The Rise Of Prussia


Wars of Charles XII. of Sweden. --Invasion of Saxony. --Enlargement of

Prussia and Hannover. --The "Pragmatic Sanction." --Sacrifices of

Austria. --Battle of Peterwardein. --Treaty of Passarowitz. --War

in Italy. --Frederick I. of Prussia. --Frederick William I. --His

Character and Habits. --His Policy as a Ruler. --His Giant

Body-Guards. --The Tobacco College. --Decay of
Austria. --The other

German States. --First Emigration to America. --War of the Polish

Succession. --French Invasion. --German Disunion. --The Treaty of

Vienna. --Marriage of Maria Theresa. --Disastrous War with Turkey.

--Prussia at the Death of Frederick William I. --Austria at the

Death of Karl VI.

[Sidenote: 1714.]

While the War of the Spanish Succession raged along the Rhine, in

Bavaria and the Netherlands, the North of Germany was convulsed by

another and very different struggle. The ambitious designs of Charles

XII. of Sweden, who succeeded to the throne in 1697, aroused the

jealousy and renewed the old hostility, of Denmark, Russia and Poland,

and in 1700 they formed an alliance against Sweden. Denmark began the

war, the same year, by invading Holstein-Gottorp, the Duke of which was

the brother-in-law of Charles XII. The latter immediately attacked

Copenhagen, and conquered a peace. A few months afterwards he crushed

the power of Peter the Great, in the battle of Narva, and was then free

to march against Poland. Augustus the Strong was no match for the young

Northern hero, who compelled the Polish nobles to depose him and elect

Stanislas Lesczinsky in his stead, then marched through Silesia into

Saxony, in the year 1706, and from his camp near Leipzig dictated his

own terms to Augustus.

A year later, having exhausted what resources were left to the people

after the outrageous exactions of their own Electors, Charles XII.

evacuated Saxony with an army of 40,000 men, many of them German

recruits, and marched through Poland on his way to the fatal field of

Pultowa. The immediate consequences of his terrible defeat there, in

1709, were that Peter the Great took possession of the Baltic provinces,

and prepared to found his new capital of St. Petersburg on the Neva.

Then Denmark and Saxony entered into an alliance with Russia, Augustus

the Strong was again placed on the throne of Poland, and the

Swedish-German provinces on the Baltic and the North Sea were overrun

and ravaged by the Danish and Russian armies. Towards the end of the

year 1714, after peace had been concluded with France, Charles XII.

suddenly appeared in Stralsund, having escaped from his long exile in

Turkey and travelled day and night on horseback across Europe, from the

shores of the Black Sea. Then Prussia and Hannover, both eager to

enlarge their dominions at the expense of Sweden, united against him. He

had not sufficient military strength to resist them, and after his death

at Frederickshall, in 1718, Sweden was compelled to make peace on

conditions which forever destroyed her supremacy among the northern



By the Treaties of Stockholm, made in 1719 and 1720, Prussia acquired

Stettin and all of Pomerania except a strip of the coast with Wismar,

Stralsund and the island of Ruegen, paying 2,000,000 thalers to Sweden:

Hannover acquired the territories of Bremen and Verden, paying 1,000,000

thalers: Denmark received Schleswig, and Russia all of her conquests

except Finland. The power of Poland, already weakened by the corruptions

and dissensions of her nobles, began steadily to decline after this long

and exhausting war.

The collective history of the German States,--for we can hardly say

"History of Germany" when there really was no Germany--at this time, is

a continuous succession of wars and diplomatic intrigues, which break

out in one direction before they are settled in another. In 1713,

Frederick I. of Prussia died, and was succeeded by his son, Frederick

William I.: in 1714, George I., Elector of Hannover, was made king of

England, and about the same time the Emperor Karl VI. issued a decree

called the "Pragmatic Sanction," establishing the order of succession to

the throne, for his dynasty. He was led to this step by the example of

Spain, where the failure of the direct line had given rise to thirteen

years of European war, and by the circumstance that he himself had

neither sons nor brothers. A daughter, Maria Theresa, was born in 1717,

and thus the provision of the Pragmatic Sanction that the crown should

descend to female heirs in the absence of male, preserved the succession

in his own family, and forestalled the claim of the Elector of Bavaria

and other princes who were more or less distantly related to the


[Sidenote: 1714.]

