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HISTORY OF PRUSSIA
 
 


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Brandenburg and Prussia: 1657-1701

Since 1525 part of Prussia, on the Baltic, has been a hereditary duchy belonging to the Hohenzollern family, but they have held it only as a fief of the Polish crown. In 1618 the Hohenzollern line in Prussia dies out and the duchy passes to a Hohenzollern cousin, the elector of Brandenburg.

On the coast between Brandenburg and the elector's new possession of ducal Prussia there lies the other part of Prussia. Known as royal Prussia, it includes the valuable harbour of Gdansk. Royal Prussia is fully integrated into the Polish kingdom.
 









Ducal Prussia, by contrast, is largely German - as a result of German settlers being brought there in the 13th century to till the soil and to control the pagan Prussians. This ethnic division, with a Polish region between two German ones, is one of the more disastrous accidents of history.

The isolation of the Germans in ducal Prussia is irrelevant while Europe still has the patchwork allegiances of feudalism. But by the 17th century there is a trend towards self-contained independent states. Inevitably a political pressure builds up to bridge the territorial gap between Brandenburg and ducal Prussia - particularly after Brandenburg acquires another long stretch of Baltic coast (that of eastern Pomerania) in 1648.
 







In 1657 ducal Prussia acquires a new status, tying it more closely to Brandenburg. The elector Frederick William of Brandenburg succeeds in that year (through a well-judged blend of warfare and diplomacy) in severing the feudal link between his duchy and the Polish kingdom.

Poland is forced to concede its loss of ducal Prussia in the treaty of Wehlau (1657). With the peace of Oliva (1660), the international community recognizes Prussia as an independent duchy belonging to Brandenburg.
 







This achievement enables Frederick William's son, Frederick III of Brandenburg, to achieve the crucial next step. In 1700 the Austrian emperor, Leopold I, needs Frederick's assistance in the War of the Spanish Succession. The sweetener is a significant new title.

There are no German kings within the Holy Roman empire, apart from the Habsburg emperors' own kingdom of Bohemia. Now, using the legal nicety that Prussia is outside the empire, Leopold allows Frederick to call himself the "king in Prussia" (another legal refinement - the more convincing "king of Prussia" is only allowed from 1740). The new king crowns himself, as Frederick I of the Prussian dynasty, in Königsberg in 1701.
 






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