Prussia (/ˈprʌʃə/; German: Preußen, pronounced [ˈpʁɔʏsn̩] (listen)) was a historically prominent German state that originated in 1525 with a duchy centred on the region of Prussia on the southeast coast of the Baltic Sea. It was de facto dissolved by an emergency decree transferring powers of the Prussian government to German Chancellor Franz von Papen in 1932 and de jure by an Allied decree in 1947. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organised and effective army. Prussia, with its capital in Königsberg and from 1701 in Berlin, decisively shaped the history of Germany.
In 1871, German states (notably excluding Austria) united to create the German Empire under Prussian leadership. In November 1918, the monarchies were abolished and the nobility lost its political power during the German Revolution of 1918–19. The Kingdom of Prussia was thus abolished in favour of a republic—the Free State of Prussia, a state of Germany from 1918 until 1933. From 1933, Prussia lost its independence as a result of the Prussian coup, when the Nazi regime was successfully establishing its Gleichschaltung laws in pursuit of a unitary state. With the end of the Nazi regime, in 1945, the division of Germany into allied-occupation zones and the separation of its territories east of the Oder–Neisse line, which were incorporated into Poland and the Soviet Union, the State of Prussia ceased to exist de facto. Prussia existed de jure until its formal abolition by the Allied Control Council Enactment No. 46 of 25 February 1947.
The name Prussia derives from the Old Prussians; in the 13th century, the Teutonic Knights—an organized Catholic medieval military order of German crusaders—conquered the lands inhabited by them. In 1308, the Teutonic Knights conquered the region of Pomerelia with Gdańsk (Danzig). Their monastic state was mostly Germanised through immigration from central and western Germany, and, in the south, it was Polonised by settlers from Masovia. The Second Peace of Thorn (1466) split Prussia into the western Royal Prussia, a province of Poland, and the eastern part, from 1525 called the Duchy of Prussia, a fief of the Crown of Poland up to 1657. The union of Brandenburg and the Duchy of Prussia in 1618 led to the proclamation of the Kingdom of Prussia in 1701.
Prussia entered the ranks of the great powers shortly after becoming a kingdom, and exercised most influence in the 18th and 19th centuries. During the 18th century it had a major say in many international affairs under the reign of Frederick the Great. During the 19th century, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck united the German principalities into a "Lesser Germany", which excluded the Austrian Empire.
At the Congress of Vienna (1814–15), which redrew the map of Europe following Napoleon's defeat, Prussia acquired rich new territories, including the coal-rich Ruhr. The country then grew rapidly in influence economically and politically, and became the core of the North German Confederation in 1867, and then of the German Empire in 1871. The Kingdom of Prussia was now so large and so dominant in the new Germany that Junkers and other Prussian élites identified more and more as Germans and less as Prussians.
The Kingdom ended in 1918 along with other German monarchies that collapsed as a result of the German Revolution. In the Weimar Republic, the Free State of Prussia lost nearly all of its legal and political importance following the 1932 coup led by Franz von Papen. Subsequently, it was effectively dismantled into Nazi German Gaue in 1935. Nevertheless, some Prussian ministries were kept and Hermann Göring remained in his role as Minister President of Prussia until the end of World War II. Former eastern territories of Germany that made up a significant part of Prussia lost the majority of their German population after 1945 as the People's Republic of Poland and the Soviet Union both absorbed these territories and had most of its German inhabitants expelled by 1950. Prussia, deemed a bearer of militarism and reaction by the Allies, was officially abolished by an Allied declaration in 1947. The international status of the former eastern territories of Germany was disputed until the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany in 1990, while its return to Germany remains a topic among far right politicians, the Federation of Expellees and various political revisionists.
The term Prussian has often been used, especially outside Germany, to emphasise professionalism, aggressiveness, militarism and conservatism of the Junker class of landed aristocrats in the East who dominated first Prussia and then the German Empire.
Prussia (in blue) at its peak as the leading state of the German Empire
|Common languages||German (official)|
Protestant (Lutheran and Reformed; since 1817 Prussian United)
|Government||Monarchy (until 1918), Republic|
|Albert I (first)|
|Frederick III (last)|
|Frederick I (first)|
|Wilhelm II (last)|
|Prime Minister1, 2|
|Friedrich Ebert (first)|
|Hermann Göring (last)|
|Historical era||Early modern Europe to Contemporary|
|10 April 1525|
|27 August 1618|
|18 January 1701|
|9 November 1918|
|30 January 1934|
|25 February 1947|
|1907||348,702 km2 (134,635 sq mi)|
|1939||297,007 km2 (114,675 sq mi)|
German gold mark (1873–1914)
German Papiermark (1914–1923)
Reichsmark (1924 to the Abolition of Prussia)
|Today part of||Germany|
Russia (Kaliningrad Oblast)
History of Brandenburg and Prussia
|Old Prussians |
|Margraviate of Brandenburg
|Teutonic Order |
|Duchy of Prussia
|Royal (Polish) Prussia |
|Kingdom in Prussia |
|Kingdom of Prussia |
|Free State of Prussia
1920–1939 / 1945–present
1947–1952 / 1990–present
The black and white national colours were already used by the Teutonic Knights and by the Hohenzollern dynasty. The Teutonic Order wore a white coat embroidered with a black cross with gold insert and black imperial eagle. The combination of the black and white colours with the white and red Hanseatic colours of the free cities Bremen, Hamburg and Lübeck, as well as of Brandenburg, resulted in the black-white-red commercial flag of the North German Confederation, which became the flag of the German Empire in 1871.
Suum cuique ("to each, his own"), the motto of the Order of the Black Eagle created by King Frederick I in 1701, was often associated with the whole of Prussia. The Iron Cross, a military decoration created by King Frederick William III in 1813, was also commonly associated with the country. The region, originally populated by Baltic Old Prussians who were Christianised, became a favoured location for immigration by (later mainly Protestant) Germans (see Ostsiedlung), as well as Poles and Lithuanians along the border regions.
Before its abolition, the territory of the Kingdom of Prussia included the provinces of West Prussia; East Prussia; Brandenburg; Saxony (including much of the present-day state of Saxony-Anhalt and parts of the state of Thuringia in Germany); Pomerania; Rhineland; Westphalia; Silesia (without Austrian Silesia); Lusatia; Schleswig-Holstein; Hanover; Hesse-Nassau; and a small detached area in the south called Hohenzollern, the ancestral home of the Prussian ruling family. The land that the Teutonic Knights occupied was flat and covered with rich soil. The land was perfectly suited to the large-scale raising of wheat. The rise of early Prussia was based on the raising and selling of wheat. Teutonic Prussia became known as the "bread basket of Western Europe" (in German, Kornkammer, or granary). The port cities of Stettin (Szczecin) in Pomerania, Danzig (Gdańsk) in Prussia, Riga in Livonia, Königsberg (Kaliningrad), and Memel (Klaipėda) rose on the back of this wheat production. Wheat production and trade brought Prussia into close relationship with the Hanseatic League during the period of time from 1356 (official founding of the Hanseatic League) until the decline of the League in about 1500.
The expansion of Prussia based on its connection with the Hanseatic League cut both Poland and Lithuania off from the coast of the Baltic Sea and trade abroad. This meant that Poland and Lithuania would be traditional enemies of Prussia, which was still called the Teutonic Knights.
In 1211 King Andrew II of Hungary granted Burzenland in Transylvania as a fiefdom to the Teutonic Knights, a German military order of crusading knights, headquartered in the Kingdom of Jerusalem at Acre. In 1225 he expelled them again, and they transferred their operations to the Baltic Sea area. Konrad I, the Polish duke of Masovia, had unsuccessfully attempted to conquer pagan Prussia in crusades in 1219 and 1222. In 1226 Duke Konrad invited the Teutonic Knights to conquer the Baltic Prussian tribes on his borders.
During 60 years of struggles against the Old Prussians, the Order established an independent state that came to control Prūsa. After the Livonian Brothers of the Sword joined the Teutonic Order in 1237, the Order also controlled Livonia (now Latvia and Estonia). Around 1252 they finished the conquest of the northernmost Prussian tribe of the Skalvians as well as of the western Baltic Curonians, and erected Memel Castle, which developed into the major port city of Memel (Klaipėda). The Treaty of Melno defined the final border between Prussia and the adjoining Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 1422.
The Hanseatic League officially formed in northern Europe in 1356 as a group of trading cities. This League came to hold a monopoly on all trade leaving the interior of Europe and Scandinavia and on all sailing trade in the Baltic Sea for foreign countries. The merchants of the interiors of Sweden, Denmark, and Poland came to feel oppressed by the Hanseatic League.
In the course of the Ostsiedlung (German eastward expansion) process, settlers were invited, bringing changes in the ethnic composition as well as in language, culture, and law of the eastern borders of the German lands. As a majority of these settlers were Germans, Low German became the dominant language.
The Knights of the Teutonic Order were subordinate to the papacy and to the emperor. Their initially close relationship with the Polish Crown deteriorated after they conquered Polish-controlled Pomerelia and Danzig (Gdańsk) in 1308. Eventually Poland and Lithuania, allied through the Union of Krewo (1385), defeated the Knights in the Battle of Grunwald (Tannenberg) in 1410.
The Thirteen Years' War (1454–1466) began when the Prussian Confederation, a coalition of Hanseatic cities of western Prussia, rebelled against the Order and requested help from the Polish king, Casimir IV Jagiellon. The Teutonic Knights were forced to acknowledge the sovereignty of, and to pay tribute to Casimir IV in the Second Peace of Thorn (1466), losing western Prussia (Royal Prussia) to Poland in the process. Pursuant to the Second Peace of Thorn, two Prussian states were established.
