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PRUSSIA. Prussia has become a byword for Germany, but it originally developed on the southeastern Baltic shore distinct from the German-speaking population of the Holy Roman Empire. Prussia's subsequent association with central Europe stems from the Hohenzollern dynasty, which came to rule both it and much of north Germany and helped forged these disparate possessions into a major European power.


Historical writing on Prussia is dominated by two related problems. First, there is the controversy surrounding the region historically known as Prussia that has become enmeshed in political and ideological struggles between Germans and Poles. Second, there is the ambiguous place of the state known more properly as Brandenburg-Prussia in the wider history of Germany and Europe. Historic Prussia lay on the Baltic shore east of the Oder River. German nationalist historians claimed this region for themselves, portraying its conquest by the Teutonic Order after 1222 as a victory for Christian civilization over pagan barbarism. In this story, Germanization was equated with modernization. Polish historians saw the same events as foreign conquest and the brutal repression of an indigenous culture and language. Thanks to its wider international dissemination, the German version of Prussian history remains the most widely known today, with most writers unwittingly adopting the nationalist geographical distinctions of East and West Prussia to label the two parts under German and Polish rule in the early modern period. These terms imply a false unity in the region and suggest the inevitability of German domination over the whole area that came after 1795 and lasted until 1918. While the Polish terms of Ducal and Royal Prussia are more appropriate, Prussian history cannot be interpreted entirely through the lens of later Polish nationalism and should be seen as something both distinct in its own right and intricately connected to the experience of the entire Baltic region.

Prussia's place in German and European history has also been subject to widely differing interpretations. Many German nationalist historians saw it as the embodiment of an ideal social and political order and interpreted all German history from a Prussian perspective. While not uniformly hagiographic, this approach was known as the "Borussian" school and generally stressed that historical events were made by "great men," such as rulers and statesmen. Military power and authoritarian rule were regarded as essential for Prussia's survival within a hostile international environment and for its "historic mission" to unite the rest of Germany in the nineteenth century. Prussia's influence in the nineteenth century, when it controlled two-thirds of German soil, was projected back into the early modern period when its rulers governed only a tenth of the Holy Roman Empire prior to the mid-seventeenth century and still held no more than a fifth of the entire area in 1806. The empire was largely written out of German history, which was presented as a dualism between Prussia and Austria, prefiguring the struggles over national unification in the mid-nineteenth century. Religious history was woven into this political narrative, portraying Prussia as the Protestant champion against a backward and malevolent Catholic Habsburg Monarchy based in Austria. The experience of two world wars in the twentieth century encouraged significant revisions to this interpretation. Many writers retained the overall Borussian framework, but changed it from a success story to one leading to disaster. This school emphasizes the German Sonderweg, or 'special path', and presents Prusso-German development as deviating from a supposedly progressive European pattern and pushing German history down a separate militaristic and authoritarian route.


Prussia was not as powerful, advanced, or militaristic and repressive as these interpretations imply. Its early modern history was shaped by the legacy left by the Teutonic Knights. This aristocratic crusading order was founded in 1198 and was sponsored by Polish kings as well as medieval emperors. The Knights created a large state on the southeastern Baltic shore by the fourteenth century. Their conquests were not simply a process of Western Christian conquest since they relied heavily on a local population that was partially assimilated into the order's state. Sections of this population chafed under the Knights' increasingly arbitrary rule, leading to the establishment of the Prussian Estates, or representative assembly, in 1411, one year after the order's defeat by the Polish king at the battle of Tannenberg. Though the Prussian towns were represented, the landed nobility dominated the Estates. The order was unable to stem growing Polish influence and was defeated by a major rebellion after 1454, resulting in the partition of Prussia twelve years later. The western half became Royal Prussia under Polish sovereignty and included the important trading cities of Danzig (Gdańsk), Elbing (Elblag) and Thorn (Torun). The order was left with the eastern half, covering 14,270 square miles (36,960 square kilometers), which contained few significant towns other than Königsberg (Kaliningrad). The order's last grand master, Albert von Hohenzollern, tried to reverse this in a new war against Poland from 1519, but only escaped total defeat by secularizing the order's state as a hereditary duchy under Polish overlordship in 1525. Hohenzollern rule lasted until 1918. A remnant of the Teutonic Order regrouped under a new Grand Master, Walter of Cronenberg, who established a new seat in Franconia with a residence in Mergentheim.


