The Brandenburg-Prussia state was formed in 1660 from the freshly independent Ducal Prussia and part of the Holy Roman Empire - the Electorate of Brandenburg. The Duchy of Brandenburg was succeeded by The Kingdom of Prussia in 1701 and the state was absorbed into the German Empire in 1871.

Anna, daughter of Duke Albrecht Friedrich of Prussia (r.1568-1618), married Elector Johann Sigismund of Brandenburg, who succeeded to the Province on his father-in-law's death in 1618. From this time, Ducal Prussia became a possession of the Electors of Brandenburg.

During the reign of Georg Wilhelm (1619-1640), the Hohenzollern lands were repeatedly marched across by various armies in the Thirty Years War, spending much of the war occupied by Sweden. Taking advantage of the difficult position of Poland with Sweden in the Northern war, and their friendly position with Russia during a series of Russo-Polish wars, "The Great Elector" Friedrich Wilhelm (1640-1688) obtained a discharge of his vassal obligations and after the Tatar invasion of Poland in 1656-57, was finally given independent control of Prussia in 1660. In 1701 his son, Friedrich III, proclaimed himself Friedrich I, King in Prussia.

Brandenburg-Prussia -The Kingdom

The Kingdom of Prussia existed from 1701 through 1918 under the rule of Brandenburg which became the leading kingdom of the German Empire, comprising in its last form almost two-thirds of the area of the Empire. In 1688, Frederick William I, the "Great Elector", died and his possessions passed to his son Frederick III (1688-1701) who became Frederick I of Prussia (1701-1713).

With the exception of Prussia proper, all of Brandenburg's lands were a part of the Holy Roman Empire, by this time under the all but hereditary nominal rule of the House of Habsburg. Since there was only one King of the Germans within the Empire, Frederick gained the assent of the Emperor Leopold I (in return for alliance against France) to his adoption (January 1701) of the title of "King in Prussia", based on his non-Imperial territories, and the title came into general acceptance with the Treaty of Utrecht (1713). Though Brandenburg was far richer and more important than Prussia proper, it was subsumed into The Kingdom of Prussia in a change understood by all to be a shell game with titles. Thus the new nation is also commonly called Brandenburg-Prussia.

The Early Years

Sweden's defeat by Russia, Saxony-Poland, Denmark-Norway, Hanover and Brandenburg-Prussia in the Great Northern War (1700-1721) marked the end of significant Swedish power on the southern shores of the Baltic Sea. In the Prusso-Swedish peace treaty of Stockholm (January 1720), Brandenburg-Prussia regained Stettin (Szczecin) and other parts of Sweden's holding in Pomerania. The Hohenzollerns of Brandenburg had held the reversion to the Duchy of Pomerania since 1472. (Lower Pomerania had already been annexed to Brandenburg-Prussia in 1648 at the Peace of Westphalia).

During this time the trends set in motion by the Great Elector reached their culmination, as the Junkers - the landed aristocracy - were welded to the army which had gained so much influence in the previous fifty years.

Invasion of Austria

In 1740, Frederick II (more commonly known as Frederick the Great) came to the throne and invaded Silesia, a province of Austria which was in turmoil after the death of the Emperor Charles VI. The invasion was the first shot of the War of the Austrian Succession (Silesia was to have passed to the rulers of Brandenburg on the extinction of its Piast dynasty according to a bilateral arrangement of 1537, subsequently vetoed by the Emperor Ferdinand I). After rapidly occupying Silesia, Frederick offered to protect the new Austrian Archduchess, Maria Theresa if the province were turned over to him. The offer was rejected, but Austria faced several other opponents, and Frederick was eventually able to gain formal cession with 1742's Treaty of Berlin.

To the surprise of many, Austria managed to renew the war successfully, and in 1744 Frederick invaded again to forestall reprisals and to claim, this time, the province of Bohemia. This time he failed, but French pressure on Austria's ally Britain led to a series of treaties and compromises (culminating in the 1748 Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle that restored peace and left Brandenburg-Prussia still in possession of Silesia.

Humiliated by the cession of Silesia, Austria worked to secure an alliance with France and Russia, while Brandenburg-Prussia drifted into the United Kingdom's camp (the "Diplomatic Revolution". When Frederick pre-emptively invaded Saxony and Bohemia over the course of a few months in 1756-1757, a general conflict broke out: the Seven Years' War.

