1701-1740 1763-1786






The Hohenzollern State (Prussia), 1740-1763

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





Administration . King Friedrich Wilhelm I., the Soldier King, died in 1740. His son and successor, Friedrich II. (Frederick the Great) had written the Anti-Machiavell, in French, and dedicated the book to Voltaire, with whom he corresponded.

Foreign Policy . In 1740, Emperor Charles VI. also died; his daughter Maria Theresia succeeded to the territories and titles of the Austrian Habsburg. A number of German princes contested her right to succeed; the War of Austrian Succession ensued (1741-1748). Frederick the Great, despite his father having recognized the Pragmatic Sanction, in 1740 claimed large stretches of Lower Silesia, and ordered the invasion of Austrian territory "in order to protect the country against the claims of Charles Albert of Bavaria", thus starting the First Silesian War, 1740-1742. Austria ceded most of Silesia (except for the southernmost stretches) and the Bohemian county of Glatz. In 1744-1745, the Second Silesian War was fought, at the end of which Prussia's hold of Silesia was confirmed. In 1744 the last Cirksena Count of East Frisia died; Frederick the Great, claiming succession, had the county occupied and added to the Prussian territorial complex. Legally only King in Prussia, since 1744 he claimed the title King of Prussia.
In 1746, all territories ruled by Frederick the Great were granted the privilegium de non appellando; i.e. Prussia was even less dependent on the Holy Roman Empire than before.

German stamp featuring Frederick the Great.

Frederick, who only recently had argued against opportunistic policy (Anti-Machiavell), had grasped the opportunity provided to him by the death of Charles VI., with young Maria Theresia being both without allies and an army. Frederick was entering and breaking alliances when he thought fit, and gained the reputation of an unreliable ally.
In 1751, the Prussian Asiatic Company was founded, with seat in Emden, a second attempt to enter into the lucrative colonial trade.
In 1756 Prussia entered into an alliance with Britain; the latter paid subsidies to Prussia. Britain's traditional ally France now entered into an alliance with her other traditional nemesis, Austria (Diplomatic Revolution). An anti-Prussian coalition consisting of France, Austria, Russia and Sweden emerged. Frederick the Great did not wait for war being declared against him; he invaded Saxony and thus began the Seven Years War. After initial victories against superior forces, the Prussians suffered defeats, Berlin was occupied twice. Frederick the Great stubbornly refused to accept the advice - surrender - given to him by his own generals. In 1762 Czarina Elizabeth died; she was succeeded by Peter III., an ardent admirer of Frederick. He ordered the Russian army to switch sides; Frederick, in command of the Russo-Prussian forces, defeated the Austrians and a peace on the basis of the status quo ante was signed (1763).

Domestic Policy . Frederick the Great corresponded with Voltaire; he had dedicated his Anti-Machiavell to the latter. Voltaire visited Berlin in 1743 and stayed at Frederick's court in Potsdam from 1750 to 1753; d'Alembert was another guest of Frederick; Frederick spoke better French than German; the Anti-Machiavell was written in French.
In 1747 Frederick the Great abolished torture. In 1747 the judicial system in Prussia was reformed, by Samuel von Cocceji.
Frederick the Great actively pursued the economic development of the country; the number of manufactures increased, rivers were canalized, made navigable, canals were dug to connect rivers (Plau Canal, connecting Elbe and Havel, Finow Canal connecting Havel and Oder; the Oderbruch, a large, regularly inundated river valley, was drained and settled (1747-1756). The capital city of Berlin continued to boom, exceeding 300,000 in 1755. In 1756, Frederick II. ordered the cultivation of the potato to be introduced.
Frederick's palace at Sanssouci (Potsdam) had been constructed 1745-1747. Frederick was thrifty, but not as excessively as his father; he enjoyed playing the flute and discussing philiosophical topics. The court in Potsdam was Spartan, if compared to the court in Dresden.
Edicts of 1749, 1752, 1755 and 1764 banned the practice of Bauernlegen (i.e. forcing free peasants to sell their farms to nobles and join the ranks of the serfs).
The Seven Years' War was the most destructive war Brandenburg had experienced since the Thirty Years' War. Through seven years of war, the population had contracted, many farms lay untilled, much had been destroyed, the army had shrunken, the country was indebted. The work of Frederick William, the Great Elector, of Frederick III./I. and of Frederick William I., the Soldier King, had been jeopardized, and Frederick the Great had been fortunate to still have a country to rule, even undiminished in its extent.
Among the inhabitants of the various territories summarily known as Prussia, many may have joined the sentiment of J.P.L. Withof, who, in his poem on the Peace of Hubertusburg 1763 (see link below), lamented the suffering which Frederick's policy had brought over country and people. On the other hand, the population of Silesia - the territory Frederick's wars had been fought about - is recorded to have felt as loyal Prussians. The ethnically German population element of Silesia was predominantly Lutheran and remembered Austrian Counterreformation policy, which, in comparison to the destruction caused by the Seven Years War, seems to have been regarded the greater evil.