Political separation gradually eroded ties between the two halves of Prussia. Royal Prussia became more closely integrated into the Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania in the sixteenth century, particularly after 1569 when its nobility secured representation in the Polish Sejm (diet). The three great royal cities of Danzig, Elbing, and Thorn refused to send deputies to the Sejm, but nonetheless saw the commonwealth as protecting their local privileges and autonomy. Together with the nobles, they sought to enhance this autonomy by making Royal Prussia an equal partner with Poland and Lithuania in the commonwealth, but were thwarted by the opposition of the king and the Sejm and had to be satisfied with their own provincial diet. Royal Prussia shared the general development of the commonwealth, participating in its period of cultural and political influence in the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries and then declining with the impact of external invasions after 1654. Like the Sejm, the Royal Prussian diet introduced the liberum veto, which meant that an objection from one deputy was sufficient to invalidate all legislation passed in one session. This hamstrung the diet between 1713 and 1728 and again between 1735 and 1763. External interference mounted, notably from Hohenzollern Prussia, polarizing local politics. Self-styled patriots expressed a desire for greater autonomy and used the diet to block reforms proposed by the Polish Sejm after 1764, weakening the commonwealth and precipitating its total collapse between 1772 and 1795.

This collapse saw the reintegration of Royal Prussia into the area ruled by the Hohenzollerns. However, this area had changed fundamentally over the intervening three centuries. Hohenzollern rule was initially very weak. The Teutonic Order retained land within the empire and remained Catholic whereas the new Hohenzollern duke converted to Lutheranism. Because the Prussian lands were not part of the Holy Roman Empire, the empire offered no protection and Albert's possessions in Prussia were not joined immediately to those of the other branch of his family, which had ruled Brandenburg since 1415.


These political divisions did not prevent Hohenzollern Prussia from participating in the general trend to the manorial economy (Gutswirtschaft), common to Royal Prussia, Brandenburg, and Poland from the early sixteenth century onward. Farms were consolidated into large estates worked by serfs who were obliged to produce grain that was exported for profit to western European cities. While harsh, this system still allowed limited autonomy to peasant households to organize daily life and labor. As in Brandenburg, the Hohenzollerns intervened from the seventeenth century to divert the lords' profits into their own treasury as taxes. Few nobles could afford to live on agrarian income alone, and most sought military, administrative, or clerical careers. While this inclined many to collaborate with the duke, it would be wrong to see Hohenzollern rule simply as a compromise between crown and nobility at the expense of serfs and urban burghers. Neither was it an exercise in the creation of an impartial, benign government as sometimes implied by Borussian historians. Instead it was a complex, shifting process of bargaining between the crown and key social groups, serfs and burghers included. Like their counterparts in Royal Prussia, the eastern Prussian nobles were not a homogenous social group. Comparatively few corresponded to the archetype of the Krautjunker, the boorish backwoods nobleman who directly supervised his estates and spurned wider horizons. Many were at the forefront of agrarian development, particularly in the eighteenth century, when they saw the introduction of wage labor in place of serfdom as a way of boosting their profits. Some gravitated to the world of the Hohenzollern court, embracing Calvinism in the seventeenth century and supporting absolutism. Others favored continued ties to their cousins in Royal Prussia or Poland, sharing their notions of ancient aristocratic freedoms.


The Hohenzollerns made no headway amid this web of conflicting interests and loyalties. The eastern Prussian nobility cooperated with Königsberg in the duchy's own Estates to restrict the duke's income and insist that only locals be appointed to administrative positions. The foundation of a new university in Königsberg in 1544 did little to change this. Albert was bankrupt by his death in 1568 and was followed by the thirteen-year-old Albert Frederick. The new duke suffered from prolonged mental illness and lost control of the government to his Brandenburg relations, who took over as regents in 1605. Thanks to a dynastic inheritance treaty, ducal Prussia passed to Brandenburg on the duke's death in 1618. With the accession of George William in 1619, Brandenburg and Prussia had a common ruler and began their historic association.

Unfortunately for the Hohenzollerns, this coincided with the start of the Thirty Years' War in the empire and renewed conflict between Poland and Sweden. The dynasty was thrown on the defensive, and security rather than expansion remained its overriding concern into the eighteenth century. Their possessions fell into three unequal areas. In addition to ducal Prussia in the east and Brandenburg in the center, they now also held scattered lands in Westphalia close to the Dutch border. Though much smaller than Prussia, these western territories were potentially more important because of their comparatively large populations and active economies. George William's Brandenburg title of elector took precedence over his Prussian title of duke since it was more prestigious and gave him a role in imperial politics.

Borussian historians interpreted Hohenzollern policy as a coherent plan to unite these three areas and establish a uniform, centralized administrative system. Certainly, the dynasty benefited from an unbroken succession of healthy, adult, and generally capable rulers. However, far from shaping history, these rulers responded to pressures that were largely beyond their control. Prussia's growth was uneven and largely unplanned. Its rulers shared the general belief that princes were bound by Christian duty to protect their subjects and promote their well-being. Yet their primary motive remained the enhancement of their dynastic prestige and influence. Territorial expansion was intended to provide security for existing possessions and to bring new titles and resources. The empire remained their primary area of activity until the later eighteenth century, and at no point did they see themselves as the future leaders of a united Germany.