Defense Against Europe's Assault

This war was a desperate struggle for the Prussians, and the fact that they managed to fight much of Europe to a draw bears witness to Frederick's military skill. Facing Austria, Russia, France and Sweden simultaneously, and with only Hanover (and the non-continental British) as notable allies, he managed to hold off serious invasion until October 1760, when the Russian army briefly occupied Berlin and Königsberg. The situation became progressively grimmer, however, until the death of the Tsarina Elizabeth and the accession of the prussophile Peter III relieved the pressure on the eastern front. Sweden also dropped out of the war at about the same time. Defeating the Austrian army at the Battle of Burkersdorf, and relying on continuing British success against France in the war's colonial theatres, Brandenburg-Prussia was finally able to force a status quo ante bellum on the continent. This result confirmed Brandenburg-Prussia's major role in Germany and Europe as a whole. Frederick, appalled by the near-miss for his country, lived out his days as a much more peaceable ruler.

Expansion to Poland

Brandenburg-Prussia continued to grow through diplomatic means, however. To the east and south, Poland had gradually become weakened, and in 1772 Frederick was unable to resist the first of the Partitions of Poland between Russia, Brandenburg-Prussia, and Austria. The Kingdom of Prussia thus gained full sovereignty of Warmia and the Polish Royal Prussia, henceforth (until 1824, and again in 1878-1918) the province of West Prussia. After Frederick the Great died (in 1786), his nephew Fredrick William II continued the partitions through military and diplomatic force, gaining a large part of western Poland in 1793 and a large area (including Warsaw) to the south of East Prussia in 1795, when the Polish kingdom ceased to exist.

In 1772 King Friedrich II annexed the Polish province of Royal Prussia, without the Gdansk territory, from the Kingdom of Poland, and united it with Ducal Prussia (it now taking the name East Prussia). In 1793, King Friedrich Wilhelm II annexed the areas around Gdansk and Torun. In 1793 and 1795, larger areas of Poland were added, which were organized into the Provinces of South Prussia and New East Prussia. Like many countries in Eastern Europe at that time, the old Polish Kingdom was inhabited by many ethnic groups, and it is important not to confuse political loyalties with ethnic identities. Many loyal Polish subjects were not ethnically Polish. Western Prussia, including Gdansk, had had a ethnic German majority for centuries, while a sizable German minority lived in the Torun area. Other important ethnic groups, besides Poles, were Jews. Some locals even descended from hardy Scotsmen, who had fled to Gdansk in the 16th century, and founded the suburb of New Scotland.

The Kingdom of Prussia at this time was not part of Germany. Königsberg was the capital and coronation city of the Prussian kings. In 1806 Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Europe and abolished the German empire and the title of Kaiser for Germany (capital: Wien [Vienna]). The Kaiser in Wien became Kaiser of Austria with no power in the rest of Germany. The titles of Kurfürst (elector) became meaningless and was abolished and changed to Kings of Bohemia, (Brandenburg-)Prussia, Saxony, Bavaria, Wuerttemberg, and Hannover by Napoleon's grace. The archbishops and Catholic church had lost all their secular power in 1803.

After Napoleon's final defeat in 1815 The Kingdom of Prussia became known as "Die Vereinigten Preussischen Staaten" (The United Prussian States) which now also included provinces like Silesia, Brandenburg, Pomerania and areas as far west as the Rhine province. Brandenburg's Berlin now became the Brandenburg-Prussian capital. Until 1806 the Hohenzollern sovereign had had many titles and hats from Head of the Evangelic Church to King, Elector, Grandduke, Duke for the various regions and realms under his rule. After 1806 he simply was King of Prussia. Terms like German government or German army have no meaning for this time period until 1871.

Brandenburg-Prussia in the 2nd Reich

In 1871 Germany as an empire with a Kaiser was re-established with Berlin as the capital of Germany and Brandenburg-Prussia and with the Brandenburg-Prussian king also having the title of German Kaiser. All monarchies in Germany were abolished in 1918, thus removing the last Hohenzollern ruler from power.

In 1918, Prussia-Brandenburg ceased to exist as a state as it was absorbed into the Weimar Republic.

Related topics

List of Kings of Prussia
Royal Prussia
Ducal Prussia
History of Germany
Franco-Prussian War
West Prussia
East Prussia