The Hohenzollern State, 1648-1701

Administration . Foreign Policy . Domestic Policy . The Economy . Demography . Cultural History

Administration . Friedrich Wilhelm (Frederick William), the Great Elector, ruled from 1640-1688. he was succeeded by Friedrich III. (Frederick III., since 1701 Frederick I., as King in Prussia, that is).

Foreign Policy . The Treaty of Westphalia added Further Pomerania with the former Princebishopric of Cammin, and the Princebishoprics of Halberstadt and Minden, also secularized, to the territorial complex of Friedrich Wilhelm (Frederick William), the Great Elector. Kleve, Mark, Ravensberg and the Duchy in Prussia had been acquired earlier, the acquisitions were confirmed by the Treaty of Westphalia.
            When Friedrich Wilhelm succeeded his father Georg Wilhelm in 1640, Brandenburg's main assets lay in the fortresses of Küstrin, Oderberg, Peitz, Spandau, Berlin and the Werdener Schanze. Friedrich Wilhelm established a standing army. In the wars of the latter half of the 17th century, Brandenburg was wooed by various powers as a potential military ally; in these alliances, Brandenburg usually was junior partner, dependent on subsidies paid by their allies. In the First Northern War 1655-1660, Brandenburg first was allied with Sweden against Poland, then with Poland against Sweden. In the Treaty of Oliva 1660, the Duchy in Prussia was recognized as independent, no longer a Polish fief. Brandenburg was allied with the Emperor and the Dutch Republic in the Dutch War of Louis XIV. 1672-1674, until Sweden entered the war (Second Northern War 1675-1679. In the Battle of Fehrbellin 1675 the Brandenburg army had gained the victory on her own merit; yet in the peace negotiations, Brandenburg had to bow to diplomatic pressure and return the bulk of her conquests, holding on only to minor stretches of land in Pomerania, east of the Oder river.
            Disappointed in the Emperor, temporarily, Brandenburg sided with France, permitting the latter to pursue her policy of Reunions (Strassburg 1681). In the Imperial War against the Ottoman Empire 1683-1699 and in the War of the Grand Alliance 1689-1697 Brandenburg again was allied with the Emperor. When the War of Spanish Succession began and Brandenburg again was a valued potential ally, Prince-Elector Friedrich gained a concession - he was elevated King in Prussia.
Brandenburg was a military, but not an economic power. In order to address that problem, in the 1680es Prince-Elector Friedrich Wilhelm pursued a colonial policy (through the instrument of the Brandenburgian-African Company). Colonial forts were established on the Gold Coast, most notably Gross-Friedrichsburg, and merchants under the Brandenburg flag (mostly Dutchmen) entered in Transatlantic trade. Pillau on the Baltic Sea was the main port for Brandenburg's colonial trade. In wartime, the Brandenburg overseas possessions were untenable, and communication with the home basis could not be maintained; the undertaking was a temporary one.
            In 1698, the Stift Quedlinburg and the city of Nordhausen were acquired by purchase.
Until 1701, the army had made Brandenburg an attractive ally, more successful in gaining her monetary subsidies, than territorial acquisitions. Brandenburg had not declared wars on her own, had not pursued her own interests; the Brandenburg army was used in conflicts which originated elsewhere, (from Brandenburg perspective) in the hope of gaining something out of it.