In 1525, Grand Master Albert of Brandenburg-Ansbach, a member of a cadet branch of the House of Hohenzollern, became a Lutheran Protestant and secularised the Order's remaining Prussian territories into the Duchy of Prussia. This was the area east of the mouth of the Vistula River, later sometimes called "Prussia proper". For the first time, these lands came into the hands of a branch of the Hohenzollern family. (The Hohenzollern dynasty had ruled the Margraviate of Brandenburg to the west, a German state centred on Berlin, since the 15th century.) Furthermore, with his renunciation of the Order, Albert could now marry and produce legitimate heirs.
Brandenburg and Prussia united two generations later. In 1594 Anna, granddaughter of Albert I and daughter of Duke Albert Frederick (reigned 1568–1618), married her cousin Elector John Sigismund of Brandenburg. When Albert Frederick died in 1618 without male heirs, John Sigismund was granted the right of succession to the Duchy of Prussia, then still a Polish fief. From this time the Duchy of Prussia was in personal union with the Margraviate of Brandenburg. The resulting state, known as Brandenburg-Prussia, consisted of geographically disconnected territories in Prussia, Brandenburg, and the Rhineland lands of Cleves and Mark.
During the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), various armies repeatedly marched across the disconnected Hohenzollern lands, especially the occupying Swedes. The ineffective and militarily weak Margrave George William (1619–1640) fled from Berlin to Königsberg, the historic capital of the Duchy of Prussia, in 1637. His successor, Frederick William I (1640–1688), reformed the army to defend the lands.
Frederick William I went to Warsaw in 1641 to render homage to King Władysław IV Vasa of Poland for the Duchy of Prussia, which was still held in fief from the Polish crown. In January 1656, during the first phase of the Second Northern War (1654–1660), he received the duchy as a fief from the Swedish king who later granted him full sovereignty in the Treaty of Labiau (November 1656). In 1657 the Polish king renewed this grant in the treaties of Wehlau and Bromberg. With Prussia, the Brandenburg Hohenzollern dynasty now held a territory free of any feudal obligations, which constituted the basis for their later elevation to kings.
Frederick William I became known as the "Great Elector" for his achievements in organizing the electorate, which he accomplished by establishing an absolute monarchy in Brandenburg-Prussia. Above all, he emphasised the importance of a powerful military to protect the state's disconnected territories, while the Edict of Potsdam (1685) opened Brandenburg-Prussia for the immigration of Protestant refugees (especially Huguenots), and he established a bureaucracy to carry out state administration efficiently.
On 18 January 1701, Frederick William's son, Elector Frederick III, upgraded Prussia from a duchy to a kingdom and crowned himself King Frederick I. In the Crown Treaty of 16 November 1700, Leopold I, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, allowed Frederick only to title himself "King in Prussia", not "King of Prussia". The state of Brandenburg-Prussia became commonly known as "Prussia", although most of its territory, in Brandenburg, Pomerania, and western Germany, lay outside Prussia proper. The Prussian state grew in splendour during the reign of Frederick I, who sponsored the arts at the expense of the treasury.
Frederick I was succeeded by his son, Frederick William I (1713–1740), the austere "Soldier King", who did not care for the arts but was thrifty and practical. He is considered the creator of the vaunted Prussian bureaucracy and the professionalised standing army, which he developed into one of the most powerful in Europe, although his troops only briefly saw action during the Great Northern War. In view of the size of the army in relation to the total population, Mirabeau said later: "Prussia, is not a state with an army, but an army with a state." Frederick William also settled more than 20,000 Protestant refugees from Salzburg in thinly populated eastern Prussia, which was eventually extended to the west bank of the River Memel, and other regions. In the treaty of Stockholm (1720), he acquired half of Swedish Pomerania.
The king died in 1740 and was succeeded by his son, Frederick II, whose accomplishments led to his reputation as "Frederick the Great". As crown prince, Frederick had focused, primarily, on philosophy and the arts. He was an accomplished flute player. In 1740, Prussian troops crossed over the undefended border of Silesia and occupied Schweidnitz. Silesia was the richest province of Habsburg Austria. It signalled the beginning of three Silesian Wars (1740–1763). The First Silesian War (1740–1742) and the Second Silesian War (1744–1745) have, historically, been grouped together with the general European war called the War of Austrian Succession (1740–1748). Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI had died on 20 October 1740. He was succeeded to the throne by his daughter, Maria Theresa.
By defeating the Austrian Army at the Battle of Mollwitz on 10 April 1741, Frederick succeeded in conquering Lower Silesia (the northwestern half of Silesia). In the next year, 1742, he conquered Upper Silesia (the southeastern half). Furthermore, in the third Silesian War (usually grouped with the Seven Years' War) Frederick won a victory over Austria at the Battle of Lobositz on 1 October 1756. In spite of some impressive victories afterward, his situation became far less comfortable the following years, as he failed in his attempts to knock Austria out of the war and was gradually reduced to a desperate defensive war. However, he never gave up and on 3 November 1760 the Prussian king won another battle, the hard-fought Battle of Torgau. Despite being several times on the verge of defeat Frederick, allied with Great Britain, Hanover and Hesse-Kassel, was finally able to hold the whole of Silesia against a coalition of Saxony, Austria, France and Russia. Voltaire, a close friend of the king, once described Frederick the Great's Prussia by saying "...it was Sparta in the morning, Athens in the afternoon." From these wars onwards the Austria–Prussia rivalry dominated German politics until 1866.
Silesia, full of rich soils and prosperous manufacturing towns, became a vital region to Prussia, greatly increasing the nation's area, population, and wealth. Success on the battleground against Austria and other powers proved Prussia's status as one of the great powers of Europe. The Silesian Wars began more than a century of rivalry and conflict between Prussia and Austria as the two most powerful states operating within the Holy Roman Empire (although both had extensive territory outside the empire). In 1744, the County of East Frisia fell to Prussia following the extinction of its ruling Cirksena dynasty.
In the last 23 years of his reign until 1786, Frederick II, who understood himself as the "first servant of the state", promoted the development of Prussian areas such as the Oderbruch. At the same time he built up Prussia's military power and participated in the First Partition of Poland with Austria and Russia (1772), an act that geographically connected the Brandenburg territories with those of Prussia proper. During this period, he also opened Prussia's borders to immigrants fleeing from religious persecution in other parts of Europe, such as the Huguenots. Prussia became a safe haven in much the same way that the United States welcomed immigrants seeking freedom in the 19th century.
Frederick the Great, the first "King of Prussia", practised enlightened absolutism. He introduced a general civil code, abolished torture and established the principle that the Crown would not interfere in matters of justice. He also promoted an advanced secondary education, the forerunner of today's German gymnasium (grammar school) system, which prepares the brightest pupils for university studies. The Prussian education system was emulated in various countries, including the United States.
During the reign of King Frederick William II (1786–1797), Prussia annexed additional Polish territory through further Partitions of Poland. His successor, Frederick William III (1797–1840), announced the union of the Prussian Lutheran and Reformed churches into one church.
Prussia took a leading part in the French Revolutionary Wars, but remained quiet for more than a decade due to the Peace of Basel of 1795, only to go once more to war with France in 1806 as negotiations with that country over the allocation of the spheres of influence in Germany failed. Prussia suffered a devastating defeat against Napoleon Bonaparte's troops in the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt, leading Frederick William III and his family to flee temporarily to Memel. Under the Treaties of Tilsit in 1807, the state lost about one third of its area, including the areas gained from the second and third Partitions of Poland, which now fell to the Duchy of Warsaw. Beyond that, the king was obliged to pay a large indemnity, to cap his army at 42,000 men, and to let the French garrison troops throughout Prussia, effectively making the Kingdom a French satellite.
In response to this defeat, reformers such as Stein and Hardenberg set about modernising the Prussian state. Among their reforms were the liberation of peasants from serfdom, the Emancipation of Jews and making full citizens of them. The school system was rearranged, and in 1818 free trade was introduced. The process of army reform ended in 1813 with the introduction of compulsory military service. By 1813, Prussia could mobilize almost 300,000 soldiers, more than half of which were conscripts of the Landwehr of variable quality. The rest consisted of regular soldiers that were deemed excellent by most observers, and very determined to repair the humiliation of 1806.
After the defeat of Napoleon in Russia, Prussia quit its alliance with France and took part in the Sixth Coalition during the "Wars of Liberation" (Befreiungskriege) against the French occupation. Prussian troops under Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher contributed crucially (with the British) in the Battle of Waterloo of June 1815 to the final victory over Napoleon. Prussia's reward in 1815 at the Congress of Vienna was the recovery of her lost territories, as well as the whole of the Rhineland, Westphalia, 40% of Saxony and some other territories. These western lands were of vital importance because they included the Ruhr Area, the centre of Germany's fledgling industrialisation, especially in the arms industry. These territorial gains also meant the doubling of Prussia's population. In exchange, Prussia withdrew from areas of central Poland to allow the creation of Congress Poland under Russian sovereignty. In 1815 Prussia became part of the German Confederation.
The first half of the 19th century saw a prolonged struggle in Germany between liberals, who wanted a united, federal Germany under a democratic constitution, and conservatives, who wanted to maintain Germany as a patchwork of independent, monarchical states with Prussia and Austria competing for influence. One small movement that signaled a desire for German unification in this period was the Burschenschaft student movement, by students who encouraged the use of the black-red-gold flag, discussions of a unified German nation, and a progressive, liberal political system. Because of Prussia's size and economic importance, smaller states began to join its free trade area in the 1820s. Prussia benefited greatly from the creation in 1834 of the German Customs Union (Zollverein), which included most German states but excluded Austria.
