Prussia was a kingdom in northern Germany, bordering Russia (whence the name, in Slavonic Prussia means near Russia) from 1618 until 1867 when it became part of Germany, or more accurately the leading state of the German Empire
The historical development of the Prussian Kingdom was closely associated with three important elements. The first of these is found in the growing power of the Electorate of Brandenburg, which formed the nucleus of the future kingdom; the second relates to the acquirement of the province of Prussia, which gave its name to the new heterogeneous territory; and the third is associated with the rule of the Hohenzollern family, under whose skilful diplomatic and military guidance the small Brandenburg electorate grew into what became considerably the larger portion of the German Empire. Brandenburg, which had been conquered by Charlemagne in 789, was erected into a margraviate by Henry I (Henry the Fowler), emperor of Germany in 926. Albert the Bear, who received Brandenburg as a fief from the Emperor Lothaire in 1134, conquered the Slavonian Wends, and took in 1157 the title of Margrave of Brandenburg. His dynasty continued to bear rule until 1320, and during this period German civilization was gradually extended in Pomerania, Saxony, Brandenburg, and Silesia. After its extinction there followed a period of anarchy, during which Brandenburg fell as a lapsed fief to the empire, and Louis of Bavaria gave it to his son. Remaining under Bavarian rule for three electorates it was subsequently ceded to the house of Luxemburg, and Charles IV, the first imperial representative of this house, gave it successively to his sons Wenceslaus in 1373 and Sigismund in 1378. The latter being in debt received from Frederick, the burgrave of Nurnberg, a loan of 400,000 gold florins, for which Frederick held Brandenburg in pawn, and subsequently acquired it in full. This burgrave was the descendant of Conrad of Hohenzollern, a cadet of a Suabian family to whom belonged a small territory surrounding the ancestral castle of Hohenzollern, of which they traced their lordship back to the time of Charlemagne. Brandenburg, which Frederick had thus acquired, was covered with feudal strongholds,
which he gradually reduced, and he also added the two small territories of Ansbach and Baireuth. Frederick II who succeeded his father in 1440, extended the possessions of his family by policy as well as by war. In 1470 he abdicated in favour of his brother Albert III, surnamed Achilles, who, by a family ordinance, prepared the way in an important respect for the future greatness of his house by providing for the undivided descent of the dominions in connection with the electorate. His grandson, Joachim II, who succeeded in 1535, embraced the Reformation, and established Lutheranism in 1539. In 1537 he acquired the reversion of the principalities of Liegnitz, Brieg, and Wohlau. John George succeeded in 1571. Joachim Frederick, who succeeded in 1598, married his son John Sigismund to the daughter of Frederick Albert, duke of Prussia; and in 1618 John Sigismund united the duchy of Prussia to the electorate, thus bringing it about that the whole country became known as Prussia.
The Prussians were a Slavonic people inhabiting the coast territory situated between the Vistula and the Niemen. Their neighbours, the Poles, endeavoured to convert them to Christianity, and to this end they conquered the whole country with the aid of the Teutonic Knights of St George. As the price of this assistance the knights claimed the conquered territory, and established themselves in castles and walled cities. Their rule, which was a despotic oligarchy, was finally overturned by the combined forces of the Prussians and the Poles, and in 1466 West Prussia was ceded to Poland and East Prussia made a fief of the Polish crown under a grandmaster, and latterly under a duke. It was as successor to Duke Frederick Albert his father-in-law that John Sigismund obtained the duchy of Prussia. By the treaty of Xanten in 1614 Cleves, La Marck, etc, were assigned to Brandenburg, and thus was laid the foundation of the Prussian Rhine-province.
John Sigismund was succeeded in 1619 by his son George William, who was a weak and vacillating ruler, unequal to encounter the terrible crisis that now occurred in the affairs of Germany, the Thirty Years' War. During this war the electorate became the battle-ground of the contending forces, and suffered severely, being at the death of the elector in 1640 occupied by Swedish troops. A very different man was his son Frederick William, called the Great Elector, who may be regarded as the virtual founder of the Prussian monarchy. He found his country weak, and left it strong and with its boundaries extended, and provided with a well-equipped army and a well-filled treasury. Dying in 1688 he was succeeded by his son Frederick, who in 1701 had himself crowned as king, being the first King of Prussia. Under his rule the Prussian troops fought side by side with the English at Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde, and Malplaquet. Frederick I was succeeded by his son in 1713 Frederick William I, who governed Prussia until 1740. His reign was on the whole peaceful, and the country grew greatly in population, industry, and wealth. He went to war with Charles XII, and acquired part of Pomerania, with Stettin, from Sweden. At his death he left a prosperous country, a well-supplied treasury, and an army of 80,000 men to his successor.