Domestic Policy . In 1654 the Brandenburg Estates were convened for the last time. The Prince-Electors claimed to rule absolute. The Estates of the Duchy in Prussia resisted; the Great Elector had the leader of resistance against absolute rule in the Duchy, Captain von Kalckstein, in 1679 arrested, sentenced and executed; since, absolute rule was uncontested. The princely administration collected taxes without requesting approval from the estates. The landowning nobility (the Junkers) was appeased by the state permitting the nobles to establish Gutsherrschaften, i.e. by usurping control over the jurisdiction over the communities where they owned the land. The practise of Bauernlegen, i.e. buying out landowning free peasants (in an involuntary process, and under value) and reducing the latter to the state of serfs, continued.
            The structure of the territories to the west of the Elbe River did not permit such practise; with the nobility less in control of the country, a more diverse economy and social structure were able to develop.
            The raison d'etre of the state lay in her standing army, numbering 20,000 men in the stage of her creation, and rising to 30,000 men in the 1680es. Military service was not regarded a mandatory duty, and theoretically, soldiers were to be recruited on a voluntary basis. But pay was low, the conditions soldiers had to endure were harsh and military service was unpopular. So, trickery and coercion were used to press men into military service, both inside the territories ruled by the Great Elector respectively his successor(s), and abroad. Similarly, pressure was exerted on noblemen to serve as officers. Deserters were treated brutally; if caught, they were whipped to death by their comrades (Gassenlaufen. Veteran soldiers were often employed as government officials, teachers etc., resulting in a 'militarization' of society.
            When Louis XIV. of France cancelled the Edict of Nantes, causing a mass exodus of Huguenots, the Great Elector welcomed these refugees of conscience (Edict of Potsdam 1685). The Prince-Electors came to regard population as an asset to a country, and pursued a policy of Peuplierung, i.e. attracting immigrants, land reclamation etc. in order to expand the population. Other religious refugees were permitted to immigrate. Religious toleration was not a policy of conviction, but a pragmatic tool of the policy of promoting an expansion of the population.
            Since 1616, Potsdam was, in addition to Berlin, residence of the Prince-Electors, since 1701 Kings. Berlin continued to be the capital. In 1682 it was struck by the plague; in 1709 Brandenburg was struck, but Berlin saved by protective measures.

The Economy . With the dynasty being Calvinist (since 1613) and the population being Lutheran (since 1539), the Estates wanted to see Lutheranism as the sole state religion, reluctantly accepting an exception for the dynasty. When establishing princely absolutism, the Great Elector pursued a policy of not interfering in religious matters; the dynasty steered, rather coincidentially, toward a policy of religious toleration. When the Great Elector willingly accepted French Huguenots (thus refugees who shared his Calvinist faith), and, less cordially, Jews; the reasoning was primarily economic. These immigrants brought new skills into the country, for instance Tobacco cultivation, clockmaking etc.; until 1745, 40 new guilds were registered in Berlin.
            The Brandenburg version of Mercantilism emphasized the population of a country as the source of its wealth; Peuplierung, an active policy aiming at expanding the population, by the means of attracting immigrants, by land reclamation (drainage of swamps), the foundation of villages and even cities, supported by the introduction of new industries, was pursued. The Huguenot immigrants were offered 10 years free of taxation, the right to form parishes of their own, to judge matters arising between themselves on their own, they were given land to settle on, and they were granted the right to enter the trades they wanted (thus, privileges of existing guilds etc. were violated).
            The Brandenburg-Prussian lands may be divided in two different economic zones. The lands to the east of the Elbe River (Brandenburg, Further Pomerania, Duchy in Prussia) were predominantly agricultural, comparatively poor soil, the bulk of the land owned by the nobility (Junkers) which controlled the jurisdiction; the peasantry reduced to serfdom. Productivity was comparatively low; the peasants, who were compelled to work for the noble landowner up to 5 days per week, were obstinate. The cities were denied the autonomy economically flourishing cities outside of Brandenburg-Prussia had enjoyed, and with the peasants in the surrounding countryside not having much money to spend, were stagnating.
            The territories to the west of the Elbe River provided a different picture. The various territories had come under Zollern rule comparatively late; the nobility was much less dominant. Mark had some coal mining and a watermill-powered metal industry; Ravensberg textile industry. The territories were more urban (in a 17th century way) in character; the economy was more diverse and more vibrant.
            The immigrants came from regions located to the west of the Elbe, from lands where the economy was diverse. When settled in Brandenburg or Prussia, they brought skills, an entrepreneurial spirit, and an expectation of personal freedom.
            In 1650, Prince-Elector Friedrich Wilhelm gave the Domain of Bötzow as a present to his wife, Louise Henriette, daughter of Frederik Henrik of Oranje-Nassau; at Bötzow, which was rechristened Oranienburg, she established an agricultural garden where experiments with new crops etc. were undertaken. In 1677 the Duke employed alchimist Johann Kunckel; his lab failed to turn out gold and silver, but from 1685 onward produced crystal glassware. In 1685, the Berlin Bourse was established.
            The opening of the Spree-Oder Canal (27 km) in 1688 connected the Elbe and Oder river systems and, connecting Hamburg with Breslau, turned Berlin into an important entrepot. In 1693 a police ordinnance standardized measurements and weights.
            The establishment of the Brandenburg-African Company, of colonial outposts on the Gold Coast (Gross-Friedrichsburg etc.) was an attempt to gain a share for Brandenburg-Prussia in the colonial trade. The Compagny was mainly owned and run by Dutchmen; the port city of Pillau (in the Duchy of Prussia) ill-suited to function as a base. In wartime the colonial holdings could not be defended, shipping not protected, due to the lack of a navy. The ultimate failure of the project, due to political/military reasons rather than to economic ones, caused the Zollern desire to acquire a port on the North Sea (Emden, East Frisia, in 1744).
            Berlin Stock Exchange was established in 1685.

