Germany History - The Rise of Prussia

Germany History – The Rise of Prussia

The Protestant Reformation and the birth of modern Germany

Maximilian I made an attempt to restore authority and power to the Empire threatened by the territorial lords, by the particularity of the cities and the electoral princes. But the Diet of Worms of 1495 denied the emperor the powers to ensure the empire’s supremacy over centrifugal tendencies; in 1500 the Diet of Augusta reaffirmed its refusal to strengthen a central power of a monarchical type, also placing constraints on the initiative of the emperor vis-à-vis the other European states. On the death of Maximilian (1519) the crisis of the Empire made evident the weakness of the central power and at the same time the impossibility, without a process of unification, to support the affirmation of the great intellectual energies that had expressed the great flowering of German humanism and favor the transformation underway in economic and social life towards the overcoming of feudal systems. The same tendency present in the territorial lords to curb the hegemony of the Catholic Church in Germany.

The thrust that invested the land of religion and the Church as an institution following the initiative of M. Luther (posting of the 95 theses in Wittenberg in 1517) was no less strong in the structure of the Empire and in the balance between the States Germans. Typically continental power, too absorbed by the problems of internal settlement to be able to participate, like France, Spain and the Netherlands, in colonial expansion and overseas discoveries, Germany lived the conflict that crossed religion and the Church also as a clash between principles aligned for or against Luther, for or against the Emperor Charles V, committed to opposing the Reformation. The Peasants’ War, which in 1525 crossed large regions of the Germany and which ended with the execution of T. Müntzer and with a ferocious repression, supported by Luther, marked the confluence of religious and social factors in a clash that upset the foundations of existing company. Determined to crush the heresy of the Reformation, Charles V was unable to give universal expansion to the Empire or to bring rebel princes back to obedience. The Peace of Augusta of 1555 sanctioned the irrevocable separation of confessions but also the territorial fragmentation, exasperated by the fusion of territorial lordship and religious option (cuius regio eius religio). The Thirty Years War, which devastated Europe from 1618 to 1648, put an end to the wars of religion, sanctioning the impossibility of liquidating Protestantism, but did not stop the crushing of the German states.

The rise of Prussia

From the Thirty Years War Germany came out shattered into 340 states that could not compete either with the great European powers or, within the Empire, with Austria, increasingly aligned with the Catholicism of the Counter-Reformation and on the eastern side. The particularism of the small states hindered every principle of political unity: the only common element remained the absolutism of princely rule. The second half of the 17th century. nevertheless he saw the rise of the principality of Brandenburg; the great elector Federico Guglielmo (1640-88) extended his area to other Germanic territories (Magdeburg, East Prussia) and spoke with the European powers, exploiting the outlet on the Baltic Sea to enter the game of international trade and naval balances. By reorganizing the army and centralizing the administration and financial management, Frederick William anticipated the lines of modernization that would be achieved half a century later by the kings of Prussia. With the Edict of Potsdam of 1685 he welcomed the Huguenots expelled from France in Brandenburg, making a decisive contribution to the spread of the spirit of tolerance and to the use of high quality professionalism and entrepreneurship for economic and cultural development.

When Frederick III of Hohenzollern was recognized king of Prussia by the emperor under the name of Frederick I in 1701, the rise of Prussia had its first formal consecration. Frederick William I (1713-40) consolidated the Kingdom with the strengthening of the army and the administration and taking care of the development of the economy in the spirit of the dominant mercantilism at the time, which with its strong protectionism represented a complement to the construction of a active state policy and strong bureaucracy.

It was mainly under the impulse of Frederick II the Great (1740-86) that Prussia established itself as a great European power, competing with Austria for hegemony over Germany. Frederick II, champion of enlightened absolutism, without affecting the division of society into classes, with particular respect for the role of the landed aristocracy, provided Prussia with the tools of the modern state, endowing it with an administration that was exemplary at the time, of a solid military organization and a codification destined to lay the foundations of the rule of law, separating the assets of the crown from those of the state. He was also the architect of the incessant clash with Maria Theresa’s Austria, in a succession of military campaigns alongside alternating coalitions with France and Russia. In 1744 he recognized the imperial authority of Francis I of Austria, but in exchange he conquered Silesia, participating in the partition of Poland.

According to top-mba-universities, the rise of Prussia did not respond to an ideal of national unification, but only to the desire for hegemony over the Germanic space, in antagonism to Austria. The echo of the French Revolution in Germany encouraged Jacobin uprisings and local pro-French separatisms, but did not favor the liberal currents, excluded from a large-scale circuit of the fragmentation of the German states. Paradoxically, a push towards unification came from the response with which the Napoleonic armies drove the counter-revolutionary expeditions of Prussia and Austria back across German soil. Resulting in the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire and giving life to the Rhenish Confederation, France expelled Austria from Germany and effectively promoted an embryo of unification. Invaded by the French (1806), forced into an alliance against Russia, after the overthrow of the alliances (1813), Prussia faced the double process of internal renewal and restoration of its hegemony over the other German territories. By two reformers, Baron HFK von Stein and Chancellor KA von Hardenberg, launched a moderate but decisive modernization intended to strengthen the administration of the state and to allow the formation of a social structure freed from feudal residues. The abolition of the corporative order and serfdom and a limited municipal autonomy, with census suffrage, paved the way for greater social mobility and broke the monopoly of the aristocracy on land ownership. In parallel, the military reform partially enlarged the social base of the army by restricting the aristocratic monopoly. The consolidation of the state was the premise of the anti-Napoleonic war which culminated (October 1813) in the defeat of Napoleon in Leipzig. Dissolved the Rhine Confederation sponsored by France at the conclusion of the Congress of Vienna, on 10 June 1815, the Germanic Confederation was created, with the accession of 41 states, including Prussia and Austria.

The customs union (Zollverein) of 1834 was the first conspicuous fruit of the aspirations to unity of economic and cultural forces, which converged in the uprisings of 1848; Frederick William IV was forced to grant the Constitution in Prussia, but he refused, in hatred of any form of democratic legitimacy and for fear of clashing with Austria, the imperial crown offered him by the National Assembly. Prussia’s aspiration to act as the architect of German unity came to a halt in the Olmütz (➔ Olomouc) compromise with Austria (1850).

Germany History - The Rise of Prussia

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