The most famous battle of the 19th century was undoubtedly Waterloo, and the biggest battle of the Napoleonic Wars was Leipzig, but neither one of those legendary battles was the biggest of the century. That distinction instead belongs to the Battle of Königgrätz, a little known, but decisive conflict in a war between Prussia and Austria. Though it lasted only seven weeks and only had one truly decisive battle, the Austro-Prussian War nonetheless changed the political outlook in Europe forever.
Locked in a balance of power since the 1815 Congress of Vienna, the world was dominated by the great European powers of Britain, France, Russia, and Austria, and at the Congress of Vienna itself, Prussia had been a minor concern. Though the Prussians had come through in time to assist the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo, they were nevertheless taken for granted at the conference, with the major powers instead preferring to deal with the more historically powerful Austrian Hapsburgs. In his scathing commentary on Prussian culture, When Blood is Their Argument, Ford Maddox Ford attempted to explain the sudden rise of Prussian political and economic status from 1849-1880, writing, “She [Prussia] had pushed herself from being a bad second in the comity of Germanism into a position of equality with, if not of predominance over, Austria, amongst the German peoples.”
Prussian leaders, especially Otto von Bismarck, the chancellor and advisor to Prussia’s king, believed Prussia could be a united and respected power, but only without the traditional Austrian dominance. At the time, the Austrian empire was a collection of ethnically diverse peoples and had been dominated by a socio-political conservatism that sought to keep the empire ruled in Hapsburg tradition.
Though Prussia’s leadership had its share of liberals and socialists to keep at bay, Prussia’s relatively shorter history meant it was capable of change, and while Prussia’s more ethnically unified population and its use of the Zollverein to exclude Austria from economic competition certainly played a role in the Prussians’ victory, it took a seven-week military campaign to seal Austria’s fate.
Due to its short duration and the fact the war pit longstanding allies against one another, the war has alternately been known as the Seven Weeks’ War and the Brothers War, but in the end, the Austro-Prussian War severely reduced Austria’s status as a Germanic power and added territories to Prussia, resulting in a growth of population from 19 million to almost 24 million.
The Austro-Prussian War: The History and Legacy of the Conflict That Resulted in Prussian Dominance over Germany looks at the short but momentous conflict and its geopolitical ramifications. You will learn about the Austro-Prussian War like never before.