George William was dragged into the Thirty Years' War by 1626. Once involved, he tried to secure the duchy of Pomerania, whose ruling family had died out in 1637, but he was defeated by Sweden. His successor Frederick William (16201688; ruled 16401688), better known as the "Great Elector," was unable to change this situation after 1640 and was forced to accept Swedish control of the western half of Pomerania in the 1648 Peace of Westphalia. Hoping to deflect Hohenzollern ambitions, Sweden supported Brandenburg claims elsewhere in the empire, increasing the dynasty's territory by a quarter to 40,586 square miles (105,119 square kilometers) with 600,000 inhabitants in 1648.


Frederick William, the Great Elector, is a pivotal figure in Prussian history. Though not the farsighted modernizer of Borussian legend, he nonetheless forged a minimal level of centralized rule necessary for future expansion. He was assisted by the disunity of his possessions, each of which had its own Estates that failed to make common cause with their counterparts elsewhere. By shuttling his troops and key negotiators from one province to another, the elector broke their resistance in turn between 1644 and 1663. The western enclaves and ducal Prussia offered the most resistance. In return for regular taxes, the Hohenzollerns largely left their western provinces alone after the 1660s and extended this light hand to the duchy of East Frisia, which they acquired in 1744, as well as the two margravates of Ansbach and Bayreuth in southwestern Germany, inherited in 1792. By contrast, Prussian opposition was crushed by force, with Königsberg twice being occupied by troops (1663, 1672). The reason for this different approach lies in the Hohenzollerns' relationship to their overlords, the Holy Roman emperor and the Polish king. As electors under the empire, they enjoyed exclusive jurisdiction only over Brandenburg itself, where they were able to prevent their subjects from appealing to the imperial courts. The Estates in their other German provinces remained free to do this into the late eighteenth century, and while this became more difficult, all their German territories remained part of the empire until 1806. The elector could act differently in Prussia, because he skillfully exploited the Northern War (16551660) to force the king of Poland to renounce his sovereignty over ducal Prussia. Prussian nobles were unable to appeal to the commonwealth to protect their liberties after 1660.

Hohenzollern sovereignty over Prussia crushed its nobles' dreams of reunification with Royal Prussia but did not signal a reorientation toward Germany. Instead, the Hohenzollerns drew on local traditions to foster a distinctly Prussian identity that regarded other Germans as "foreign." This was used to support enhanced Hohenzollern status as an equal member of European royalty, no longer mere princes of the empire or vassals of the Polish king. The Great Elector's successor after 1688, Elector Frederick III (ruled 16881701), pursued this by developing a lavish court culture in Berlin and his other chief cities. More fundamentally, he avoided challenging the Habsburgs in the empire and supported their claims to the Spanish succession. His reward came at the end of 1700 when Emperor Leopold I agreed that he could crown himself "king in Prussia." Though ridiculed by his successors as an unnecessary extravagance, the lavish coronation ceremony in Königsberg in January 1701 was staged precisely because this new title lacked full international recognition. Now styled Frederick I, the new king continued to support the Habsburgs throughout the War of the Spanish Succession (17011714) in order to win acceptance from the other European powers. Since his new royal title took precedence over that of elector, the Hohenzollern monarchy now became known as Prussia.

While minor gains pushed Hohenzollern territory to 46,617 square miles (120,272 square kilometers) by 1720, two-thirds of this still remained within the empire. Frederick's policies reflected this as he looked primarily westward, despite his parallel involvement in the later stages of the Great Northern War (17001721) against Sweden. His representatives became more active in imperial institutions, notably taking advantage of the conversion of Elector Frederick Augustus of Saxony to Catholicism in 1697 to wrest the leadership of the German Protestants from the traditional heartland of the Reformation. His successors capitalized on Protestant sympathies in the empire to mobilize support against the Habsburgs, who suddenly realized they could not control their Hohenzollern protégé.

Religion also supplemented loyalty to the dynasty as a bond between the disparate provinces. Frederick and his immediate successor after 1713, Frederick William I (ruled 17131740), sponsored the Lutheran spiritual movement known as Pietism, whose values of thrift, obedience, and self-sacrifice dovetailed with their own agenda of a hard-working, loyal population. However, this "Prussian ethos" was always contradictory and contested, appealing to both its martial king and its pacifist Pietist pastors. Moreover, the dynasty remained uncomfortable with any notion of nationalism defined by language or culture, particularly as their territorial expansion after 1740 added millions of Silesian and Polish Catholics to their subjects. The European Enlightenment took firm hold in Berlin after 1740, but after 1786 the religious establishment turned sharply conservative.

