1415-1517 1618-1648

The Principality of Brandenburg 1517-1618

In 1513, Albrecht von Brandenburg, brother of Prince-Elector Joachim I., was elected Princearchbishop of Magdeburg and appointed administrator of the Princebishopric of Halberstadt; in 1514 he also was elected Princearchbishop of Mainz (in violation of canonic law, for which he acquired a papal dispense). The Zollern dynasty now held two of the electoral votes required in the electoral council. When Martin Luther in 1517 attacked the sale of letters of indulgences (which was permitted both by Princearchbishop Albrecht and by his brother, Margrave Joachim) and in the process began what is now known as the Lutheran Reformation, Margrave Joachim, from the beginning, was hostile to it.
Prince-Elector Joachim I. blamed Luther for the German Peasants' Revolt; he regarded Frederick the Wise, Duke-Elector of (Ernestine) Saxony, a rival, and Brandenburg did not join the Schmalkaldic League. In 1528, Joachim's wife Elisabeth converted to Lutheranism and fled to Wittenberg, where she was granted protection. In 1525 Prince-Elector Joachim and Duke Georg of (Albertine) Saxony formed an alliance directed against the Lutheran territories (mainly. Frederick the Wise), which was of little historical significance. The Franconian branch of the Zollern dynasty, including Albrecht, Duke in Prussia (since 1525), had introduced the Lutheran confession in their respective territories; the family was divided over the issue.
Prince-Elector Joachim attempted to oblige his sons to remain faithful to Catholicism; they promised him to do so. Brandenburg was partitioned. The elder son, Joachim II. Cicero, inherited the Altmark and Kurmark, with the electoral vote; the younger son inherited the Neumark, with Cottbus.

Already under Joachim I., the Lutheran reformation had found numerous adherents in the cities of Brandenburg. In 1539, Prince-Elector Joachim II. converted to the Lutheran confession; in 1540 church ordinnances were decreed, in 1543 a superintendent for Brandenburg was appointed. The introduction of parochial elementary schooling, of religious services as well as schooling in German language, was of great significance to Brandenburg, as the use of Slavic languages (reduced to certain rural areas) was further reduced (Latin had not threatened the existence of these languages; when Latin was replaced by the vernacular, their existence was threatened). Only in Lusatia (the Cottbus area), outside of Brandenburg proper, the Sorbian language survived. Lutheranism took firm root in Brandenburg, so that when Prince-Elector Johann Sigismund (1608-1619) in 1613 converted to Calvinism, he did so expressing that he did respect the Lutheran confession of the Brandenburgers and that he had no intention of changing that.
The Lutheran reformation, already in the early 1520es, significantly decreased the flow of pilgrims to Wilsnack in the Prignitz; the pilgrimages formally were ended in 1552.
Brandenburg was one of the largest, but also economically lesser developed territories of the Holy Roman Empire. The cities of Brandenburg were secondary in comparison to the Hanseatic cities of Stralsund, Rostock, Wismar, Lübeck and Hamburg, to the Saxon city of Leipzig, even to residential cities such as Magdeburg and Dresden. Brandenburg lacked the mining industry which formed the foundation for the wealth of Saxony, it lacked direct access to the sea (the cause for the many wars with Pomerania). The fact that Brandenburg, despite her size, stayed out of most of the numerous wars of the 16th century - despite a good number of them being fought in her neighbourhood - helps to describe her significance.
The introduction of Roman law in Brandenburg (establishment of the university at Frankfurt/Oder 1506; Constitutio Joachimica of 1527) resulted in a deterioration of the status of the peasants, who were reduced to serfs, especially in the region to the east of the Elbe river. The right of the noblemen to expel landowning farmers (Bauernlegen) was recognized (1535-1539).
In 1571, again the Jews were expelled from Brandenburg; refugees of conscience from the Netherlands were granted asylum.

In 1524 the last Count of Ruppin died, and no successor was infiefed. In 1571 the Neumark was reintegrated into Brandenburg. Under Prince-Elector Johann Georg (1571-1588) the Princebishoprics of Brandenburg, Havelberg and Lebus were secularised and annexed.
In 1599, Prince-Elector John Cicero acquired the Principality of Jägerndorf (Silesia) with the exclaves of Beuthen and Oderberg. These areas were lost to Habsburg Austria in 1617/21.
Since 1605, Prince-Elector Johann Friedrich ruled over the Duchy in Prussia, in the name of his relative Albrecht Friedrich, who suffered from insanity. In 1608, Johann Friedrich died; he was succeeded, as Prince-Elector of Brandenburg and Regent of the Duchy in Prussia, by his son Johann Sigismund. The last of the Dukes of Kleve, who ruled the territories of Kleve, Mark, Berg, Jülich and Ravensberg, all located on the lower Rhine or in Westphalia, died, leaving behind two daughters, one married to the Count of Pfalz-Neuburg, the other to Duke-Elector Johann Sigismund. The estates of Kleve-Mark-Berg-Jülich-Ravensberg wanted to keep up the territorial unity and sympathized with the count of Pfalz-Neuburg. With the assistance of the Dutch, Duke-Elect John Sigismund was able to push through a partition of the territories; Jülich and Berg were assigned to Pfalz-Neuburg, Kleve and Mark and Ravensberg to Brandenburg. This was the begin of Brandenburgian (Prussian) presence in western Germany. The 30 years war broke out, and the Berlin administration was not able to interfere in Kleve-Mark affairs before 1648.
In 1599, the Family Compact of Gera was signed, which stipulated the indivisibility of Brandenburg and foresaw that the Duchy in Prussia, in case the line of her Dukes extinguished, would fall to the Prince-Elector of Brandenburg.
In 1604, Prince-Elector Joachim Friedrich established the Secret Council (Geheimer Rat).

FamilyTreeDNA, the leading platform of DNA genealogy worldwide.
Your family tree is still incomplete, even though you have already visited numerous public offices and institutions because of it. DNA genealogy can supplement or replace your documentation

Article Joachim I., from BBKL, in German
Article Johann Sigismund, from BBKL, in German
Geschichte Bad Wilsnack, from Prignitz Info, in German
Article Brandenburg, from Catholic Encyclopedia
Timeline 1500 to 1600, from Brandenburg IS, in German
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

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

Click here to go Home
Click here to go to Information about KMLA, WHKMLA, the author and webmaster
Click here to go to Statistics