Demography . During the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) the population of Brandenburg, Pomerania, Minden, Ravensberg, Kleve and Mark had declined sharply. The Margraves of Brandenburg thus pursued a policy of actively attracting immigrants. Jews, expelled from Vienna, in 1671, Waldensians from Piemont 1686, Mennonites. When France evicted her Huguenot minority in 1685, the Margrave of Brandenburg welcomed them (Edict of Potsdam 1685). C. 20,000 settled in Brandenburg-Prussia. Before the arrival of the Huguenots, Berlin had a population of 7,000; after, 11,000. The event can be compared with the influx of the Antwerpen refugees in Amsterdam a century earlier, a revitalization of the city.

Cultural History . Since 1616, Potsdam was, in addition to Berlin, residence of the Prince-Electors, since 1701 Kings. Berlin continued to be the capital. The Brandenburg-Prussian territorial complex contained three universities, Frankfurt/Oder, Königsberg and Duisburg (all Lutheran). To these, in 1694 the University of Halle was added (foundation, Pietist).
            In 1671 the Jewish community of Berlin was founded.
            Prince-Elector Friedrich III. (1688-1713) was less thrifty as his father. He moderately enjoyed court life. In 1696, the Academie der Mahler-, Bildhauer- und Architectur-Kunst (Academy of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, modern Akademie der Künste) was founded, with seat in Berlin, followed in 1700 by the Kurfürstlich-Brandenburgische Societät der Wissenschaften (Electoral Brandenburg Society of Sciences and Humanities, later referred to as the Brandenburg Academy of Sciences), also seated in Berlin.

Articles Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg, Frederick I. of Prussia, Akademie der Künste, Edict of Potsdam 1685, Johann von Löwenstern-Kunckel, from Wikipedia
Articles Schloss Oranienburg, Oder-Spree-Kanal, from Wikipedia (German)
Biography of Frederick William from winona.msus.edu
Soldatenzucht, from Mit Stock, Rute und Peitsche, posted by Rob Miller, in German
Article Peuplierung, from Preussenlexikon, in German
Geschichte Berlins (History of Berlin), from Chronik Berlin, in German; click 17. Jahrhundert (17th Century)
History, from Hugenotten in der Uckermark
Geschichte von Oranienburg, from Oranienburg Inside
Chronik, from Börse Berlin, in German
Chronicle of Scholarly Societies founded 1600-1699, 1700-1739 from Scholarly Societies Project
DOCUMENTS Rulers of Prussia, from World Statesmen by Ben Cahoon
Edict of 1699 prohiting soldiers to play cards, from Documents in German History Project
Letter from Hoofdman Friedson, officer of the Brandenburg Frigate Dorothea, lying off Whydah, 1688, from virginia.edu
Renewal of Secret Alliance between the Emperor and Brandenburg signed at Vienna, 16 Nov 1700, from Heraldica, text in German; scroll down
REFERENCE Hans-Joachim Schoeps, Preussen, Geschichte eines Staates (Prussia, History of a State), Berlin : Propyläen 1966, in German [G]
Werner Gahrig, Unterwegs zu den Hugenotten in Berlin (On our way to the Huguenots in Berlin), Berlin : Edition Ost, 2000; in German [G]
Ingo Materna et al., Geschichte in Daten : Berlin (History in Dates : Berlin); (1997) Wiesbaden : Fourier 2003; in German [G]
Selma Stern, The Court Jew, A Contribution to the History of Absolutism in Europe, NY (1950) : Transaction Books 1985, especially pp.47-57 (on Elias Gumperts, Israel Aron, Jost Liebmann, Moses Benjamin Wulff), pp.139-144 (on Moses Jacobson de Jonge, who settled in Memel)

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on July 11th 2005

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