The Economy . The acquisition of Silesia was a major gain, as the province had a relatively high population density, due to fertile soil and an important textile industry. Breslau was one of the largest cities of the Prussian state. East Frisia, gained in 1744, provided Prussia with a port on the North Sea; Emden was to become the seat of yet another attempt to have Prussia gain in the lucrative colonial trade (1751-1756, Prussian-Asiatic Society). In 1751, Emden was declared a free port.
Frederick the Great actively pursued the economic development of the country; the number of manufactures increased, rivers were canalized, made navigable, canals were dug to connect rivers (Plau Canal, connecting Elbe and Havel, Finow Canal connecting Havel and Oder; the Oderbruch, a large, regularly inundated river valley, was drained and settled (1747-1756). In 1756, Frederick II. ordered the cultivation of the potato to be introduced.
A major reasoning for the economic policy of Peuplierung, an active population policy, was that it increased the source from which both taxation and recruits were drawn. An active, expansive foreign policy thus was made possible; yet in the 1750es a situation developed where the latter jeopardized the accomplishments of a century of population policy.
The Seven Years' War was the most destructive war Brandenburg had experienced since the Thirty Years' War. Through seven years of war, the population had contracted, many farms lay untilled, much had been destroyed, the army had shrunken, the country was indebted. The work of Frederick William, the Great Elector, of Frederick III./I. and of Frederick William I., the Soldier King, had been jeopardized, and Frederick the Great had been fortunate to still have a country to rule, even undiminished in its extent.
In 1747, Alexander Sigismund Marggraf discovered the sugar content in the sugar beet. In 1750, in a Berlin factory, he attempted to extract sugar from sugar beets on a commercial basis; begin of the beet sugar industry.

Demography . The policy of attracting immigrants was continued. Land reclamation made progress; in 1752, Frederick the Great claimed to have founded 122 new villages since 1746. The capital city of Berlin continued to boom, exceeding 300,000 in 1755. The Seven Years War devastated the Hohenzollern territories; the three wars over Silesia have cost an estimated 500,000 lives.

Cultural History . Frederick the Great corresponded with Voltaire; he had dedicated his Anti-Machiavell to the latter. Voltaire visited Berlin in 1743 and stayed at Frederick's court in Potsdam from 1750 to 1753; d'Alembert was another guest of Frederick; Frederick spoke better French than German; the Anti-Machiavell was written in French.
In 1747 the judicial system in Prussia was reformed, by Samuel von Cocceji.
Frederick's palace at Sanssouci (Potsdam) had been constructed 1745-1747 by Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff. In 1747, von Knobelsdorff built the New Chambers.
Frederick was thrifty, but not as excessively as his father; he enjoyed playing the flute and discussing philiosophical topics. The court in Potsdam was Spartan, if compared to the court in Dresden. Johann Sebastian Bach visited Frederick at Sanssouci in 1747 (one of Bach's sons, Carl Philipp Emmanuel, was employed in Frederick's Chamber Orchestra). Another one of the composer's sons, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, a similarly genial composer who always was compared with his father, from 1746 to 1764 was emploted as organist in Halle.
Frederick the Great in 1738 became a Freemason; in 1740 the first masonic lodge in Prussia was formed.
In a 1761 publication, Johann Heinrich Gottlieb von Justi, professor at Göttingen univ. of cameral sciences (i.e. mercantilist economy) argued against serfdom and corvee labour






EXTERNAL
FILES
Articles Frederick II. of Prussia, Anti-Machiavell, Sanssouci, Georg Wenceslaus von Knobelsdorff, Treaty of Hubertusburg, Johann Heinrich Gottlob Justi, from Wikipedia
Articles Finowkanal, Oderbruch, Samuel von Cocceji, from Wikipedia (German)
Biography : Frederick II (the Great), from WebChron at North Park Univ.
Fridericus Rex, extensive biographical site, many subfiles
De Koninklijke Pruisische Compagnie (1751-1756) (The Royal Prussian (Asiatic) Company, 1751-1756), from De Beeldenaar, in Dutch, illustrated
Voltaire and Frederick the Great, by Lytton Strachey, 1915, posted by Geoffrey Sauer
Article Friedrich II of Prussia, from Wikipedia
Gallery of Palaces, from Preussen.de
Johann Sebastian Bach, from Preussen Chronik
Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, from HOASM
Georg Wenzeslaus von Knobelsdorff, from Preussen.de, in German
Article Friedrich der Grosse, from ADB (19th Century), posted by Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, in German, Gothic font
Article Samuel von Cocceji, from ADB (19th Century), posted by Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, in German, Gothic font
Article Georg Wenceslaus von Knobelsdorff, from ADB (19th Century), posted by Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, in German, Gothic font
DOCUMENTS Rulers of Prussia, from World Statesmen by Ben Cahoon
Frederick II (1740-1786), Memoirs excerpt; Essays on the Forms of Government from the Modern History Sourcebook
Letter from Friedrich II. to Voltaire, 1747, from DHM, facsimile, in French, handwritten, no transcription
Images from Bilddatenbank, Weltchronik.de : Recruitment of Soldiers, 18th Century, Frederick the Great. as crown prince, c. 1735; Frederick the Great (2), Frederick the Great (3), c. 1740; Frederick the Great (4), at the time of his coronation; Frederick the Great c. 1740; Sanssouci; Frederick the Great enertaimimg guests, painting by Adolf von Menzel
Frederick the Great, Political Testament, 1752, from WebChron at North Park Univ.
Map : Prussia 1763, from Humboldt Univ. Berlin
Frederick II., Anti-Machiavell, facsimile of German edition 1745, posted by Univ. Bielefeld
Poem : Johann Philipp Lorenz Withof, Der grosse Königliche Friede zu Hubertusburg (Hamm, 1763), from Projekt Gutenberg, in German
REFERENCE Hans-Joachim Schoeps, Preussen, Geschichte eines Staates, Berlin : Propyläen 1966, in German [G]
Institut für Geschichte der Deutschen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, ed., Deutsche Geschichte in Daten, Berlin (Ost) : Deutscher Verlag der Wissenschaften 1967 [G]
Thomas Biskup, The Hidden Queen : Elisabeth Christine of Prussia and Hohenzollern Queenship in the Eighteenth Century, pp.300-321 in : Clarissa Campbell Orr, Queenship in Europe, 1660-1815. The Role of Consort, Cambridge : UP 2004, KMLA Lib.Sign. 940.09 076q



This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on May 1st 2004, last revised on October 29th 2007

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