Monday, October 20, 2008

A Brief History of Prussian Nobility – Kingdom of Prussia, part 3

As seen in my last post, the Kingdom of Prussia strongly influenced the Northern Germanic states politically and economically and later played a key role in forming the North German Confederation in 1867, thereby unifying 22 states with an estimated population of 30 million.

King Frederick William IV of Prussia; October 15, 1795
to January 2, 1861

Flag of the North German Confederation
and later of the German Empire

This unification however, was unfortunately not preceded without strife. Long and drawn-out struggles between liberals who felt a unified, federal Germany using a democratic constitution to maintain a more clearly represented government against the conservatives who pressured to keep a patchwork of independent, monarchical states, resulted in a power struggle between Prussia, being the strongest and largest of the confederation, and Austria.

Another factor influencing the decision makers within Prussia was a liberal student fraternity movement striving to unify all German states as one nation. Uprisings throughout Europe, beginning with a revolutionary victory in Paris in 1848 ultimately motivated revolutions within the German states in particular.

These led to Prussia’s first constitution in 1850 and allowed for a dual housed parliament consisting of a lower house and an upper house (equivalent to the British House of Lords). Let’s do a bit of math here before continuing. The lower house was elected by taxpayers and was further divided into three classifications – the weight of the vote depended on the amount of taxes paid by the voters. Women and persons who paid no taxes were not allowed to vote! This means, approximately one-third of the voters, ultimately, wealthy men, were to choose about 85% of the parliament! A dangerous business indeed! The upper house consisted of landowning classes appointed directly by the king – the so-called Junkers, which were equivalent to British Dukes and making up the remaining 15% of the votes.

January 2, 1861 heralded the crowning of William I, also known as Wilhelm the Great with the passing of King Frederick William IV, and the beginning of a very dramatic era for the Kingdom of Prussia. With the appointment of Otto von Bismarck as Prime Minister of Prussia in 1862, the defeat of both liberal and conservative initiatives was sealed through Bismarck’s determination to create a united Germany.

Wilhelm I, also known as Wilhelm the Great, King of Prussia from January 2, 1861 to March 9, 1888 and the first German Emperor from 18 January 1871 to March 9, 1888

With the domination of a Prussian ruling class and the lack of a liberal democracy, Bismarck directed Prussia through a series of wars (which I will mention in my next post) which ultimately brought King William I the dual titles of Germany’s first Emperor through the establishment of the German Empire in 1871 while remaining the King of Prussia.

Otto von Bismarck

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Brief History of Prussian Nobility – Kingdom of Prussia, part 2

I would like to begin this post with a map that displays the growth of Brandenburg-Prussia up until 1795. (See below)

In 1740, King Frederick II (Frederick the Great) came to the throne and was largely responsible for the partitioning of Poland between Russia, Prussia and Austria in an attempt to limit the growth of the Russian Empire and stabilize the balance of power for the region. Fredrick William II ascended the throne after Frederick II's death and continued the partitions, gaining the greater part of Poland to the West in 1793. In 1795, the Kingdom of Poland was officially disbanded and its territories were divided up into three new Provinces: New Silesia, South Prussia and New East Prussia.

The Napoleanic Wars (1803-1815) involving Napoleon's establishment of the French Empire and a shifting of European allies and opposing coalitions, were the cause of major change for Prussia and indeed for the rest of Europe. By 1811, Napoleon had managed to conquer nearly all of Europe, as seen in the map below. (The dark green areas show Napoleon's Empire and the light green areas, its territories. The blue, pink and yellow areas indicate French satellite states.)

In August 1806, Friedrich Wilhelm III made the decision to go to war independently of any other great power, save the distant Russia, with whom Prussia was allied but its troops too far away to be of help. This marked a major turning point for Prussia, leading to its near defeat by October, forcing the king and his family to flee temporarily to Klaipėda in today's Lithuania (at that time East Prussia), which possessed one of the strongest fortresses in all of Prussia and thus becoming Prussia's temporary capital. Even worse, Prussia lost about half of its territories, including the three partitioned provinces of Poland gained in 1793 and 1795, which in turn became the Duchy of Warsaw under Napoleon. Beyond that, the king was obliged to make an alliance with France and unwillingly join the Continental System.