In 1848 the liberals saw an opportunity when revolutions broke out across Europe. Alarmed, King Frederick William IV agreed to convene a National Assembly and grant a constitution. When the Frankfurt Parliament offered Frederick William the crown of a united Germany, he refused on the grounds that he would not accept a crown from a revolutionary assembly without the sanction of Germany's other monarchs.
The Frankfurt Parliament was forced to dissolve in 1849, and Frederick William issued Prussia's first constitution by his own authority in 1850. This conservative document provided for a two-house parliament. The lower house, or Landtag was elected by all taxpayers, who were divided into three classes whose votes were weighted according to the amount of taxes paid. Women and those who paid no taxes had no vote. This allowed just over one-third of the voters to choose 85% of the legislature, all but assuring dominance by the more well-to-do men of the population. The upper house, which was later renamed the Herrenhaus ("House of Lords"), was appointed by the king. He retained full executive authority and ministers were responsible only to him. As a result, the grip of the landowning classes, the Junkers, remained unbroken, especially in the eastern provinces.
In 1862 King Wilhelm I appointed Otto von Bismarck as Prime Minister of Prussia. Bismarck was determined to defeat both the liberals and conservatives and increase Prussian supremacy and influence among the German states. There has been much debate as to whether Bismarck actually planned to create a united Germany when he set out on this journey, or whether he simply took advantage of the circumstances that fell into place. Certainly his memoirs paint a rosy picture of an idealist, but these were written with the benefit of hindsight and certain crucial events could not have been predicted. What is clear is that Bismarck curried support from large sections of the people by promising to lead the fight for greater German unification. He eventually guided Prussia through three wars, which together brought William the position of German Emperor.
The Kingdom of Denmark was at the time in personal union with the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein, both of which had close ties with each other, although only Holstein was part of the German Confederation. When the Danish government tried to integrate Schleswig, but not Holstein, into the Danish state, Prussia led the German Confederation against Denmark in the First War of Schleswig (1848–1851). Because Russia supported Austria, Prussia also conceded predominance in the German Confederation to Austria in the Punctation of Olmütz in 1850.
In 1863, Denmark introduced a shared constitution for Denmark and Schleswig. This led to conflict with the German Confederation, which authorised the occupation of Holstein by the Confederation, from which Danish forces withdrew. In 1864, Prussian and Austrian forces crossed the border between Holstein and Schleswig initiating the Second War of Schleswig. The Austro-Prussian forces defeated the Danes, who surrendered both territories. In the resulting Gastein Convention of 1865 Prussia took over the administration of Schleswig while Austria assumed that of Holstein.
Bismarck realised that the dual administration of Schleswig and Holstein was only a temporary solution, and tensions rose between Prussia and Austria. The struggle for supremacy in Germany then led to the Austro-Prussian War (1866), triggered by the dispute over Schleswig and Holstein.
On the Austrian side stood the south German states (including Bavaria and Württemberg), some central German states (including Saxony), and Hanover in the north. On the side of Prussia were Italy, most north German states, and some smaller central German states. Eventually, the better-armed Prussian troops won the crucial victory at the Battle of Königgrätz under Helmuth von Moltke the Elder. The century-long struggle between Berlin and Vienna for dominance of Germany was now over. As a side show in this war, Prussia defeated Hanover in the Battle of Langensalza (1866). While Hanover hoped in vain for help from Britain (as they had previously been in personal union), Britain stayed out of a confrontation with a continental great power and Prussia satisfied its desire for merging the once separate territories and gaining strong economic and strategic power, particularly from the full access to the resources of the Ruhr.
Bismarck desired Austria as an ally in the future, and so he declined to annex any Austrian territory. But in the Peace of Prague in 1866, Prussia annexed four of Austria's allies in northern and central Germany—Hanover, Hesse-Kassel (or Hesse-Cassel), Nassau and Frankfurt. Prussia also won full control of Schleswig-Holstein. As a result of these territorial gains, Prussia now stretched uninterrupted across the northern two-thirds of Germany and contained two-thirds of Germany's population. The German Confederation was dissolved, and Prussia impelled the 21 states north of the Main River into forming the North German Confederation.
Prussia was the dominant state in the new confederation, as the kingdom comprised almost four-fifths of the new state's territory and population. Prussia's near-total control over the confederation was secured in the constitution drafted for it by Bismarck in 1867. Executive power was held by a president, assisted by a chancellor responsible only to him. The presidency was a hereditary office of the Hohenzollern rulers of Prussia. There was also a two-house parliament. The lower house, or Reichstag (Diet), was elected by universal male suffrage. The upper house, or Bundesrat (Federal Council) was appointed by the state governments. The Bundesrat was, in practice, the stronger chamber. Prussia had 17 of 43 votes, and could easily control proceedings through alliances with the other states.
As a result of the peace negotiations, the states south of the Main remained theoretically independent, but received the (compulsory) protection of Prussia. Additionally, mutual defence treaties were concluded. However, the existence of these treaties was kept secret until Bismarck made them public in 1867, when France tried to acquire Luxembourg.
The controversy with the Second French Empire over the candidacy of a Hohenzollern to the Spanish throne was escalated both by France and Bismarck. With his Ems Dispatch, Bismarck took advantage of an incident in which the French ambassador had approached William. The government of Napoleon III, expecting another civil war among the German states, declared war against Prussia, continuing Franco-German enmity. However, honouring their treaties, the German states joined forces and quickly defeated France in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. Following victory under Bismarck's and Prussia's leadership, Baden, Württemberg and Bavaria, which had remained outside the North German Confederation, accepted incorporation into a united German Empire.
The empire was a "Lesser German" solution (in German, "kleindeutsche Lösung") to the question of uniting all German-speaking peoples into one state, because it excluded Austria, which remained connected to Hungary and whose territories included non-German populations. On 18 January 1871 (the 170th anniversary of the coronation of King Frederick I), William was proclaimed "German Emperor" (not "Emperor of Germany") in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles outside Paris, while the French capital was still under siege.
The two decades after the unification of Germany were the peak of Prussia's fortunes, but the seeds for potential strife were built into the Prusso-German political system.
The constitution of the German Empire was a slightly amended version of the North German Confederation's constitution. Officially, the German Empire was a federal state. In practice, Prussia's relationship with the rest of the empire was somewhat confusing. The Hohenzollern kingdom included three-fifths of the German territory and two-thirds of its population. The Imperial German Army was, in practice, an enlarged Prussian army, although the other kingdoms (Bavaria, Saxony and Württemberg) retained their own armies. The imperial crown was a hereditary office of the House of Hohenzollern, the royal house of Prussia. The prime minister of Prussia was, except for two brief periods (January–November 1873 and 1892–94), also imperial chancellor. But the empire itself had no right to collect taxes directly from its subjects; the only incomes fully under federal control were the customs duties, common excise duties, and the revenue from postal and telegraph services. While all men above age 25 were eligible to vote in imperial elections, Prussia retained its restrictive three-class voting system. This effectively required the king/emperor and prime minister/chancellor to seek majorities from legislatures elected by two different franchises. In both the kingdom and the empire, the original constituencies were never redrawn to reflect changes in population, meaning that rural areas were grossly overrepresented by the turn of the 20th century.
As a result, Prussia and the German Empire were something of a paradox. Bismarck knew that his new German Reich was now a colossus out of all proportion to the rest of the continent. With this in mind, he declared Germany a satisfied power, using his talents to preserve peace, for example at the Congress of Berlin. Bismarck had barely any success in some of his domestic policies, such as the anti-Catholic Kulturkampf, but he also had mixed success on ones like Germanisation or expulsion of Poles of foreign nationality (Russian or Austro-Hungarian).
Frederick III, became emperor in March 1888, after the death of his father, but he died of cancer only 99 days later.
At age 29, William became Emperor William II after a difficult youth and conflicts with his British mother Victoria, Princess Royal. He turned out to be a man of limited experience, narrow and reactionary views, poor judgment, and occasional bad temper, which alienated former friends and allies.
Prussia nationalised its railways in the 1880s in an effort both to lower rates on freight service and to equalise those rates among shippers. Instead of lowering rates as far as possible, the government ran the railways as a profitmaking endeavour, and the railway profits became a major source of revenue for the state. The nationalisation of the railways slowed the economic development of Prussia because the state favoured the relatively backward agricultural areas in its railway building. Moreover, the railway surpluses substituted for the development of an adequate tax system.
Because of the German Revolution of 1918, Wilhelm II abdicated as German Emperor and King of Prussia. Prussia was proclaimed a "Free State" (i.e. a republic, German: Freistaat) within the new Weimar Republic and in 1920 received a democratic constitution.
Almost all of Germany's territorial losses, specified in the Treaty of Versailles, were areas that had been part of Prussia: Eupen and Malmedy to Belgium; North Schleswig to Denmark; the Memel Territory to Lithuania; the Hultschin area to Czechoslovakia. Many of the areas Prussia annexed in the partitions of Poland, such as the Provinces of Posen and West Prussia, as well as eastern Upper Silesia, went to the Second Polish Republic. Danzig became the Free City of Danzig under the administration of the League of Nations. Also, the Saargebiet was created mainly from formerly Prussian territories. East Prussia became an exclave, only reachable by ship (the Sea Service East Prussia) or by a railway through the Polish corridor.