The Pragmatic Sanction was accepted in Austria without difficulty, as

there was no power to dispute the Emperor's will, but it was not

recognized by the other States of Germany and other nations of Europe

until after twenty years of diplomatic negotiations and serious

sacrifices on the part of Austria. Prussia received more territory on

the Lower Rhine, the Duchies of Parma and Piacenza in Italy were given

to Spain, and the claims of Augustus III. of Saxony and Poland were so

strenuously supported that in 1733 the so-called "War of the Polish

Succession" broke out. In the meantime, however, two other wars had

occurred, and, although both of them affected Austria rather than the

German Empire, they must be briefly described.

In 1714 the Emperor Karl VI. formed an alliance with the Venetians

against the Turks, who had taken the Morea from Venice. The command was

given to Prince Eugene, who marched against his old enemy, determined to

win back what remaining Hungarian or Slavonic territory was still held

by Turkey. The Grand-Vizier, Ali, opposed him with a powerful force, and

after various minor engagements a great battle was fought at

Peterwardein, in August, 1716. Eugene was completely victorious: the

Turks were driven beyond the Save and sheltered themselves behind the

strong walls of Belgrade. Eugene followed, and, after a siege which is

famous in military annals, took Belgrade by storm. The victory is

celebrated in a song which the German people are still in the habit of

singing. The war ended with the Treaty of Passarowitz, in 1718, by which

Turkey was compelled to surrender to Austria the Banat, Servia,

including Belgrade, and a part of Wallachia, Bosnia and Croatia.

Before this treaty was concluded, a new war had broken out in Italy.

Philip V. of Spain, incensed at not being recognized by Karl VI., took

possession of Sardinia and Sicily, with the intention of conquering

Naples from Austria. England, France, Holland and Austria then formed

the "Quadruple Alliance," as it was called, for the purpose of enforcing

the Treaty of Utrecht, and Spain was compelled to yield.

[Sidenote: 1711. RISE OF PRUSSIA.]

The power of Prussia, during these years, was steadily increasing.

Frederick I., it is true, was among the imitators of Louis XIV.: he

built stately palaces, and spent a great deal of money on showy Court

festivals, but he did not completely exhaust the resources of the

country, like the Electors of Saxony and the rulers of many smaller

States. On the other hand, he founded the University of Halle in 1694,

and commissioned the philosopher Leibnitz to draw up a plan for an

Academy of Science, which was established in Berlin, in 1711. He was a

zealous Protestant, and gave welcome to all who were exiled from other

States on account of their faith. As a ruler, however, he was equally

careless and despotic, and his government was often entrusted to the

hands of unworthy agents. Frederick the Great said of him: "He was great

in small matters, and little in great matters."

His son, Frederick William I., was a man of an entirely different

nature. He disliked show and ceremony: he hated everything French with a

heartiness which was often unreasonable, but which was honestly provoked

by the enormous, monkey-like affectation of the manners of Versailles by

some of his fellow-rulers. While Augustus of Saxony spent six millions

of thalers on a single entertainment, he set to work to reduce the

expenses of his royal household. While the court of Austria supported

40,000 officials and hangers-on, and half of Vienna was fed from the

Imperial kitchen, he was employed in examining the smallest details of

the receipts and expenditures of his State, in order to economize and

save. He was miserly, fierce, coarse and brutal; he aimed at being a

German, but he went back almost to the days of Wittekind for his ideas

of German culture and character; he was a tyrant of the most savage

kind,--but, after all has been said against him, it must be acknowledged

that without his hard practical sense in matters of government, his

rigid, despotic organization of industry, finance and the army,

Frederick the Great would never have possessed the means to maintain

himself in that struggle which made Prussia a great power.

Some illustrations of his policy as a ruler and his personal habits must

be given, in order to show both sides of his character. He had the most

unbounded idea of the rights and duties of a king, and the aim of his

life, therefore, was to increase his own authority by increasing the

wealth, the order and the strength of Prussia. He was no friend of

science, except when it could be shown to have some practical use, but

he favored education, and one of his first measures was to establish

four hundred schools among the people, by the money which he saved from

the expenditures of the royal household. His personal economy was so

severe that the queen was only allowed to have one waiting-woman. At

this time the Empress of Germany had several hundred attendants,

received two hogsheads of Tokay, daily, for her parrots, and twelve

barrels of wine for her baths! Frederick William I. protected the

industry of Prussia by imposing heavy duties upon all foreign products;

he even went so far as to prohibit the people from wearing any but

Prussian-made cloth, setting them the example himself. He also devoted

much attention to agriculture, and when 17,000 Protestants were driven

out of Upper Austria by the Archbishop of Salzburg, after the most

shocking and inhuman persecutions, he not only furnished them with land

but supported them until they were settled in their new homes.

