It was during the reign of Friedrich II “The Great” that we see the rise in militarism and the consolidation of Hohenzollern lands into the great state of Prussia. Many of the traditions that were started by Friedrich were continued throughout the monarchy as each Hohenzollern king or emperor tried to emulate their ancestor. To be honest The House of Hohenzollern never did produce a leader as effective as Friedrich the Great. Now in this survey of how monarchies survived into the 21st century I cannot do the reign of Friedrich the Great justice. What I will do is establish how he consolidated the Prussian state and how that was carried on, at least in spirit, with his successors.
When Friedrich II came to the throne in 1740 his lands were strewn throughout the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdom of Poland. His Brandenburg lands were part of the Holy Roman Empire. The entire Prussia state consisted of scattered territories, including Cleves, Mark, and Ravensberg in the west of the Holy Roman Empire; Brandenburg, Hither Pomerania, and Farther Pomerania in the east of the Empire; and the former Duchy of Prussia, outside of the Empire bordering the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. It was through a series of wars with Austria and Russia, annexing portions of Poland, that made Prussia the top military state and one of the most powerful nations in Europe.
By 1772 Friedrich II was able to call himself King of Prussia without any protests from Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II. With Prussia a solid European power and a strong military power to back it up, the Hohenzollern kings and the military became not only the actual power behind the throne but the symbolism of the military was steeped in Prussian culture. Every Prussian prince joined the military, if only nominally, at the age of 10 or 11. During the 19th century fancy court dress was replaced by military uniforms as the proper attire for a prince or king.
The rise and strengthening of Prussia during the reign of Friedrich II was also a nail in the coffin of the Holy Roman Empire. From 1648 until the end of the reign of Friedrich II in 1786 all the states in the Empire were, for the most part, autonomous, but none were considered powerful. With Prussia we see the rise of a new nation-state that could rival Austria. Although the Holy Roman Empire would limp on for another 20 years before it was dissolved in 1806. In reality the Empire disappeared as Prussia and Austria grew as rivals and began to compete over the future of the German states and the two also became the strong central powers in Europe.
Forged out of War and conquest Prussia was a mighty military state. After the dissolution of the empire in 1806 Austria looked to dominate the Confederation of the Rhine, the state that took its place, however, Prussia could no longer sit under the thumb of Austria. In the early and mid part of the 19th century when the unification of the German lands became the central issue the question of under whose leadership would Germany be unified; Prussia or Austria? Also, as the Liberal Revolutions of 1848 spread across German lands the question then became would Germany be united as a Liberal or Conservative state?
That is what we will examine next week.