The German government seriously considered breaking up Prussia into smaller states, but eventually traditionalist sentiment prevailed and Prussia became by far the largest state of the Weimar Republic, comprising 60% of its territory. With the abolition of the older Prussian franchise, it became a stronghold of the left. Its incorporation of "Red Berlin" and the industrialised Ruhr Area, both with working class majorities, ensured left-wing dominance.
From 1919 to 1932, Prussia was governed by a coalition of the Social Democrats, Catholic Centre and German Democrats; from 1921 to 1925, coalition governments included the German People's Party. Unlike in other states of the German Reich, majority rule by democratic parties in Prussia was never endangered. Nevertheless, in East Prussia and some rural areas, the Nazi Party of Adolf Hitler gained more and more influence and popular support, especially from the lower middle class starting in 1930. Except for Catholic Upper Silesia, the Nazi Party in 1932 became the largest party in most parts of the Free State of Prussia. However, the democratic parties in coalition remained a majority, while Communists and Nazis were in the opposition.
The East Prussian Otto Braun, who was Prussian minister-president almost continuously from 1920 to 1932, is considered one of the most capable Social Democrats in history. He implemented several trend-setting reforms together with his minister of the interior, Carl Severing, which were also models for the later Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). For instance, a Prussian minister-president could be forced out of office only if there was a "positive majority" for a potential successor. This concept, known as the constructive vote of no confidence, was carried over into the Basic Law of the FRG. Most historians regard the Prussian government during this time as far more successful than that of Germany as a whole.
In contrast to its pre-war authoritarianism, Prussia was a pillar of democracy in the Weimar Republic. This system was destroyed by the Preußenschlag ("Prussian coup") of Reich Chancellor Franz von Papen. In this coup d'état, the government of the Reich deposed the Prussian government on 20 July 1932, under the pretext that the latter had lost control of public order in Prussia (during the Bloody Sunday of Altona, Hamburg, which was still part of Prussia at that time) and by using fabricated evidence that the Social Democrats and the Communists were planning a joint putsch. The Defence Minister General Kurt von Schleicher, who was the prime mover behind the coup manufactured evidence that the Prussian police under Braun's orders were favouring the Communist Rotfrontkämpferbund in street clashes with the SA as part of an alleged plan to foment a Marxist revolution, which he used to get an emergency decree from President Paul von Hindenburg imposing Reich control on Prussia. Papen appointed himself Reich commissioner for Prussia and took control of the government. The Preußenschlag made it easier, only half a year later, for Hitler to take power decisively in Germany, since he had the whole apparatus of the Prussian government, including the police, at his disposal.
After the appointment of Hitler as the new chancellor, the Nazis used the absence of Franz von Papen as an opportunity to appoint Hermann Göring federal commissioner for the Prussian ministry of the interior. The Reichstag election of 5 March 1933 strengthened the position of the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP or "Nazi" Party), although they did not achieve an absolute majority.
The Reichstag building having been set on fire a few weeks earlier on 27 February, a new Reichstag was opened in the Garrison Church of Potsdam on 21 March 1933 in the presence of President Paul von Hindenburg. In a propaganda-filled meeting between Hitler and the Nazi Party, the "marriage of old Prussia with young Germany" was celebrated, to win over the Prussian monarchists, conservatives and nationalists and induce them into supporting and subsequently voting in favor of the Enabling Act of 1933.
In the centralised state created by the Nazis in the "Law on the Reconstruction of the Reich" ("Gesetz über den Neuaufbau des Reichs", 30 January 1934) and the "Law on Reich Governors" ("Reichsstatthaltergesetz", 30 January 1935) the states were dissolved, in fact if not in law. The federal state governments were now controlled by governors for the Reich who were appointed by the chancellor. Parallel to that, the organisation of the party into districts (Gaue) gained increasing importance, as the official in charge of a Gau (the head of which was called a Gauleiter) was again appointed by the chancellor who was at the same time chief of the Nazi Party.
This centralistic policy went even further in Prussia. From 1934 to 1945, almost all ministries were merged and only a few departments were able to maintain their independence. Hitler himself became formally the governor of Prussia. However, his functions were exercised by Hermann Göring as Prussian prime minister.
As provided for in the "Greater Hamburg Act" ("Groß-Hamburg-Gesetz"), certain exchanges of territory took place. Prussia was extended on 1 April 1937, for instance, by the incorporation of the Free and Hanseatic City of Lübeck.
The Prussian lands transferred to Poland after the Treaty of Versailles were re-annexed during World War II. However, most of this territory was not reintegrated back into Prussia but assigned to separate Gaue of Danzig-West Prussia and Wartheland during much of the duration of the war.
The areas east of the Oder-Neisse line, mainly Eastern Prussia, Western Prussia, and Silesia, were ceded over to Poland in 1945 due to the Treaty of Potsdam between three of the Allies: the United States, United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union. This included important Prussian cities like Danzig, Königsberg, Breslau, and Stettin. The population fled, mostly to the Western zones, or was driven out. The number of casualties is estimated 2 to 4 million, including those who fled the Soviet army during the last months of the war before the treaty.
As part of their wartime goals, the Western allies sought the abolition of Prussia. Stalin was initially content to retain the name, Russians having a different historical view of their neighbour and sometime former ally. Nonetheless by Law No. 46, which was accepted and implemented by the Allied Control Council on 25 February 1947, Prussia was officially proclaimed to be dissolved.
In the Soviet occupation zone, which became East Germany (officially, the German Democratic Republic) in 1949, the former Prussian territories were reorganised into the states of Brandenburg and Saxony-Anhalt, with the remaining parts of the Province of Pomerania going to Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. These states were de facto abolished in 1952 in favour of Bezirke (districts), but were recreated after German reunification in 1990.
In the Western Zones of occupation, which became West Germany (officially, the Federal Republic of Germany) in 1949, the former Prussian territories were divided up among North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony, Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate and Schleswig-Holstein. Württemberg-Baden and Württemberg-Hohenzollern were later merged with Baden to create the state of Baden-Württemberg. The Saar region, which had been administered by the French as a protectorate separate from the rest of Western Germany, was admitted to the Federal Republic of Germany as a separate state in 1956 following a plebiscite.
One year later, in 1957, the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation was established and implemented by federal statutes in West Germany in response to a ruling from the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany. The fundamental goal of this institution is protecting the cultural legacy of Prussia. It continues to operate from its headquarters in Berlin to this very day.
In the mid-16th century the margraves of Brandenburg had become highly dependent on the Estates (representing counts, lords, knights, and towns, but not prelates, due to the Protestant Reformation in 1538). The margraviate's liabilities and tax income as well as the margrave's finances were in the hands of the Kreditwerk, an institution not controlled by the elector, and of the Großer Ausschuß ("Great Committee") of the Estates. This was due to concessions made by Elector Joachim II in 1541 in return for financial aid by the estates; however, the Kreditwerk went bankrupt between 1618 and 1625. The margraves further had to yield to the veto of the Estates in all issues concerning the "better or worse of the country", in all legal commitments, and in all issues concerning pawn or sale of the elector's real property.
To reduce the influence of the Estates, in 1604, Joachim Frederick created a council called Geheimer Rat für die Kurmark ("Privy Council for the Electorate", which instead of the Estates would function as the supreme advisory council for the elector. While the council was permanently established in 1613, it failed to gain any influence until 1651, due to the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648)
Until after the Thirty Years' War, the various territories of Brandenburg-Prussia remained politically independent from each other, connected only by the common feudal superior. Frederick William (ruled 1640–1688), who envisioned the transformation of the personal union into a real union, started to centralise the Brandenburg-Prussian government with an attempt to establish the Geheimer Rat as a central authority for all territories in 1651, but this project proved infeasible. Instead, the elector continued to appoint a governor (Kurfürstlicher Rat) for each territory, who in most cases was a member of the Geheimer Rat. The most powerful institution in the territories remained the governments of the estates (Landständische Regierung, named Oberratsstube in Prussia and Geheime Landesregierung in Mark and Cleves), which were the highest government agencies regarding jurisdiction, finances and administration. The elector attempted to balance the Estates' governments by creating Amtskammer chambers to administer and coordinate the elector's domains, tax income and privileges. Such chambers were introduced in Brandenburg in 1652, in Cleves and Mark in 1653, in Pomerania in 1654, in Prussia in 1661 and in Magdeburg in 1680. Also in 1680, the Kreditwerk came under the aegis of the elector.
Frederick William I's excise tax (Akzise), which from 1667 replaced the property tax raised in Brandenburg for Brandenburg-Prussia's standing army with the Estates' consent, was raised by the elector without consultation with the Estates. The conclusion of the Second Northern War of 1655–1660 had strengthened the elector politically, enabling him to reform the constitution of Cleves and Mark in 1660 and 1661 to introduce officials loyal to him and independent of the local estates. In the Duchy of Prussia he confirmed the traditional privileges of the Estates in 1663, but the latter accepted the caveat that these privileges were not to be used to interfere with the exertion of the elector's sovereignty. As in Brandenburg, Frederick William ignored the privilege of the Prussian Estates to confirm or veto taxes raised by the elector: while in 1656, an Akzise was raised with the Estates' consent, the elector by force collected taxes not approved by the Prussian Estates for the first time in 1674. From 1704 the Prussian estates de facto relinquished their right to approve the elector's taxes while formally still entitled to do so. In 1682 the elector introduced an Akzise to Pomerania and in 1688 to Magdeburg, while in Cleves and Mark an Akzise was introduced only between 1716 and 1720. Due to Frederick William I's reforms, the state income increased threefold during his reign, and the tax burden per subject reached a level twice as high as in France.
