Magazine article History Today

The Kingdom of Prussia Is Founded

Magazine article History Today

The Kingdom of Prussia Is Founded

Article excerpt

January 18th, 1701

PRUSSIA, which was to become a byword for German militarism and authoritarianism, began its history outside Germany altogether. The people called Preussen in German, who inhabited the land on the south-eastern coast of the Baltic, were Slavs, related to the Lithuanians and Latvians. They were conquered and forcibly Christianised in the thirteenth century by the Teutonic Knights, diverted from the Holy Land. German peasants were brought in to farm the land and by around 1350 the majority of the population was German, though the Poles annexed part of Prussia in the following century, leaving the Knights with East Prussia. Meanwhile Germans had conquered the Brandenburg area to the west and the margraves, or marcher lords, of Brandenburg became Electors of the Holy Roman Empire. Both Brandenburg and East Prussia fell under control of the Hohenzollern family, which mastered the Brandenburg hereditary nobility, the Junkers, and began the long march to power in Europe which was to end with the First World War and the abdication of the Kaiser in 1918.

The formidable Frederick William of Brandenburg, known as the Great Elector, who ruled from 1640 to his death in 1688, made Brandenburg-Prussia the strongest of the northern German states, created an efficient army and fortified Berlin. His son, the Elector Frederick III (1657-1713), was not a chip off the old block. Known in Berlin as `crooked Fritz', because a childhood accident had left him with a twisted spine and a humped back, he was besotted with all things French and looked for a crown as a reward for aiding the Emperor Leopold I. …

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