Prussia in 18th century



In the 18th century Prussia became a real military camp where everyone works for the army. The peasants were soldiers in the army and supported the army by their products, manufacturers provided the army with clothing and arms and nobles who were at Military Academy in Berlin led them as officers. The taxes for peasants and citizens were high, so army has constantly funded. Also, the peasants were forcibly recruited. They were not keen to left they fields and farms and go to the military campaigns.

The Prussian army became famous for his constant drill and maneuvers. Discipline was rigid and orders had to be performed without questioning. Prussia became a strong military-feudal absolute monarchy. In 1740 on the Prussian throne arrived “enlightened absolutist” Friedrich II the Great (1712-1786). The enlightened absolutism is a new form of absolute monarchy that emerged in the 18th century. The rulers have sought to implement economic and administrative reorganization of the state and eliminate the worst abuses of the feudalism, but not crossing the feudal social frames.

Friedrich II the Great (1712 – 1786)

The rulers mediated in the relations between the feudal lords and serfs. They tended to protect small farmers, because they were paying taxes. The reforms were largely remained just as theory because the resistance of the nobility which stubbornly defended their privilege. But some reforms helped the country’s progress, such as the reorganization of the judiciary and the abolition of torture, aiding the establishment of science and scientific academies, building hospitals and organizing prevention of epidemic diseases, irrigation works and the propagation of intensive farming.

Prussian soldiers

Radical demands of the bourgeois ideologists to abolish serfdom, suppressing the influence of the church, freedom of press and personality enlightened absolutists did not accept, because it would have violated the feudal order. Friedrich II was abolished torture, introduced compulsory primary schooling, and founded the Berlin Academy. Friedrich II had constructed famous buildings in Berlin, most of which you could see today, such as the Berlin State Opera, the Royal Library (now  State Library Berlin), St. Hedwig’s Cathedral, and Prince Henry’s Palace (today Humboldt University).

Friedrich II playing flute

Friedrich II  generally supported religious toleration, keeping Jesuits as scholars and teachers in Silesia, Warmia, and the Netze District even after Pope Clement XIV suppressed them. Actually, Friedrich II gave the Jesuits full recognition for their intellectual contribution to the country. His main goal was the prosperity of Prussia, whether he used knowledge Jesuit teachers, Huguenots, or Jewish merchants and bankers.

Prussian army in battle

Friedrich II also restricted the oppression of the peasants and gave them wheat for sowing in the lean years. He forbade the expulsion of peasants from the land and helped settle the deserted lands. Friedrich II has banned the export of wool in order to develop domestic weaving production, but still relied on the nobility, guarding their tax privileges and bring them to the highest administrative and military positions. Taxes has consistently increased, not only of military and civil servants but also of all other subjects demanded absolute obedience.

All Friedrich’s reforms had been tasked to assist the strengthening of the army for the wars . He set himself the goal to merge in that time separated Prussian territories. He took advantage of the arrival of Maria Theresa (1717 – 1780) to the Austrian throne, and set his foot on a rich and strategically important Silesia. Against Maria Theresa in that time were the rulers of Bavaria, Spain, Sardinia and France in order to divide the Habsburg lands.

Maria Theresa of Austria (1717 – 1780)

Britain and Saxony have helped to the Austrian empress, only to prevent the strengthening of the France. The war over the Habsburg territory (War of the Austrian Succession) has lasted 8 years (1740-1748). Friedrich II is retained Silesia, and Austria was weakened territorially, but it still remained an important European power.

Austrian soldiers

But, the peace was not last long. Soon, a new war broke out in Europe – Seven Years War (1756 – 1763). Maria Theresa wanted back Silesia, and Great Britain had their goal to destroy the naval power of France, and take her colonial possessions in America and India. The main British allies were Hanover and Friedrich II, while Austria took the side of France, along with Russia, Sweden and some German princes. This war was fought in Europe, but also in distant colonies. Finally, Britain has managed to break the naval power of France, and Russia took Berlin. Friedrich II was about to collapse.

Peter III Romanov (1728 – 1762)

The situation changed significantly when the Russian Empress Elizabeth died, and the emperor of Russia became Peter III, who has forged an alliance with the Prussians. Thus Prussia retained the territory of Silesia, as well as its political and military power.

 

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