The Fredericks of Prussia

BACKGROUND:  Beginning in 1415 the Hohenzollern family became the electors of Brandenburg.  The family gradually increased their holdings until by the late 1600's they were second only to the Hapsburgs in square mileage of territory.


The Great Elector began the process of reducing the power of the Junkers.

He established a civil service and the army became the cornerstone of state power. The nobility were forced to pay taxes to support the army (although the peasants actually paid the majority of the taxes).  Frederick used the Junkers as leaders of the civil service and as officers of the army.  Frederick practiced religious toleration as he allowed 20,000 French Huguenots along with Polish Jews and other refugees fleeing from persecution to enter Brandenburg. 

Frederick William's power stemmed from  an alliance WITH the aristocracy rather than on his opposition to the aristocracy as was the case in France.  He gave the nobles more power over the lower classes in exchange for their support.

FREDERICK I r. 1688-1713

The maverick of the Hohenzollerns, Frederick did not focus his attention on administrative or military ventures.  Rather he became a patron of the arts and learning.  He was a man who enjoyed living in luxury.  His sole political move was to support Leopold I (Holy Roman Emperor) in the War of Spanish Succession.  In reward for this support, Leopold allowed him to assume the title of King of Prussia.  The title was passed to his son upon his death in 1713.


While his father had lived in luxury, Frederick practiced extreme austerity.  Under his guidance Prussia's income increased.  He was known as the "Sergeant King" and increased Prussia's army until it was the 3rd largest in all Europe (even though Prussia was 13th in size).  Army officers became privileged and Junker sons eagerly tried to join.  He was a clear militarist, he sought to avoid war.  Under him the army became a sign of Prussian power rather than an instrument of aggression.


Immediately upon becoming king he invaded Silesia (Austria) thus beginning the War of Austrian Succession (1740-48).  During the Seven Years' War (1756-63) he retained Silesia.  Later in his reign he participated in the first partition of Poland. (reduced by 1/3 divided by P,A, & R) Frederick was known as an Enlightened Despot and befriended Voltaire.  His reforms were dedicated toward increasing the power of the monarchy.  He created bureaus of commerce and industry, excise and tolls, mines and forestry.  He codified Prussian law codes, and abolished torture in legal proceedings.  Frederick actively promoted economic  development, created tariffs, used the Bank of Berlin issue credit to economic development.  Swamps were drained for agriculture and new crops were introduced.

In religious policy he allowed Catholics to settle in predominately Lutheran areas and also respected the rights of Catholics in Silesia.

Frederick II the Great was said to be alike in appearance and temperament to his grandfather, Frederick I.  He enjoyed pastimes such as flute-playing and poetry as well as being a soldier where he claimed Selesia from Austria.  Frederick II the Great was said to be homosexual as he and his wife lived basically apart, he sired no children.