These acquisitions began during the reign of Frederick II, better known as Frederick the Great (17121786), who followed his father in 1740. Frederick inherited a kingdom that was still only partially centralized. His father had amalgamated several administrative institutions to form a General Directory as a central coordinating institution in 1723, but much administration remained in the hands of local nobles and magistrates. Later reforms failed to alter this, although the staff became more professional, adopting qualifying entrance exams for senior posts, as well as a more regular salary, promotions, and pension structure. However, Prussian government was not necessarily more advanced or efficient than those in many other German territories.

What impressed contemporaries most about Prussia was its army, which had been established by the Great Elector and increased by each of his successors. Frederick William I expanded it further with a form of limited conscription introduced by 1733. Men were inducted for basic training and then discharged back into the agrarian economy, apart from annual exercises. Many historians see this as the origins of later German militarism since it supported an inflated establishment and encouraged both subservience to authority and the acceptance of war as inevitable. This can be questioned, because the new system also civilianized soldiers, most of whom spent more time working in the fields or as day laborers in the towns than they did drilling on the parade ground.

Military expansion certainly gave Frederick the Great the means to challenge Austria after 1740. The Habsburg Monarchy was uniquely vulnerable in 1740, having just waged two disastrous wars that left its treasury empty and its army disorganized. Moreover, the death of Emperor Charles VI in October 1740 ended an unbroken succession of Habsburg emperors since 1438, opening an international conflict over the Austrian inheritance (War of the Austrian Succession) and denying the dynasty a legal claim on German resources through imperial institutions. Frederick profited from these circumstances to seize the Habsburg province of Silesia between 1740 and 1745. This move dictated policy for the rest of his reign that countered Habsburg attempts to either recover Silesia or find alternative territory elsewhere in Germany. Prussia now had little interest in preserving the empire beyond using it as a framework to immobilize the Habsburgs. While the acquisition of Silesia formally increased its territorial presence within the empire, it shifted Prussian political gravity eastward. This continued with the three partitions of Poland, in which Prussia joined Austria and Russia in annexing the entire Polish Commonwealth between 1772 and 1795. The Hohenzollerns acquired all of Royal Prussia, together with considerable land farther to the south, bringing their total possessions to 119,950 square miles (309,472 square kilometers) and 8.5 million inhabitants. This expansion coincided with ineffective involvement in the war against revolutionary France after 1792, leaving the crown barely able to suppress a Polish rebellion in 17941795. Prussia pulled out of the war in the west in 1795, having transformed a treasury reserve of 51 million talers into a debt of 48 million at a time when revenues totaled only 22 million. Discussion of internal reform intensified but failed to produce significant results before old Prussia collapsed in a new war against France in 1806.

See also Austrian Succession, War of the (17401748) ; Berlin ; Brandenburg ; Frederick I (Prussia) ; Frederick II (Prussia) ; Frederick William I (Prussia) ; Frederick William II (Prussia) ; Hohenzollern Dynasty ; Holy Roman Empire ; Northern Wars ; Pietism ; Poland-Lithuania, Commonwealth of, 15691795 ; Teutonic Knights ; Thirty Years' War (16181648) .


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Prussia (prŭsh´ə), Ger. Preussen, former state, the largest and most important of the German states. Berlin was the capital. The chief member of the German Empire (1871–1918) and a state of the Weimar Republic (1919–33), Prussia occupied more than half of all Germany and the major part of N Germany. Before 1919 it consisted of 13 provinces: Berlin, Brandenburg, East Prussia (separated after 1919 from the rest of Prussia by the Polish Corridor), Hanover, Hesse-Nassau (see Hesse), Hohenzollern (a Prussian enclave between Württemberg and Baden in SW Germany), Pomerania, Rhine Province, Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein, Upper Silesia and Lower Silesia, and Westphalia. (Grenzmark Posen–West Prussia was sometimes considered a 14th province.) Prussia surrounded several smaller German states and stretched from the borders of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg in the west to those of Lithuania and Poland in the east, and from the Baltic Sea, Denmark, and the North Sea in the north to the Main River, the Thuringian Forest, and the Sudetes Mts. in the south.

The region that was Prussia is made up mainly of low-lying land, drained by several rivers, notably the Rhine; the Weser; the Oder; and the Elbe, which divided the state into roughly equal eastern and western parts. After Berlin, the largest cities of the area were Cologne, Breslau (Wrocław), Essen, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Hanover, Dortmund, Magdeburg, and Königsberg (Kaliningrad). The region also included the gigantic industrial Ruhr district.

