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  • Frederick William

    lang=EN-US style='font-size:10.5pt;font-family:"Meridien-Medium","serif"; color:black'>(16201688)

    Great Elector of Brandenburg

    Frederick William, the only son of Elector

    George William and Elizabeth Charlotte of the

    Palatinate, was born on February 16, 1620. He

    succeeded as elector of Brandenburg in 1640.

    Raised as a Calvinist in the Reformed faith of the

    Hohenzollern court, he was religiously tolerant

    due to his experiences in the Netherlands at the

    University of Leiden. He inherited as widely

    scattered territories the duchies of PRUSSIA in the

    east and Cleve-Mark on the Dutch frontier. Having

    followed wise policies militarily and diplomatically,

    he acquired additional territories in

    the PEACE OFWESTPHALIA (1648). He added eastern

    Pomerania, which he received from Sweden,

    the bishoprics of Minden and Halberstadt,

    and the return of Magdeburg. Frederick continued

    to pursue an aggressive foreign policy, participating

    in the First Northern War between

    Sweden and Poland. By the Treaty of Oliva in

    1660 his duchy of Prussia won its freedom from

    Polish sovereignty. His ambition to annex the

    Swedish Pomeranian area around the valuable

    seaport of Stettin, which he captured in 1677,

    failed. It was returned to Sweden due to the

    Treaty of Nijmegen and the opposition of Louis

    XIV. These additional territories made the possessions

    of the HOHENZOLLERNS second in size

    only to those of the imperial Habsburg family.

    The Great Elector was the founder of both

    ABSOLUTISM and centralization in the Hohenzollern

    domains. During his reign the BERLIN government

    unified its administration and made the

    self-contained territories into the provinces of a

    greater state. The governments of the territories of

    BRANDENBURG, Prussia, Pomerania, Halberstadt,

    and Magdeburg lost their political and economic

    functions and were transformed into provincial

    courts of appeal. Frederick bargained with the

    diets for the right to collect taxes, appoint officials,

    quarter troops, and maintain appellate jurisdiction.

    He also took advantage of conflicts between

    the towns and the landed nobility to weaken his

    opposition. Each province sent agents to Berlin to

    attend the Privy Council, which was the central

    governing body over which the elector presided

    personally. But a new centralized administration

    superseded the administrative agencies of the

    estates and even the Privy Council. The elector

    was convinced that the estates, however, should

    provide enough money for the maintenance of a

    standing army. At the beginning of his reign the

    army was still largely a mercenary army, and only

    by the end of his reign was at least the officer corps

    composed of his subjects. To guarantee the support

    of the nobility (JUNKERS) to his reign and

    reforms, he granted them the exclusive right to

    own land, also having their seignorial jurisdiction

    over their estates reaffirmed. This even included

    the right to evict peasants and acquire their land.

    If that were not enough, the recess of 1653

    allowed the Junkers to assume that every peasant

    was a serf unless he could prove his freedom,

    which opened the door for the expansion of serfdom.

    On the other hand, the right to appoint state

    officials became the exclusive right of the elector.

    More important, the army came under Fredericks

    exclusive control, which he used at times to overwhelm

    his opposition.

    Frederick William 389

    The elector followed mercantilist doctrines in

    his internal economic policies. A number of

    changes in taxation were attempted. Frederick

    attempted to replace direct taxes with excise

    taxes levied on the towns and on the officially

    tax-exempt Junkers, who collected their new

    share of the taxes from their peasants. The

    Junkers opposed the excise taxes on consumption,

    and so they were levied only on the towns

    and on trade. Within 15 years the excise tax was

    transformed from a municipal into a state tax,

    which provided a surplus to the government.

    Also important economically was the IMMIGRATION

    of 20,000 French Calvinist Huguenots who

    were forced out of France by the revocation of

    the Edict of Nantes; they brought important new

    business and manufacturing skills and cultural

    refinement. Also significant were the lessons

    that the elector derived from his observations of

    the prosperity of the Dutch, which was connected

    with their navy. Frederick attempted to

    build a navy and chartered Dutch ships to privateer

    on the Baltic Sea during a war with Sweden.

    In order to break into the overseas trade to

    Africa, he chartered two ships in 1680 to establish

    a colony on the Gold Coast and set up an

    African Trading Company, which traded in

    slaves with the West Indies.

    A disciplined and hardworking ruler with a

    court that was simple and frugal, Frederick died

    in Potsdam on May 9, 1688.

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