Napoleon attempted to invade Russia in 1812 which ultimately lead to his retreat from Moscow and Prussia's breaking their “obliged” allegiance with France. In 1815, a final coalition including the United Kingdom, Russia, Prussia, Sweden, Austria, the Netherlands and a number of German states formed to pit one last war effort to stop France's megalomania.

The Prussian army was extremely crucial in the final victory over Napoleon during the infamous Battle of Waterloo in 1815, resulting in the complete recovery of Prussia's lost territories as well as the attainment of the whole of the Rhineland, Westphalia and various other smaller territories, as rewarded during the Congress of Vienna. This resulted in Prussia becoming the dominant power among the Germanic nations and its entering into the German Confederation, replacing the now abolished Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation.

Expansion of Prussia from 1807 – 1871

Kingdom of Prussia at the formation of the German Empire in 1871

With these newly acquired regions, the Kingdom of Prussia dominated northern Germany politically, economically, and in terms of population, which had doubled as a result, and was the core of the unified North German Confederation formed in 1867, which became part of the German Empire.

Northern German Confederation

Flag from 1866 - 1871

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Brief History of Prussian Nobility – Kingdom of Prussia, part 1

Now we are getting a bit closer to the history of Prussian nobility. As you’ve seen so far, it is first important to see the historical development of Prussia itself before you can understand its line of nobility and peerage which was heavily influenced by political ties with its neighbors. The union of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg in 1701 formed the Kingdom of Prussia, which was created when Elector Frederick III assumed the title of Frederick I, King in Prussia, on 18 January 1701.

Prussian Arms of 1702

The crowned eagle in the center is the Prussian coat of arms (also used on its flag below) integrated into the greater escutcheon representing the 25 royal families. The 'FR' on the eagle's breast represents Fridericus Rex or King Frederick (see the Prussian flags below).

The Prussian coat of arms, Frederick's family shield (below the coat of arms) and the entire escutcheon are each crowned. The electoral sceptor on a blue shield tops the coat of arms. Notice that the "wild men" are looking at the viewer.

Frederick I (whose first wife was Spanish) adopted this royal title after pledging allegiance against France, who was attempting to hinder Spain’s succession to the throne – which in turn could have threatened the entire balance of power in all of Europe. This conflict involved interestingly enough, North America’s fight for control over its continent (see Queen Anne’s War).

The young kingdom was very poor and had not completely recovered from the Thirty Years’ War. On top of that, nearly one third of the Duchy of Prussia alone fell victim to the bubonic plague in 1708,which had almost reached the capitol of Berlin by 1710, but thankfully receded before Berlin might well have been greatly decimated, royalty included.

Prussian Arms 1709

The Prussian arms were changed in 1709 after Frederick decided to integrate the shields of the Mecklenburg dukes into the larger escutcheon to make sure that his rights to the regions belonging to the Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Mecklenburg-Strelitz dukes in the case that their family lines should die out.

The main eschutcheon now has 36 quarters topped by a crowned helmet. The electoral scepter in its blue shield is now a bit higher than previously and the "wild men" are now holding banners of the Kingdom of Prussia and of Brandenburg (notice that the one bearing Brandenburg's banner is looking at the other, perhaps suggesting its tributary position to Prussia??). A pedestal has been added with the words God with us (German - Gott mit uns) and a pennant now tops the crest with Prussia's black eagle topping the entire Coat of arms, representing the Order of the Black Eagle, formed in 1701. The order's badge (blue cross) is seen at the pedestal.

Prussian Small Arms of 1790

A series of wars against against Sweden (the Great Northern War, 1700-1721), Silesia (War of the Austrian Succession, 1740-1748), Saxony and Bohemia (Seven Years' War, 1756-1757), Prussia’s kingdom underwent various phases of growth and increased in strength and influence, ending for the time being with the last partitioning of Poland in 1795 and thus forming the new territorial Provinces of New Silesia, South Prussia, and New East Prussia.

As you can see below, the Kingdom of Prussia underwent various changes seen through the slight changes in its flags.

