession, 1777–1778: a thesis in history. Pennsylvania State University, 1980.
  • (German) Criste, Oskar. Kriege unter Kaiser Josef II. Nach den Feldakten and anderen authentischen Quellen. Wien: Verlag Seidel, 1904.
19th century
  • (German) Reimann, Eduard. Geschichte des bairischen Erbfolgekrieges no publication information. 1869.
  • (German) Geschichte des Baierischen Erbfolgestreits [microform] : nebst Darstellung der Lage desselben im Jenner 1779. Frankfurt & Leipzig: [s.n.], 1779.
  • (French) Neufchâteau, Nicolas Louis François de (comte). Histoire de l'occupation de la Baviere par les Autrichiens, en 1778 et 1779 ; contenant les details de la guerre et des negotiations que ce different occasionna, et qui furent terminées, en 1779, par la paix de Teschen. Paris: Imprimerieimperiale, [1805].
  • (German) Thamm, A. T. G. Plan des Lagers von der Division Sr. Excel. des Generals der Infanterie von Tauenzien zwischen Wisoka und Praschetz vom 7ten bis 18ten July 1778. no publication information, 1807.
18th century
  • (German) Historische Dokumentation zur Eingliederung des Innviertels im Jahre 1779: Sonderausstellung: Innviertler Volkskundehaus u. Galerie d. Stadt Ried im Innkreis, 11. Mai bis 4. Aug. 1979. (Documents relating to the annexation of the Innviertel in 1779.)
  • (German) Geschichte des Baierischen Erbfolgestreits nebst Darstellung der Lage desselben im Jenner 1779. Frankfurt: [s.n.], 1779.
  • (German) [Seidl, Carl von]. Versuch einer militärischen Geschichte des Bayerischen Erbfolge-Krieges im Jahre 1778, im Gesichtspunkte der Wahrheit betrachtet von einem Königl. Preussischen Officier. no publication information.
  • (German) Bourscheid, J. Der erste Feldzug im vierten preussischen Kriege: Im Gesichtspunkte der Strategie beschreiben. Wien: [s.n.], 1779.
  • (French) Keith, Robert Murray. Exposition détaillée des droits et de la conduite de S.M. l'imṕératrice reine apostolique rélativement à la succession de la Bavière: pour servir de réponse à l'Exposé des motifs qui ont engagé S.M. le roi de Prusse à s'opposer au démembrement de la Bavière. Vienne: Chez Jean Thom. Nob. de Trattnern, 1778.
  • Frederick. Memoirs from the Peace of Hubertsburg, to the Partition of Poland, and of the Bavarian War. London: printed for G. G. J. and J. Robinson, 1789.
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