[Sidenote: 1725.]

The organization of the Prussian army was entrusted to Prince Leopold of

Dessau, who distinguished himself at Turin, under Prince Eugene.

Although during the greater part of Frederick William's reign peace was

preserved, the military force was kept upon a war footing, and gradually

increased until it amounted to 84,000 men. The king had a singular mania

for giant soldiers: miserly as he was in other respects, he was ready to

go to any expense to procure recruits, seven feet high, for his

body-guard. He not only purchased such, but allowed his agents to kidnap

them, and despotically sent a number of German mechanics to Peter the

Great in exchange for an equal number of Russian giants. For forty-three

such tall soldiers he paid 43,000 dollars, one of them, who was

unusually large, costing 9,000. The expense of keeping these guardsmen

was proportionately great, and much of the king's time was spent in

inspecting them. Sometimes he tried to paint their portraits, and if the

likeness was not successful, an artist was employed to paint the man's

face until it resembled the king's picture.

Frederick William's regular evening recreation was his "Tobacco

College," as he called it. Some of his ministers and generals, foreign

ambassadors, and even ordinary citizens, were invited to smoke and drink

beer with him in a plain room, where he sat upon a three-legged stool,

and they upon wooden benches. Each was obliged to smoke, or at least to

have a clay pipe in his mouth and appear to smoke. The most important

affairs of State were discussed at these meetings, which were conducted

with so little formality that no one was allowed to rise when the king

entered the room. He was not so amiable upon his walks through the

streets of Berlin or Potsdam. He always carried a heavy cane, which he

would apply without mercy to the shoulders of any who seemed to be idle,

no matter what their rank or station. Even his own household was not

exempt from blows; and his son Frederick was scarcely treated better

than any of his soldiers or workmen.

[Sidenote: 1725. CONDITION OF GERMANY.]

This manner of government was rude, but it was also systematic and

vigorous, and the people upon whom it was exercised did not deteriorate

in character, as was the case in almost all other parts of Germany.

Austria, in spite of the pomp of the Emperor's court, was in a state of

moral and intellectual decline. Karl VI. was a man of little capacity,

an instrument in the hands of the Jesuits, and the minds of the people

whom he ruled gradually became as stolid and dead as the latter order

wished to make them. Their connection with Germany was scarcely felt;

they spoke of "the Empire outside" almost as a foreign country, and the

strength of the house of Hapsburg was gradually transferred to the

Bohemian, Hungarian and Slavonic races which occupied the greater part

of its territory. The industry of the country was left without

encouragement; what little education was permitted was in the hands of

the priests, and all real progress came to an end. But, for this very

reason, Austria became the ideal of the German nobility, nine-tenths of

whom were feudalists and sighed for the return of the Middle Ages:

hundreds of them took service under the Emperor, either at court or in

the army, and helped to preserve the external forms of his power.

In most of the other German States the condition of affairs was not much

better. Bavaria, the Palatinate, and the three Archbishops of Mayence,

Treves and Cologne, were abject instruments in the hands of France:

Hannover was governed by the interests of England, and Saxony by those

of Poland. After George I. went to England, the government of Hannover

was exercised by a council of nobles, who kept up the Court ceremonials

just as if the Elector were present. His portrait was placed in a chair,

and they observed the same etiquette towards it as if his real self

were there! In Wuertemberg the Duke, Eberhard Ludwig, so oppressed the

people that many of them emigrated to America between the years 1717 and

1720, and settled in Pennsylvania. This was the first German emigration

to the New World.

[Sidenote: 1733.]