Frederick II, surnamed the Great, succeeded to the crown on the death of his father in 1740. In less than a year after his accession he proclaimed war against Maria Theresa in order to enforce his claim to the Silesian principalities, and invaded Silesia. At the persuasion of England Maria Theresa entered into negotiations with him, but failed at first to come to an understanding. Ultimately, however, by a treaty concluded at Berlin in 1742 Frederick obtained the cession, with the exception of some specified districts, of both Upper and Lower Silesia, and of Glatz. Conceiving that the Austrians might seek to regain this territory, Frederick in 1744 invaded Bohemia, and commenced what is called the Second Silesian War. He was at first compelled to retreat, but subsequently gained such successes, that when peace was concluded in 1743, Austria confirmed the cession of Silesia, which was guaranteed by Great Britain. Prussia now enjoyed an interval of prosperous peace, which the king was desirous to maintain. But his continued success had aroused the fear of Austria and the enmity of France and Russia, so that these powers projected a scheme of conquest which embraced the partition of Prussia. Before their plans could be matured Frederick invaded Saxony, entered Dresden, and published the despatches which proved the existence of the scheme. England now openly entered into a defensive alliance with Frederick, and subsidized him. The allies, whose plans had been discovered, Austria, France, Russia, and Sweden prepared for immediate hostilities. In the Seven Years' War following upon this movement, the immense forces which his enemies were able to bring into the field reduced Frederick to the greatest straits, and gave opportunity for the development of his strategic genius. Towards the close of the war the English cabinet began to draw off from the Prussian alliance, but the death of the Empress Elizabeth in 1762 broke up the alliance against Prussia, and the Peace of
bertsburg in 1763 put an end to the war. According to Frederick's calculation 886,000 men had perished in a war which failed in effecting any territorial change; but it transformed Prussia into one of the chief European powers. Frederick determining again to extend his boundaries entered into an alliance with Austria, and invaded the territories of Poland. Negotiations followed with Russia, and in 1772 the partition of Poland was arranged in a treaty between the three powers. In this way Prussia obtained most of Pomerania and a large portion of Poland. Frederick died in 1786, and was succeeded by his nephew Frederick William II.
The new king had neither the military skill nor the strength of character possessed by his predecessor. He continued the absolutism, but curtailed some of the freedom of the former reign. In 1788 he made a useless armed intervention in the affairs of Holland, and in 1791 interfered in the affairs of France on behalf of Louis XVI. In 1792, war having already been declared by the French authorities against the empire, the Prussians, under the Duke of Brunswick, invaded France. They were defeated by Kellerman at Valmy, and soon afterwards Frederick William withdrew from this war with France, in which he had been the most active promoter. Then followed a second and a third partition of Poland in 1793 and 1795, by which Prussia acquired a considerable accession of territory. By the treaty of Basel concluded in 1795 with the French Republic Prussia openly abandoned her connection with the other European powers, and in a secret treaty of the following year France was permitted to advance her frontier to the Rhine, while a new line of neutrality was formed by which Saxony and other South German states withdrew their support from the empire. Frederick William died in 1797, and was succeeded by Frederick William III. Continuing his father's policy in regard to France, he courted the French directorate, and at the Peace of Luneville in 1801 Prussia was indemnified by 4116 square miles ceded at the expense of the empire. In 1804 Prussia recognized Napoleon as Emperor of France, and in the campaign which ended in the overthrow of Austria at Austerlitz in 1805 remained neutral. This attitude was at first successful, but ultimately it led to distrust among the German states, and by the formation of the Confederation of the Rhine Prussia was isolated and left to the mercy of Napoleon. At the instigation of the latter Prussia had occupied Hanover, but Napoleon treated this fact with contemptuous indifference when he offered to restore Hanover to England. In his indignation at
s insult Frederick William declared war against France without an ally. Although the Prussian army numbered 180,000 men, the French emperor was able to put a larger force in the field. On the 14th October, 1806, the armies met at Jena and Auerstadt, where the Prussians were completely defeated, and the whole country was soon in the hands of Napoleon, who entered Berlin in triumph. At the Peace of Tilsit in June 1807, concluded between Prussia and Napoleon, all lands between the Rhine and the Elbe were ceded to Napoleon for his free disposal, a war indemnity of 140,000,000 francs was imposed on the mutilated kingdom, and Frederick William was also under treaty obligation not to maintain an army of more than 42,000 regular troops during the next ten years. The years which followed this national disaster were chiefly remarkable for the sweeping internal reforms which the crisis necessitated, carried out under Baron Stein and Baron Hardenberg, and almost amounting to a revolution. The restriction of the army to 42,000 was evaded by replacing rapidly the drilled men by another body of undrilled men. Thus, after Napoleon's disastrous Russian campaign of 1812, Prussia was prepared to take prompt advantage of her opportunity. The king issued a general call to arms, and 150,000 men at once responded. A treaty with Russia was concluded at Kalisch, and the league thus formed was joined afterwards by Austria. In the great struggle for the overthrow of Napoleon which followed, an important part was taken by the Kingdom of Prussia, and the Prussian troops along with the British bore a noble part in the Battle of Waterloo. At the Congress of Vienna in 1815, when the map of Europe was rearranged, Prussia, though losing some possessions, was indemnified with others more extensive and valuable, and was placed in a more advantageous position than before. She now also formed one of the states in the new German Confederacy.
