The Seven Years War took place between 1756 and 1763 and involved the main European powers of the time. The opposing sides saw on the one hand the alliance made up of the Kingdom of Great Britain, the Kingdom of Prussia, the Electorate of Hanover, other minor states of northwestern Germany and, from 1762, the Kingdom of Portugal; on the other side the coalition composed by the Kingdom of France, the Habsburg Monarchy, the Holy Roman Empire (mainly the Electorate of Saxony, while the involvement of the other states of the empire was minimal), the Russian Empire, Sweden and, from 1762, Spain. The French and the British also made use of various local allies among the native peoples of India and North America.
Winston Churchill, in his History of the English-speaking Peoples, defined the conflict as “the first real world war”: it was in fact fought not only on European territory but also in the Americas, Asia and West Africa, where France, Great Britain and Spain had of colonial possessions. Unlike the previous wars of succession of the eighteenth century, the conflict had the typical characteristics of modern warfare, anticipating what in the twentieth century will be defined as “total war.
The war ended with the stipulation of a series of separate peaces between the various contenders. Great Britain triumphed; it gained the greatest territorial and political gains: the British obtained the cession of today’s Canada and the French colonies located east of the Mississippi River as well as various other territories in India, the Caribbean and on the coast of Senegal, while Spain was forced to surrender the colony of Florida.
The war marked the definitive decline of French colonialism in North America and the beginning of the decline of the influence of France in India, sanctioning, on the contrary, the affirmation of Great Britain as the main maritime and colonial power. Frederick II of Prussia obtained some important political gains: the conflict confirmed the cession to the Prussians of the rich province of Silesia, already obtained during the previous war of Austrian succession, and sanctioned the affirmation of Prussia as a great continental power in Europe. The course of the conflict also confirmed the important role that the Russian Empire had by now assumed in European politics.