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After the Peace of Westphalia and the states within the Empire had greater autonomy we saw the rise of Brandenburg-Prussia which came to rival Austria for supremacy within the Empire.

The Hohenzollern state was then known as Brandenburg-Prussia. Brandenburg-Prussia is the historiographic denomination for the Early Modern realm of the Brandenburgian Hohenzollerns between 1618 and 1701.

The family’s main possessions were the Margraviate of Brandenburg within the Holy Roman Empire and the Duchy of Prussia outside of the Empire, ruled as a personal union.

Based in the Electorate of Brandenburg, the main branch of the Hohenzollern family intermarried with the branch ruling the Duchy of Prussia, and secured succession upon the latter’s extinction in the male line in 1618.

Another consequence of the intermarriage was the incorporation of the lower Rhenish principalities of Cleves, Mark and Ravensberg after the Treaty of Xanten in 1614.

The Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) was especially devastating. The Elector changed sides three times, and as a result Protestant and Catholic armies swept the land back and forth, killing, burning, seizing men and taking the food supplies.

Friedrich I-III, King in Prussia, Elector of Brandenburg

Upwards of half the population was killed or dislocated. Berlin and the other major cities were in ruins, and recovery took decades. By the Peace of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years’ War in 1648, Brandenburg gained Minden and Halberstadt, also the succession in Farther Pomerania (incorporated in 1653) and the Duchy of Magdeburg (incorporated in 1680).

With the Treaty of Bromberg (1657), concluded during the Second Northern War, the electors were freed of Polish vassalage for the Duchy of Prussia and gained Lauenburg–Bütow and Draheim. The Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye (1679) expanded Brandenburgian Pomerania to the lower Oder.

The second half of the 17th century laid the basis for Prussia to become one of the great players in European politics. The emerging Brandenburg-Prussian military potential, based on the introduction of a standing army in 1653, was symbolized by the widely noted victories in Warsaw (1656) and Fehrbellin (1675) and by the Great Sleigh Drive (1678). Brandenburg-Prussia also established a navy and German colonies in the Brandenburger Gold Coast and Arguin.

Friedrich Wilhelm, known as “The Great Elector”, opened Brandenburg-Prussia to large-scale immigration (“Peuplierung”) of mostly Protestant refugees from all across Europe (“Exulanten”), most notably Huguenot immigration following the Edict of Potsdam. Friedrich Wilhelm also started to centralize Brandenburg-Prussia’s administration and reduce the influence of the estates.

In 1701, Friedrich III, Elector of Brandenburg, succeeded in elevating his status to King in Prussia.

Born in Königsberg, Friedrich was the third son of Friedrich Wilhelm, Elector of Brandenburg by his father’s first marriage to Louise Henriette of Orange-Nassau, eldest daughter of Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange and Amalia of Solms-Braunfels. His maternal cousin was King William III of England. Upon the death of his father on April 28, 1688, Friedrich became Elector Friedrich III of Brandenburg and Duke of Prussia. Right after ascending the throne Friedrich founded a new city southerly adjacent to Dorotheenstadt and named it after himself, the Friedrichstadt.

Although he was the Margrave and Prince-Elector of Brandenburg and the Duke of Prussia, Friedrich III desired the more prestigious title of king. However, according to Germanic law at that time, no kingdoms could exist within the Holy Roman Empire, with the exception of the Kingdom of Bohemia which belonged to the Holy Roman Emperor.

Friedrich persuaded Emperor Leopold I to allow Prussia to be elevated to a kingdom by the Crown Treaty of November 16, 1700. This agreement was ostensibly given in exchange for an alliance against King Louis XIV in the War of the Spanish Succession and the provision of 8,000 Prussian troops to Leopold’s service.

Friedrich III argued that Prussia had never been part of the Holy Roman Empire, and he ruled over it with full sovereignty. Therefore, he said, there was no legal or political barrier to letting him rule it as a kingdom. Friedrich was aided in the negotiations by Charles Ancillon.

Friedrich crowned himself on January 18, 1701 in Königsberg. Although he did so with the Emperor’s consent, and also with formal acknowledgement from August II the Strong, Elector of Saxony, who held the title of King of Poland, the Polish-Lithuanian Diet (Sejm) raised objections, and viewed the coronation as illegal.

Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Hungry, Bohemia and Croatia, Archduke of Austria

In fact, according to the terms of the Treaty of Wehlau and Bromberg, the House of Hohenzollern’s sovereignty over the Duchy of Prussia was not absolute but contingent on the continuation of the male line (in the absence of which the duchy would revert to the Polish crown). Therefore, out of deference to the region’s historic ties to the Polish crown, Friedrich made the symbolic concession of calling himself “King in Prussia” instead of “King of Prussia”.

His royalty was, in any case, limited to Prussia and did not reduce the rights of the Emperor in the portions of his domains that were still part of the Holy Roman Empire. In other words, while he was a king in Prussia, he was still only an elector under the suzerainty of the Holy Roman Emperor in Brandenburg.

Legally, the Hohenzollern state was still a personal union between Brandenburg and Prussia. However, by the time Friedrich crowned himself as king, the emperor’s authority over Brandenburg (and the rest of the empire) was only nominal, and in practice it soon came to be treated as part of the Prussian kingdom rather than as a separate entity.

From 1701 onward, the Hohenzollern domains were referred to as the Kingdom of Prussia, or simply Prussia. Legally, the personal union between Brandenburg and Prussia continued until the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806.

However, by this time the emperor’s overlordship over the empire had become a legal fiction. Hence, after 1701, Brandenburg was de facto treated as part of the Prussian kingdom. Friedrich and his successors continued to centralize and expand the state, transforming the personal union of politically diverse principalities typical for the Brandenburg-Prussian era into a system of provinces subordinate to Berlin.