Industrially and politically the most prominent state of Germany prior to World War II, Prussia was partitioned among the four Allied occupation zones after 1945. In 1947 the Allied Control Council for Germany formally abolished the state of Prussia. This action not only confirmed an accomplished fact; it was also intended as a blow against the spirit of German militarism and aggression, long held to be connected with Prussia. Most of the former Prussian provinces became part of the new states of the Federal Republic of Germany and of the German Democratic Republic (now reunified). The USSR annexed the northern part of East Prussia; Poland acquired the rest of East Prussia, as well as all Prussian territory E of the Oder and Neisse rivers.


Growth of Brandenburg-Prussia

Prussia in its modern meaning came into existence only in 1701, when the elector of Brandenburg assumed the title "king in Prussia." Before then Prussia meant only the flat, sandy region later known as East Prussia (excluding the bishopric of Ermeland), separated from Brandenburg by a part of Poland (later known as West Prussia) and bordering on the Baltic Sea. The original inhabitants, the Borussi (or Prussians), were of Baltic stock. They were conquered and largely exterminated by the Teutonic Knights in the 13th cent. The Knights effected the Germanization of Prussia.

Through the secularization (1525) of the domain of the Teutonic Order by the grand master Albert of Brandenburg, the domain became a hereditary duchy under Polish suzerainty, ruled by a branch of the Hohenzollern dynasty of Brandenburg. In 1618 the duchy of Prussia passed through inheritance to the elector of Brandenburg, and in 1660, by the treaty of Oliva, full independence from Polish suzerainty was confirmed to Frederick William, the Great Elector. In the course of the 17th cent. the electors of Brandenburg directed themselves westward, acquiring the duchy of Cleves, together with the counties of Mark and Ravensberg (1614) and the bishoprics of Minden, Magdeburg, and Halberstadt (1648). In the east, Brandenburg gained (1648) Farther (i.e., eastern) Pomerania, which connected it with the Baltic Sea but not with Prussia.

Rise of the Prussian State

The electorate with its dependencies had become a major German state by the end of the 17th cent., a position that it owed largely to the secularization of church lands during the Reformation (the major part of its new acquisitions had been ecclesiastic territory) and to its successful diplomacy at the Peace of Westphalia (1648). In 1701, Elector Frederick III had himself crowned "king in Prussia" at Königsberg (Kaliningrad) and styled himself King Frederick I. He remained a prince of the Holy Roman Empire by virtue of his rank as margrave and elector of Brandenburg and his holdings within the empire, but not as king of Prussia, which lay outside the imperial boundaries. This technicality gave the kings of Prussia a measure of independence from the emperor not possessed by the other princes of the empire.

As a result of the Northern War, Prussia gained (1720) the eastern part of Swedish Pomerania (including Stettin). In the following 20 years, however, King Frederick William I, the true creator of the Prussian state, avoided military ventures and used diplomacy in order to create a unified state. He fully developed the features that had distinguished Prussia since the time of the Great Elector. The army, necessary to defend Prussia's scattered lands, was also the chief force in unifying and shaping the state. In order to build a strong army in their relatively poor country, Prussia's rulers developed a government-controlled economy and an obedient central bureaucracy (the Generaldirektorium). The landed aristocrats, the Junkers, were brought into military and state service and in turn were left free to enserf their peasants.

Frederick William's successor, Frederick II, or Frederick the Great (reigned 1740–86), used the efficient military instrument bequeathed him by his father to enter upon a period of conquest. On a slim pretext (see Silesia) and without a declaration of war, he invaded (1740) Austrian territory, thus gaining the initiative in the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–48). Acting with utter disregard for its allies, Prussia got out of the war in 1742 by the Treaty of Berlin, reentered it in 1744, and quit again in 1745 at the Treaty of Dresden. In both treaties Maria Theresa of Austria was forced to cede nearly all of Silesia to Prussia. Although it gained no additional territory in the Seven Years War (1756–63), Prussia emerged from the war as the chief military power of the Continent. By the partition of Poland of 1772 (see Poland, partitions of) Prussia gained Pomerelia (except Danzig) and Ermeland. Pomerelia was organized into the province of West Prussia, and the original Prussia became known as East Prussia.

Frederick was succeeded (1786) by Frederick William II, who further added to Prussia by the partitions of Poland of 1793 and 1795. However, under his rule and that of his successor, Frederick William III (1797–1840), Prussia underwent a period of eclipse as a result of the French Revolutionary Wars and the wars of Napoleon I. Defeated by the French, Prussia withdrew from the antirevolutionary coalition in the Treaty of Basel (1795) and remained neutral until 1806. Its armies were crushed by Napoleon in the twin battles of Jena and Auerstedt, and in 1807 Prussia had to accept the harsh Treaty of Tilsit, by which it lost all lands W of the Elbe and most of its share of Poland and became a virtual dependency of France.