After a peace of nineteen years, counting from the Treaty of Rastatt, or

thirteen years from the Treaty of Stockholm, Germany--or rather the

Emperor Karl VI.--became again involved in war. The Pragmatic Sanction

was at the bottom of it. Karl's endless diplomacy to insure the

recognition of this decree led him into an alliance with Russia to place

Augustus III. of Saxony on the throne of Poland. Louis XV. of France,

who had married the daughter of the Polish king, Stanislas Lesczinsky,

took the latter's part. Prussia was induced to join Austria and Russia,

but the cautious and economical Frederick William I. withdrew from the

alliance as soon as he found that the expense to him would be more than

the advantage. The Polish Diet was divided: the majority, influenced by

France, elected Stanislas, who reached Warsaw in the disguise of a

merchant and was crowned in September, 1733. The minority declared for

Augustus III., in whose aid a Russian army was even then entering


France, in alliance with Spain and Sardinia, had already declared war

against Germany. The plan of operations had evidently been prepared in

advance, and was everywhere successful. One French army occupied

Lorraine, another crossed the Rhine and captured Kehl (opposite

Strasburg), and a third, under Marshal Villars, entered Lombardy. Naples

and Sicily, powerless to resist, fell into the hands of Spain. Prince

Eugene of Savoy, now more than seventy years of age, was sent to the

Rhine with such troops as Austria, taken by surprise, was able to

furnish: the other German States either sympathized with France, or were

indifferent to a quarrel which really did not concern them. Frederick

William of Prussia finally sent 10,000 well-disciplined soldiers; but

even with this aid Prince Eugene was unable to expel the French from

Lorraine. In Poland, however, the plans of France utterly failed: in

June, 1734, King Stanislas fled in the disguise of a cattle-dealer. The

following year, 10,000 Russians appeared on the Rhine, as allies of

Austria, and Louis XV. found it prudent to negotiate for peace.


The Treaty of Vienna, concluded in October, 1735, put an end to the War

of the Polish Succession. Francis of Lorraine, who was betrothed to Karl

VI.'s daughter, Maria Theresa, was made Grand-Duke of Tuscany, and

Lorraine (now only a portion of the original territory, with Nancy as

capital) was given to the Ex-King Stanislas of Poland, with the

condition that it should revert to France at his death. Spain received

Naples and Sicily; Tortona and Novara were added to Sardinia, and

Austria was induced to consent to all these losses by the recognition of

the Pragmatic Sanction, and the annexation of the Duchies of Parma and

Piacenza, in Italy. Prussia got nothing; and Frederick William I., who

had been expecting to add Juelich and Berg to his possessions on the

Lower Rhine, was so exasperated that he entered into secret arrangements

with France in order to carry out his end. The enmity of Austria and

Prussia was now confirmed, and it has been the chief power in German

politics from that day to this.

In 1736 Francis of Lorraine and Maria Theresa were married, and Prince

Eugene of Savoy died, worn out with the hardships of his long and

victorious career. The next year, the Empress Anna of Russia persuaded

Karl VI. to unite with her in a war against Turkey, her object being to

get possession of Azov. By this unfortunate alliance Austria lost all

which she had gained by the Treaty of Passarowitz, twenty years before.

There was no commander like Prince Eugene, her military strength had

been weakened by useless and unsuccessful wars, and she was compelled to

make peace in 1739, by yielding Belgrade and all her conquests in Servia

and Wallachia to Turkey.

On the 31st of May, 1740, Frederick William I. died, fifty-two years of

age. He left behind him a State containing more than 50,000 square

miles, and about 2,500,000 of inhabitants. The revenues of Prussia,

which were two and a half millions of thalers on his accession to the

throne, had increased to seven and a half millions annually, and there

were nine millions in the treasury. Berlin had a population of nearly

100,000, and Stettin, Magdeburg, Memel and other cities had been

strongly fortified. An army of more than 80,000 men was perfectly

organized and disciplined. There was the beginning of a system of

instruction for the people, feudalism was almost entirely suppressed,

and the charge of witchcraft (which, since the fifteenth century, had

caused the execution of several hundred thousand victims, throughout

Germany!) was expunged from the pages of the law. Although the land was

almost wholly Protestant, there was entire religious freedom, and the

Catholic subjects could complain of no violation of their rights.

[Sidenote: 1740.]

On the 24th of October, 1740, Karl VI. died, leaving a diminished realm,

a disordered military organization, and a people so demoralized by the

combined luxury and oppression of the government that for more than a

century afterwards all hope and energy and aspiration seemed to be

crushed among them. The outward show and trappings of the Empire

remained with Austria, and kept alive the political superstitions of

that large class of Germans who looked backward instead of forward; but

the rude, half-developed strength, which cuts loose from the Past and

busies itself with the practical work of its day and generation, was

rapidly creating a future for Prussia.

Frederick William I. was succeeded by his son, Frederick II., called

Frederick the Great. Karl VI. was succeeded by his daughter, the Empress

Maria Theresa. The former was twenty-eight, the latter twenty-three

years old.