The War of Bavarian Succession

The common theme of “Wars of Succession” in the 18th century affected Spain, Austria, and even Poland. However, the War of Bavarian Succession (1778-79) is widely overlooked by most. It did shape the basis for Napoleonic Central Europe in the upcoming years of turmoil on the Continent.

The Austrians had suffered defeat in their own War of Succession in the 1740s, but Maria Theresa still kept her throne. One of the main parts of Austrian lands they lost was Silesia, a strip of modern-day Poland which belonged to Prussia. When Maria Theresa gave up her title as Holy Roman Empress, the throne passed to her son Joseph II, who wanted to revive Austrian influence in Germany. His reforms of the Austrian military cast a shadow over his reign, as many Austrians were filled with discontent. The situation in the Empire was tense: they wanted to restate their claim as the most important German nation and also reclaim land lost in the Seven Years’ War and War of Austrian Succession.

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Prussian soldiers circa 1778

In December of 1777, the Elector of Bavaria, Maximilian III, died and caused a power vacuum akin to previous problems of succession. Charles Theodore became the new ruler and ceded Bavaria to the Austrians in exchange for the Austrian Netherlands. Joseph II’s pressure on Charles caused the deal to go through, much to Prussia’s disgust. Prussia backed Charles August, Duke of Zweibrucken, and countered the Austrians. When Imperial troops occupied Bavaria, Frederick II declared war. Joseph II led his troops against the Prussians, but no real engagements were fought. Most were simple supply raids through the winter, which led the war to be known as either the “Potato War” or the “Plum Scrum.” Many soldiers on both sides died of starvation in the frigid winters or of diseases which ravaged camps. The Austrians and Prussians lost a combined 39,000 men and 5,000 horses in a war with no major battles.In May of 1779, the aging Maria Theresa intervened, as she was still ‘King’ of Bohemia and Hungary (the throne was legally supposed to be occupied by a man). She organised a separate peace with Frederick, and the war came to a close. Charles Theodore was kept on the throne of Bohemia but Austria would renounce her claims to Bavaria.

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Uniforms of the Ages: Hungarians in Austrian Service

The heavily multicultural Austrian Empire divided its army into two main nationalities: Germans and Hungarians. While the majority of these units were not actually of those nations, the Hungarian troops were some of the more elaborately dressed.

Throughout Austria’s history, the Hungarians have retained the same core elements of their uniform, changing only when the uniform style did. The first appearance of specific “Hungarian” troops was around the reign of Maria Theresa and the War of Austrian Succession. There were Hungarian troops prior to this war, but the special uniforms were not adopted until then. Hungary had only been part of the Habsburg Empire since 1541. A large partition had separated it from Bohemia and placed it under the influence of Austria.

Gyulay Regiment  in the 7 Years War

The most notable part of the Hungarian uniform was the gold braiding on the front of the pants in a knotted style. This “Hungarian knot” was a braided lace design that was notably used by Confederate officers in the US Civil War. For the Hungarians, this pattern was on both pant legs in a golden lace. Unlike “German” troops, the pants of these soldiers were a light blue while Germans wore white or gray.

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Confederate General Braxton Bragg with a Hungarian knot

The uniforms changed over time with style of warfare. Tricorne hats and long coats were soon replaced by helmets and higher pants during the Napoleonic Wars. The helmets were extremely cumbersome, and provided little protection to a soldier when he wore them. In 1809, Austrian troops swapped their helmets for the shako, which was used by almost all of the major world powers at that time. The Hungarian pattern, however, remained on the uniform. By the Napoleonic Wars, the trousers of Hungarian troops had been added to as well; a black and gold stripe ran down the side of the pants. 

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Hungarian Grenadiers

Post-Napoleon, Hungarian troops played an even larger role in the Austrian Army. The ratio of German units to Hungarian units was almost even as the population increased. By the next reforms, Hungarian troops wore the new shorter shako and their coats were given gold lace around the facings. These uniforms would carry them through the Italian Wars of Independence and the Austro-Prussian War.

The Hungarians achieved a dual monarchy in 1867, establishing the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Uniforms remained the same until 1908 when a new, modern uniform was introduced. The hechtgrau (pike-gray) uniform was more subtle than the white and light blue the Hungarians previously wore, but their knotted pattern still stayed on their pants. By 1918, the Empire fell after their defeat in the First World War, and the Hungarian uniform disappeared with it.

Hungary used a drab coloured uniform after the fall of the Dual Monarchy, and discontinued any of the previous gold lace on their pants or coats. By the Second World War, the old uniform style was completely gone, and just as the Austrian Empire changed with age, the Royal Hungarian Army changed too.

The Very Brief History of Hungary

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670- Early Magyars arrive in Hungary

906- Magyars capture Moravia

1000- Hungary is part of the Holy Roman Empire

1083- Stephen I is canonized

1241- Hello Mongols

1526- Battle of Mohács

1568- Partition

1699- Habsburgs

1848- Failed revolution

1867- Dual Monarchy

1918- No more Habsburgs

1949- Communism

1956- Another failed revolution

1989- Goodbye communism

2004- Joins NATO and the EU