Prussia was fortunate to possess, at this low ebb in its history, such able and energetic reformers as Karl vom und zum Stein, Karl August von Hardenberg, and Wilhelm von Humboldt. These men helped transform Prussia into a progressive state by abolishing serfdom and nobiliary privileges, introducing agrarian and other social and economic reforms, and laying the groundwork for an exemplary system of universal education. Gerhard von Scharnhorst and August, Graf von Gneisenau at the same time put the Prussian army on a modern basis.

Prussia was forced to send auxiliary troops for Napoleon's 1812 campaign in Russia, but late in the year Yorck von Wartenburg concluded a separate truce with Russia, and in 1813 Prussia joined the coalition against France. Field Marshal Blücher played a major role in defeating Napoleon at Leipzig (1813) and at Waterloo (1815). At the Congress of Vienna, Prussia gained, in addition to its recovered territories, the entire Rhine prov. and Westphalia, the northern half of Saxony, the remainder of Swedish Pomerania, and a large part of W Poland, including Danzig (Gdańsk), Poznań, and Gniezno. However, Prussia disappointed the hopes of German liberals by following the lead of the Austrian chancellor, Metternich, in the Holy Alliance.

A constitution promised in 1811 failed to materialize under the increasingly reactionary government of Frederick William III, and the half-hearted constitutional schemes of Frederick William IV were impracticable. By 1834 Prussia had, however, taken the lead in the economic unification of Germany (see Zollverein), which was a prerequisite to political union. The March Revolution of 1848 was put down by force, and in 1849 Frederick William IV refused the imperial crown of Germany offered by the Frankfurt Parliament. His scheme for a German Union under Prussian leadership and excluding Austria was punctured in the Convention of Olomouc (1850), and Prussia returned to the restored German Confederation.

Supremacy of Prussia

In 1861, William I (regent since 1858) became king, and in 1862 he appointed as premier Otto von Bismarck, who directed the destiny of Prussia and (after 1871) of Germany until 1890. Bismarck effected the elimination of Austria from German affairs and the union of Germany under Prussian hegemony by means of three deliberately planned wars. The first war (1864) was fought in alliance with Austria against Denmark over Schleswig-Holstein. Its settlement furnished a pretext for the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, in which Prussia quickly and thoroughly defeated Austria and its allies and gained additional territory by the annexation of Hanover, Electoral Hesse, Nassau, Schleswig-Holstein, and the free city of Frankfurt am Main. The German Confederation was dissolved, and the Prussian-led North German Confederation took its place. Finally, in the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71), the North German Confederation overwhelmed France, and in 1871 William I of Prussia was proclaimed emperor of Germany.

In its main features the subsequent history of Prussia was that of Germany. However, Bismarck's Kulturkampf against the Roman Catholic Church was largely confined to the kingdom of Prussia, which, like the other German states, continued as an individual member of the empire.

The Prussian constitution adopted in 1850 and amended in the following years was far less liberal than the federal constitution of the empire. The government was not responsible to the Prussian Landtag (lower chamber), whose powers were small and whose members were elected by a suffrage system based on tax-paying ability. The house of lords was largely controlled by the conservative Junkers, who held immense tracts of generally poor land E of the Elbe (particularly in East Prussia). Endowed with little money and much pride, they had continued to form the officer corps of the army. The rising industrialists, notably the great Rhenish and Westphalian mine owners and steel magnates, although their interests were often opposed to those of the Junkers, exerted an equally reactionary influence on politics. The Prussian constitution was liberalized after Prussia became a republic in 1918, and the Junkers lost many of their estates through the cession of Prussian territory to Poland. However, both the Junkers and the Rhenish industrialists continued to exert much power behind the scenes, and when Franz von Papen became (1932) German chancellor and commissioner for Prussia, they came into their own. In July, 1932, Papen suspended the Prussian parliament and ousted the Social Democrat Otto Braun, who had been premier of Prussia (with brief interruptions) from 1920.

Early in 1933, Adolf Hitler seized power and made Hermann Goering premier of Prussia; Hitler's rise had been aided by the Rhenish industrialists. By a decree of Hitler issued in Jan., 1934, the German states ceased to exist as political units, and it was no longer possible to differentiate clearly between Prussia and the rest of Germany. After World War II, in 1947, Prussia was officially dissolved by the Allied Control Council, which characterized the state as "a bearer of militarism and reaction in Germany." The former state was divided among the former West and East Germanies, Poland, and the USSR's Russian Republic (now Russia).