Under the rule of Frederick III (I) (in office: 1688–1713), the Brandenburg Prussian territories were de facto reduced to provinces of the monarchy. Frederick William's testament would have divided Brandenburg-Prussia among his sons, but his firstborn son Frederick III (I), with the emperor's backing, succeeded in becoming the sole ruler based on the Treaty of Gera of 1599, which forbade a division of Hohenzollern territories. In 1689, a new central chamber for all Brandenburg-Prussian territories was established, called Geheime Hofkammer (from 1713: Generalfinanzdirektorium). This chamber functioned as a superior agency of the territories' Amtskammer chambers. The General War Commissariat (Generalkriegskommissariat) emerged as a second central agency, superior to the local Kriegskommissariat agencies initially concerned with the administration of the army, but before 1712 transformed into an agency also concerned with general tax and police tasks.
The Kingdom of Prussia functioned as an absolute monarchy until the Revolutions of 1848 in the German states, after which Prussia became a constitutional monarchy and Adolf Heinrich von Arnim-Boitzenburg was elected as Prussia's first prime minister (Ministerpräsident). Prussia's first constitution dated from 1848. The 1850 Prussian Constitution established a two-chamber parliament. The lower house, or Landtag represented all taxpayers, who were divided into three classes according to the amount of taxes paid. This allowed just over 25% of the voters to choose 85% of the legislature, all but assuring dominance by the more well-to-do elements of the population. The upper house (First Chamber or Erste Kammer), later renamed the Prussian House of Lords (Herrenhaus), was appointed by the king. He retained full executive authority and ministers were responsible only to him. As a result, the grip of the landowning classes, the Junkers, remained unbroken, especially in the eastern provinces. The Prussian Secret Police, formed in response to the Revolutions of 1848 in the German states, aided the conservative government.
Unlike its authoritarian pre-1918 predecessor, Prussia from 1918 to 1932 was a promising democracy within Germany. The abolition of the political power of the aristocracy transformed Prussia into a region strongly dominated by the left wing of the political spectrum, with "Red Berlin" and the industrial centre of the Ruhr Area exerting major influence. During this period a coalition of centre-left parties ruled, predominantly under the leadership (1920–1932) of East Prussian Social Democrat Otto Braun. While in office Braun implemented several reforms (together with his Minister of the Interior, Carl Severing) that became models for the later Federal Republic of Germany. For instance, a Prussian prime minister could only be forced out of office if there was a "positive majority" for a potential successor. This concept, known as the constructive vote of no confidence, became part of the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany. Most historians regard the Prussian government during the 1920s as far more successful than that of Germany as a whole.
In 1871, Prussia's population numbered 24.69 million, accounting for 60% of the German Empire's population. In 1910, the population had increased to 40.17 million (62% of the Empire's population). In 1914, Prussia had an area of 354,490 km². In May 1939 Prussia had an area of 297,007 km² and a population of 41,915,040 inhabitants. The Principality of Neuenburg, now the Canton of Neuchâtel in Switzerland, was a part of the Prussian kingdom from 1707 to 1848.
The Duchy of Prussia was the first state to officially adopt Lutheranism in 1525. In the wake of the Reformation, Prussia was dominated by two major Protestant confessions: Lutheranism and Calvinism. The majority of the Prussian population was Lutheran, although there were dispersed Reformed minorities in central and western parts of the state especially Brandenburg, Rhineland, Westphalia and Hesse-Nassau. In 1613, John Sigismund, Elector of Brandenburg and Grand Duke of Prussia declared himself for the Reformed creed and transferred the Berlin Cathedral from the Lutheran to the Reformed church. Lutherans and Reformed congregations all over the kingdom were merged in 1817 by the Prussian Union of churches, which came under tight royal control. In Protestant regions, writes Nipperdey:
Much of religious life was often conventional and superficial by any normal, human standard. The state and the bureaucracy kept their distance, preferring to spoon-feed the churches and treat them like children. They saw the churches as channels for education, as a means of instilling morality and obedience, or for propagating useful things, just like bee-keeping or potato-farming.
Prussia received significant Huguenot population after the issuing of the Edict of Fontainebleau by Louis XIV of France and the following dragonnades. Prussian monarchs, beginning with Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg opened the country to the fleeing French Calvinist refugees. In Berlin, they built and worshipped at their own church called the French Cathedral on Gendarmenmarkt. Time passed by, and the French Reformed assimilated into the wider Protestant community in Prussia. East Prussia's southern region of Masuria was mostly made up of Germanised Lutheran Masurians.
After 1814, Prussia contained millions of Roman Catholics in the west and in the east. There were substantial populations in the Rhineland, parts of Westphalia, eastern parts of Silesia, West Prussia, Ermland and the Province of Posen. Communities in Poland were often ethnically Polish, although this is not the case of eastern Silesia as the majority of Catholics there were German. During the 19th-century Kulturkampf, Prussian Catholics were forbidden from fulfilling any official functions for the state and were largely distrusted.
Prussia contained a relatively large Jewish community, which was mostly concentrated in large urban areas. According to the 1880 census, it was the biggest one in Germany with 363,790 individuals.
In 1871, approximately 2.4 million Poles lived in Prussia, constituting the largest minority. Other minorities were Jews, Danes, Frisians, Dutchmen, Kashubians (72,500 in 1905), Masurians (248,000 in 1905), Lithuanians (101,500 in 1905), Walloons, Czechs, Kursenieki, and Sorbs.
The area of Greater Poland, where the Polish nation had originated, became the Province of Posen after the Partitions of Poland. Poles in this Polish-majority province (62% Polish, 38% German) resisted German rule. Also, the southeast portion of Silesia (Upper Silesia) had a Polish majority. But Catholics and Jews did not have equal status with Protestants.
As a result of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, the Second Polish Republic was granted not only these two areas, but also areas with a German majority in the Province of West Prussia. After World War II, East Prussia, Silesia, most of Pomerania and the eastern part of Brandenburg were either annexed by the Soviet Union or given to Poland, and the German-speaking populations forcibly expelled.
The Austro-Prussian War or Seven Weeks' War (also known as the Unification War, the War of 1866, or the Fraternal War, in Germany as the German War, and also by a variety of other names) was a war fought in 1866 between the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia, with each also being aided by various allies within the German Confederation. Prussia had also allied with the Kingdom of Italy, linking this conflict to the Third Independence War of Italian unification. The Austro-Prussian War was part of the wider rivalry between Austria and Prussia, and resulted in Prussian dominance over the German states.
The major result of the war was a shift in power among the German states away from Austrian and towards Prussian hegemony, and impetus towards the unification of all of the northern German states in a Kleindeutsches Reich that excluded the German Austria. It saw the abolition of the German Confederation and its partial replacement by a North German Confederation that excluded Austria and the other South German states. The war also resulted in the Italian annexation of the Austrian province of Venetia.Brandenburg
Brandenburg (German pronunciation: [ˈbʁandn̩bʊɐ̯k] (listen); Low German: Brannenborg, Lower Sorbian: Bramborska, Upper Sorbian: Braniborsko) is a state of Germany.
Brandenburg is located in the northeast of Germany covering an area of 29,478 square kilometres (11,382 sq mi) and has a population of 2.5 million residents, the fifth-largest German state by area and tenth-most populous. Potsdam is the state capital and largest city, while other major cities include Brandenburg an der Havel, Cottbus, and Frankfurt (Oder). Brandenburg surrounds the national capital and city-state of Berlin, which together form the Berlin/Brandenburg Metropolitan Region, the third-largest metropolitan area in Germany. Brandenburg borders the states of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Saxony, and the country of Poland.
Brandenburg originated in the Northern March in the 900s AD from areas conquered from the Wends, and later became the Margraviate of Brandenburg, a major principality of the Holy Roman Empire, with Albert the Bear as prince-elector. In the 17th century Brandenburg came under the rule of the House of Hohenzollern, the rulers of Prussia, who established Brandenburg-Prussia to become the core of the Kingdom of Prussia. Brandenburg became the Province of Brandenburg in 1815, a province within the kingdom and later within the Free State of Prussia. Brandenburg was established as a state in 1945 after World War II by the Soviet army administration in Allied-occupied Germany, and became part of the German Democratic Republic in 1947. Brandenburg was dissolved in 1952 during administrative reforms and its territory divided into the districts of Potsdam, Cottbus, Frankfurt, Neubrandenburg, and Schwerin, but was re-established in 1990 following German reunification, and became one of the Federal Republic of Germany's new states.East Prussia
East Prussia (German: Ostpreußen, pronounced [ˈɔstˌpʁɔʏsn̩] (listen); Polish: Prusy Wschodnie; Lithuanian: Rytų Prūsija; Latin: Borussia orientalis; Russian: Восточная Пруссия, translit. Vostóčnaja Prússija) was a province of the Kingdom of Prussia from 1773 to 1829 and again from 1878 (with the Kingdom itself being part of the German Empire from 1871); following World War I it formed part of the Weimar Republic's Free State of Prussia, until 1945. Its capital city was Königsberg (present-day Kaliningrad). East Prussia was the main part of the region of Prussia along the southeastern Baltic Coast.The bulk of the ancestral lands of the Baltic Old Prussians were enclosed within East Prussia. During the 13th century, the native Prussians were conquered by the crusading Teutonic Knights. After the conquest the indigenous Balts were gradually converted to Christianity. Because of Germanization and colonisation over the following centuries, Germans became the dominant ethnic group, while Masurians and Lithuanians formed minorities. From the 13th century, East Prussia was part of the monastic state of the Teutonic Knights. After the Second Peace of Thorn in 1466 it became a fief of the Kingdom of Poland. In 1525, with the Prussian Homage, the province became the Duchy of Prussia. The Old Prussian language had become extinct by the 17th or early 18th century.Because the duchy was outside of the core Holy Roman Empire, the prince-electors of Brandenburg were able to proclaim themselves King beginning in 1701. After the annexation of most of western Royal Prussia in the First Partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1772, eastern (ducal) Prussia was connected by land with the rest of the Prussian state and was reorganized as a province the following year (1773). Between 1829 and 1878, the Province of East Prussia was joined with West Prussia to form the Province of Prussia.