Kingdom of Prussia’s flag in 1701 with a fancier filigree 'FR'

Kingdom of Prussia’s flag in 1750 with a less fancier 'FR' and thes
scepter replacing the globe and a sword replacing the smaller scepter.

Kingdom of Prussia’s flag in 1803
(notice the missing 'FR' and the simpler scepter)

Friday, October 3, 2008

A Brief History of Prussian Nobility – Margraviate of Brandenburg

This is the second in a series of posts with the intention of outlining the Prussian nobility and of Prussia itself. In my last post, I began to outline the history of Prussia, beginning with a brief history of the Duchy of Prussia, which was later adopted in 1618 by the Margraviate of Brandenburg to form Brandenburg-Prussia.

In this post, I would like to outline a concise history of the Margraviate of Brandenburg, which was one of the major principalities (or princedoms, as in a monarchical feudatory or sovereign state ruled or reigned by a prince or princess) within the Holy Roman Empire beginning in 1157 and ending in 1806. Also known as the March of Brandenburg, it played an extremely important role in the history of Germany as well as in all of Central Europe.

Developing out of the so-called Northern March (see dark blue marked area in map below) and founded by a Slavic group, the first margraves were established in accordance with the decrees established during the Golden Bull of 1356 which allowed them to vote in electing the Holy Roman Emperor – the elected monarch to rule over all states contained within the Holy Roman Empire.

The Northern March

Holy Roman Empire 962 – 1806

In 1415, the Hohenzollern family rose to power, under which Brandenburg rapidly grew in power and influence into the 17th century and later adopted the Duchy of Prussia, forming the transitional Brandenburg-Prussia, which then later became the Kingdom of Prussia and the foremost leading state of Germany during the 18th century.

In 1806, the Margraviate of Brandenburg dissolved along with the Holy Roman Empire when the last Holy Roman Emperor, Francis II (from 1804, Emperor Francis I of Austria) resigned after being defeated by Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1815, it became the Prussian Province of Brandenburg and was instrumental in the unification of Germany and the creation of the German Empire in 1871. The title “Mark Brandenburg” is still used today as an unofficial description for the present day state of Brandenburg in the Federal Republic of Germany.

Margraviate of Brandenburg Coat of Arms

Present Brandenburg Coat of Arms adopted in 1990

Thursday, October 2, 2008

A Brief History of Prussian Nobility – Duchy of Prussia

This is the beginning of a series of posts involving the history of the Prussian nobility and of Prussia itself. I’ve found it important to begin with Prussia’s history before going into its nobility, so let’s start there …

First of all, let me define the word Prussia. A Baltic tribe related to the Lithuanians and Latvians were once called the Old Prussians until they were conquered by Teutonic Knights in the 13th century and germanised by a heavy German settlement to the East, also called the German Eastward Expansion.

Fast forwarding a bit, the Duchy of Prussia, also called Ducal Prussia, was established in 1525 and became a duchy (a territory, fief or domain, ruled by a duke or duchess) in the eastern part of what would later become Prussia. It was the first Protestant (Lutheran) state after the Reformation of Martin Luther and possessed a dominantly German-speaking population, as well as Polish and Lithuanian minorities. (See the striped area of the map below.)

The Protestant Reformation, a movement attempting to reform the Roman Catholic Church in Europe beginning in 1517 and pretty much considered to have ended with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, was largely instrumental for the reconstruction and reorganization of the territories within the Germanic states. During this period, Albert, Duke of Prussia and 37th Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights, became the first duke of the Duchy of Prussia after converting to Lutheranism. This secularized (meaning, broke away from the authority of the Roman Catholic Church) the Prussian territory and established a fief under the Crown of Poland, its capital being Koenigsberg (Polish - Królewiec). In 1618, this territory was inherited by the Hohenzollern prince-electors of Brandenburg. In 1657, Frederick William otherwise known as the „Great Elector“ of Brandenburg, attained full authority over the territory and was maintained until his death in 1688. It wasn’t until 1701, that the Duchy of Prussia, after being inherited by the Margraviate of Brandenburg, evolved to form the Kingdom of Prussia.

Duchy of Prussia Coat of Arms

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