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When the Thirty Years’ War came to an end, several dynasties vied for predominance in Europe, first and foremost the French kings and the Austrian Habsburgs. Louis XIV of France epitomized the absolute monarch and his court set the standard for aristocratic culture. The German princes were able to gain a certain limited sovereignty, marked by a mitigated form of absolutism.

When the Emperor Charles VI died without an heir in 1740, the political struggle between Austria and Prussia escalated. Not only Prussia, but Bavaria and France as well objected to the Habsburg princess Maria Theresa succeeding to the imperial throne.

This unleashed the War of the Austrian Succession, from which five great European powers emerged and now struggled to assert their own various interests: England and France clashed over their overseas territories, and from 1756 to 1763 Austria and Prussia fought a war over Silesia. Following this Seven Years’ War Austria, Prussia and Russia directed their expansionist drive against Poland.