The Kingdom of Prussia became the leading state of the German Empire after its creation in 1871. However, the Treaty of Versailles following World War I granted West Prussia to Poland and made East Prussia an exclave of Weimar Germany (the new Polish Corridor separated East Prussia from the rest of Germany), while the Memel Territory was detached and annexed by Lithuania in 1923. Following Nazi Germany's defeat in World War II in 1945, war-torn East Prussia was divided at Joseph Stalin's insistence between the Soviet Union (the Kaliningrad Oblast became part of the Russian SFSR, and the constituent counties of the Klaipėda Region in the Lithuanian SSR) and the People's Republic of Poland (the Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship). The capital city Königsberg was renamed Kaliningrad in 1946. The German population of the province was largely evacuated during the war or expelled shortly afterwards in the expulsion of Germans after World War II. An estimated 300,000 (around one fifth of the population) died either in war time bombing raids, in the battles to defend the province, or through mistreatment by the Red Army.Frederick I of Prussia
Frederick I (German: Friedrich I.) (11 July 1657 – 25 February 1713), of the Hohenzollern dynasty, was (as Frederick III) Elector of Brandenburg (1688–1713) and Duke of Prussia in personal union (Brandenburg-Prussia). The latter function he upgraded to royalty, becoming the first King in Prussia (1701–1713). From 1707 he was in personal union the sovereign prince of the Principality of Neuchâtel (German: Fürstentum Neuenburg). He was also the paternal grandfather of Frederick the Great.Frederick William III of Prussia
Frederick William III (German: Friedrich Wilhelm III) (3 August 1770 – 7 June 1840) was king of Prussia from 1797 to 1840. He ruled Prussia during the difficult times of the Napoleonic Wars and the end of the Holy Roman Empire. Steering a careful course between France and her enemies, after a major military defeat in 1806, he eventually and reluctantly joined the coalition against Napoleon in the Befreiungskriege. Following Napoleon's defeat he was King of Prussia during the Congress of Vienna, which assembled to settle the political questions arising from the new, post-Napoleonic order in Europe. He was determined to unify the Protestant churches, to homogenize their liturgy, their organization and even their architecture. The long-term goal was to have fully centralized royal control of all the Protestant churches in the Prussian Union of Churches.Frederick William IV of Prussia
Frederick William IV (German: Friedrich Wilhelm IV.; 15 October 1795 – 2 January 1861), the eldest son and successor of Frederick William III of Prussia, reigned as King of Prussia from 1840 to 1861. Also referred to as the "romanticist on the throne", he is best remembered for the many buildings he had constructed in Berlin and Potsdam, as well as for the completion of the Gothic Cologne Cathedral. In politics, he was a conservative, and in 1849 rejected the title of Emperor of the Germans offered by the Frankfurt Parliament as not the Parliament's to give. In 1857, he suffered a stroke and was left incapacitated until his death. His brother Wilhelm served as regent for the rest of his reign and then succeeded him as King.Frederick William I of Prussia
Frederick William I (German: Friedrich Wilhelm I) (14 August 1688 – 31 May 1740), known as the "Soldier King" (German: Soldatenkönig), was the King in Prussia and Elector of Brandenburg from 1713 until his death in 1740, as well as Prince of Neuchâtel. He was succeeded by his son, Frederick the Great.Frederick the Great
Frederick II (German: Friedrich; 24 January 1712 – 17 August 1786) ruled the Kingdom of Prussia from 1740 until 1786, the longest reign of any Hohenzollern king. His most significant accomplishments during his reign included his military victories, his reorganization of Prussian armies, his patronage of the arts and the Enlightenment and his final success against great odds in the Seven Years' War. Frederick was the last Hohenzollern monarch titled King in Prussia and declared himself King of Prussia after achieving sovereignty over most historically Prussian lands in 1772. Prussia had greatly increased its territories and became a leading military power in Europe under his rule. He became known as Frederick the Great (Friedrich der Große) and was nicknamed Der Alte Fritz ("The Old Fritz") by the Prussian people and eventually the rest of Germany.In his youth, Frederick was more interested in music and philosophy than the art of war. Nonetheless, upon ascending to the Prussian throne he attacked Austria and claimed Silesia during the Silesian Wars, winning military acclaim for himself and Prussia. Toward the end of his reign, Frederick physically connected most of his realm by acquiring Polish territories in the First Partition of Poland. He was an influential military theorist whose analysis emerged from his extensive personal battlefield experience and covered issues of strategy, tactics, mobility and logistics.
Considering himself "the first servant of the state", Frederick was a proponent of enlightened absolutism. He modernized the Prussian bureaucracy and civil service and pursued religious policies throughout his realm that ranged from tolerance to segregation. He reformed the judicial system and made it possible for men not of noble status to become judges and senior bureaucrats. Frederick also encouraged immigrants of various nationalities and faiths to come to Prussia, although he enacted oppressive measures against Polish Catholic subjects in West Prussia. Frederick supported arts and philosophers he favored as well as allowing complete freedom of the press and literature. Frederick is buried at his favorite residence, Sanssouci in Potsdam. Because he died childless, Frederick was succeeded by his nephew, Frederick William II, son of his brother, Augustus William.
Nearly all 19th-century German historians made Frederick into a romantic model of a glorified warrior, praising his leadership, administrative efficiency, devotion to duty and success in building up Prussia to a great power in Europe. Historian Leopold von Ranke was unstinting in his praise of Frederick's "heroic life, inspired by great ideas, filled with feats of arms ... immortalized by the raising of the Prussian state to the rank of a power". Johann Gustav Droysen was even more extolling. Frederick remained an admired historical figure through the German Empire's defeat in World War I. The Nazis glorified him as a great German leader pre-figuring Adolf Hitler, who personally idolized him. Associations with him became far less favorable after the fall of the Nazis, largely due to his status as one of their symbols. However, by the 21st century a re-evaluation of his legacy as a great general and enlightened monarch returned opinion of him to favour.German Confederation
The German Confederation (German: Deutscher Bund) was an association of 39 German-speaking states in Central Europe (adding the mainly non-German speaking Kingdom of Bohemia and Duchy of Carniola), created by the Congress of Vienna in 1815 to coordinate the economies of separate German-speaking countries and to replace the former Holy Roman Empire, which had been dissolved in 1806. The German Confederation excluded German-speaking lands in the eastern portion of the Kingdom of Prussia (East Prussia, West Prussia and Posen), the German cantons of Switzerland, and Alsace within France which was majority German speaking.
The Confederation was weakened by rivalry between the Kingdom of Prussia and the Austrian Empire, revolution, and the inability of the multiple members to compromise. In 1848, revolutions by liberals and nationalists attempted to establish a unified German state with a progressive liberal constitution under the Frankfurt Convention. The ruling body, the Confederate Diet, was dissolved on 12 July 1848, but was re-established in 1850 after failed efforts to replace it.The Confederation was finally dissolved after the Prussian victory in the Seven Weeks' War over Austria in 1866. The dispute over which had the inherent right to rule German lands ended in favour of Prussia, leading to the creation of the North German Confederation under Prussian leadership in 1867, to which the eastern portions of the Kingdom of Prussia were added. A number of South German states remained independent until they joined the North German Confederation, which was renamed and proclaimed as the "German Empire" in 1871 for the now unified Germany with the Prussian king as emperor (Kaiser) after the victory over French Emperor Napoleon III in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.
Most historians have judged the Confederation to have been weak and ineffective, as well as an obstacle to the creation of a German nation-state. However, the Confederation was designed to be weak, as it served the interests of the European Great Powers, especially member states Austria and Prussia.House of Hohenzollern
The House of Hohenzollern [ˈhoːəntsɔlɐn] is a German dynasty of former princes, electors, kings and emperors of Hohenzollern, Brandenburg, Prussia, the German Empire, and Romania. The family arose in the area around the town of Hechingen in Swabia during the 11th century and took their name from Hohenzollern Castle. The first ancestors of the Hohenzollerns were mentioned in 1061.
The Hohenzollern family split into two branches, the Catholic Swabian branch and the Protestant Franconian branch, which later became the Brandenburg-Prussian branch. The Swabian branch ruled the principalities of Hohenzollern-Hechingen and Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen until 1849, and also ruled Romania from 1866 to 1947. Members of the Franconian branch became Margrave of Brandenburg in 1415 and Duke of Prussia in 1525.
The Margraviate of Brandenburg and the Duchy of Prussia were ruled in personal union after 1618 and were called Brandenburg-Prussia. The Kingdom of Prussia was created in 1701, eventually leading to the unification of Germany and the creation of the German Empire in 1871, with the Hohenzollerns as hereditary German Emperors and Kings of Prussia.
