The Principality of Brandenburg 1415-1517

The Principality (until into the 14th century Margraviate) of Brandenburg was located in the east of the Holy Roman Empire, and it is one of it's largest territories. The prince had a special status among the Empire's princes, because he was one of the 7 ELECTORS (and, as such, the margrave had the rank of prince) who, whenever the throne was vacant, were to meet and elect a new king. When the Empire was reorganized in Imperial circles in 1512, Brandenburg was allocated to the UPPER SAXON CIRCLE.
The cities within Brandenburg - foremost BRANDENBURG, BERLIN, POTSDAM, FRANKFURT/ODER, were of secondary importance. Brandenburg administratively was divided in 3 parts - the ALTMARK (to the west of the Elbe), the KURMARK (between Elbe and Oder); the NEUMARK (to the East of the Oder) had been pawned to the Teutonic Order and remained under its rule until 1456. The capital, seat of the prince-elector and the Landtag (diet), since the mid-15th century, was Berlin.

The Margraviate of Brandenburg had belonged to the Wittelsbach Dynasty 1323-1373, to the Luxemburg Dynasty 1373-1415. For both, Brandenburg was a tool in their dynastic policy to control the Empire (Brandenburg held one of the seven electoral votes); both the nobility and the cities of Brandenburg had become independent-minded; feuds between nobles or between nobles and cities were frequent, the Prince's control over the country questioned.
In 1411, Emperor Sigismund succeeded his brother Jobst of Moravia as Prince-Elector of Brandenburg. He charged Count Friedrich von Zollern (rechristened Hohenzollern by the nationalist-romanticist German historiography of the 19th century) with restoring order to the territory. In a 1413-1414 campaign, Count Friedrich, using cannons, conquered the castles of the notorious Quitzow family. The Quitzows now looked for support in Pomerania and Mecklenburg; a war with Duke Swantibor of Pomerania (1415) ensued.
In 1415/1417, Emperor Sigismund enfiefed Count Friedrich with the Principality of Brandenburg, rewarding him for loyal service which had proven crucial in staging the Council of Constance. Now, Prince-Elector Friedrich I. of Zollern already was Burgrave of Nürnberg and Count of Ansbach (both territories located in Franconia), and he resided in Franconia, paying only temporary visits to Brandenburg. Brandenburg, however, required the full attention of her territorial lord; in 1422 a Hussite force invaded Brandenburg, plundering her eastern regions. In 1425 another war with Pomerania broke out; the Uckermark was contested between Brandenburg and Pomerania.
Upon the death of Prince-Elector Friedrich I., the Franconian counties and Brandenburg were separated; Friedrich II. (1440-1472) succeeded as Prince-Elector of Brandenburg. Prince-Elector Friedrich II. in 1442 used internal conflicts in the city of Berlin-Kölln (which had merged in 1432) to force the city (cities) into submission; in 1447-1448 the cities attempted to restore their autonomy, but failed. The construction of a palace within Berlin - symbolizing the control of the Prince-Elector - was begun; Berlin became the residence of the Zollern.
In 1456, the Neumark was regained from the Teutonic Order, the state of which faced disintegration in the Prussian or Thirteen Years' War 1453-1466. Temporarily, Prince-Elector Friedrich II. extended his authority over Lusatia (a Bohemian sideland); in a 1462 treaty, Friedrich II. ceded most of Lusatia to Bohemian King Georg Podiebrad, and held on to the district of Cottbus.
The traditional dependence of the Principality of Brandenburg on the Princebishops of Magdeburg was terminated; in 1447 Prince-Elector Friedrich II. and his successors were even granted the right to nominate the bishops residing within their territory (Havelberg, Lebus).
Prince-Elector Friedrich II. was succeeded by Albrecht Achilles (1472-1486), Johann (1486-1499) and Joachim I. Nestor (1499-1535). Brandenburg enjoyed an extended period of peace and relative tranquility. Prince-Elector Albrecht introduced a surtax on beer sales, which caused a rebellion in the cities of the Altmark (1488). The rebellion was suppressed, the cities forced to recognize the sovereignty of the margrave. Joachim I. Nestor founded the university of Frankfurt/Oder (1506). Traditional law was gradually replaced by Roman law (the practice of which required a university degree). In 1510 Prince-Elector Joachim ordered the expulsion of the Jews.
Since 1383, the little community of Wilsnack in the Prignitz (nw Brandenburg) attracted pilgrims.

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Carlyle's "History of Friedrich II of Prussia" Vol II : of Brandenburg and the Hohenzollerns. 928-1417, from Projekt Gutenberg
Article Joachim I., from BBKL, in German
DOCUMENTS Map : Brandenburg 1320-1415, from Germany GenWeb Project
Map : Brandenburg 1440, from Brandenburg IS
REFERENCE Leopold von Ranke, Preussische Geschichte (1878) Leipzig : Hoffmann und Campe, n.d., in German
Institut für Geschichte der Deutschen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, ed., Deutsche Geschichte in Daten, Berlin (Ost) : Deutscher Verlag der Wissenschaften 1967
Geschichte Bad Wilsnack, from Prignitz Info, in German

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on April 28th 2004, last revised on November 12th 2004

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