After the restoration Frederick William III leaned to the despotic counsels of Austria and Russia, supported heartily the Holy Alliance, and entered upon a reactionary policy which continued until his death in 1840. He was succeeded by Frederick William IV, who was expected to grant a constitution to his subjects, but refused the demand of his states to this effect in 1841. In 1847 he tried to anticipate the revolutionary movement spreading throughout Europe by summoning a combined meeting of provincial parliaments at Berlin, but he conferred on them no real power. In the following year, however, after a deadly struggle, in which Berlin was declared in a state of siege, the king dismissed his ministers, and granted a constitution, the details of which were elaborated by a new parliament, and which was formally proclaimed in 1850. The Poles in 1848 revolted against Prussian rule, but the movement was summarily suppressed. In 1848 a deputation of the German national assembly at Frankfurt offered the crown of Emperor of the Germans to the King of Prussia, but it was declined. By this time two parties existed in the Germanic Confederacy, one of them desiring Prussia to be the chief state in Germany, to the exclusion of Austria altogether; henceforth there was a strong rivalry between these two states. In 1857, the king being unable to conduct affairs by reason of mental illness, his brother William became regent, and ultimately succeeded to the throne on the death of Frederick William in 1861.
The new king, William I, showed a disposition to absolutism, which in 1862-1863 occasioned a lengthened dispute between the chambers and the ministry under Count Bismarck. At this time, on the complaint of the Federal Diet that Denmark had not observed its treaty obligations in regard to the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein, the Prussians, under General Wrangel, entered Schleswig in 1864, and Denmark was overpowered. By the Treaty of Vienna, signed on October the 30th 1864, Denmark gave up Schleswig, Holstein, part of Jutland, and Lauenburg to Germany. In the following year Prussia purchased the claims of Austria over the Duchy of Lauenburg, and it was agreed that Schleswig and Holstein should be administered separately by both powers. But this settlement did not last long. Prussia, which had determined on appropriating them, wished to buy out Austria, but the latter would not cede her claims for money. This led to war between the two powers and to the break-up of the German Confederation, some of the states of which sided with Prussia, others with Austria. On the 15th of June, 1866, the Prussian troops took the offensive, and the brief campaign which ensued is known as the Seven Weeks' War. The Prussian forces were armed with the new needle-gun, and the whole movements were directed by the chief of the staff, Count von Moltke. The Austrians, under General Benedek, were completely defeated near Koniggratz in Bohemia, where on the 3rd of July was fought the decisive Battle of Sadowa; and peace soon followed. A subordinate campaign against Hanover, Bavaria, and other states had been conducted by the Prussians with complete success. After the war Prussia incorporated Hanover, Hesse-Cassel, Nassau, Hesse-Homburg, Schleswig, Holstein, Lauenburg, Hesse-Darmstadt north of the Main, and the principality of Hohenzollern, which already belonged to the royal family. The King of Prussia now invited the States of North Germany to form a new confederation, which was
on the basis of proposals made by Prussia. The jealousy of France was excited by this powerful confederation, and in 1867 the question of the disposal of Luxemburg brought France and Prussia almost to the point of war. In 1870 Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern consented to become a candidate for the then vacant Spanish throne. This was opposed by the French emperor, who demanded not only that the candidate should withdraw, but that the King of Prussia should pledge himself not to permit any such future candidature. This being refused, war was declared by France on the 15th of July, 1870, with a most disastrous result to herself. After the German arms had proved entirely successful, on the invitation of the North German parliament supported by the South German states, the King of Prussia assumed on 18th January, 1871, the title of German Emperor.
From this point the history of Prussia is, to a great extent, merged in that of the German Empire. In the hands of Prince Bismarck, acting as premier of Prussia as well as chancellor of the empire, a strong, central, autocratic government was maintained. Externally his policy was to secure Germany from attack by France or Russia, and in order to this alliances were made with Austria and Italy. Internally the legislation of Prussia was for some time chiefly remarkable for its antagonism to the Roman Catholic clerical and socialist parties. In 1873 many clerical privileges were suppressed by the laws introduced and carried by Falk; but in 1880 an amendment to these was promoted by the premier, and latterly he greatly modified his opposition to the ultramontanes. The social-democrats also evoked the special antipathy of the Prussian premier, and their success at the elections, especially in Berlin, caused him to promote an anti-social law, which was vigorously applied. In his policy, both home and foreign, Prince Bismarck was supported by the Emperor William I until the death of the latter in March 1888. He was succeeded by his son, Frederick II, who, when he ascended the throne, was struggling with a deadly throat disease. When he died in June 1888 he was succeeded by his son, William I, who showed himself a ruler with a mind and will of his own. In 1890 Bismarck retired from his offices, and was succeeded by other chancellors of less eminence..
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