Germany's defeat in World War I in 1918 led to the German Revolution. The Hohenzollerns were overthrown and the Weimar Republic was established, thus bringing an end to the German monarchy. Georg Friedrich, Prince of Prussia is the current head of the royal Prussian line, while Karl Friedrich, Prince of Hohenzollern is the head of the princely Swabian line.Iron Cross
The Iron Cross (German: Eisernes Kreuz , abbreviated EK) is a former military decoration in the Kingdom of Prussia, and later in the German Empire (1871–1918) and Nazi Germany (1933–1945). It was established by King Frederick William III of Prussia in March 1813 backdated to the birthday of his late wife Queen Louise on 10 March 1813 during the Napoleonic Wars (EK 1813). Louise was the first person to receive this decoration (posthumously). The recommissioned Iron Cross was also awarded during the Franco-Prussian War (EK 1870), World War I (EK 1914), and World War II (EK 1939, re-introduced with a swastika added in the center).
The Iron Cross was normally a military decoration only, though there were instances of it being awarded to civilians for performing military functions. Two examples of this were civilian test pilots Hanna Reitsch who was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class and 1st Class and Melitta Schenk Gräfin von Stauffenberg, who was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class, for their actions as pilots during World War II.
The design of the cross symbol was black with a white or silver outline, was ultimately derived from the cross pattée of the Teutonic Order, used by knights on occasions from the 13th century.The Prussian Army black cross pattée was also used as the symbol of the succeeding German Army from 1871 to March/April 1918, when it was replaced by the Balkenkreuz. In 1956, it was re-introduced as the symbol of the Bundeswehr, the modern German armed forces.Kingdom of Prussia
The Kingdom of Prussia (German: Königreich Preußen) was a German kingdom that constituted the state of Prussia between 1701 and 1918. It was the driving force behind the unification of Germany in 1871 and was the leading state of the German Empire until its dissolution in 1918. Although it took its name from the region called Prussia, it was based in the Margraviate of Brandenburg, where its capital was Berlin.
The kings of Prussia were from the House of Hohenzollern. Prussia was a great power from the time it became a kingdom, through its predecessor, Brandenburg-Prussia, which became a military power under Frederick William, known as "The Great Elector". Prussia continued its rise to power under the guidance of Frederick II, more commonly known as Frederick the Great, who was the third son of Frederick William I. Frederick the Great was instrumental in starting the Seven Years' War, holding his own against Austria, Russia, France and Sweden and establishing Prussia's role in the German states, as well as establishing the country as a European great power. After the might of Prussia was revealed it was considered as a major power among the German states. Throughout the next hundred years Prussia went on to win many battles, and many wars. Because of its power, Prussia continuously tried to unify all the German states (excluding the German cantons in Switzerland) under its rule, although whether Austria would be included in such a unified German domain was an ongoing question.
After the Napoleonic Wars led to the creation of the German Confederation, the issue of more closely unifying the many German states caused revolution throughout the German states, with each wanting its own constitution. Attempts at creation of a federation remained unsuccessful and the German Confederation collapsed in 1866 when war ensued between its two most powerful member states, Prussia and Austria. The North German Confederation, which lasted from 1867 to 1871, created a closer union between the Prussian-aligned states while Austria and most of Southern Germany remained independent. The North German Confederation was seen as more of an alliance of military strength in the aftermath of the Austro-Prussian War but many of its laws were later used in the German Empire. The German Empire lasted from 1871 to 1918 with the successful unification of all the German states under Prussian hegemony, this was due to the defeat of Napoleon III in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71. The war united all the German states against a common enemy, and with the victory came an overwhelming wave of nationalism which changed the opinions of some of those who had been against unification. In 1871, Germany unified into a single country, minus Austria and Switzerland, with Prussia the dominant power.Prussia is considered the legal predecessor of the unified German Reich (1871–1945) and as such a direct ancestor of today's Federal Republic of Germany. The formal abolition of Prussia, carried out on 25 February 1947 by the fiat of the Allied Control Council referred to an alleged tradition of the kingdom as a bearer of militarism and reaction, and made way for the current setup of the German states. However, the Free State of Prussia (Freistaat Preußen), which followed the abolition of the Kingdom of Prussia in the aftermath of World War I, was a major democratic force in Weimar Germany until the nationalist coup of 1932 known as the Preußenschlag. The Kingdom left a significant cultural legacy, today notably promoted by the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (SPK)), which has become one of the largest cultural organisations in the world.Königsberg
Königsberg (UK: , US: , German: [ˈkøːnɪçsˌbɛɐ̯k] (listen)) is the name for a former German city that is now Kaliningrad, Russia. Originally a Sambian or Old Prussian city, it later belonged to the State of the Teutonic Order, the Duchy of Prussia, the Kingdom of Prussia, the German Empire, the Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany until 1945. After being largely destroyed in World War II by Allied bombing and
Soviet forces and annexed by the Soviet Union thereafter, the city was renamed Kaliningrad. Few traces of the former Königsberg remain today.
The literal meaning of Königsberg is 'King’s Mountain'. In the local Low German dialect, spoken by many of its German former inhabitants, the name was Kenigsbarg (pronounced [ˈkʰeːnɪçsbarç]). Further names included Russian: Кёнигсберг, Королевец, tr. Kyonigsberg, Korolevets, Old Prussian: Kunnegsgarbs, Knigsberg, Lithuanian: Karaliaučius, Polish: Królewiec and Yiddish: קעניגסבערג Kenigsberg.
Königsberg was founded in 1255 on the site of the ancient Old Prussian settlement Twangste by the Teutonic Knights during the Northern Crusades, and was named in honour of King Ottokar II of Bohemia. A Baltic port city, it successively became the capital of their monastic state, the Duchy of Prussia (1525–1701) and East Prussia. Königsberg remained the coronation city of the Prussian monarchy, though the capital was moved to Berlin in 1701.
A university city, home of the Albertina University (founded in 1544), Königsberg developed into an important German intellectual and cultural centre, being the residence of Simon Dach, Immanuel Kant, Käthe Kollwitz, E. T. A. Hoffmann, David Hilbert, Agnes Miegel, Hannah Arendt, Michael Wieck and others.
Between the thirteenth and the twentieth centuries, the inhabitants spoke predominantly German, but the multicultural city also had a profound influence on the Lithuanian and Polish cultures. The city was a publishing centre of Lutheran literature, including the first Polish translation of the New Testament, printed in the city in 1551, the first book in the Lithuanian language and the first Lutheran catechism, both printed in Königsberg in 1547.
Königsberg was the easternmost large city in Germany until World War II. The city was heavily damaged by Allied bombing in 1944 and during the Battle of Königsberg in 1945; it was then captured and was given to the Soviet Union on 9 April 1945. Its German population was expelled, and the city was repopulated with Russians and others from the Soviet Union. Briefly Russified as Kyonigsberg (Кёнигсберг), it was renamed "Kaliningrad" in 1946 in honour of Soviet leader Mikhail Kalinin. It is now the capital of Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast, an exclave bordered in the north by Lithuania and in the south by Poland.
There has been some discussion of the territory's current legal status, although this is largely academic. The Potsdam Agreement of 1945 placed it provisionally under Soviet administration, as agreed by Churchill and Roosevelt. In the Final Settlement treaty of 1990, Germany renounced all claim to it.North German Confederation
The North German Confederation (German: Norddeutscher Bund) was the German federal state which existed from July 1867 to December 1870. It was said to be lead by Prussia. Some historians also use the name for the alliance of 22 German states formed on 18 August 1866 (Augustbündnis). In 1870–1871, the south German states of Baden, Hesse-Darmstadt, Württemberg and Bavaria joined the country. On 1 January 1871, the country adopted a new constitution, which was written under the title of a new "German Confederation" but already gave it the name "German Empire" in the preamble and article 11.
The federal constitution established a constitutional monarchy with the Prussian king as the bearer of the Bundespräsidium, or head of state. Laws could only be enabled with the consent of the Reichstag (a parliament based on universal male suffrage) and the Federal Council (a representation of the states). During the four years of the North German Confederation, a conservative-liberal cooperation undertook important steps to unify (Northern) Germany with regard to law and infrastructure. The political system (and the political parties) remained essentially the same in the years after 1870.
The North German Confederation had nearly 30 million inhabitants, of whom eighty percent lived in Prussia. Three quarters of the people of the 1871 Empire had already been "North German"'.Otto von Bismarck
Otto Eduard Leopold, Prince of Bismarck, Duke of Lauenburg (Born von Bismarck-Schönhausen; German: Otto Eduard Leopold Fürst von Bismarck, Herzog zu Lauenburg; 1 April 1815 – 30 July 1898), known as Otto von Bismarck (German: [ˈɔtoː fɔn ˈbɪsmark] (listen)), was a conservative Prussian statesman who dominated German and European affairs from the 1860s until 1890 and was the first Chancellor of the German Empire between 1871 and 1890.
In 1862, King Wilhelm I appointed Bismarck as Minister President of Prussia, a position he would hold until 1890, with the exception of a short break in 1873. He provoked three short, decisive wars against Denmark, Austria, and France. Following the victory against Austria, he abolished the supranational German Confederation and instead formed the North German Confederation as the first German national state in 1867, leading it as Federal Chancellor. This aligned the smaller North German states behind Prussia. Later receiving the support of the independent South German states in the Confederation's defeat of France, he formed the German Empire in 1871, unifying Germany with himself as Imperial Chancellor, while retaining control of Prussia at the same time. The new German nation excluded Austria, which had been Prussia's main opponent for predominance among the German states.
