Frederick William, the Great Elector,
The only location that was able to at all match Louis XIV was the Hohenzollerns in Brandenburg-Prussia.[1] A close alliance between a powerful ruler and their nobles was what made this possible. Frederick William of Hohenzollern (1640-1688), the ‘great elector,’ was in possession of many scattered territories. After the Thirty’s Year War Frederick made his territory the dominant principality in North Germany and increased his power over his subjects.

Frederick needed an army. If he did he could be of some help to larger powers, who would in turn help him with his enemies abroad while he dealt with enemies at home. By 1648 he had 8,000 troops and was backed by the Dutch and French, who hoped he would restrain Sweden as the Treaty of Westphalia, the treaty ending the Thirty Year’s War, was drawn up. Though Frederick had barely participated in the war, he gained a lot from the treaty. And during the wars around the Baltic he quickly switched sides, which gained him 14,000 men.

In 1653 the Diet of Brandenburg met for one last time, giving Frederick the ability to raise taxes without their consent. The War Chest, which controlled the army finances, took over the treasury department and collected taxes. War commissars, who had originally had recruited for the military and billeting, now put policies into practice in localities.

Frederick’s only real power challenge was from the representative assemblies and independent cities in his realm. Leaders were none too happy when Frederick began to intervene in their affairs. Frederick’s intimidating swept most dissent aside and the last attempt to oppose him was in the rich Konigsberg, allied with the Estates General of Prussia. They wouldn’t pay taxes, until they were defeated in 1662 by Frederick’s army. The same happened to the towns of Cleves.

The nobles, called Junkers with the J pronounced like a Y, were happy to help Frederick gain power. They realized that the greater power he, and thus Prussia, had, the more powerful they would be. It was their alliance with him that made his power possible. It was their attempt, however, to remove all strain on the elector and deal with the government themselves. Through this policy they gained a better taxation system on themselves in the countryside and a harsher one on those in the city. They were the staff of the army and bureaucracy, they reimposed serfdom, and cut intermediaries from the system and distributed product themselves so as the gain the most profit. The wealth of the nobles in Prussia were known throughout Europe and they became known as Junkers.

Hohenzolleran Castle,
Frederick William had little interest in life at court. The court only became the high of society when his son, Elector Frederick III, came to power in 1688. Frederick William would rather increase tax returns, increase the number of his army, organizing his administration, and impose his authority. He began build the capital, Berlin, into a culture center and founded one of the greatest libraries in the world—the Prussian State Library. Fredrick III cared little about ruling and instead spent his time in court, encouraging the arts.

While Frederick William was using troops in the War of the Spanish Succession, he gave his son the title ‘king in Prussia.’ He became King Frederick I when he took power and offered Leopold I, the Holy Roman Emperor his troops. If Leopold won, which he did, Frederick wanted to be named King by the Holy Roman Emperor, one of the few rights the Holy Roman Emperor still held. He was coronated in 1701 as King Frederick I. He promoted social and cultural glitter, lavishing the palace with art and polite society. Trying, similar to Leopold I, to compete with Versailles. He beautified Berlin with churches, public buildings, and established an Academy of Sciences, where Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz became the first president. By the time Frederick I’s reign came to an end in 1713, he had enlarged the city of Berlin, supported education, advanced science, given the realm a throne, given Prussia artistic and intellectual activity, and an elegant aristocracy.

Works Referenced

Chambers, Mortimer; Grew, Raymond; Herlihy, David; Rabb, Theodore K.; Woloch, Isser. _The Western Experience: Sixth Edition_. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1991.

1 All information from the above named source, pages 545-7