The classic histories of Prussia are those of Ranke, Treitschke, and Droysen. See also H. Tuttle, History of Prussia (4 vol., 1884–96, repr. 1971); Sir John A. R. Marriott and C. G. Robertson, The Evolution of Prussia (1915, rev. ed. 1946); S. B. Fay, The Rise of Brandenburg-Prussia to 1786 (1937, rev. ed. 1981); F. L. Carsten, Origins of Prussia (1954); T. M. Barker, ed., Frederick the Great and the Making of Prussia (1976); H. W. Koch, A History of Prussia (1987); C. Clark, Iron Kingdom (2006).

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Prussia, Relations with


Tracing Russia's relations with Prussia is complicated by the fact that Prussia only slowly took shape as a nation. A reasonable starting point is during the reign of Peter the Great and the Great Northern War fought with Sweden for supremacy in northern Europe. King Frederick I sympathized with the Russians but could not afford financially to open hostilities; he moreover was distracted by the wars to his west involving most of Europe against Louis XIV of France. In 1714, Prussia felt compelled to enter the Northern War when Charles XII of Sweden attacked the fortress of Stralsund on Prussia's border. At the end of the war, Prussia, with Russia's blessings, acquired both banks of the lower Oder River and the first-class port city of Stettin.

In the latter half of the eighteenth century, however, relations deteriorated considerably. Frederick II embarked on a major war with Austria for Silesia. The Russian Empress, Elizabeth, sided with Austria and her armies inflicted severe defeats on Prussia in 17581759. Upon her death in 1762, Peter III ascended to the throne and as a great admirer of Frederick, withdrew Russia from the war. Partly as a result of this move, Peter was soon assassinated and replaced by Catherine the Great. Catherine and Frederick, with the collusion of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, were able to agree on taking territory from the extraordinarily weak state of Poland. The result was that by 1795, Poland ceased to exist to the aggrandizement of the three powers. Henceforth, Russia and Prussia would have a mutual interest in the suppression of the Poles.

The Napoleonic wars drew Russia and Prussia closer, both being the victims of Bonaparte's ambitions. When Prussia signed an alliance with Napoleon in 1812, King Frederick William III assured Emperor Alexander I, that, if war came, Prussia's participation would be purely nominal. The next year, Russia, Prussia, Austria, and Britain pledged not to conclude a separate peace with France. At the Congress of Vienna, Russia and Prussia supported their respective claims to Poland and Saxony, something that provoked an alliance of Britain, Austria, and France. The crisis passed when Russia accepted about half of Poland and Prussia took two-fifths of Saxony. One of the most important consequences of the Napoleonic wars was a conviction on the part of the Prussians that they owed their national survival to Russia.

The Polish issue flared again in 1830, this time in revolution. After some negotiations, Emperor Nicholas I launched a full-scale invasion. The Poles appealed without success for Austrian aid but they knew there was no point looking to Prussia. As Russian arms triumphed, Poles who fled into Prussia were disarmed and returned to Russian forces.

At the same time the "eastern question," that is, the fate of the Ottoman Empire in Europe, became central to Russian foreign policy. This led eventually to the Crimean War but Prussia played little role in the initial stages of the affair. Nicholas went so far in 1833 as to inform the Prussians that they need not concern themselves with Near Eastern matters.

However, the revolutions of 1848 strained the relations between Berlin and St. Petersburg. Nicholas was the ultimate supporter of legitimacy and he was irritated when King Frederick William IV retained the constitution he had accepted, Nicholas believed, under duress. Nicholas also disliked his brother-in-law's sympathy for the national aspirations of German liberals. The animosity came to a head in 1848 over the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. These two states rebelled against Danish rule and sought admission into the German confederation. Prussia sent its army to drive out the Danes and Nicholas saw this as an affront to the order established by the Congress of Vienna. He threatened war if Prussia did not speedily withdraw its troops. By 1850, the matter was settled and the Danes enjoyed a complete victory. Even worse, Nicholas and Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria forced Prussia to drop its proposal for a Prussian-led union of the German peoples.

The Crimean War did much to ease this antagonism. Of all the powers, Prussia was the only one who did not actively fight or criticize the Russians. On the other hand, all but Austria went to war with Russia. If conflict should flare between Prussia and Austria, the former could reasonably assume Russia's position would not be a repeat of 1850. Such was the thinking of Prussia's new minister president, Otto von Bismarck. While serving as Prussia's ambassador to St. Petersburg, Bismarck went out of his way to ingratiate himself with his hosts. In 1863, the year after Bismarck came to power in Berlin, he actively cooperated with the Russians in repressing yet another Polish uprising.

When he provoked war with Austria in 1866, he did not even need to consult the Russians beforehand so certain he was of their support.