With that accomplished by 1871, he skillfully used balance of power diplomacy to maintain Germany's position in a Europe which, despite many disputes and war scares, remained at peace. For historian Eric Hobsbawm, it was Bismarck who "remained undisputed world champion at the game of multilateral diplomatic chess for almost twenty years after 1871, [and] devoted himself exclusively, and successfully, to maintaining peace between the powers". However, his annexation of Alsace-Lorraine gave new fuel to French nationalism and promoted Germanophobia in France. This helped set the stage for the First World War.
Bismarck's diplomacy of realpolitik and powerful rule at home gained him the nickname the "Iron Chancellor". German unification and its rapid economic growth was the foundation to his foreign policy. He disliked colonialism but reluctantly built an overseas empire when it was demanded by both elite and mass opinion. Juggling a very complex interlocking series of conferences, negotiations and alliances, he used his diplomatic skills to maintain Germany's position and used the balance of power to keep Europe at peace in the 1870s and 1880s.
A master of complex politics at home, Bismarck created the first welfare state in the modern world, with the goal of gaining working class support that might otherwise go to his Socialist enemies. In the 1870s, he allied himself with the Liberals (who were low-tariff and anti-Catholic) and fought the Catholic Church in what was called the Kulturkampf ("culture struggle"). He lost that battle as the Catholics responded by forming a powerful Centre party and using universal male suffrage to gain a bloc of seats. Bismarck then reversed himself, ended the Kulturkampf, broke with the Liberals, imposed protective tariffs, and formed a political alliance with the Centre Party to fight the Socialists. A devout Lutheran, he was loyal to his king, who argued with Bismarck but in the end supported him against the advice of his wife and his heir. While the Reichstag, Germany's parliament, was elected by universal male suffrage, it did not have much control of government policy. Bismarck distrusted democracy and ruled through a strong, well-trained bureaucracy with power in the hands of a traditional Junker elite that consisted of the landed nobility in eastern Prussia. Under Wilhelm I, Bismarck largely controlled domestic and foreign affairs, until he was removed by the young Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1890, at the age of seventy-five.
Bismarck – a Junker himself – was strong-willed, outspoken and overbearing, but he could also be polite, charming and witty. Occasionally he displayed a violent temper, and he kept his power by melodramatically threatening resignation time and again, which cowed Wilhelm I. He possessed not only a long-term national and international vision but also the short-term ability to juggle complex developments. As the leader of what historians call "revolutionary conservatism", Bismarck became a hero to German nationalists; they built many monuments honoring the founder of the new Reich. Many historians praise him as a visionary who was instrumental in uniting Germany and, once that had been accomplished, kept the peace in Europe through adroit diplomacy.Seven Years' War
The Seven Years' War was a global conflict fought between 1756 and 1763. It involved every European great power of the time and spanned five continents, affecting Europe, the Americas, West Africa, India, and the Philippines. The conflict split Europe into two coalitions: one was led by the Kingdom of Great Britain and included the Kingdom of Prussia, the Kingdom of Portugal, the Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg, and other small German states; while the other was led by the Kingdom of France and included the Austrian-led Holy Roman Empire, the Russian Empire (until 1762), the Kingdom of Spain, and the Swedish Empire. Meanwhile, in India, some regional polities within the increasingly fragmented Mughal Empire, with the support of the French, tried to crush a British attempt to conquer Bengal.
Although Anglo-French skirmishes over their American colonies had begun with what became the French and Indian War in 1754, the large-scale conflict that drew in most of the European powers was centered on Austria's desire to recover Silesia from the Prussians. Seeing the opportunity to curtail Britain's and Prussia's ever-growing might, France and Austria put aside their ancient rivalry to form a grand coalition of their own, bringing most of the other European powers to their side. Faced with this sudden turn of events, Britain aligned itself with Prussia, in a series of political manoeuvres known as the Diplomatic Revolution. However, French efforts ended in failure when the Anglo-Prussian coalition prevailed, and Britain's rise as among the world's predominant powers destroyed France's supremacy in Europe, thus altering the European balance of power.Unification of Germany
The unification of Germany into a politically and administratively integrated nation state officially occurred on 18 January 1871, in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles in France. Princes of the German states, excluding Austria, gathered there to proclaim William I of Prussia as German Emperor after the French capitulation in the Franco-Prussian War. Unofficially, the de facto transition of most of the German-speaking populations into a federated organization of states had been developing for some time through alliances formal and informal between princely rulers, but in fits and starts. The self-interests of the various parties hampered the process over nearly a century of autocratic experimentation, beginning in the era of the Napoleonic Wars, which prompted the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, and the subsequent rise of German nationalism.
Unification exposed tensions due to religious, linguistic, social, and cultural differences among the inhabitants of the new nation, suggesting that 1871 only represented one moment in a continuum of the larger unification processes. The Holy Roman Emperor had been often called "Emperor of all the Germanies"; contemporary news accounts frequently referred to "The Germanies". In the empire, higher nobility were referred to as "Princes of Germany" or "Princes of the Germanies"—for the lands once called East Francia had been organized and governed as pocket kingdoms since before the rise of Charlemagne (800 AD). In the mountainous terrain of much of the territory, isolated peoples developed cultural, educational, linguistic, and religious differences over such a lengthy time period. By the nineteenth century, transportation and communications improvements brought these regions closer together.
The Holy Roman Empire, which had included more than 500 independent states, was effectively dissolved when Emperor Francis II abdicated (6 August 1806) during the War of the Third Coalition. Despite the legal, administrative, and political disruption associated with the end of the Empire, the people of the German-speaking areas of the old Empire had a common linguistic, cultural, and legal tradition further enhanced by their shared experience in the French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars. European liberalism offered an intellectual basis for unification by challenging dynastic and absolutist models of social and political organization; its German manifestation emphasized the importance of tradition, education, and linguistic unity of peoples in a geographic region. Economically, the creation of the Prussian Zollverein (customs union) in 1818, and its subsequent expansion to include other states of the German Confederation, reduced competition between and within states. Emerging modes of transportation facilitated business and recreational travel, leading to contact and sometimes conflict among German speakers from throughout Central Europe.
The model of diplomatic spheres of influence resulting from the Congress of Vienna in 1814–15 after the Napoleonic Wars endorsed Austrian dominance in Central Europe. The negotiators at Vienna took no account of Prussia's growing strength within and among the German states and so failed to foresee that Prussia would rise to challenge Austria for leadership of the German peoples. This German dualism presented two solutions to the problem of unification: Kleindeutsche Lösung, the small Germany solution (Germany without Austria), or Großdeutsche Lösung, the greater Germany solution (Germany with Austria).
Historians debate whether Otto von Bismarck—Minister President of Prussia—had a master plan to expand the North German Confederation of 1866 to include the remaining independent German states into a single entity or simply to expand the power of the Kingdom of Prussia. They conclude that factors in addition to the strength of Bismarck's Realpolitik led a collection of early modern polities to reorganize political, economic, military, and diplomatic relationships in the 19th century. Reaction to Danish and French nationalism provided foci for expressions of German unity. Military successes—especially those of Prussia—in three regional wars generated enthusiasm and pride that politicians could harness to promote unification. This experience echoed the memory of mutual accomplishment in the Napoleonic Wars, particularly in the War of Liberation of 1813–14. By establishing a Germany without Austria, the political and administrative unification in 1871 at least temporarily solved the problem of dualism.Wilhelm II, German Emperor
Wilhelm II (German: Friedrich Wilhelm Viktor Albert; 27 January 1859 – 4 June 1941) was the last German Emperor (Kaiser) and King of Prussia, reigning from 15 June 1888 until his abdication on 9 November 1918 shortly before Germany's defeat in World War I. He was the eldest grandchild of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and related to many monarchs and princes of Europe, most notably his first cousin King George V of the United Kingdom and Emperor Nicholas II of Russia, whose wife, Alexandra, was Wilhelm and George's first cousin.
Assuming the throne in 1888, he dismissed the country's longtime chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, in 1890 before launching Germany on a bellicose "New Course" to cement its status as a respected world power. However, due to his impetuous personality, he frequently undermined this aim by making tactless, alarming public statements without consulting his ministers beforehand. He also did much to alienate other Great Powers from Germany by initiating a massive build-up of the German Navy, challenging French control over Morocco, and backing the Austrian annexation of Bosnia in 1908.
Wilhelm II's turbulent reign culminated in his guarantee of military support to Austria-Hungary during the crisis of July 1914, which resulted in the outbreak of World War I. A lax wartime leader, he left virtually all decision-making regarding military strategy and organisation of the war effort in the hands of the German General Staff. This broad delegation of authority gave rise to a de facto military dictatorship whose authorisation of unrestricted submarine warfare and the Zimmerman Telegram led to the United States' entry into the conflict in April 1917. After Germany's defeat in 1918, Wilhelm lost the support of the German army, abdicated on 9 November 1918, and fled to exile in the Netherlands, where he died in 1941.William I, German Emperor
William I, or in German Wilhelm I (full name: William Frederick Louis of Hohenzollern, German: Wilhelm Friedrich Ludwig von Hohenzollern, 22 March 1797 – 9 March 1888), of the House of Hohenzollern, was King of Prussia from 2 January 1861 and the first German Emperor from 18 January 1871 to his death, the first head of state of a united Germany. Under the leadership of William and his Minister President Otto von Bismarck, Prussia achieved the unification of Germany and the establishment of the German Empire. Despite his long support of Bismarck as Minister President, William held strong reservations about some of Bismarck's more reactionary policies, including his anti-Catholicism and tough handling of subordinates. In contrast to the domineering Bismarck, William was described as polite, gentlemanly and, while staunchly conservative, he was more open to certain classical liberal ideas than his grandson Wilhelm II.