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Growth of Prussia


Wittenberg
Wittenberg

By 1740 the German states of Austria and Prussia had emerged as the chief rivals for dominance in central Europe. Austria had been the core territory of the Habsburg family since the 13th century. The Habsburgs had built their power and land by acquiring territory through diplomacy and dynastic marriages and had become one of the most powerful states in Europe by the beginning of the Reformation. However, religious and dynastic wars, Ottoman invasions in the 17th century, and growing conflict with Prussia had weakened the state by the early 1700s.

The Hohenzollern family, which had been granted Brandenburg in the 15th century, also held a number of other territories in the west. Outside the empire to the east, the Hohenzollerns had inherited Prussia as a Polish duchy in 1618 and converted it into an independent kingdom in 1701. Gradually, all the Hohenzollern lands came to be known as the kingdom of Prussia.

Unlike many other European dynasties, the Hohenzollerns enjoyed an unbroken (and therefore uncontested) series of male heirs from 1640 to 1786. These rulers were thus able to focus their efforts on building an efficient centralized state, a task that most of them successfully pushed forward. Frederick William of Prussia, known as the Great Elector, reigned from 1640 to 1688.

He was a sturdy, hardheaded soldier determined to unite his disparate possessions into a modern military state. He created an efficient, honest bureaucracy that filled the treasury and ran the country for the benefit of a large standing army. By 1678 he had established a military force of 40,000 that absorbed more than 50 percent of the state’s revenue. His intellectual and artistic son Frederick paid more attention to building palaces and promoting the arts than to the army. He did, however, obtain the title king of Prussia from the emperor. Frederick’s son, Frederick William I, developed a centralized financial system and a standing army of 90,000 by the time of his death in 1740. Frederick II, the Great, was equally at home on the battlefield and enjoying French literature and music in his palace near Berlin. He refined and reorganized the Prussian government, economy, and army. "Germany" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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