In 1868, two years before Bismarck completed the unification of Germany through a war with France, he ensured himself of Russian support. Specifically, Alexander II promised that if Prussia and France went to war, he would mobilize 100,000 men on the Austrian border to ensure that Vienna could not intervene on the side of France. Thus Russia played an important role in the Prussian-led unification of Germany. And Russia would pay a high price for this in 19141918.

See also: germany, relations with; great northern war; poland; seven years' war; vienna, congress of; world war i


Albrecht-Carrie, Rene. (1958). A Diplomatic History of Europe since the Congress of Vienna. New York: Harper.

Bridge, F. R., and Bullen, Roger. (1980). The Great Powers and the European States System: 18151914. New York: Longman.

Fay, Sidney. (1937). The Rise of Brandenburg-Prussia to 1786. New York: Holt.

Florinsky, Michael. (195355). Russia: A History and an Interpretation. 2 Vols. New York: Macmillan.

Pflanze, Otto. (1990). Bismarck and the Development of Germany, Vol. 1: The Period of Unification, 18151871. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Schroeder, Paul. (1994). The Transformation of European Politics, 17631848. New York: Oxford University Press.

Taylor, A. J. P. (1971). The Struggle for Mastery in Europe, 18481918. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hugh Phillips

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Prussia, relations with

Prussia, relations with. Regular diplomatic contact between Britain and Prussia dates essentially from the Hanoverian succession. The two states were closely allied for most of the Seven Years War (1756–63), an alliance which allowed Britain to devote many of her resources to overseas expansion while Prussia preoccupied large French forces in Europe. Prussia and Britain were briefly allied against France in 1793–5, but their most significant collaboration occurred in 1815 when their armies defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. The British did not share the Prussian desire for a harsh peace against France in 1814–15, and Castlereagh briefly aligned Britain with Austria and France to reduce Prussian demands for Saxon territory. Rather he wanted a balance in Germany between the Prussians and the Habsburgs, hoping that together they might help to restrain France and Russia. He thus favoured a Prussian presence on the Rhine. Thereafter Prussia's association with the reactionary powers (Russia and Austria) usually discouraged friendship, although Prussia contributed to the isolation of France in the Near Eastern crisis of 1840. Britain's role in the Schleswig-Holstein question (1848–64) was understandably unpopular in Prussia, although from 1847 Palmerston intermittently showed interest in the emergence of a strong north German power which he hoped would improve the balance in continental Europe as a whole. His successors, despite periods of distrust of Bismarckian methods and Prussian militarism, broadly welcomed German unification in 1870–1 in the belief that this would make for stability in the heart of Europe.

C. J. Bartlett

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The kingdom of Prussia had its medieval origins in the conquest of pagan tribes by the Order of Teutonic Knights in the thirteenth century. The Knights established their own state in what is now northern Poland, Latvia, Estonia, and the Baltic coastal region of what is now northeastern Germany, and built a seat of power at Königsberg. The Knights paid homage to the Holy Roman Emperor, but they also contended with the kings of Poland, who commanded a powerful medieval army and who defeated them at the Battle of Grunwald in 1410. By the middle of the fifteenth century the Teutonic Knights had come under the authority of the king of Poland.

The duchy of Prussia was organized among the territories of the Knights in 1525 by Albert of Brandenburg, a Protestant and a member of the Hohenzollern dynasty, rulers of the duchy of Brandenburg and the city of Berlin. In 1618, Prussia and Brandenburg were united. The Hohenzollern domains were scattered throughout northern Germany and were the scene of invasion and fighting during the Thirty Years' War. In 1701, Frederick I crowned himself as the first king of Prussia, and the realm remained one of the strongest military powers in Europe until the unification of Germany in the late nineteenth century.

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Prussia Historic state of n Germany. The Teutonic Knights conquered the region in the 13th century. The Duchy of Prussia, founded in the 15th century, passed to the Electors of Brandenburg in 1618. They took the title of Kings of Prussia in 1701. In the 18th century, under Frederick William I and Frederick II (the Great), Prussia became a strong military power, absorbing Silesia and parts of Poland. After defeats in the Napoleonic Wars, Prussia emerged again as a powerful state at the Congress of Vienna (1815). In the 19th century, Prussia displaced Austria as the leading German power and, under Otto von Bismarck, led the movement for German unity, accomplished in 1871. Comprising 65% of the new German Empire, it was the leading German state until World War I. It ceased to exist as a political unit in 1945.

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Prussiajosher, washer •moksha • tonsure • dishwasher •whitewasher • Portia • launcher •brochure, kosher, Scotia •fuchsia • pusher • penpusher •blusher, crusher, flusher, gusher, Prussia, rusher, Russia, usher •cruncher, luncher, puncher •cowpuncher • Udmurtia •inertia, Persia

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