-Lukas von Boehm | Suum Cuique: History of the German Empire in the 19th Century © 2010
Prussia, the very name brings around the thoughts of the entire world. It is curious though how this tiny duchy on the Baltic that initially only reigned over a few separated swamps, villages and castles throughout most of its existence after liberation from the Teutonic Crusader State that was housed there and original annihilators of the pagan Prussian faith came to prominence in the world power clash. Throughout the early years of its existence the Duke served as a vassal and then member of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
In the early years of 17th Century a personal union was established between Prussia and the then military powerhouse known as the Margraviate of Brandenburg whose Duke had attained the title of Elector in the Holy Roman Empire since the 15th Century and the split with the House of Luxemburg. Brandenburg-Prussia was formed and the territory was split between the old Royal dukes of Prussia under Polish sovereignty and the new Hohenzollern Prince-elector Johann Sigismund of Brandenburg-Prussia. Eventually at the very turn of the 18th Century the Margrave and Prince-elector at the time, Frederick I of Prussia was proclaimed King of Prussia and the nation was renamed in accordance to the “Kingdom of Prussia”. This is where the modern history of Prussia begins.
The new Kingdom of Prussia was born into national poverty as the region of Brandenburg and political centre of the Kingdom had not yet recovered from the Thirty Year’s War. The new Kingdom, while large in size was dispersed across the Holy Roman Empire from the ancient heartlands of East Prussia to the Hohenzollern homeland of Brandenburg and even to the many disconnected exclaves of Cleves, Mark and Ravensberg in the Rhineland near the French border.
Worse more a new strain of bubonic plague showed its ugly face in 1708, only seven years after the Kingdom was created and in the proceedings killed a third of Prussia’s population before mysteriously stopping in its tracks less than 50 miles from Berlin.
Frederick I of Prussia, first King of the Prussian realm
After a hard two decades under Frederick I, Prussia’s luck seemed to return with the securing of Pomerania through victory against Sweden in the Great Northern War 1700-1721. After steady progress through the next two decades, as well as the ascension of Frederick II (Frederick the Great) Prussia found itself in numerous conflicts with the other major German power, Austria and found itself even contesting the Habsburg Emperor himself over the region of Silesia to the south east of Brandenburg and to the north of Austrian Bohemia near the steadily collapsing Polish border. This initiated the War of Austrian Succession and the Silesian Wars which continued until 1763 with the end of the Seven Years War. The Silesian Wars and Prussia had seen two major conflicts of Central Europe and had soured the uneasy Austro-Prussian relations long term. Although moderate peace had been secured after the end of the Seven Year’s War through the next decades Prussia took part in the massive partition of Poland and steadily grew to become a major player on the eighteenth century world stage.
However the Kingdom of Prussia was not truly a major world player until the Kingdom’s greatest challenge yet came to their borders. This grand challenge it would seem came in the hands of one man; a Frenchman named Napoléon Bonaparte.
A map illustrating aquisitions of Frederick II the Great and the early growth of the Kingdom of Prussia