Now we begin to examine the fall of three of the more conservative monarchies. My examinations of England and Denmark were quite lengthy, lets see if I can keep these a little more brief. Today I’ll start with Prussia.
Initially Prussia was a fief of the Kingdom of Poland. In 1525 during the Protestant Reformation, Prince Albert of Brandenburg, a scion of the House of Hohenzollern and the Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights, secularized the order’s Prussian held territory, becoming Albert, Duke of Prussia. The new Duchy, which had its capital in Königsberg was established as fief of the Crown of Poland. In time it was inherited by the Hohenzollern prince-electors of Brandenburg of the main Branch of the House of Hohenzollern. Because of this personal union with the Electorate of Brandenburg the Duchy is often referred to as Brandenburg-Prussia. In 1657 the Treaty of Wehlau, and then in 1660 the Treaty of Oliva granted Friedrich-Wilhelm, the “Great Elector” of Brandenburg, full sovereignty over the territory. In 1701 The Duchy of Prussia was elevated to the Kingdom of Prussia, with Elector Friedrich III assuming the style of King Friedrich I in Prussia.
Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I granted Elector Friedrich III the style “King in Prussia” to acknowledge the legality that the Hohenzollerns were kings only in their former duchy and not their Brandenburg lands that were still part of the Empire. In legal terms this meant that within the Empire the Hohenzollerns were only Electors and were under the over-lordship of the Emperor. In truth this was merely a dog and pony show because at this juncture in history the emperor’s authority was only nominal. Each ruler of the various territories within the Empire acted largely as if they were the rulers of independent sovereign states, and only acknowledged the emperor’s suzerainity in a formal way. The only thing granting the Emperor some respect and power was due to the fact that the Hapsburg Emperor was also the Archduke of Austria, a state with considerable power within the Empire.
The personal union between Brandenburg and Prussia legally continued until the Empire was dissolved in 1806 under the pressure of Napoleon. Despite the legalities, from 1701 onward Brandenburg was treated as an integral part of the Kingdom of Prussia. During this time periods the Hohenzollern kings of Prussia were nominally subjects of the emperor within the parts of their territories that were part of the empire, they continued to style themselves “Elector of Brandenburg” until the empire ceased. It was not until 1772 under King Friedrich II “The Great” of Prussia (1740-1786) that the title was changed to “King of Prussia”.
With Prussia established as a Kingdom, next week I will look at King Friedrich II “The Great” of Prussia and the rise of Militarism, a large aspect of this conservative monarchy.